How and why did this French-born noble end up fighting in the American Revolution? [Read more…] about The Marquis de Lafayette (Podcast)
In 1824, the French aristocrat Lafayette (Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette), who had played a key role in securing victory over the British during the American Revolution, was invited by President James Monroe to visit the United States, then about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
As an advocate for democracy in both the American colonies and in France, and a proponent of abolition, the Frenchman was warmly welcomed on a thirteen-month tour of the United States. His visit spanned a highly controversial 1824 presidential election season in which the House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams over the highest vote-getter, Andrew Jackson. Lafayette has been seen by historians as a uniting force, whose presence served to remind Americans of their mutual bonds. [Read more…] about Lafayette’s 1824-25 Farewell Tour Commemoration (A Virtual Talk)
An often overlooked and forgotten New York City landmark, Castle Clinton welcomed many of the city’s residents into its walls as a place of innovation, entertainment, and new beginnings.
The circular sandstone fort which currently stands in Battery Park, was built to improve harbor fortifications in 1811. The Southwest Battery, as it was known, never fired a shot. [Read more…] about Castle Clinton: New York’s Almost Forgotten Landmark
The New York welcome is famous. Charles Lindbergh was paraded up Broadway under a deluge of ticker tape after flying the Atlantic solo in 1927. The Apollo 11 astronauts received an even grander reception 42 years later when they returned from the moon.
But no one was ever given a welcome like the one that Lafayette received in 1824. He was returning, one last time, to see the country whose independence he had fought for almost a half century earlier. His tour was a sensation. Echoes of it can be seen across New York to this day. [Read more…] about Lafayette In New York: A Hero and Aging General Returns
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
242 years after John Adams’ exhortation, people in the city of New York are still struggling with how to celebrate July 4, and its meaning. In the City of New York July 4 celebrations held after the enactment of the U.S. Constitution were anything but nonpartisan. [Read more…] about Tammany and NYC’s Fourth of July Celebrations
He used civil disobedience before Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. made it a thing. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, French aristocrat and military officer, fought for the United States in the American Revolutionary War and influenced America’s founding fathers on issues like slavery and capital punishment.
Veteran journalist and self-proclaimed Lafayette historian Donald Miller’s seventh book, Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy (iUniverse, 2015) looks in depth at one of the most influential men in French and American history. [Read more…] about Lafayette: Hero of Two Worlds, Champion of Liberty
A French aristocrat, Lafayette fought with George Washington’s army during the American Revolution. At some point while in America the Frenchman visited Johnstown and was entertained by the families of Jacob and Thomas Sammons, who leased the former Johnson Hall for four years after the Loyalist Johnson family fled to Canada. Lafayette played a key role in the British defeat at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. [Read more…] about Marquis de Lafayette’s Visit To Fort Hunter
“She sails like a bird,” the Marquis de Lafayette wrote of the Hermione – the ship that carried him and a cache of materiel across the Atlantic in 1780 and which is the model for a modern replica which arrived in the United States on Friday.
The New-York Historical Society in Manhattan is celebrating Lafayette, the “Boy General” whose friendship with George Washington and diplomatic networks in Paris helped win the American Revolution with a new exhibit timed to the arrival of the Hermione. [Read more…] about Hermione Arrives in U.S., Lafayette Exhibit Planned
The Half Moon is a full scale replica of the original Dutch ship of exploration sailed by Henry Hudson for the Dutch East India Company in 1609. The original Half Moon was the first European ship to document entry into what we now call the Delaware Bay and River, and to explore the Hudson River to its navigable limits.
The Hermione is a full scale replica of the French ship that brought LaFayette to America in 1780 and which joined Admiral de Grasse’s fleet for the Battle off the Capes on the lower Chesapeake and the siege at Yorktown. The ship then sailed to Philadelphia in 1781 where the Continental Congress visited and paid tribute to it. [Read more…] about The Half Moon and The Hermione: A Tale of Two Ships
Ol’ time, foot-stompin’ fiddle music is a North Country staple, rooted in times past when people made their own fun. Its heyday was principally from the mid-1800s to the 1940s, finally giving way in the post-World War II years to the automobile and widespread availability of electricity. Sources of entertainment changed, but before that, the tradition of barn dances and the like was strong across the Adirondacks.
For the past seventy years or so, that tradition has been preserved by a number of outstanding musicians, and it continues today with young Dorothy Jane Siver. Back in the 1950s and 60s, when some of the old tunes were rolled out, it brought back memories of Crown Point’s Lafayette Spaulding.
Born in Ironville (about six miles southwest of Crown Point village in Essex County) in 1830, Spaulding worked on the family farm and at the same time developed a strong interest in music. As an adult, he continued on both paths, operating his own farm in Crown Point while broadening his musical skills. For a time he was the Crown Point Lighthouse keeper, but he farmed most of his life.
The gigs he did as a young boy—parties and dances—confirmed a burgeoning talent. That led to appearances at taverns, dance halls, hotels, wedding receptions, and performances in musical presentations. But he didn’t neglect the smaller venues. Whether you called it a hop, a parlor dance, a kitchen dance, or a barn dance—if it was somewhere in the vicinity of Crown Point, Lafayette Spaulding was the guy to call.
The name itself has a great ring to it, as did his wife’s (Abigail Spaulding). Cora was the name chosen for their daughter, but nothing nearly so normal for their two sons—Viceroy and Vilroy.
By 1860 Lafayette was the pre-eminent dance caller around, and for the next thirty years, his music brought joy to thousands. There was some extra money to be made doing it, but Spaulding was driven by a love for music and performing.
His showmanship was memorable, characterized by two main features. First, he would gladly play once his seating was properly prepared—a chair placed atop a table.
That afforded him full view of the dance floor, which led to another of Lafayette’s favorite pastimes—correcting any dancers who messed up the steps. Spotting an offender, he would stop the music, and to great exaggeration and lots of laughter, Spaulding would correct everyone, offering proper instructions before the music resumed. He managed a running commentary even while calling the dance. The public loved it.
By the mid-1890s, Lafayette was a local legend and had friends beyond count. He was in great demand, and though it seemed like he should be slowing down at the age of 65 (life expectancy then was 48), the best—or at least the biggest—was yet to come.
In late 1899, Spaulding was approached by J. Wesley Rosenquest, manager of the 14th Street Theatre in New York City. Rosenquest had already completed two highly successful runs of The Village Postmaster, a play written by Alice Ives and Jerome Eddy. The story was based on traditional New England life, and Act 2 began with a dance scene. Lafayette was to play the fiddle and call the dance. The skill he had developed in his own act (correcting dancers) was put to use in choreographing the scene.
He joined the theatre company at Troy to rehearse, and a month later, at Christmas, the show opened in New York City to a packed house. The success continued to rave reviews in The New York Times and other newspapers. Said one writer, “Probably the member of the cast who aroused the most interest was “Laffy” Spaulding, the Adirondack Guide, who called the dances. The amusing incidents of the 2nd act, in the Donation Party scene, caused much laughter.”
And in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s true: back then, when a man from “up north” somehow made it into the city newspapers, he was more often than not referred to as an Adirondack Guide.
Six months shy of his 70th birthday, Lafayette was a hit on Broadway and loving every minute of it. He informed friends of his latest ventures, including lunch with the head of a 5th Avenue jewelry firm, and dinner with a millionaire admirer.
In late January, plans were made for the play’s three-week stint covering Brooklyn and Jersey City before touring the western part of the state. By September, he was back at home enjoying his new-found celebrity status.
Lafayette resumed performing in the Lake Champlain area, just as he had always done. A snippet from one report is classic Spaulding: “La Fa [as he was known] Spaulding, of New York theatre fame, made a decided hit. His old fashioned music and manner of calling the changes were amusing, and his way of correcting mistakes, though somewhat abrupt, created uproarious laughter.”
One of his last appearances was in 1905 at the Union Opera House in Ticonderoga. It must have been something to see when the 75-year-old took the stage, prompting this description: “The dancing of ‘Honest John,’ with Lafayette Spaulding as fiddler, brought down the house and revived fond memories of olden times in the minds of the older persons present.”
In November 1907, at the age of 77, Lafayette Spaulding died. Perhaps fittingly, he was found seated upright in his chair as if ready to call the next dance.
Photo: Above, the 14th Street Theater in 1936, shortly before it was torn down; Below, an advertisement at the beginning of Spaulding’s theater run (December 1899).
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.