“Nine Days Traveling; Lafayette’s 1825 Alabama Tour; Today’s Historical Road Trip”
Author: Lawrence Krumenaker
Publisher: Hermograph Press
Price: $26.95 (Paper)
Following in the Steps of Lafayette in Alabama
On the 4th of July 1917, at the Picpus cemetery in Paris, at the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette, Colonel Charles E. Stanton of the newly arrived American Expeditionary forces proclaimed “Lafayette we are here.”
(The quote is usually wrongly attributed to Gen John J. Pershing.)
At the time, everyone knew what was meant. Americans owed France, and especially Lafayette, a huge debt. In 1777, At 19 years old, Lafayette had come to America to help in the War for Independence. Ben Franklin advised George Washington to take Lafayette on as an aide-de-camp, which he did. Lafayette fought in a number of battles, behaved gallantly, was wounded at Brandywine and was actually present at the British surrender at Yorktown.
He had contributed personally and encouraged King Louis to help financially, which the French, having been at war with Great Britain for 100 years, were happy to do.
In fact, it is generally agreed that the money sent to the American cause helped create the debt and thus the discontent that led to the French Revolution and Louis’ beheading. That good deed did not go unpunished.
Lafayette remained such a hero in the American consciousness that President Monroe invited him to tour America, as our guest, and he would become one of very few honorary American citizens, ever.
He landed in America in August of 1824 and went on a huge national tour, visiting all 13 original states and also the new ones, entering Alabama on March 31, 1825 across the Chattahoochee River, and set out on the new Federal Road through Creek Territory. He would be in Alabama for nine days, travelling by coach and by steamship.
Lawrence Krumenaker has meticulously traced every step Lafayette took and has a written out a plan whereby we can follow the same route, but by car, which would in fact only take a few hours, if that were the goal.
He describes what Lafayette saw in 1825 and what we would see today—stretches of the Federal Road, including bits you can actually walk on, a couple of taverns now rebuilt and moved to Alabama Town, and sites where Lafayette spoke at celebrations and banquets.
At Fort Mitchell he watched some Creek Indians play an early version of lacrosse, then set out westward. It was expected that travelers would make 16 miles a day, from one tavern or inn to the next.
Krumenaker tells us, there are no lodgings in many of these places today!
In Montgomery, Lafayette was hosted on Goat Hill by Governor Israel Pickens and given lunch. There was no capital building at the time. There was a soiree at Freeney’s tavern, and he then went by steamship to Selma, probably greeting visitors on board his ship, then on to what was then the capital at Cahawba. There is very little there now, or at Claiborne, his next stop. Krumenaker suggests side trips to William Weatherford’s grave and Fort Mims.
Lafayette was hosted several times in Masonic Halls. This brotherhood clearly meant a lot to him.
Arriving in Mobile late, his visit was cut short but he walked around the town, had dinner, met with Masons, and then sailed to Mobile Point, now Fort Morgan, staying only an hour before setting off for New Orleans. He would head north, up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, finally arriving at Bunker Hill in time for the dedication of the monument there.
Throughout the pandemic and the lockdown, this trip would have been impossible. Now that we are able to move freely about, following Lafayette around Alabama might be great fun for the historically minded.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.