J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Lafayette in Lexington, 19 Nov.

Tonight the Lexington Historical Society will host a talk by Alan R. Hoffman about the Marquis de la Fayette’s farewell tour of America in 1824-25. Lafayette had been the youngest of the Continental Army’s generals, and was among the last surviving leaders from the Revolutionary War. As a result, he was fêted in every state of the U.S. of A. Which provided a relief from political repression and, as I recall, money troubles back in France.

During that visit, Lafayette’s secretary sent regular reports back to the French press. Those were collected and published in the 1800s, including an incomplete English translation. Hoffman’s 2007 volume Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Journal of a Voyage to the United States is apparently the first complete version in English. Amazon user Ronald R. Duquette comments:

This is not only a travelogue, but a series of sly political commentaries on what French readers were facing in France compared to what the young Republic in America was accomplishing, and how far the promise of the French Revolution had fallen short of the reality.
Hoffman’s talk will center on the marquis’s reception in Lexington. Charles Hudson’s 1913 history of the town describes that visit like this:
On the 2d of September, 1824, Lafayette honored Lexington with his presence. Attended by his voluntary suite, he left Boston for our peaceful village. At the line of the town he was received by a troop of horse and a cavalcade of citizens, who escorted him to the Common. Here was a beautiful arch of evergreen and flowers, with a motto,—“Welcome, Friend of America, to the Birthplace of American Liberty.”
That banner became the property of the Lexington Historical Society, and will be brought out for display during Hoffman’s talk. Hudson continues:
The Common was tastefully decorated with flags, and a large concourse of people had assembled to do honor to one who had done so much for our country. Among those thus assembled were the children from the schools, and fourteen of the gallant men who had participated in the battle of the 19th of April, 1775. After entering the Common, under the arch before mentioned, the procession moved to the Monument, where the following patriotic and eloquent speech of welcome was delivered by Major Elias Phinney, of Lexington: . . .

[…blah blah blah yada yada yada…]

“On this hallowed ground, consecrated by the blood of the first martyrs to liberty, was kindled that flame which roused the nation to arms, and conducted them through peril and blood to a glorious Independence. Here a small band of patriots hurled the first signal of defiance to a host in arms, and taught the enemies of their country the appalling truth, that Americans dared to die in defence of their rights.”
The next year, Phinney published his History of the Battle of Lexington, continuing his argument that his town common was where American militiamen first fired back at the British regulars. That provoked an oh-no-you-didn’t response in 1827 from the Rev. Ezra Ripley of Concord, with the happy result that more memories of men who were in the battle on 19 Apr 1775 got written down.

Hoffman’s lecture will take place at the Lexington Depot starting at 8:00 P.M. It’s free and open to the public, and the historical society promises refreshments.


RFuller said...

Was this not the occasion of the first reenactment of the skirmish (massacre, really) of April 19, 1775, on Lexington Common, employing, oddly enough, some of its original participants? I can only imagine what must have been running through these now older men's minds...

J. L. Bell said...

Hudson’s book doesn’t describe a reenactment on this date or the following April. Instead, there were speeches, Lafayette reviewed the veterans, and everyone sat down for a “collation,” or luncheon. Maybe another source?

RFuller said...

I think I saw it in the Proceedings of the Lexington Historical Society.

RFuller said...

You're right, JL. According to Albert W. Bryant, in his paper, THE MILITARY ORGANIZATIONS OF LEXINGTON, read before the Lexington Historical Society, December 9, 1890, he writes of his own experiences in the Lexington Militia, until it disbanded in 1847.

"In August, 1824, on tne occasion of the visit of General Lafayette to Boston, this company [Lexington Rifle Rangers, a local militia unit] under the command of General Chandler, and the artillery company with Daniel Harrington (I believe) for captain, were among the many on Boston Common, and the honor was accorded them of being two of the handsomest companies on parade."

p. 92, , Vol. 2, Proceedings of Lexington Historical Society and Papers Relating to the History of the Town
(Lexington, Mass., 1900)

Re the first reenactment, it was in 1822, not 1824. From the same source/page:

"I recall standing, on the 19th of April, 1822, on the steps of the south side entrance to the meetinghouse, which had three entrances, and seeing a company of about 60 men in line on the Common near where the stone boulder is placed, under the command of Abijah Harrington. They were representing the Minute Men who stood upon that spot on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775. I also saw Maj. Benj. O. Wellington on horse-back, riding up Main Street in front of several militia companies who were intended to represent the British troops. When they came to the Common, Major Wellington said, ' Lay down your arms and disperse, you rebels,' at the same time firing his pistol, and immediately giving the order to the foremost company to fire, which was quickly answered by the Minute Men. This scene was incomprehensible to my youthful mind, but it awakened an interest that led me to learn as soon as possible what it was intended to convey. Other movements followed descriptive of scenes that took place on that day, such as marching toward Concord as far as the Lincoln line, a hasty retreat back, and the firing upon the main body, from behind trees, stone walls, etc. This part of the program lasted until noon, when refreshments were furnished at Munroe's Tavern In the afternoon commemorative services were held in the meeting-house, Rev. Mr. Stearns of Bedford delivering an oration."

An interesting way for these veterans and townspeople to come to terms with arguably the most important event in their lives and of their town.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the reference, Roger! I’ll try to remember to run that as an item next April.