Sir Knight William A. Brown
Old Dominion Commandery No. 11
Although there is some question as to where the Marquis de Lafayette received his symbolic degrees, there is no question as to when and where the general received his Royal Arch Degree. Lafayette was an American-made Mason, as there is little doubt that he received his symbolic degrees in America. We can assume that Lafayette's great intimacy with Brother George Washington led him to desire to become a member of the Fraternity.
You might wonder why the time and place of his having received the first three degrees of Masonry should not have been well recorded, but there is uncertainty only because the stories told were embellished and changed to make the teller important.
Where was it? Morristown, New Jersey, or Albany, New York? Could it have been Newburgh? All three claim to be the home and birthplace of Layfayette's Masonic life. Most authorities agree that Lafayette was in his twentieth year when he received his degrees in the Symbolic Lodge, which, oddly, is the same age at which Washington received his first degree in Fredericksburg Lodge, Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The most popular story, and the one most quoted, claims that Lafayette received his degrees in a room over the bar of the old Freemen's Tavern in Morristown, New Jersey. They also state that Brother Washington himself presided at the ceremony as Master; of this there is no proof, but it made a good story and may be true. The concession and probability is in favor of the degrees being conferred in some military Lodge at some time prior to the capitulation of Yorktown, for it is recorded that Washington, Ma rshall, Lafayette, and Nelson attended Lodge No. 9 immediately after the surrender.
It was in 1784 that Lafayette, on a visit to America, made a special trip to Mt. Vernon to visit Washington and Martha; they were like a father and mother to him and he loved them dearly. On that visit he presented to Washington a beautiful Masonic apron — the handiwork of Madame de Lafayette — and also a handsome rosewood cabinet, beautifully inlaid with emblems of the order, in which to store the apron. The apron is now the property of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and the box is on display in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial at Alexandria, Virginia and the property of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22.
In 1824, on an invitation of the Congress of the United States, Lafayette made his last visit to America. Lafayette arrived in New York on August 15 in what proved to be a triumphant journey through the twenty-four states. All parts of the country desired to do homage to him. Masonic bodies in the various states which he visited extended him invitations and in most instances he accepted, as is recorded in the proceedings of those many Lodges and Grand Lodges. But ultimately it was Jerusalem Chapter No. 8 which had the honor of extending him the first Masonic honor after his arrival in New York.
On this last visit, Lafayette was not alone; accompanying him was his son, George Washington Lafayette whom he had named for the father he had "adopted," and also M. L. Vasseur, who served Lafayette as his secretary during the trip. In September 1824, two interesting events are recorded in the minutes of Jerusalem Chapter No. 8. On the 8th of September, Brother George Washington Lafayette, son of the great Marquis, was proposed, and at a special meeting held the next day, all the degrees were conferred upon him. According to their minutes, "It was also voted to present him with a gold medal as a token of the respect and esteem in which he is held by the members of this Chapter." Three days later, the Marquis himself was proposed and elected, and received the degrees at one convocation.
When Lafayette had arrived in New York for some days he was entertained by the city authorities with great hospitality. He traveled to other cities in the east and returned to New York in September when he was invited to the Grand Lodge to participate in a great celebration in his honor. This was given on September 20. It was recorded in the minutes of Jerusalem Chapter that the Chapter entertained him and conferred the capitular degrees upon him eight days earlier than the reception given to him by the Grand Lodge.
The following account is from a Tennessee newspaper, after Lafayette's visit to that Grand Lodge:
Most Excellent High Priest and worthy Companions: It was in this city where I first met with that kind reception and those cordial welcomes which I have repeatedly experienced in the progress of my late journey through the twenty-four states of the union. It was here within these walls that I first received admission to the higher orders of Masonry, and I may, therefore, justly regard this Chapter as the cradle of my Masonic life, having been, by your kindness, enabled to visit the various Masonic institut ions throughout the United States. Indeed I may justly be regarded as one of the greatest Masonic travelers in this country, having, in my late tour with my son, George Washington Lafayette, and my worthy companion, M. LaVasseur, visited all the Grand Lodges and higher Masonic bodies of the United States, with great pleasure and satisfaction. I am also happy to state that I found, in my travels, the Masonic Fraternity flourishing and harmonious, and held in high public respect and honor. Even in some of the more recently settled portions of the country, in Cincinnati and particularly in Nashville, it was with no less surprise that pleasure that I observed the Masonic societies had made improvements so creditable to themselves and honorable to the order.
The harmony and respectability of Masonry throughout this extensive country may well be regarded as affording an important pillar of support and union to its free institutions and happy form of government.
Accept, therefore, in return for your kindness, my sincere thanks for having afforded me the facilities of being so honorably received and accepted by all the Masonic institutions in the twenty-four states of this republic.
Although New York was to be the first to entertain Lafayette, he received an invitation by the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, to be their guest as soon as possible. Thus, on the 16th of October 1824, Lafayette was received with an ovation, and Lodges Nos. 22,47 and 8 extended him their hospitalities. The streets of Alexandria were decorated and the whole city turned out for their very distinguished guest. Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, Brook Lodge No. 47, and E vangelical Lodge No. 8 were his offi cial hosts.
After the ceremonies were over, Lafayette found time to visit the tomb of Washington at Mt. Vernon and pay a silent tribute to the memory of his beloved mentor.
From Alexandria, Lafayette went on to visit the Grand Lodge of Louisiana in late October and from there he traveled among the Grand Lodges of the states. Upon his return to Alexandria on the 21st of February 1825, a farewell party was given for the Lafayette party, at which Lafayette presented to Alexandria-Washington Lodge the key to the Bastille, which has been in their possession ever since. Many presents and tokens were presented to Lafayette during the banq uet at Gadsby's Tavern that night.
Madame de Stael wrote of him: You can with certainty predict what he would do under any and all circumstances; brave yet tender, firm yet gentle, a pillar of light to Masons and to all mankind.
Brother Lafayette died May 20, 1834, just ten years after his last visit to America.
"The chosen friend and dear adopted son of the Brother of our Craft, George Washington."