By Kieran J. O’Keefe
At the invitation of President James Monroe, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States between August 1824 and September 1825. Lafayette’s visit was in part to celebrate the approaching fiftieth anniversary of American independence and he took a grand tour of the country, traveling to each of the twenty-four states. One of his earliest stops was Newburgh in September 1824.
On September 15, Lafayette traveled up the Hudson River from New York City on a steamboat named the James Kent intending to stop at West Point and Newburgh. Before he reached West Point, the ship ran aground and was stuck for several hours. After finally getting free, Lafayette and his entourage examined the military academy. They remained there until 6:00 PM when they departed for Newburgh.
Lafayette arrived in Newburgh an hour later at 7:00 PM. Locals had expected him earlier, but he had been delayed because of the ship’s accident. Nonetheless, Lafayette’s secretary, Auguste Levasseur, estimated that there were thirty thousand inhabitants there to greet them, despite that Newburgh had just a population of four thousand. Thousands had come from neighboring communities to see the old general. The village erected five decorative arches celebrating Lafayette and several companies of calvary and infantry from the nearby area joined the festivities. Levasseur remarked that the reception in Newburgh was “more tumultuous than any we had yet witnessed.” Lafayette was greeted first by a salute from six-pound cannons and then by the village’s committee of arrangement. After getting into an open carriage, Lafayette paraded around the village by torch light, traveling on Colden, First, and Smith streets before going to the Orange Hotel. There he and his entourage were to dine with some of the village’s most prominent residents.
After arriving at the hotel, Lafayette received and gave various addresses with Newburgh’s leading citizens, including the Agricultural Society of Orange County and the Hiram Masonic Lodge. While Lafayette was dining, the crowd outside learned that he planned to leave the village that night and continue his tour. They cried out “that it was shameful thus to snatch from the citizens of Newburgh, the friend they had so long and so ardently desired.” The crowd insisted that Lafayette must stay until the next day when he might “bestow his benediction upon the children of Newburgh.” The crowd was so agitated that they began clashing with the guard standing outside the hotel. Francis Crawford, who was the village president and was dining with Lafayette, learned that the situation could become very serious if the people were not calmed.
Crawford took Lafayette to the balcony of the hotel that overlooked the street on which the crowd was gathered. At the very sight of Lafayette, the people cheered in excitement and pleasure. Crawford admonished the crowd, asking them if they wished to distress Lafayette, to which they responded “No! no! no!” He reminded them that it would be a great inconvenience for Lafayette to stay the night in Newburgh because he was expected in Albany the following day. Having been pacified, the crowd responded with “shouts and huzzas.” Lafayette then addressed the throng of people, thanking them for their hospitality. After this, Lafayette and Crawford left the balcony. The crowd remained in the street, but they no longer struggled with the guard.
When Lafayette departed the hotel and prepared to leave the village, some members of the crowd implored him to stay just a little longer, requesting that he come to nearby Crawford’s Hall where their wives and children had prepared to receive the general. Lafayette agreed, and at the hall, he found that the women and children had dressed for a ball. They had not expected to see Lafayette after learning he would soon depart, so they were happily surprised at his appearance. Lafayette went around the hall and took each of their hands, while they gave him wreaths and flowers. On leaving the building, Lafayette proceeded to the James Kent and Levasseur remarked that “the general could not reach the steam-boat without receiving the most endearing expressions of the esteem of these excellent people.” Lafayette boarded the boat at 2:00 AM and said goodbye to the village leaders. He left for Poughkeepsie where he arrived early next morning.
Eager, Samuel W. An Outline History of Orange County. Newburgh: S.T. Callahan, 1846-47.
Levasseur, Auguste. Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Or, Journal of a Voyage to the United States. 2 vols. Trans. John D. Goodman. Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1829.
Learn more at https://lafayette200.org/
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