Tired and sore, the rich young man and his companions meandered through the tidal marsh of North Inlet near Georgetown, South Carolina, in a small boat. The group of men knew about where they were, but were looking for a guide to help them get to Charleston.
The larger ship the men came to the shores of Georgetown County on was owned by the rich young man.
Just 19 years old, the wealthy young man bought the boat that the group was in.
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, was only 19 but was already a captain with four years’ experience in the French army. He and Baron Johann De Kalb and about a dozen other Frenchmen snuck away from France against the orders of the king himself to stay put.
As darkness fell on the evening of June 13, 1777, Lafayette and his men came up on a group of slaves owned by Major Benjamin Huger. The plantation owner and his family were in their house on North Island. Today part of the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve, the island at that time was farmed and cultivated and held summer homes for several wealthy planters.
The slaves likely didn’t speak French, and Lafayette‘s English was uncertain since he had only learned it as the group sailed from France to America.
Nonetheless, they were able to get the slaves to lead them to Huger’s house. As the group arrived in the dark at the house, they were welcomed with gunfire.
Somehow, Lafayette and the others were able to explain that they were Frenchmen and not deserter German mercenary troops known to be in the area.
Lafayette, De Kalb and the others stayed with Huger for a couple of days. From there, they made their way to Charleston and then rode inland to Philadelphia where Lafayette presented himself and a letter promising a commission as a major general in the American army.
The Continental Congress was growing kind of tired of foreigners coming to America and expecting high rank and high pay.
Although he was just 19, Lafayette was wise enough to understand the tough spot that Congress faced.
He wrote a letter explaining that he got the commission from Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin in good faith. To help demonstrate his own good faith, he promised to serve the American cause at no cost.
Congress agreed to give him the commission and Lafayette and DeKalb went on to meet General George Washington. Both Frenchmen contributed greatly to America.
Many people recognize that a later alliance from France contributed greatly to America becoming an independent country.
By the time the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Lafayette was just 24 years old.
Despite his youth, Lafayette was seriously wounded in the battle of Brandywine as he rallied American soldiers in an organized retreat. He became like a son to George Washington, commanded troops in multiple engagements and was a key figure in the American victory at Yorktown in September-October 1781. British General Lord Cornwallis surrendered his forces on Oct. 19, 1781.
The hero of two continents, Lafayette went on to play a key role in France.
Benjamin Huger’s little son, Francis Kinloch Huger, in later years made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to free Lafayette from a prison in Austria.
In 1825-26, Lafayette returned to America and toured most of the country.
At some point when he returned to France, he took along dirt from Bunker Hill. He said that he wanted to be buried in American soil. At his funeral in 1834, his son George Washington Lafayette sprinkled the soil over his father’s grave.
Lafayette, we are here
When the United States entered World War I, Col. Charles E. Stanton, disbursing officer on the staff of American expeditionary force commander Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing visited Lafayette‘s grave. Stanton said at Picpus Cemetery that the Americans had come to France.
“America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours,” Stanton said. “Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here.”
Many places in the Georgetown County and throughout the country are named in honor of Lafayette. There are streets in Georgetown named for him and for DeKalb, who died of wounds he suffered at the battle of Camden.
On the front of the Town Clock in Georgetown is a plaque erected in 1927 by the Daughters of the American Revolution. It honors Lafayette‘s service to America.
The plaque reads:
“This tablet commemorates the 150th anniversary of the first landing of Marquis De Lafayette accompanied by Baron De Kalb on North Island, Georgetown County, S.C. June 13, 1777.”
“He came to draw his sword for the young republic in the hour of her greatest need.”
An herb garden next to the Town Clock is named Lafayette Park. Within the herb garden is a bust of Lafayette commemorating the young Frenchman who gave so much to America after his arrival here 242 years ago.