Lafayette for Young Americans - Rupert Holland




The Young Frenchman Reaches America

The Victory had anchored off North Island, a stretch of sand on the South Carolina coast, but neither the captain nor the owner nor the crew of the sloop knew much more about their location than that it was somewhere in North America. Charlestown they believed was the nearest port of any size, but it might be difficult to navigate through these shoal waters without a pilot who knew the channels. So Lafayette suggested to Baron de Kalb that they should land in one of the sloop's boats and see if they could get information or assistance.

Early in the afternoon Lafayette, De Kalb, and a few of the other officers were rowed ashore in the Victory's yawl. But the shore was merely a sand-flat, with no sign of human habitation. They put out again and rowed farther up the bay, keeping a sharp lookout for any house or farm. They found plenty of little creeks and islands, but the shores were simply waste stretches of sand and scrub-bushes and woods. The mainland appeared as deserted as though it had been a desert island far out in the sea.

All afternoon they rowed about, poking the yawl's nose first into one creek and then into another, and nightfall found them still exploring the North Inlet. Then, when they had about decided that it was too dark to row further and that they had better return to the sloop, they suddenly saw a lighted torch on the shore. Heading for this they found some negroes dragging for oysters. Baron de Kalb, who knew more English than the others, called out and asked if there was good anchorage for a ship thereabouts and whether he could find a pilot to take them to Charlestown.

The negroes, very much surprised at the sudden appearance of the yawl, thought the men on board might be Englishmen or Hessians, and instantly grew suspicious. One of them answered, "We belong to Major Huger, all of us belongs to him, He's our master."

"Is he an officer in the American army?" De Kalb called back.

The negro said that he was, and added that there was a pilot on the upper end of North Island, and then volunteered to show the men in the yawl where the pilot lived and also to take them to the house of the Major.

Lafayette thought it would be best to find Major Huger at once; but the tide was falling fast, and when the rowers, unused to these shoals, tried to follow the negroes in the oyster-boat, they discovered that they were in danger of beaching their yawl. The only alternative was for some of them to go in the oyster-boat, and so Lafayette and De Kalb and one other joined the negroes, while the crew of the yawl rowed back to the Victory.

Over more shallows, up more inlets the negroes steered their craft, and about midnight they pointed out a light shining from a house on the shore. "That's Major Huger's," said the guide, and he ran his boat up to a landing-stage. The three officers stepped out, putting their feet on American soil for the first time on this almost deserted coast and under the guidance of stray negro oystermen.

But this desolate shore had already been the landing-place of English privateersmen, and the people who lived in the neighborhood were always in fear of attack. As Lafayette and his two friends went up toward the house the loud barking of dogs suddenly broke the silence. And as they came up to the dwelling a window was thrown open and a man called out, "Who goes there? Stop where you are or I'll fire!"

"We are friends, sir; friends only," De Kalb hurriedly answered. "We are French officers who have just landed from our ship, which has come into your waters. We have come to fight for America and we are looking for a pilot to steer our ship to a safe anchorage and are also hunting shelter for ourselves."

No sooner had the master of the house heard this than he turned and gave some orders. Lights shone out from the windows, and almost immediately the front door was unbarred and thrown open. The owner stood in the doorway, his hands stretched out in greeting, and back of him were a number of negro servants with candles.

"Indeed, sirs, I am very proud to welcome you!" he said; and then stopped an instant to call to the dogs to stop their barking. "I am Major Huger of the American army, Major Benjamin Huger, and this is my house on the shore where we camp out in the summer. Please come in, gentlemen. My house and everything in it is at the service of the brave and generous Frenchmen who come to fight for our liberties."

There was no doubt of the warmth of the strangers' welcome. The Major caught De Kalb's hand and shook it strenuously, while his small son, who had slipped into his clothes and hurried downstairs to see what all the noise was about, seized Lafayette by the arm and tried to pull him into the lighted hall.

"You are most kind, Major Huger," said De Kalb. "Let me introduce my friends. This gentleman is the leader of our expedition, the Seigneur Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette; this is Monsieur Price of Sauveterre, and I am Johann Kalb."

"He is the Baron de Kalb, monsieur," put in Lafayette. "A brigadier in the army of the King of France and aid to the Marshal the Count de Broglie."

Major Huger had heard of the Marquis de Lafayette, for already news of the Frenchman's determination to fight for the young republic had crossed the Atlantic. He caught Lafayette by both hands. "The Marquis de Lafayette!" he cried. "My house is indeed honored by your presence! We have all heard of you. You have only to command me, sir, and I will do your bidding. I will look after your ship and your pilot. But to-night you must stay here as my guests, and to-morrow I will see to everything. This is my son, Francis Kinloch Huger. Nov please come into my dining-room, gentlemen, and let me offer you some refreshment."

Small Francis, still holding Lafayette's hand, drew the Marquis in at the door. The three guests, delighted at their welcome, went to the dining-room, and there toasts were drunk to the success of the cause of liberty. America was not so inhospitable to the weary travelers after all, and with the glow of the Major's welcome warming them, Lafayette and his two friends went to their rooms and slept in real beds for the first time in many weeks.

Lafayette naturally was delighted at safely reaching his haven, and, as he put it in his own words, "retired to rest rejoiced that he had at last attained the haven of his wishes and was safely, landed in America beyond the reach of his pursuers." Weary from his long voyage on the Victory, he slept soundly, and woke full of enthusiasm for this new country, which was to be like a foster-mother to him. "The next morning," he wrote, "was beautiful. The novelty of everything around me, the room, the bed with its mosquito curtains, the black servants who came to ask my wishes, the beauty and strange appearance of the country as I could see it from my window clothed in luxuriant verdure, all conspired to produce upon me an effect like magic and to impress me with indescribable sensations."

Major Huger had already sent a pilot to the Victory and had done everything he could to assist Lafayette's companions. All the Major's family were so kind and hospitable that they instantly won Lafayette's heart. He judged that all Americans would be like them, and wrote to his wife, "the manners of this people are simple, honest, and dignified. The wish to oblige, the love of country, and freedom reign here together in sweet equality. All citizens are brothers. They belong to a country where every cranny resounds with the lovely name of Liberty. My sympathy with them makes me feel as if I had been here for twenty years." It was well for him that his first reception in America was so pleasant and that he remembered it with such delight, for he was later to find that some Americans were not so cordial toward him.

If he was delighted with the Hugers, the Major and his son Francis were equally delighted with the young Frenchman. And, strangely enough, the little boy Francis, who had seized Lafayette's hand on that June night in 1777, was later to try to rescue his hero from a prison in Europe.

The Marquis and his friends thought they had had quite enough of life on shipboard for the present, and so decided to go to Charlestown over the country roads. The pilot that had been furnished by Major Huger came back with word that there was not sufficient water for the Victory to stay in Georgetown Bay, and Lafayette ordered the ship, in charge of the pilot, to sail to Charlestown. Meantime he and his companions, with horses of the Major's, rode to that seaport. As soon as he arrived there he heard that there were a number of English cruisers on that part of the coast, and so he at once sent word to Captain Leboucier to beach the Victory and burn her, rather than let her be captured by the cruisers.

The Victory, however, sailed safely into Charlestown without sighting a hostile sail, and the captain unloaded Lafayette's supplies and his own private cargo. Later the sloop was loaded with rice and set sail again, but was wrecked on a bar and became a total loss.

No welcome could have been warmer than that Lafayette received in Charlestown. A dinner was given him, where the French officers met the American generals Gulden, Howe, and Moultrie. All houses were thrown open to him, and he was taken to inspect the fortifications and driven through the beautiful country in the neighborhood. How pleased he was he showed in a letter to Adrienne. "The city of Charlestown," he wrote, "is one of the prettiest and the best built that I have ever seen, and its inhabitants are most agreeable. The American women are very pretty, very unaffected, and exhibit a charming neatness,—a quality which is most studiously cultivated here, much more even than in England. What enchants me here is that all the citizens are brethren. There are no poor people in America, nor even what we call peasants. All the citizens have a moderate property, and all have the same rights as the most powerful proprietor. The inns are very different from those of Europe: the innkeeper and his wife sit at table with you, do the honors of a good repast, and on leaving, you pay without haggling. When you do not choose to go to an inn, you can find country houses where it is enough to be a good American to be received with such attentions as in Europe would be paid to friends."

That certainly speaks well for the hospitality of South Carolina!

He did not mean to tell his plans, however, until he should reach Philadelphia, where the Congress of the United States was sitting. "I have every reason to feel highly gratified at my reception in Charlestown," he wrote, "but I have not yet explained my plans to any one. I judge it best to wait until I have presented myself to the Congress before making a statement as to the projects I have in view."

He had only one difficulty in the seaport town. When he started to sell the Victory and her cargo he found that the men who had sold him the ship and Captain Leboucier had so entangled him with agreements and commissions, all of which he had signed without properly reading in his haste to sail from Bordeaux, that, instead of receiving any money, he was actually in debt. To pay this off and get the needed funds to take his companions and himself to Philadelphia he had to borrow money, but fortunately there were plenty of people in Charlestown who were ready to help him out of that difficulty.

With the money borrowed from these well-disposed people Lafayette bought horses and carriages to take his party over the nine hundred miles that lay between Charlestown and Philadelphia. On June twenty-fifth the expedition started. In front rode a French officer dressed in the uniform of a hussar. Next came a heavy open carriage, in which sat Lafayette and De Kalb, and close behind it rode Lafayette's body-servant. Then there followed a chaise with two colonels, the counselors of the Marquis, another chaise with more French officers, still another with the baggage, and finally, as rear-guard, a negro on horseback.

The country roads were frightful for travel; indeed for much of the way they could scarcely be called roads at all, being simply primitive clearings through the woods. The guide kept losing his way, and the carriages bumped along over roots and logs in a hot, blistering sun. As far as this particular journey went, the Frenchmen must have thought that travel was very much easier in their own country. One accident followed another; within four days the chaises had been jolted into splinters and the horses had gone lame. The travelers had to buy other wagons and horses, and to lighten their outfit kept leaving part of their baggage on the way. Sometimes they had to walk, often they went hungry, and many a night they slept in the woods. They began to appreciate that this new country, land of liberty though it was, had many disadvantages when it came to the matter of travel.

From Petersburg in Virginia Lafayette wrote to Adrienne. "You have heard," said he, "how brilliantly I started out in a carriage. I have to inform you that we are now on horseback after having broken the wagons in my usual praiseworthy fashion, and I expect to write you before long that we have reached our destination on foot."

Yet, in spite of all these discomforts, the Marquis was able to enjoy much of the journey. He studied the language of the people he met, he admired the beautiful rivers and the great forests, and he kept pointing out to his companions how much better the farmers here lived than the peasants of his own country. At least there was plenty of land for every one and no grasping overlords to take all the profits.

The journey lasted a month. The party paid a visit to Governor Caswell in North Carolina and stopped at Petersburg and Annapolis, where Lafayette met Major Brice, who later became his aide-de-camp. On July twenty-seventh the travel-worn party reached Philadelphia, which was then the capital of the United States.

The outlook for the Americans was gloomy enough then. New York was in the hands of the enemy, Burgoyne's army had captured Ticonderoga and was threatening to separate New England from the rest of the country, and Howe was preparing to attack Philadelphia with a much larger army than Washington could bring against him. It would have seemed just the time when any help from abroad should have been doubly welcome, and yet as a matter of fact the Congress was not so very enthusiastic about it.

The reason for this was that already a great number of adventurers had come to America from the different countries of Europe and asked for high commands in the American army. Many of them were soldiers of considerable experience, and they all thought that they would make much better officers than the ill-trained men of the new republic. Some of them also quickly showed that they were eager for money, and one and all insisted on trying to tell Congress exactly what it ought to do. Quite naturally the Americans preferred to manage affairs in their own way.

George Washington had already sent a protest to Congress. "Their ignorance of our language and their inability to recruit men," he said, "are insurmountable obstacles to their being ingrafted into our continental battalions; for our officers, who have raised their men, and have served through the war upon pay that has hitherto not borne their expenses, would be disgusted if foreigners were put over their heads; and I assure you, few or none of these gentlemen look lower than field-officers' commissions. To give them all brevets, by which they have rank, and draw pay without doing any service, is saddling the continent with vast expense; and to form them into corps would be only establishing corps of officers; for, as I have said before, they cannot possibly raise any men."

It was true that Silas Deane had been instructed to offer commissions to a few French officers, whose experience might help the Americans, but he had scattered commissions broadcast, and some of these men had proved of little use. One of them, Du Coudray, had arrived and insisted on commanding the artillery with the rank of major-general, and had aroused so much opposition that Generals Greene, Sullivan, and Knox had threatened to resign if his demands were granted. Congress was therefore beginning to look askance at many of the men who bore Silas Deane's commissions.

That was the state of affairs when Lafayette, confident of a warm welcome, reached Philadelphia and presented himself and his friends to John Hancock, the president of Congress. Hancock may have received letters concerning the young Frenchman from Deane and Benjamin Franklin in Paris, but, if he had, he had paid little attention to them, and was inclined to regard this young man of nineteen as simply another adventurer from Europe. With a scant word of welcome Hancock referred Lafayette to Gouverneur Morris, who, he said, "had such matters in charge."

The Frenchmen went to see Morris, but to him also they appeared only a new addition to the many adventurers already hanging about, looking for high commands. He put off dealing with Lafayette and De Kalb. "Meet me to-morrow at the door of Congress, gentlemen," said he. "I will look over your papers in the meantime and will see what I can do for you."

The two new arrivals kept the appointment promptly, but Morris was not on hand. After they had cooled their heels for some time he appeared, bringing with him Mr. Lovell, the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. "Matters that concern France are in Mr. Lovell's charge," said Morris. "Please deal with him after this."

Lovell bowed to the strangers. "I understand, gentlemen," said he, "that you have authority from Mr. Deane?"

"Certainly, sir," De Kalb answered. "Our papers and agreements show that."

Lovell frowned. "This is very annoying," said he. "We authorized Mr. Deane to send us four French engineers, but instead he has sent us a number of engineers who are no engineers and some artillerists who have never seen service. Mr. Franklin, however, has sent us the four engineers we wanted. There is nothing for you to do here, gentlemen. We needed a few experienced officers last year, but now we have plenty, and can promise no more positions. I must bid you good-morning."

Here was a dashing blow to all their eager wishes. Surprise and disappointment showed in their faces.

"But, sir," began De Kalb, "Mr. Deane promised

"Well, Mr. Deane has exceeded his authority," declared Lovell. "He has promised too much and we cannot recognize his authority. We haven't even a colonel's commission to give to any foreign officers, to say nothing of a major-general's. The Congress is very much annoyed by these constant demands, and General Washington says he won't be disturbed by any more requests. I am sorry to disappoint you, but under the circumstances I can promise you nothing. Again I must bid you good-morning."

Lovell returned to Congress, leaving the Frenchmen much discomfited. De Kalb began to storm, and finally spoke angrily of the way they had been treated by Deane. "It is not to be borne!" he cried. "I will take action against Deane! I will have damages for this indignity he has put upon us!"

Fortunately Lafayette was more even-tempered. In spite of this rebuff at the outset he meant to achieve his goal. He turned to the angry lie Kalb and laid his hand restrainingly on the latter's arm. "Let us not talk of damages, my friend," he said. "It is more important for us to talk of doing. It is true that Congress didn't ask us to leave our homes and cross the sea to lead its army. But I will not go back now. If the Congress will not accept me as a major-general, I will fight for American liberty as a volunteer!"