Marquis de Lafayette in Albany

Lafayette’s First Visit to Albany 1778 – Chasing the Wild Goose

During the Revolution, Lafayette was used as a pawn by the Conway Cabal (a group of U.S. military officers seeking to oust General Washington as head of the patriot army). The Marquis was sent to Albany in February and March 1778 to plan an incursion into Canada from Albany. The proposed expedition was nothing more than a ploy to get young and charismatic Lafayette out of the way, and separate him from Washington. He wrote General Washington from Albany and to Governor Clinton about the futility of mounting an expedition. (The long lost letter to Clinton was discovered in Albany almost 60 years ago.) The northern campaign was called off in late March 1778, and Lafayette departed Albany for Valley Forge on March 31.

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Schuyler Mansion

While in Albany he stayed at the Schuyler Mansion, as a guest of General Philip Schuyler, where we assume he met Eliza, who would marry his good friend, Alexander Hamilton, in another 3 years, and he probably met Peggy too. (The third Schuyler sister, Angelica, was in Boston, awaiting the birth of her first child, following her elopement with John Barker Church in 1777.) We assume his chagrin about being dispatched from Washington’s side was soothed by the warmth and abundant hospitality of the Schuyler home and the charms of the Schuyler sisters.

As you can see by the map from 1790 (12 years after Lafayette’s visit), Albany was a still a small city, but no longer a rural outpost. It had become a major port. The downtown streets we know today, State, Pearl and Broadway, were the main arteries of the City. He would have visited the fort at the top of State St. hill where the Capitol is today; the Schuyler aunts, who still lived on one of the corners of State and Pearl, and the Stadt Haus (City Hall) about where the D & H Building is located. All of these were within an easy walk of the Mansion. We think it sort of thrilling to know that you can visit the house where Lafayette lived for over a month and walk the same streets he walked.

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Lafayette’s Second Visit to Albany (a/k/a The Reunion Tour) 1824

In 1824 Lafayette was invited to America by President Monroe to tour all 24 states while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Revolution and to instill in Americans the “spirit of 1776”. He received a hero’s welcome all across the country. Albany was no different. Lafayette arrived in the evening of September 17. His carriage and escort were ferried across the Hudson from Greenbush. A large crowd greeted him, and his carriage, accompanied by troops, proceeded under a series of arches welcoming The Hero to the Capitol building (the 1st Capitol, constructed in 1809 – about where the current building is located). There he was met by the Governor and other luminaries. The party traveled a short distance to the home of Matthew Gregory, with whom Lafayette had served during the battle of Yorktown in 1781. A large ball was held in Lafayette’s honor in the Assembly hall, but he “stayed but an hour”, retiring to the Congress Hall Hotel, adjacent to the Capitol.

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On the next day, September 18, the Marquis arose early, and after a brief ceremony, was escorted to his boat, waiting to whisk him to Troy. After ceremonies in Troy, including a visit to Mrs. Willard’s female seminary, he returned to Albany, gathered up his baggage, and was escorted by torch light to the “James Kent” steamboat, waiting to take him back to New York.

There is a plaque in Albany’s Lafayette Park commemorating  LaFayette’s visits to Albany.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

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