Adopted Son : Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution
They were unlikely comrades-in-arms. One was a self-taught, middle-aged Virginia planter in charge of a ragtag army of revolutionaries, the other a rich, glory-seeking teenage French aristocrat. But the childless Washington and the orphaned Lafayette forged a bond between them as strong as any between father and son. It was an unbreakable trust that saw them through betrayals, shifting political alliances, and the trials of war.
Lafayette came to America a rebellious youth whose defiance of his king made him a celebrity in France. His money and connections attracted the favor of the Continental Congress, which advised Washington to keep the exuberant Marquis from getting himself killed. But when the boy-general was wounded in his first battle, he became a hero of two countries. As the war ground on, Washington found in his young charge the makings of a courageous and talented commander whose loyalty, generosity, and eagerness to please his Commander in Chief made him one of the war's most effective and inspired generals. Lafayette's hounding of Cornwallis's army was the perfect demonstration of Washington's unconventional "bush-fighting" tactics, and led to the British surrender at Yorktown.
Their friendship continued throughout their lives. Lafayette inspired widespread French support for a struggling young America and personally influenced Washington's antislavery views. Washington's enduring example as general and statesman guided Lafayette during France's own revolution years later.
Using personal letters and other key historical documents, Adopted Son offers a rare glimpse of the American Revolution through the friendship between Washington and Lafayette. It offers dramatic accounts of battles and intimate portraits of such major figures as Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, and Benjamin Franklin. The result is a remarkable, little-known epic of friendship, revolution, and the birth of a nation.
From the Hardcover edition.
Personal friends and political allies, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette had one of the most important friendships of the 18th century. In this enjoyable study, Clary (The Place Where Hell Bubbled Up: A History of the First National Park) argues that although each man was a hero of the American Revolution, it was their partnership that secured American victory. Both men were orphans, and their devotion to each other was motivated by a deep psychological bond. As the title suggests, Washington was something of a father figure to the younger Frenchman, and Lafayette gave the general "unwavering loyalty, truly filial devotion." But the mentoring was not wholly one-sided: Lafayette was committed to the abolition of slavery, and Clary suggests that it was because of Lafayette's influence that Washington chose to free his slaves on his wife's death. The chapters on Lafayette's role in the French Revolution and Washington's anguish over Lafayette's imprisonment make this book far broader than the usual 1776 account. Occasionally, Clary gives over to cutesy Frenchisms (about Lafayette being wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, he writes, "If this was martial glory, tres bien"). Still, on the whole, Clary has satisfyingly woven together grand military history with an intimate portrait of deep affection. Illus. (Feb. 6) Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Adopted Son by David A. Clary
I Was All on Fire
to Have a Uniform
(SEPTEMBER 1757-DECEMBER 1775)
Of all the animals in the world,
the most unmanageable is the boy.
Auvergne was a region of ancient lava flows and eroded volcanic necks, an eerie landscape, rugged and heavily forested, where ghosts and monsters and strange beasts lurked. In its level spaces it supported farming on its rich volcanic soil. Sheep grazed on the gentler slopes surrounding the fields, and hogs rooted on the edges of the woodlands. Around them, the tortured, wooded mountains inspired fears. It was a land of ignorance, superstition, hard labor, and poverty.
A journey to Paris, about 200 miles north, took more than two weeks in 1757. The area had always been isolated, owing to the rugged landscape and bad roads. Those same qualities had given the province a tragic place in history. In 52 bc, the town of Alesia in Auvergne was the last stronghold of the Celtic Gauls (called the Avernii by the Romans). Under Vercingetorix, they had fought the conquering Roman armies through years of brutal combat. The mighty power of the Roman Empire told on the Gauls, however, until the last resisters, about 80,000 of them, were surrounded by Julius Caesar's troops and earthworks.
An army of Belgii, another Celtic nation, marched to their relief, but the Romans slaughtered them to the last man. Vercingetorix offered to surrender Alesia and offer himself as a hostage to spare the lives of his people. Caesar accepted, then ordered his troops to massacre the Gaulish soldiers and sold the people into slavery, scattering them across the Empire. He sent Vercingetorix to Rome, where he was beheaded as an insurgentus.
Gaul ceased to exist except as a province of the Roman Empire. Celtic was no longer spoken and was replaced by the Low Latin of the Roman soldiers. Over the centuries, that Latin became French, and what once was Gaul became France.
THE FAMILY'S MISFORTUNES IN WAR BECAME A
KIND OF PROVERB
Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757, in the same room of the Ch?teau de Chavaniac as his father before him, the top-floor chamber of one of the building's corner towers. The house-built in the pseudo-castle "Ch?teau style" on the foundations of a real castle that had burned down in the 1690s-was a Normanesque pile of stone with twenty large rooms and a slate roof. It was as cold as a barn in the winter despite its many large fireplaces. The Ch?teau was separated from the neighboring village of Chavaniac by a moat, just as its neighborhood was separated from the rest of France by the forbidding landscape of Auvergne.
The hereditary title of marquis, for a nobleman of middling rank, had been in the family for three generations, a reward for military service to the king. The clan could be traced back as far as the year 1000, and members had served in France's wars ever since. But Lafayette was descended from a line of younger sons (eldest sons inherited properties and titles), most of them Champeti?res who traced back to the thirteenth century. The history of Lafayette's forebears was a litany of younger sons who started out in poverty, married well, sired offspring, and went off to war to die young. They were close enough to Paris and Versailles to answer the call to arms but not near enough to be influential at court. They were provincial nobility, country bumpkins compared to the courtiers, glittering peacocks who surrounded the throne.