Object of the Month

The Guest of the Nation Returns to Boston: A Keepsake from the Marquis de Lafayette's Farewell Visits in 1824 and 1825

Lafayette souvenir glove Kidskin

Lafayette souvenir glove


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    [ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

    This white kidskin woman's glove, printed with the likeness of the Marquis de Lafayette, was a commercially-produced souvenir from an unparalleled event in early United States history, the triumphant, fourteen-month farewell tour of America by the "guest of the nation" (Lafayette had returned at the formal invitation of Congress), July 1824-September 1825.

    General Lafayette in Boston

    Gilbert du Motier (Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier), Marquis de Lafayette, arrived in Boston in August of 1824 at the beginning of his farewell tour through the twenty-four states of the union. He had been so young when he came to America as a volunteer in 1777—he was not yet twenty—that he was only sixty-seven when he returned almost fifty years later. Artist Henry Cheever Pratt painted a remarkably youthful looking Lafayette at the end of his months-long tour in 1825. At the time of the general's visit (in America Lafayette usually was referred to by his military rank in the Revolution, rather than by his title of nobility), the founding generation was fading away and he was a living symbol of the fight for freedom both in the United States and in France. There was a strong, sentimental attachment to the surviving "friend" or "son" of George Washington, and although his epic travels demonstrated that the general was still in good health, the trip was widely understood to be a farewell to the nation and its cause that he had adopted in youth—and which, in turn, had adopted him.

    Boston—all of Massachusetts—turned itself upside down to welcome Lafayette who had made only three brief visits to the city during and after the Revolution. Massachusetts matched or surpassed the welcome provided to the general elsewhere in the country, except in one respect: the densely-settled Commonwealth had no place that was unincorporated territory or not long-attached to its name that could become "Lafayette," "Fayette," or "Fayetteville"—new or renamed towns that sprang up wherever the general travelled. Fayette, in the former District of Maine, had been named for the general in 1795, and became part of the new state of Maine in 1820. Boston made do by renaming streets in honor of the general, La Fayette Avenue, and his country estate, La Grange Street.

    Boston offered a packed calendar of events and festivities to celebrate Lafayette's first, one-week visit, 24-31 August 1824, and an extraordinary range of souvenirs, including commercially-produced keepsakes, to mark the occasion. When Lafayette arrived in Boston he was greeted by what his private secretary, Auguste Levasseur, described as a "republican triumph." In a coach drawn by white horses, he was paraded through a ceremonial arch and along a street lined with smartly dressed militia companies and throngs of citizens to the State House. He crossed an "immense lawn" (Boston Common) where 2,500 school children were drawn up in a double line to greet him, "all decorated by a Lafayette ribbon"—a portrait of Lafayette stamped on white satin ribbon—worn as a sash or a belt. The city abounded in other souvenirs, most containing an image of the general: there were ceramics of all descriptions including platters, plates, and coffee pots; as well as flasks, quilts, furniture, fans, pins, medals, engravings, badges and ribbons in many designs; and, not least, gloves.

    Kissing the Hand Decorated with His Own Image

    White kidskin gloves, decorated with portraits of General Lafayette printed on the back of each glove in black ink, appeared everywhere on the hands of ladies. An example in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society shown here includes the hero's name "Le Genl. Lafayette" below his image and a decorative garland of leaves printed around the wrist. A note inside the MHS glove reads: "Gloves like this one were sold in Boston, during the visit of Lafayette to this country—and when he kissed the ladies hands he kissed his own face. Came from store now used by Estes and Lauriat." In the late 19th century, the store of booksellers Estes and Lauriat stood on Washington Street in Boston across from the Old South Church—along the route that Lafayette's procession took as he entered the city in 1824. Other accounts of Lafayette's visit and the ubiquitous kidskin-gloved hands that greeted him everywhere say that Lafayette shrank back from kissing his own image, but perhaps the burden of this task had not become onerous so early in his trip. The Society's glove appears to be of French manufacture. If it came to America as a purpose-made souvenir, the turnaround had been extremely rapid; President Monroe had only informed Lafayette of an invitation from Congress to visit the United States in February 1824.

    Anna Cabot Lodge

    The Lafayette glove came to the Massachusetts Historical Society inserted in a scrapbook kept by Anna Sophia Cabot Lodge (1821-1900) part of the large collection of public, personal, and family papers assembled by her son, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924). Anna Lodge (Mrs. John Ellerton Lodge) used her scrapbook to document the lives and careers of her distinguished Cabot and Kirkland ancestors and relatives, but also the early life of her son, "Cabot" Lodge, and the early years of his public career. John Ellerton Lodge died in 1862 and through the end of the century, Anna Lodge served as her son's political promoter and advisor. Her home on Beacon Street became his base in Boston. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the scrapbook to make it clear when and from whom she received her Lafayette glove. She would only have been three or four at the time of his visits and one or both visits may have been among her earliest memories. Levasseur records that in the tableau upon Boston Common at the time of Lafayette's arrival in Boston:

    One of the youngest girls came to offer greetings. They lifted her toward the carriage of the General, she placed a crown of perennials on his head, and embraced him while calling him tenderly by the name father.

    Perhaps little Anna Cabot felt a similar connection to this great event—or Lafayette's return to Boston almost a year later.

    A Final Farewell to Boston

    While Lafayette's second visit to Boston (15-21 June 1825) also was marked by pomp and parade and ceremony, it was more subdued amidst personal sorrow (old friends from Revolutionary days had died since his earlier visit) and more focused on the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June. In his capacity as a Mason, "Brother Lafayette"--the only surviving general from the time of the Revolution—played a central role on that occasion in the symbolic laying of the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument. Lafayette memorabilia still was on display and available for purchase as it would be again in 1834 when news came to America of Lafayette's death. Then again, Lafayette memorabilia appeared in public, but often with his image covered by a black ribbon.

    Furnishing the Subscription House: a New Exhibition

    Some of the most interesting artifacts associated with Lafayette's 1824 visit to Boston are surviving examples of an extraordinary suite of seventy-eight pieces of furniture that were made by Isaac Vose & Son to furnish rooms at the most prestigious address in the city at the corner of Park and Beacon Streets where the founders ("subscribers") of the Bunker Hill Monument Association had their headquarters and where Lafayette resided during the course of his one- week visit. An elegant couch from the house furnishings along with souvenirs from the visit (including Anna Cabot Lodge's "Lafayette" glove) are on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society as part of a new exhibition, Entrepreneurship and Classical Design in Boston's South End: The Furniture of Isaac Vose & Thomas Seymour, 1815 to 1825. The exhibition is free and open to the public, Monday-Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM, and continues through 14 September 2018.

    A Lecture on Lafayette in America

    On Monday, 21 May, at 6:00 PM, following a reception at 5:30 PM, Alan Hoffman, the translator of Auguste Levasseur's account of Lafayette's farewell tour of the United States, Lafayette in America, will recount the story of the general's visit and discuss his translation of Lafayette's private secretary's journal. For further information or a reservation please call 617-646-0578 or register online.

    Further Reading

    Auricchio, Laura. The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

    Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds: The Art and Pageantry of His Farewell Tour of America, 1824-1825. Flushing, N.Y.: Queens Museum; distributed by University Press of New England, Hanover, N. H., 1989.

    Levasseur, Auguste. Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825. Translated by Alan R. Hoffman. Manchester, N. H.: Lafayette Press, 2006.

    Lodge, Anna Cabot. Anna Cabot Lodge Scrapbook, vol. 22. Henry Cabot Lodge Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Mussey, Robert D., Jr., and Clark Pearce. Rather Elegant Than Showy: The Classical Furniture of Isaac Vose. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society in Association with David R. Godine, Publishers, 2018.

    Sumner, William H. "Reminiscences of La Fayette's Visit to Boston – Gov. Eustis – Gov. Brooks and Others." New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 13 (April 1859), p. 99-107.