General Lafayette's Visit to Poughkeepsie

Transcribed by Debbie Axtman

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General Lafayette's Visit to Poughkeepsie

The following is an account of LaFayette's visit: - General Marquis-de Lafayette, after an absence of thirty-nine years, revisited our country on the invitations of Congress, as the nation's gues in 1824. He reached New York on the 15th of August, in the packet ship Cadmus. Capt. Allyn, with his son and secretary. The Government had tendered him a United States frigate, but always simple and unostentatious, he preferred to come as an ordinary passenger in a packet ship.

There were no wires fifty years ago which intelligence could pass with lightening speed; but the visit of LaFayette was expected, and the pulses and hearts of the people were quickened and warmed simultaneiously, through some mysterious medium, throughout the whole Union. Citizens rushed from neighboring cities and villages to welcome the French nobleman, who, before he was twenty-one years old, had devoted himself and his fortune to the American colonies in their unequal conflict with the mother country for independence; and who, after fighting gallantly by the side of Washington through the Revolutionary War, returned to france with the only reward he desired or valued - - the gratitude of a free people.

General Lafayette was now sixty-seven years of age, with some physical infirmities, but intellectually strong, in in manners and feeling cheerful, elastic and accomplished.

The General embarked at 1 o'clock, a.m. At half past two his approach was announced by a discharge of cannons from the bluff just below the landing at Poughkeepsie. Large piles of seasoned wood, saturated with tar and turpentine, were kindled upon that bluff, fed by hundreds of boys who had been intrusted with that duty, and which were kept blazing high, filling the atmosphere with lurid flame and smoke until daylight. Soon after sunrise, a large concourse of the citizens of Poukeepsie, with a military escort, arrived at the wharf.

The boat having arrived, Gen. Lafayette, accompanied by Col. Huger of South Carolina, (distinguished for his attempt to rescue the General from the prison of Olmutz) Gens. Van Courtland, Fish and Lewis, were conducted to a barouche drawn by four white horses. Gen. Brush, assisted by Col. Cunningham, then formed the procession which moved at the word of command up Main Street into Academy, and down Cannon into Market Street, in front of the Forbus Hotel, where they were formed into a hollow square, and the General was received by the Trustees of the village.

He was next conducted to the upper piazza of the Forbus House, when an address of welcome was tendered by Col. H. A. Livingston, to which Lafayette feelingly replied. He was then shown to the centre hall, where the ladies, eager to offer their tribute of respect, were presented; after which he returned to the lower piazza, and was introduced to the officers present. He then walked along the line of troops, bowing to them as he passed, and receiving their respects. Among them was an old soldier bearing the marks of poverty and hardship, but whom the General recognized, and cordially shook by the hand.

At the conclusion of these ceremonies the General was escorted to the Poughkeepsie Hotel, where an excellent breakfast was provided. LaFayette sat at the head of the table, and Major Swartwout, a soldier of the Revolution, 95 years of age, was placed at the opposite end, the seats on either side being occupied by the most prominent persons of the village. Over the folding doors were the words "Welcome Lafayette," made up wholly of the pink blossoms of the china-aster.

Breakfast over, the General was escorted to the landing, amid the firing of cannons, the waving of handkerchiefs, and the cheers from thousands, the steamer proceeded up the river to the then beautiful residence of Governor Morgan Lewis, where the party landed, proceeded to his fine old mansion and partook of a sumptous collation. About two o'clock the steamer glided through the placid waters until between four and five o'clock, when she reached Clermont, the manor house of Chancellor Livingston, of revolutionary memory. On landing, the General was received by a large body of Free Masons, and was escorted by a military company from Hudson to the beautiful lawn in front of the manor house, where the General was warmly welcomed by the Master of the Lodge in an appropriate speech. The afternoon was uncommonly beautiful. The scene and its associations were exceedingly impressive. Dinner was served in a green-house or orangery, which formed a sort of balcony to the Southern exposure of the manor house. When the cloth was removed and the evening came on, variegated lamps suspended from the orange trees were lighted, producing a beautiful and wonderfully brilliant effect. Distinguished men from Esopus, Saugerties, Upper and Lower Red Hook, Catskill, Hudson, &c, had been invited. Among these were Robert and James Tillotsen, Walter Patterson, Peter R., Edward P., and "Oakhill John" Livingston, Jacob Haight, Thomas B. Cook, James Powers; John Suydam, Judge William W. Van Ness, Elisha Williams, Jacob Rutson Van Rensselser, Ambrose L. Jordan and Justis McKinstry. But the grand even of the occasion was the ball, which was opened by General LaFayette, leading the graceful, blind widow of Gen. Montgomery, - who fell in the assault of Quebec, 1775 - amidst the wildest enthusiasm of all present. While the festivities were progressing within, the assembly tenatry who were the "manor born," were feasted upon the lawn, where there were music and dancing. The party broke up and returned to the boat about 3 A. M. The steamer hauled out into the river, but did not get underway till sunrise.

General History of Duchess County, 1609 to 1876, by Philip H. Smith, Pawling, NY, 1877, pgs. 358-360.

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Transcribed by Debbie Axtman

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Copyright Dutchess, ALHN October 10, 1999

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