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Today in History: Lafayette’s Celebrity Tour

July 20, 2012

The Marquis de Lafayette is perhaps best remembered for his support on behalf of the American cause during the Revolutionary War. Even today, various towns, schools, and businesses throughout the United States proudly bear the name “Lafayette” in honor of their namesake’s dedicated contributions to the fledgling nation.

Portrait of Lafayette presented by French artist Ary Sheffer to the US House of Representatives in 1824.

Born in France in 1757 with the baptismal name Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, he traveled to America in 1777 as an enthusiastic nineteen-year-old with the intent of joining the Americans in the fight against the British. Soon rising to the position of major general, Lafayette fought faithfully under General George Washington, with whom he developed a lasting friendship. Lafayette’s strategic ingenuity is said to have been invaluable to the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

In an effort to rekindle the patriotic spirit of the Revolutionary Era, Lafayette received an invitation return to the United States for a nationwide tour in 1824, a proposal which he gladly accepted. He then proceeded to visit all twenty-four states over the course of the next thirteen months and was universally received as a national hero.

Lafayette’s travels eventually took him to Germantown and Chestnut Hill during the summer of 1825.

Lafayette’s travels eventually took him to Germantown and Chestnut Hill during the summer of 1825. On July 20, he visited Cliveden (6401 Germantown Avenue), site of the infamous Battle of Germantown which occurred on October 4, 1777.

An 1874 oil painting by American artist Edward Lamson Henry depicts Lafayette entertaining visitors at Cliveden, accompanied by his gracious host Benjamin Chew, Jr. Today, this painting hangs in Cliveden’s entrance hall, where Lafayette’s reception took place, as a lasting tribute to this honored visit.

Benjamin Chew, Jr. was honored to host Lafayette at Cliveden in July 1825.

On the same day, Lafayette also stopped at Wyck (6026 Germantown Avenue) to receive visitors. Over the years, the armchair in which he sat during this visit has been carefully preserved and can still be viewed at Wyck today, 187 years later.The chair’s significance is designated by a hand-written note attached to it, which reads “Franklin Chair used by General Lafayette at his reception at Wyck July 20 1825.” This note also alludes to the fact that the chair was originally part of a set belonging to Benjamin Franklin; three other chairs from this set still survive as part of various other collections.

The Haines family also had the privilege of hosting the famous war hero at Wyck.

To take a look at this infamous chair, be sure to plan your own visit to Wyck. Tours are available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 1 PM – 4PM. In the summer, the house is also open for free, self-guided tours during the Wyck Farmers’ Market every Friday.

George Washington, Lafayette’s esteemed mentor, also spent time in Germantown. To learn more, visit the Deshler-Morris House, also known as the Germantown White House, located at 5512 Germantown Avenue. It was here that Washington stayed while in Germantown, once during the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 and again during the summer of 1794.  The house is available for free tours Friday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM.

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