January 31, 2001

Our goal is the creation of the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, National Historic Trail, that passes through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and the elevation of the quality of heritage preservation all along the route to a higher level.

Lafayette and the W3R

Lafayette, the youngest major general in the American Army, was committed to the cause of liberty and risked his life for America. He was also a persistent advocate of French support based on mutual trust and respect. Were it not for Lafayette, it is doubtful whether Rochambeau would have been sent with the French army, navy, financial support, and a new infusion of hope just in time to halt the looming cloud of attrition of Washington’s forces. For three years prior to Yorktown, Washington had not fought a major battle for want of troops and supplies.

The Marquis de Lafayette was born September 6, 1757 in Auvergne, France. His given name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Mothier. His father died in battle with the British when Lafayette was 2 years old. Rochambeau was also present at that battle. When his mother and grandfather died 11 years later, Lafayette inherited a large fortune., Coming from a long line of solders, Lafayette studied at the Military Academy in Versailles and became a captain at age 16. A charismatic leader, Lafayette was a 19-year old French Dragoon captain when he obtained a contract from Silas Deane as the youngest major general in the American army. Though dedicated to the cause of liberty and filled with a sense of glory for the cause, Lafayette also had close ties to the highest order of the French nobility through his father-in-law, the Duc d’Ayen of the Noailles family. Both the Duc’s father and grandfather had been marshals of France, and the Duc was captain of the King’s bodyguard.

Silas Deane (of CT) an American representative in Paris, in his letter of recommendation to Congress, referred to Lafayette as, “of the first Family & Fortune…” “A generous reception of [him] will do us infinite Service.”

James Lovell, (of MA) led an anti-French faction in Congress. A growing distrust of Silas Deane, and the loss of congressional confidence in Deane’s recommendations undermined hopes of French intervention.

The American Declaration of Independence inspired Lafayette to buy a ship and sail to America in 1777, without official permission of King Louis XVI. By the time Lafayette arrived, Congress was already determined to discourage granting military commissions to foreigners. After a cool reception by Lovell, Lafayette and his French companions were told that Silas Deane’s commissions could not be recognized. But, in light of his connections with the French leadership, Congress reconsidered Lafayette’s application. Lafayette assured Congress he would cover his own expenses and that of his own staff. Congress commissioned him as a major general and assigned him to General Washington.

Lafayette’s close relationship with Henry Laurens, President of the Second Continental Congress was the strength for his success in winning over Congress to support French involvement in the war. Upon receiving news of the Franco-American alliance on May 1, 1778, Lafayette wrote to Henry Laurens:

“I am myself fit to receive as well as to offer congratulations in this happy circumstance. If you remember, sir, in which moment in which sentiments I left my country, you will easily conceive how surprised, how pleased I must be to see our noble cause arrived at such a period of Glory and Success….” Lafayette was able to effect an important change in the American perception of the French. This was crucial to American willingness to engage the French on American soil in close cooperation with the American army. During this period of time Lafayette traveled extensively on the W3R below Connecticut, but when traveling in New England, he preferred the coastal routes with their many ferries. Then in July of 1778 on the last New England trip before returning to France, Lafayette met up with General Varnam and the American Army passing through Hartford. General Varnum was taking the army on the W3R to Rhode Island and beat Lafayette who took the southern route. For the remainder of the Revolution, Lafayette took the W3R to Rhode Island.

Lafayette returned to France in 1778, to see his wife, his two-year-old daughter who was born in his absence, and to seek French support for direct French involvement. M. Gerard, first assistant to the French Foreign Minister, whom the minister had sent to Philadelphia as plenipotentiary after the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce on 6 February 1778, wrote on October 20 that Lafayette’s “wisdom and dexterity had resoundingly carried discussions with the congressional committees. They had warmly solicited his return with troops sent by the king.” In a private note to the minister, Gerard added: “I cannot help saying that the conduct of M. de Lafayette, equally prudent, courageous, and amiable, has made him the idol of Congress, the army, and the American people.”

Lafayette was asked for his thoughts on an expeditionary force in July 1779, to which Lafayette replied with a detailed description of a plan. It was Lafayette who defined the terms for the French General Rochambeau’s arrival in 1780, and it was he who shuttled between the French and the American commands. Lafayette was largely responsible for the faith which the Minister of War, Montbarey, placed in General Washington’s command. This step was crucial for French military assistance.

The Comte de Sgur in Paris wrote, “When Paris heard rumors of the first battles in which Lafayette and his companions did honor to the name of Frenchmen, there was general approval…Thus, public opinion, turning more and more toward war, made it inevitable…” In addition, While Lafayette’s family was originally critical of Lafayette’s dangerous ideas of liberty; they “had now become the foremost in advocating the American cause.”

General Washington wrote to Lafayette whom he missed;

“Whether you come here in the character of commanding officer of a corps of gallant French, should circumstances lead to that event; whether as an American major general you come to retake command of a division of our army; or whether after the peace you come to see me simply as my friend and my companion, I shall receive you in ever case with all the tenderness of a brother,” (Today, the French are building a copy of the Hermione which brought Lafayette back to America with the good news that France was sending an army to help the American Revolution. Madame Francoise Jouanneau, Mayor Adjoint, of Rochefort, France, a founding member of the Association Hermione-La Fayette, and Brigitte van den Hove-Smith, have been in touch with the W3R committee. We look forward to an opportunity to have L’Hermione participate in appropriate commemorations at Newport, Mystic, New York, and Yorktown. If you wish to contribute time, talent, or financially to their effort, e-mail me, say how you can help, and I will give them your names, and share information I receive.)

Lafayette, the youngest major general in the American Army, was committed to the cause of liberty and risked his life for America in battles from Brandywine, to Monmouth, to Yorktown. We can place him several times on the W3R. The last time was in February, 1781, when he passed through on his trip from Rhode Island checking the precise route and the campsites before Rochambeau marched. After Yorktown, Lafayette was the “diplomatic aide-de-camp” to Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Lafayette then had an illustrious and tumultuous political career in France during the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the Napoleonic Era, and the Restoration Era, throughout which he defended his concept of liberty.

W3R Stamps Need a Long Lead Time

Since November members of the W3R committee have been discussing US Postal stamps to commemorate the march of the Allied French and American Armies from RI to VA. “It is never too early to start,” said Robert Reyes who is working on the Star Spangled Trail and has provided a wealth of advice.

  • We need to write to the CSAC: Virginia Noelke, Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee US Postal Service /Stamp Services 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW Room 4474E Washington, DC 20260-2437
  • We need to inundate them with letters of support. Big names like celebrities help allot.
  • We can send our suggestions in letters but the Postal Service will not entertain unsolicited artwork.
  • We need to get through to CSAC and have them declare it as a subject. Once that is accomplished our foot is in the door.
  • Finally, lets get started now. They work 2-3 years in advance.

We may end up with one stamp to commemorate the Washington Rochambeau march from Newport, RI, to Yorktown, VA and back to Boston, Mass. However we should try for nine stamps, one for each state.

  1. RI preparation and planning
  2. CT the Wethersfield Plan
  3. NY armies combined at the Hudson (North) River.
  4. NJ the British mislead by mock army encampments
  5. PA the British realize the Franco-American army is on the move
  6. DE reach the Delaware and the British realize they were outmaneuvered
  7. MD Washington jumps for joy as new comes that The British have cornered themselves on a VA peninsula. The trap has sprung.
  8. VA the victory at Yorktown.
  9. MA the French Army was a veritable Marshall Plan stabilizing the American economy while maintaining a balance of power. Please write soon and provide the CSAC with an idea for your state, if it is along the route. Kevin Wildes, of the Journal Inquirer said, “Competition is fierce and wide ranging. This year… featuring Amish quilts, Lucille Ball, famous baseball fields, and Porky Pig.” Apparently our patriots and historic events have an obstacle Porky Pig did not face. They are only considered at 50 and 100-year anniversaries. We must point out that this historic march has not been commemorated in 225 years. Yorktown will not have been commemorated for 75 years but the Newport landing will be after only 25 years.