Military tactician. Diplomat. Aristocrat. Benefactor. France’s Marquis de Lafayette came to America to join the fight for independence in 1777 and went on to play a major role in George Washington’s defeat of the British army. More than 40 years later, he returned on a 13-month tour and the fledgling nation extended Lafayette a hero’s welcome.
Focusing extensively on Lafayette’s 1824′5 tour, the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition “French Founding Father: Lafayette’s Return to Washington’s America” expands on a show organized by the Mount Vernon Estate and gathers more than 100 of the objects that commemorated Lafayette’s visit as well as his relationship to Washington. Opening on Friday, November 16, the exhibition continues through August 10. Prepared to celebrate Lafayette’s 250th birthday, the exhibition explores the Marquis’ role in the American Revolution and how his triumphant tour of all 24 states inspired the American public and was a uniquely galvanizing event in the early history of the nation.
In Lafayette, Americans discovered a living link to Washington and the glorious victories of the founding era. The “nation’s guest” was celebrated in towns and cities across America for his heroism during the war and as a symbol of freedom. His presence created a groundswell of exuberant nationalism, reminding everyone about the shared democratic ideals that inspired the revolution and the country’s achievements since the end of the war.
The exhibition features objects, documents and images from the Mount Vernon Estate, the historical society and other institutions as well as multimedia, interactive elements that allow visitors to experience young America’s fervor over Lafayette.
Highlights include a re-creation of the hero’s welcome given to Lafayette upon his arrival at New York’s Castle Clinton by a citizenry jubilantly awaiting their hero. A video created in partnership with the history channel on the French Revolution is also on view.
Other exhibits include wall-length maps showing the route of his 14-month tour through all 24 states, an accurate scale model of L’Hermione, the “Liberty Frigate” in which Lafayette sailed to Boston in 1780, an original carriage he rode in during his tour, a replica of a French Revolution-era guillotine, as well as examples of the hats, shoes, punch bowls and other memorabilia merchants created to commemorate his visit.
The New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West at 77th Street. For information, www.nyhistory.org or 212-873-3400.