Lafayette’s Visit to Williamsburg

Bruton Parish Church

Thomas Charles Millington painted this watercolor of Gloucester Street in 1836. Visible is the Bruton Parish Church with an exterior stair to the gallery.

One brief moment of glory accompanied the return of Lafayette in 1824. Visiting America as a guest of Congress, he stayed in the Peyton Randolph House on Market Square and attended a banquet at the Raleigh Tavern. According to Miss Barlow,

“When Lafayette came to Williamsburg in 1824, he dined at the Paradise House. The story my mother told me was that after dinner they all went out on the blocks they had on each side of the front steps and had their after-dinner coffee. Lafayette came out and spoke to my grandmother, took the badge off that he was wearing, kissed her, pinned it on her and said, ‘This is the little girl that is named for me.’ She was pleased to death with the badge, but she thought Lafayette was homely.”

Many other residents of Williamsburg had stories about Lafayette’s visit that they passed down to their children and grandchildren.

Williamsburg had been the site of slave auctions for the surrounding hinterland throughout the colonial and early national period. Whether or not Lafayette witnessed such a slave auction is unknown. When visiting Montpelier, home of the former president James Madison, Lafayette received explanations for the mild and tolerant form of slavery practiced by the “enlightened” Virginians who shared Madison’s dinner table. To Auguste Levasseur, private secretary to Lafayette, tolerable slavery was no preference so long as liberty loomed as the alternative.

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