Sunday, March 29, 2015

Francis Smith meets General Lafayette

The Marquis de Lafayette, friend and confidant of George Washington, was one of the great heroes of America’s Revolutionary War. In 1824, at the invitation of President James Monroe, Lafayette returned to the United States for a celebratory tour.  The year-long visit marked the upcoming fifty year anniversary of America. Lafayette traveled over six-thousand miles, visiting all twenty-four states. 

In October of 1824 Lafayette made a week-long stop in Richmond Virginia, a city he had twice defended during the Revolutionary War.  The Richmond Enquirer, dated 29 October 1824, gave an account of the myriad of events that surrounded Lafayette’s visit to the city.  The article included a “Muster Roll of Revolutionary Officers who met at Richmond on 26 Oct 1824 to welcome General Lafayette.”  On that list we find, “Francis Smith, First Virginia Regiment, 83 years.” 

This must have been a great day for Francis Smith, our old veteran!  A family friend, commenting on Francis Smith, recalls, “. . . when I was a boy 17 years of age . . . I stayed at his [Francis Smith] house with Capt Wm his son, - he set up half the night, talking of nothing but the Rev War, it was his only theme from that day to the present . .”

This account of Lafayette’s arrival in Richmond is found in “Chesterfield: An Old Virginia County”, Francis Earle Lutz, 1954:

Lafayette and his party came up the James River and landed on October 26 at Osbornes where a huge assemblage was awaiting his arrival, including the official State welcoming party, an escort of horse, and a detachment of artillery to fire a salute.  An immense multitude thronged the wharves and adjacent hillsides to get a glimpse of the distinguished visitor.  He was conducted to the waiting carriage amid enthusiastic cheers and started for Richmond by road with an escort of cavalry.  Everywhere along the route waving crowds were there to cheer and it is reported that the escort had difficulty in clearing Mayo Bridge for the triumphal entry into the capital city.

We will probably never know the exact vantage point from which Francis Smith observed these historic events.  Was he part of the welcoming party?  At age eighty-three, did he ride with the Cavalry? Or, did he simply watch with the crowds from the hillside?  According to accounts, this impromptu parade tracked down Main Street and eventually arrived at Richmond’s historic Eagle Hotel. 

We garner a clue of Francis Smith’s likely participation in the day from Duke and Jordan’s, “A Richmond Reader: 1733-1983”, published in 2011:

The parade ended at the Eagle Hotel where Lafayette would stay, but the General's groupies still hung out in the streets outside of the hotel.  Many were able to meet the revolutionary hero, but forty old and venerable vets of the revolution got a personal reception from the Frenchman. They were able to meet with him in an elegant room the evening he arrived.  Some saluted in silence; some "welcomed him with every expression of sincerity and kindness.

These “old and venerable vets” may have joined Lafayette for dinner that same evening at the Governor’s mansion.  The dinner guests were said to include Vice President John C Calhoun, Virginia Governor James Pleasants, Chief Justice John Marshall, and “more revolutionary vets”.

Despite his advanced years in 1824, Francis Smith lived on for nearly ten years more, dying in April of 1833. The account of this great day, when General Lafayette visited Richmond, must have been given a prominent place in his repertoire of revolutionary war stories.   

For more details on Francis Smith, visit his page at the Markham of Chesterfield website.

Moving back in time:  Francis Smith married Catherine Markham, b abt 1745  > John Markham of Chesterfield, b abt 1700.
Francis Smith is the husband of my 5th great-grandaunt.

About the Photo:  The Landing of General Lafayette.  Platter, pearlware with transfer-printed decorations; James and Ralph Clews, Cobridge, Staffordshire, circa 1825.  On display at the DAR Museum, Washington DC.  Photo by Daderot – placed in the public domain.

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