Lafayette in Woodstock

Portrait of General Lafayette in 1825 by Matthew Harris Jouett.

Portrait of General Lafayette in 1825 by Matthew Harris Jouett.

 

WHO WAS LAFAYETTE?
Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette was born in France in 1757 to a noble family of substantial means. Many of his ancestors had distinguished themselves in battles dating as far back as the Crusades. Lafayette’s father had been killed by the British in the Battle of Minden when Lafayette was just two years old. Lafayette was subsequently raised under the care of his grandmother, who was known for her generosity and the care she bestowed on peasants. A desire to uphold his family’s military legacy and avenge the death of his father (who was killed by the British), coupled with his grandmother’s example of compassion and altruism toward the “lower” classes, likely ignited Lafayette’s own zeal to intercede on behalf of the colonies during the Revolutionary War.          
 
Lafayette’s impact on the War’s outcome was profound. Serving as a major general, his incisive strategic instincts and courage influenced the outcome of numerous battles. In addition, his diplomatic efforts also proved to be critical, as he was able to foment French sympathy for the American cause and mobilize French troops to join the war effort.

 

LAFAYETTE COMES TO VERMONT

It is no wonder given Lafayette’s contributions during the American Revolution that he was viewed as a celebrity and honored when he came for a five-month visit to the United States in 1825. Vermont, like many of the other twenty-four states that made up the Union at this time, was anxious to host Lafayette. 

Escorted by General Lyman Mower of Woodstock (photo below), on June 28, 1825, at 7:00 in the morning, Lafayette and his entourage crossed the Cornish Toll Bridge and entered Vermont. His arrival was met with the firing of cannons and official greeters who guided the procession to Windsor where an estimated three to four thousand people had gathered. The governor of Vermont, Van Ness, welcomed Lafayette and in his address described the Vermonters that he represented as “a plain and hardy people, who are intelligent and virtuous, industrious cultivators of the earth, enjoying their lofty hills, their lovely vallies. They are sincerely attached to the constitution and the government of their country.”

By 9:30 am, Lafayette had started toward his next stop, Woodstock. He arrived a little before 11:00, coming over the hill road from Hartland. He was greeted by several companies of soldiers. The grand procession travelled down what is now known as Pleasant Street to the White Meeting House (present-day Congregational Church).

They passed under a huge arch which read “Welcome Lafayette,” and then they headed south down Elm Street, before bearing to the right and travelling on the north side of the village common. After rounding the western end of the common, the procession stopped in front of “Cutting’s Hall” – a brick wing on the eastern side of the Eagle Hotel (which stands on the site on the present-day Woodstock Inn’s parking lot). 

Judge Titus Hutchinson greeted and welcomed Lafayette stating, “We bid you a cordial welcome to this town and village. We have formed no pretensions to rival the brilliant specimens of taste and wealth you have witnessed in populous towns. We proffer you the homage of our hearts, grateful that you have lived, that you have possessed a spirit of enterprise and that you have labored in the Cause of Liberty.” After Lafayette greeted a group of Revolutionary War soldiers, the procession headed down to Barker’s Tavern (which stood on the present-day site of Bentley’s) where he was entertained by a group of young singers standing on the upper balcony. Inside the hotel, a grand meal awaited Lafayette. In Mary Grace Canfield’s booklet “Lafayette in Vermont,” Canfield notes: “A small girl who was taken to the hotel to look at Lafayette saw a red-headed man, but the thing that thrilled her was the roasted pig with a lemon in its mouth. This little girl was Elizabeth Fitch, later Mrs. Hatch.”
 
Following the meal, Lafayette went to the White Meeting House which Canfield states was “filled with ladies, and he [Lafayette] walked up and down the several aisles bowing low to them and making ‘a few appropriate observations.’”
 
While in Woodstock, Lafayette found at least one man that he knew from his days as a soldier. The man’s name was Thomas, and supposedly Lafayette gave him the opaque glass cup, decorated with a floral motif, that he [Lafayette] had used at Barker’s Hotel.
 
Lafayette then headed for Royalton – the next stop on his whirlwind tour through Vermont.

Lafayette’s time in Woodstock was limited to about one and a half hours, but for many of Woodstock’s residents, it was a momentous occasion.

 
General Lyman Mower escorted Lafayette through Woodstock.

General Lyman Mower escorted Lafayette through Woodstock.

The procession stopped at Cutting's Hall, the brick building on the left in the engraving (now the Woodstock Inn's parking lot) to hear a welcome speech by Titus Hutchinson.

The procession stopped at Cutting's Hall, the brick building on the left in the engraving (now the Woodstock Inn's parking lot) to hear a welcome speech by Titus Hutchinson.