ROSTRAVER TOWNSHIP, Pa. (AP) - French researcher Julien Icher searched through old Presbyterian church records looking for evidence that the Marquis de Lafayette traveled through the Rehoboth Valley during the war hero’s goodbye tour of the United States.
Icher came up empty in early October when he visited Rehoboth Presbyterian Church while looking for primary sources to verify the places Lafayette visited in Rostraver Township in 1825.
“In 1824, he’s probably the most famous person in the country behind George Washington,” said Icher, who has been doing research for a book and a website mapping out the Lafayette Trail.
Washington treated the French aristocrat as an adopted son after he came to North America in 1777 to help the British colonies win their independence, said Chuck Edgar, research librarian at Washington County Historical Society in Washington.
Washington made the 20-year-old Lafayette a major general, and even assigned his personal physician to treat Lafayette after he was wounded in the leg in the Battle of Brandywine.
“The British called him the boy general, and they were frantic to capture him,” Edgar said.
The British later sent ships to Yorktown, where a larger armada of French vessels blocked them in the Chesapeake Bay in 1781, setting the stage for a Continental Army victory.
“It’s all over,” said Edgar, who calls Lafayette America’s first “rock star” because of his military fame.
Lafayette was met with adoration when he returned in July 1824 to the United States for a 13-month tour of all of the young nation’s states, which numbered two dozen at the time.
Arriving at age 66, he first toured New England before going to New Orleans, where he boarded a paddleboat to travel upriver along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, destined for Wheeling. The boat sank, and his party gathered horses to continue its journey, Edgar said.
He arrived in Washington, Pennsylvania, May 25, 1825, to a crowd that included 30 young ladies dressed in white, a number that represented each of the states, territories and the District of Columbia. He spent the night at the Globe Inn on South Main Street, and left the next day for Brownsville, stopping in Scenery Hill for breakfast at Century Inn.
The crowd was so intense in Brownsville after Lafayette crossed the Monongahela River by barge that a Fayette County sheriff was ordered there to bring him to Uniontown.
Lafayette spent time at Friendship Hill, the Fayette County country estate of his friend Albert Gallatin, before heading to Pittsburgh and on to Erie.
Lafayette also spoke in Fellsburg, Rostraver Township, where he met with early settler Benjamin Fell, a cobbler who served with Washington in Valley Forge and supplied the troops with shoes, said John Hepple, a descendant of Fell.
“Lafayette gave an oration at the old log church, and then he moved on,” Hepple said.
Lafayette gave the township gifts, which were long displayed in a case at Lebanon School, which was built near the site of the old log Fells Methodist Church.
No one knows what happened to the items before the school was abandoned and demolished in 1990, Hepple said.
While Lafayette’s name is on countless buildings, counties, towns and streets, many people today don’t know much about him or why he became so famous.
“They think it’s a place and not a person,” said Icher, 25, who has dedicated himself to bringing the Lafayette story back to life.
He’s working with the consulate general of France in Boston and using funds he raised to map out the trail Lafayette followed in 1824 and 1825. Icher also has the support of French President Emmanuel Macron, who invited Icher to accompany him to Washington, D.C., in April.
“We want people to get in their car and travel the trail using my website to know what he did,” said Icher, who has been living in New Hampshire and hails from Carcassonne in southern France.
He wants to have the web-mapping project completed in time for the 200th anniversary of the Lafayette tour of the United States.
Lafayette not only gave money to support the colonies in the American Revolution, but “he spilled his blood for the cause,” Icher said.
“He didn’t know if they had a chance to pull it off,” he said. “He was young and eager to achieve military accomplishment.”
Lafayette loved the United States so much that he took U.S. soil home to be placed atop his grave in Picpus Cemetery in Paris after he died in May 1834, Edgar said.
To view Icher’s mapping project, visit http://www.thelafayettetrail.com/trail/ .
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com
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