Gilbert du Motier (commonly known as Marquis de Lafayette) was born on September 6, 1757, destined to bring about a lasting American and French alliance. He lived without a father since the age of two, and yet he became like a father in helping to give birth to America and a new France. His own father had died in war, and Lafayette grew up leading a life of privilege in a noble family. After his mother and grandfather also died, he inherited a great fortune, as well as his title.
The young Marquis de Lafayette’s studies at the Military Academy of Versailles eventually brought out his innate talents and led him to become the second lieutenant in the Musketeers of the Royal Guard on April 9, 1771, before his 14th birthday. Once he reached age 16, he married Adrienne, the daughter of the highly influential Noailles family in France. His new family connections granted him the opportunity to become captain of the Noailles Dragoons Regiment.
After he trained further at Metz in 1775, he met the Comte, who became a great influence in his life. Comte de Broglie, who was secretly supporting the revolutionary American army from the beginning, invited young Marquis de Lafayette to join the Freemasons society. The Freemasons at this time were highly interested in the growing struggles between the British colonies in America and Great Britain, and supported the abolition of slavery, among other things. It has been found in the Marquis de Lafayettes’ memoirs that he was deeply grateful for the support of Comte de Broglie, who helped Lafayette to purchase a ship for traveling to America. Lafayette’s young age prevented him from being able to buy a ship directly on his own at the time. The Comte also introduced Lafayette to experienced French officer de Kalb, who helped to further refine Lafayette’s military training and prepare him for his future battles in the American colonies.
Fighting for America
Despite Lafayette’s short posting in Britain to try and distract him, Lafayette completely disregarded the orders of the French King and sailed for the young American colonies to volunteer for the rebellion. Just before he left, he had signed up with an American representative whom he met in Paris during December of 1776 to take the position of a Major General (without pay). At only age 20 he became the youngest commissioned officer in the entire US Army. He reached Philadelphia by the summer of 1777, where he entered his first American battle at Brandywine. After that he continued to serve in several battles on the side of the Continental American Army. Later in November 1777, he led an independent command of the reconnaissance force into Gloucester, New Jersey, and won against some Hessian troops. He later had another commanding position at White Marsh from the fifth to the eighth of December in 1777.
At this time he met and began his mutual friendship with George Washington. As the year progressed, he received command of the Virginia light infantry group. During the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, he was further instructed to go to Albany in anticipation of a Canadian invasion. However, it was later cancelled, sending him once again to Valley Forge. Marquis de Lafayette was successful again at the Barren Hill Battle in May of 1778 and also helpful at Monmouth in June of 1778. He additionally commanded two brigades around Newport, RI.
In 1779 Marquis de Lafayette was able to return to France, where it was discovered that he had the support of France’s foreign minister to increase the support of the American rebellion; therefore Lafayette returned back to America in April of 1780. George Washington was delighted at his return and sent him as a commander to lead American Continental Army troops against Benedict Arnold and the larger forces in Virginia. The Virginia Campaign Lafayette led from April to August in 1781 also brought him into combat with the British Lord Cornwallis, and over time he successfully forced his opponents into retreating towards Yorktown for further support. In September of 1781 he led an American infantry force under General George Washington in the famous siege of Yorktown, the last battle that finally won the American Revolutionary War by the 19th of October in 1781. In December of 1781 he returned home to France, victorious.
Back to France
Back home in France he began a society that promoted ending the slave trade and sought to grant equal rights to African peoples in Europe as well as North America. He continued to be active in the French military, becoming the National Guard Commander in 1789. His desire to promote moderate political views lost ground to radical factions of Royalists and Jacobin political parties of France. After Lafayette left Paris he became a target of the Austrian army.
It was during the French Revolution that his attempts to maintain order especially upset the Jacobins; since once he ordered the National Guard of France to fire on unruly demonstrators in July 1791. Despite fleeing to Belgium, he was captured and held prisoner for charges of inspiring the French Revolution. He was in custody for a total of five years when he was finally released in 1797 under the treaty Campo-Formio. This treaty’s finalization ended France’s war against Austria. Later in 1799 he relocated to the Netherlands. Although Lafayette’s status kept him essentially in exile from France, his wife Adrienne came back to France, winning permission from Napoleon for Marquis de Lafayette to be removed from French exile. Finally in 1800 he was allowed to return home, and later supported the constitutional monarchy in France in 1830.
Re-Visit to America
From 1824 to 1825 he made his final, long visit to America as a guest of honor by President Monroe, and toured all 24 states at the time. It was either during this visit or afterwards he arranged that some containers of American soil, from reportedly around George Washington’s grave, be brought home to him in France so that he could be buried in a mixture of American and French soil when he died.
The Royal Marquis de Lafayette not only became an honorary official citizen of the U.S.A. in 2002, (a title only awarded to five other people in history), but he also had originally been counted as an American citizen before America was officially established. Historians point out that in 1784 he was registered as a New York City citizen and in 1785 he was also registered as Maryland’s citizen; so technically upon Maryland’s entry as a state into the new United States, Lafayette became a U.S. citizen automatically.