Lafayette Stayed Here!
Gloria Schmidt, September 2022
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Lafayette’s stay in Rhode Island during the Siege of Newport and the Battle of Rhode Island in August of 1778 was just the first time the General came to our state. The second visit was to Newport in 1780 when he came to confer with Rochambeau. In 1784 he came to Rhode Island on a tour after the War for Independence was over. His last visit came during a grand tour of America in 1824.
In the summer of 1778 Lafayette brought a detachment of troops from General Washington to assist General Sullivan in the Rhode Island Campaign, a joint French and American effort to free Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island) from the British Occupation.
A letter Washington wrote from White Plains, New York, on July 22, 1778 contained the orders:
“Sir, You are to have the immediate command of that detachment from this army which consists of Glover’s and Varnum’s brigades and the detachment under the command of Colonel Henry Jackson. You are to march them by the best routes to Providence in the State of Rhode Island. When there, you are to subject yourself to the order of Major General Sullivan, who will have command of the expedition against Newport and the British and other troops on the islands adjacent.”
Lafayette reached Providence with 2,000 men on August 3rd or (August 4th according to other accounts). On their way, Lafayette and his men stayed by “Angell’s Tavern” in Scituate. There his men had a chance to wash and refresh themselves with the spring that became known as Lafayette’s Spring. On August 5th, Lafayette was aboard the French flagship Le Languedoc to meet with French commander Admiral d’Estaing. The French fleet was waiting off Point Judith and d’Estaing provided Lafayette with the ship Provence to bring him back to Providence.
There is some documentation for where Lafayette stayed in Rhode Island at that time, and there are other homes that have “Lafayette Stayed Here” legends that have come down through time. The American forces gathered in Tiverton, close to the Howland Ferry. By August 6, 1778, Lafayette and his troops had moved to Tiverton where he is said to have stayed at the Abraham Brown House on Main Road close to Lafayette Street. He is said to have occupied the northwest chamber on the second floor. This may have been before the move to Aquidneck Island, or it may be that he stayed there after the retreat. With the arrival of the French fleet, operations were set in motion. The British abandoned Butts Hill Fort and other strategic locations in northern Aquidneck Island. On August 10, 1778 Sullivan began crossing to the island, and he moved into Butts Hill Fort, making it his headquarters. The diary of Rev. Manasseh Cutler who served as chaplain for General Titcomb’s Brigade, provides a few glimpses of what Lafayette and others were doing on the island before the Battle of Rhode Island. His entry for Sunday, August 16th, gives us one location of Lafayette’s quarters in Portsmouth.
“Went in the afternoon with a number of officers to view a garden near our quarters, belonging to one Mr. Bowler, – the finest by far I ever saw….” Cutler goes on to describe the garden. The last line in the diary entry reads, “The Marquis de la Fayette took quarters at this house.”
Cutler’s entry for Monday the 17th also refers to the Marquis. The British had been firing since early in the morning and Cutler with General Titcomb had been observing the enemy lines from the top of a house. “…stood by the Marquis when a cannon ball just passed us. Was pleased with his firmness.”
Metcalf Bowler’s estate has been torn down, but there are two homes in Portsmouth with “Lafayette” legends. One is the Dennis House on East Main Road and not far from Butts Hill Fort. The southeast room on the second floor has traditionally be associated with Lafayette. Lafayette has traditionally been associated with a house on Bristol Ferry Road (Bayles’ History of Newport County: p.665).
Although the American forces had moved onto Rhode Island (Aquidneck), the French forces were unable to move forward with their attack of Newport. Their ships were damaged in a storm and d’Estang decided to head to Boston for repairs on August 21st. The joint French and American plan was about to fail without the French aid. On August 28th, Lafayette made the six-and-a-half-hour trip to Boston to talk to d’Estaing. The mission was fruitless and on August 30th Lafayette rode back to Portsmouth in record time. He had missed the battle, but he took command of the rear guard to bring it safely across to Tiverton.
Israel Angell’s Diary notes that on September 1st General Varnum’s brigade in General Lafayette’s detachment passed by boat to Warren. The next day they were in Bristol where Lafayette made the Hope Street home of Joseph Reynolds his headquarters. A plaque on the house reads: This house built about the year 1698 by Joseph Reynolds was occupied by Lafayette as his headquarters September 1778 during the War of American Independence.” Lafayette’s room was the northwest chamber. The southwest room on the first floor was his dining room and office.
By September 18th Lafayette had moved on to Warren where the brigade encamped on Windmill Hill. Lafayette’s quarters were at Coles Tavern which has since burned down. On September 28th he was in Boston and on his way to Philadelphia on October 1st. Lafayette would return to Rhode Island under more peaceful circumstances.
A Second Visit to Rhode Island
General Lafayette’s first visit to Rhode Island was during the perilous times of the Rhode Island Campaign in 1778. His second visit was in the summer of 1780. Washington sent Lafayette with a letter of welcome to Rochambeau who had recently arrived in America. Lafayette was in New Jersey when he received his orders from General Washington. His route led him to Peekskill, New York, where Washington was headquartered and then through Connecticut via Danbury, Hartford, Lebanon, finally arriving in Newport on July 25th. Lafayette remained in Newport with Rochambeau at Vernon House (Rochambeau’s headquarters) until July 31, 1780. By August 7th Lafayette was back in Peekskill commanding his troops.
A Third Visit to Rhode Island
After the close of the Revolutionary War, Lafayette made a third trip to Rhode Island. In October of 1784 he arrived in Providence. The Providence Gazette of 1784 reported:
“Last Saturday Afternoon (October 23) the Honorable Marquis de la Fayette arrived here from Boston. He was met a few miles from hence by a Number of principal Inhabitants and received at the Entrance of the Town and escorted in, by the United Company of the Train of Artillery under arms. On his Arrival he was welcomed by a Discharge of 13 Cannon at the State House Parade, the Bells were rung and at Sunset, the Salute was repeated by heavy Cannon on Beacon Hill.”
“The Marquis having visited Newport returned from thence on Monday Evening and on Tuesday partook of an Entertainment at Mr. Rice’s Tavern at which were present his Excellency the Governor, his Honor the Deputy-Governor, both Houses of Assembly, a Number of respectable Inhabitants, Officers of the late Army &c. After diner the Marquis set out for Boston and was again saluted with 13 Cannon.”
“On Monday last (October 25) the Society of Cincinnati of this State convened at Mr. Rice’s Tavern where an elegant Dinner was provided upon the Occasion; and having finished the Business of their Meeting they were honored with Company of his Excellency the Governor his Honor the Lieutenant Governor and the Honorable the Marquis de la Fayette accompanied by the Chevalier De L’Enfant.” Thirteen toasts were given.
Lafayette’s Last Visit: 1824
Lafayette’s last visit to Rhode Island was part of a grand tour as a guest of the government of the United States. It was an opportunity to refresh connections to the Revolutionary War generation and to highlight the progress the country had made as an independent state.
The Marquis de Lafayette came to Providence on August 23, 1824. The organizing committee was unsure which roads the Marquis would be traveling to Providence, so they posted messengers along various roads. He was met at Fisk’s Tavern in Scituate and escorted to the Providence town line where a delegation of the Town Council was waiting. He was transferred to a luxurious, open barouche carriage which was drawn by four white horses. He traveled along a predetermined line of march and was “welcomed by that most expressive token of affection interest, the waving of white handkerchiefs by the fair hands of the ladies.” (Providence Gazette, August 25, 1824)
There was a procession through High Street, down Westminster to Weybosset Bridge and up North Main Street to the State House. As he reached the State House the United Train of Artillery fired a salute. As he arrived at the State House the streets were lined with women in white holding in their hands branches of flowers. As Lafayette walked up the State House steps, they strew his path with flower petals. At the top of the stairs, he was greeted with affection by Col. Stephen Olney. Olney had served in the Rhode Island Regiment under the command of Lafayette at Yorktown as well as at the Battle of Rhode Island.
After being greeted by State and Town Officials in the Senate Chamber, Lafayette walked to his hotel. During a meal at the hotel, dining room recollections of the War for Independence were shared. After the meal General Lafayette reviewed the troops and shook hands with all the “principal officers.” His carriage greeted him at the end of the line and brought him back to Sanford Horton’s Globe Tavern at 81 Benefit Street. Lafayette had also stayed here in 1784.) where he was entertained by Henry Rice.
Other houses connected to Lafayette by traditions are the Fenner Garrison House at Thornton and the house of William Field at Field’s Point. By August 25th Lafayette was on to Boston and more celebrations.
Joseph Reynolds House, Bristol
“Did Lafayette sleep here?”
After the Battle of Rhode Island in September of 1778, this stately home his headquarters.
Marquis de Lafayette. General Lafayette was in command of the ports around the Island of Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island). He was responsible for the ports at Warren, Bristol and the Eastern Shore of Narragansett Bay. His troops were stationed in Bristol from September 7 to September 23. Lafayette himself used the Reynold House, especially the north parlor, as central command. There is a legend that on September 7, 1778, Mrs. Reynolds was awaiting her distinguished guest. About an hour before he was expected, a young Frenchman rode to the house, dismounted and tied his horse to a tree in the yard. The gentleman asked Mrs. Reynolds for something to eat. Mrs. Reynolds obliged, but after a while told the guest that she had to prepare for Lafayette’s arrival. The guest replied, “Madam, I am Lafayette.” The general was only 21 at the time and it is reasonable that Mrs. Reynold would not have recognized the Frenchman.
The Reynolds House has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. Built circa 1698-1700, the house is three stories high. It stayed in the Reynolds family until the 1920s. It has endured much remodeling.
Application for inclusion in National Register of Historic Places.
Early homes of Rhode Island. Architectural Treasures of Early America. Arno Press, Inc. 1977.
Sources and Citations.
References: This article was based on Preston’s 1926 article with added information from other sources.
Preston, Howard. “Lafayette’s Visits to Rhode Island.” Rhode Island Historical Society Collections. January 1, 1926.
Cutler’s Diary is found in Edwin Stone’s “Our French Allies.” This is an old book (1884, Providence) but it was a great help. It is available online through Google Books.
Taylor, Erich A. O’D. Campaign on Rhode Island, 1930?
The Diary of Colonel Israel Angell Commanding Officer, 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, Continental Army by Edward Field.
Rhode Island American, Providence, August 24, 1824.
About the Author
Gloria Schmidt researches and writes the history of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. She is a volunteer historical researcher for the Battle of Rhode Island Association. This article is a combination of three articles on where Lafayette stayed in Rhode Island. They appeared in Gloria’s blog: portsmouthhistorynotes.com