By PATRICIA MOLEN VAN EE
The Library recently purchased at auction Voyage du Général La Fayette aux États-Unis, a manuscript atlas (folio, 49 by 32 cm.) by Gaston Frestel, dated 1827. It contains eight maps covering the United States east of the Mississippi River and uses base maps that appear to have been traced from Anthony Finley's A New American Atlas, designed principally to illustrate the geography of the United States of North America; in which every county in each state and territory of the Union is Accurately Delineated, as far as at present known: the Whole compiled from the Latest and Most Authentic Information, published in Philadelphia in 1826.
Each of the eight manuscript sheets represents a portion of the Marquis de Lafayette's itinerary on what has come to be known as his "triumphal tour" throughout the eastern United States in 1824 and 1825. The numerous stops that he made have been marked on the maps by a symbol resembling a black bar with the name of the town or city. The atlas appears to have original color. In preparing his maps, Frestel apparently traced only the base outline from Finley's maps, since the latter depicts each county in color and provides the names of the counties, cities and towns as well as elaborate statistical tables on the population and size of a variety of administrative units. Frestel's manuscript atlas shows only the waterways and major roads traveled by Lafayette, with little additional information. One notable exception is the "Profile of the Levels of the Grand Erie Canal," relative to the Hudson River, that appears on the sheet for New York on both the original and the copy, although the accompanying descriptive text is absent from the manuscript.
Little is known of the provenance of the manuscript atlas. Published accounts of Lafayette's travels in America appeared as early as 1825, but no other copy of this atlas has been identified and the cartographer, Gaston Frestel, is not cited in any of the standard biographical tools.
One of the most significant and colorful individuals of his era, Lafayette initially arrived in America in 1777, while still in his teens, to promote independence of the American Colonies. Serving at his own expense and without command, he was appointed major general, the youngest in the history of the U.S. Army. Despite his youth and lack of military experience, he became a trusted leader, greatly respected by George Washington. He served with honor in several battles of the Revolutionary War and played a major role in the successful outcome for the Americans.
Sent by George Washington to protect his home state of Virginia, Lafayette, with Washington and the French fleet under Francois Joseph Paul comte de Grasse, arrived at the eastern end of the peninsula between the James and York rivers in the fall of 1781, surrounding Lord Charles Cornwallis, who surrendered at Yorktown. During the following decades until his death in 1834 at age 77, Lafayette remained a leading force in liberal causes. Thomas Jefferson referred to him in 1822, as the "doyen … of the soldiers of liberty of the world." Demonstrating the gratitude of the nation, Congress proclaimed Lafayette an honorary citizen in 1824 and invited him to tour the United States as its first official guest. He was greeted by large crowds and "demonstrations of frenzied enthusiasm without precedent or parallel in American history," according to historian Frank Monaghan.
His American biographer, Louis Gottschalk, noted in a lecture on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Lafayette's birth: "Lafayette came as the ‘nation's guest.' He came not only as a reminder of the glorious past, as the ‘adoptive son of Washington' and as the last surviving major-general of the Revolution, but also … as Europe's outstanding contemporary opponent of mon- archial tyranny."
Although by the time of his visit, Lafayette was old and lame, "he visited every one of the 24 states and was feted everywhere by a nation determined to show that republics are not ungrateful." Gottschalk also noted, "He spoke of independence and of American institutions. The newspapers reported at length whatever he said and did. Almost every man, woman and child in America knew and revered the name of Lafayette and (something his biographers have failed to emphasize sufficiently) his triumphal procession did not go unnoticed in Europe. It gave much needed encouragement to the liberals in his own country."
The honors bestowed on Lafayette by the American people during his triumphal tour included poetry, drawings, engravings and commemorative china and silverware. Parades and balls were held in his honor. Excerpts from the diary of John Quincy Adams, now housed in the Benjamin Thomas Hill Collection of the Manuscript Division, refer to Lafayette's travels in America in 1824-25. The Rare Book and Special Collections Collections Division also holds significant material commemorating his visit.
Perhaps the most permanent effect that Lafayette has had on the American landscape, other than his heroism on the battlefield, is the number of places named for him in the United States. The name "Lafayette" or related terms such as "Fayette" are found almost 400 times on the United States Geological Survey's Geographic Names Information System database. Of those, 57 are populated places, such as cities and towns. As early as 1783, Pennsylvanians had already named a county "Fayette" in appreciation of Lafayette's service in America, some of which took place in and around Philadelphia. The county seat of Tippecanoe County, Ind., was named for Lafayette in 1824, while he was on tour. Lafayette College in Easton, Penn., was chartered in 1826, immediately after the tour ended.
This atlas complements the recent purchase of six manuscript maps by Lafayette's cartographer, Michel du Chesnoy Capitaine. Beautifully drawn and hand colored, they include "Plan of Carillon au Ticonderoga," ca. 1777; "Plan de la retraite de Barren Hill en Pensilvanie," 1778; "Carte de l'affaire de Montmouth," 1778; "Plan de Rhode Islande…" 1778; "Carte des positions occupees par les trouppes Americains apres leur retraite de Rhode Island…" 1778; and "Campagne en Virginie," 1781. The largest map depicts the Virginia Campaign and includes a brief description of Lafayette's activities in the months leading up to the British surrender at Yorktown.
Until now, the atlas and maps had not been available for use by scholars of early American history, as they have been in private hands since they were created. They are significant additions to the comprehensive collections of the Geography and Map Division of material related to the American Revolution and America's founding fathers. Lafayette's career during and after the war are well represented in these cartographic treasures.
Ms. van Ee is a specialist in cartographic history in the Geography and Map Division.