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Masonic Bios

Marquis La Fayette

Please Note: This page contains three separate articles on La Fayette.

La Fayette

By Bro. Frederick W. Hamilton

Where and when La Fayette became a Mason is not known. There are at least two quite definite traditions, but neither rests on any very substantial basis of historic fact. Not improbably it was on the eve of his momentous diplomatic mission to France when he was just twenty-one; almost certainly it was in an army lodge; very probably it was at the instance and in the presence of Washington. What is more likely than that Washington should have desired to weave the bond of Masonic brotherhood around the young man who was to play so delicate and important a part in the relations between the great Mason who commanded the American army and that other great Mason, America's greatest diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, who was American Ambassador to the French king?

When La Fayette made his last visit to the United States the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania received him with distinguished honors, but before doing so appointed a committee to investigate and report upon his Masonic regularity. The committee reported that they had made careful investigation and were fully satisfied, but unfortunately their report gives no information whatever as to the evidence upon which this conclusion was based.

It remains to add a further word as to his Masonic relations with the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. That he was made a Mason in the United States has already been shown. I have so far found no evidence that he was Masonically active in France. When he came to the United States in 1824 and 1826 no greetings were warmer than those of his Masonic brethren, and none appear to have been more welcome. I find no record of his appearance in Masonic lodges in Boston in any of his numerous early visits to this city. Once he appeared in our Grand Lodge, on the occasion of the laying of the corner-stone of the Bunker Hill monument. The apron he wore that day may be seen in our library.

The records of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts tell of Brother La Fayette's appearance at a special communication held on June 17, 1825, and show that the Grand Lodges of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont were in attendance, as were the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Massachusetts and Maine and the Grand Encampment of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

A great Masonic procession was formed and marched through the streets of the city, arranged in divisions and displaying a number of bright banners. A large proportion of Master Masons were clothed with plain white aprons, white gloves and blue sashes. The Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Maine appeared in full costume with elegant banners. The Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Massachusetts was organized in ample form and appeared with their elegant banner and flanking banners. A number of chapters under the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts, several of which were provided with appropriate banners, were arranged under the Grand Chapter. All the Royal Arch Masons were arranged under Right Worshipful Brother Roulstone, their Marshal. The Knights Templar appeared under the command of Right Worshipful Brother Henry Fowle, Deputy General Grand Master of Knights Templar. They were in full dress and displayed the banners of Knights Templar and Knights of the Red Cross. Six Knights, with lances, preceded bearing on the points of their lances white pennants on which were painted the names of the six New England states.

This Masonic procession, in turn, became a part of a larger general procession which included the President of the United States in a carriage, and General La Fayette in a carriage. The procession then moved to Charlestown and having arrived at the square on which it was intended to erect the monument, the whole was enclosed by troops. Near the place intended for the corner-stone was erected by the fraternity a lofty triumphal arch on which was inscribed the following: "The Arts pay homage to valor." Through this arch the whole body of Masons passed and took up a position on the right of the square, the Grand Lodge in front. The president of the Bunker Hill monument then requested the Grand Master to proceed and lay the corner-stone. The Grand Master, accompanied by the Deputy Grand Master, Grand Wardens, Grand Treasurer and Secretaries, Grand Chaplain and Past Grand Masters, and attended by the Grand Marshals, advanced to the place intended, where the president of the association and Right Worshipful Brother La Fayette met them. The Grand Marshal by direction of the Grand Master, commanded silence to be observed during the ceremonies. The working tools were presented to the Grand Master, who applied them to the stone and passed them to Right Worshipful Brother La Fayette and the president of the association, who severally applied them, and then the Grand Master declared it to be "well formed, true, and trusty."

- Source: The Builder - March 1921

La Fayette

Lafayette stands apart and alone. His spirit was unique, and his career without parallel. Although a man of another race and land, his life is a part of the heroic legend of our country and our Craft. His story is more like fiction than fact. He was the last of the old knights who, through all the foulness and folly of his time, kept a name without stain.

In all history no man of one land has been more beloved in another. He came to the aid of America like a crusader, asking to serve at his own cost, and without reward. No man ever loved Liberty with a purer devotion, or served her with more self-spending zeal. A poet, a mystic, a great-hearted gentleman, he is linked in our minds with Joan of Arc.

Even romance has few stories to match the life of Lafayette. The father of four revolutions, he is yet a figure of such grace and purity that he suggests only beautiful things. Blood and fire and terror fall away leaving only a shining spirit. Friend of America at nineteen, hero of French liberty at thirty, a tragic figure for the rest of his days, he cultivated roses and dreamed dreams in the perfumed gardens of La Grange.

The life of Lafayette falls into five acts. First, his thrilling adventures of youth in America; second, his service in the French Revolution when, for a time, he held the fate of his country in his hands; third, in the revolution of 1839 when, again, he was Master of France; fourth, his long, lonely later years; and finally, fourscore years later, when his spirit seemed to rise from the grave and beckon America to aid France in the World-War.

Yet, strangely enough, he was not a mind of the first rank. Nature had not given him ten talents; his power and charm lay in his heart. He had courage, energy, honesty, frankness, simplicity, loyalty and a flaming zeal for what he deemed high causes; a spirit so lovely, so fine, so unselfish that all who really knew him loved him with unwavering devotion. Withal, he had a generosity rare among men, and a power of admiration that knew no limit. No man was ever more beloved, and no man more richly deserved it.

Lafayette was born in Auvergne, among sturdy, thrifty folk ever ready to take up hard tasks. Nobly born, he was far nearer the farmer than the courtier. His soldier father was killed at Minden when the child was only two, and he grew up, country-bred, woman-tended, a gay, truant, poet-boy, amid forests, fields and sparkling streams. For his own good, he lacked all the social graces, being shy, gawky, red- headed, a clumsy horseman and a bad dancer. Yet always in his heart there burned a desire to go all over the world in pursuit of fame. By an odd accident was he started on the road of romance and glory. The Duke of Gloucester, in disgrace with his Royal Brother George, was passing through Metz where, at a dinner, Lafayette met him. The Duke, with the independence known only to Englishmen, made no secret of his sympathy with the American Colonies in their struggle for liberty. The young nobleman listened, and the seed fell on ready soil. As he said to Jared Sparks long years afterward, his whole soul leaped in love of America. and he vowed to offer his life and fortune in the service of its cause.

So, fitting out his ship, named "Victory," at his own expense, and gathering a few select souls like Baron de Kalb aboard, he set sail from an obscure port in Spain. Chased by the British fleet, he was as elusive as an eel, dodging all his enemies. They weighed anchor at Georgetown, South Carolina, got into a little boat and rowed up the river to a farm house that showed lights. Dogs began to bark; the family were frightened, thinking it a party of the enemy. De Kalb, who spoke English, explained who they were, and they received a hearty welcome.

Nor was the welcome ever belied. Something in the sublime effrontery of "The Boy," as he came to be known, ready to do anything, no matter how difficult, and angry only when a risk was put out of his reach by ranking etiquette; won the hearts of our people. By horseback Lafayette went to Philadelphia, and presented himself to Congress. He asked that he might serve at his own expense, and as a volunteer. It was as if a being from another planet had suddenly alighted among grave, kindly, farmer-like men. Like all the rest, they surrendered to his charm, made him a Major General, and sent him to Washington. The meeting of the two men, under a tent, is a scene for a painter. One forty-five, tall, erect, calm, direct, fifty-per-cent will, forty-nine-per-cent reason, one-per-cent chance; the other slight, poetic, eloquent and twenty. They came out of the tent arm in arm. It was the beginning of one of the great friendships of history. No two men were ever more unlike. Each had what the other lacked. They belonged together, virile power blending with fresh ardor. When Lafayette was wounded at Brandywine, shot in the leg, Washington said to the physician: "Look after him as after my son." Fidelity and tenderness united in a devotion unmarred by time, and unbroken by death.

Besides, we do not forget that they were Brothers in the Lodge. Where and when Lafayette was made a Mason is a matter of dispute. Some say it was at the great meeting of Military Lodges in Morristown, New Jersey, when the proposal was made to form a General Grand Lodge, of which Washington was to be the Supreme Grand Master. Yet, Lafayette more than one spoke as if he had been made a Mason before he arrived in America. The exact fact is hard to find, but we do know that he was a man of our Craft.

At Valley Forge, under rain and frost, amid scurvy and fever, when men ate acorns and died haphazard, "The Boy" rolled a big snow ball. Slowly, at the touch of his dreaming fingers, it took the shape of a woman. When finished, he engraved on her breast the magic word - "Liberty!" He enchanted the army, kept up its morale, and brought good luck. Spring came, the Alliance with France was celebrated, and the Army went on to Monmouth and Yorktown. When the whole British Army became prisoners of war, Lafayette wrote to his wife: "The Play is ended. The British are in the Soup!"

The years following, amid upheavals in France, need not detain us. It was a wild and stormy time. Twice, at least, Lafayette held the destiny of his country in his hands. The Queen hated him. As Napoleon said: "I could not have believed that hatred could go so far." Marat thirsted for his blood. "He was always quoting Washington," says Brissot. Time tossed him right to the height of fame, then to the depth of a dungeon, and finally aside.

Fifty years passed, and a thin old man, bent and spent, landed stiffly at New York, wondering whether he could "get a hack to take him to the hotel." No man, except Lindberg, ever received such a welcome on our shores. Rockets soared. Bonfires reddened the sky. Militia marched. Arches crossed the road. His tour was an ovation. He was a link with our heroic past, a living legend. Walking slowly over the ground where he had galloped and waved his sword fifty years before, he was a symbol.

To this day the name of Lafayette is a magic word among us. He came to our country - a friend, a knight errant - in an hour of its struggle as black as the night on which he landed. He was young, he was romantic, with bright airs and graces. He dazzled, charmed, and captivated our nation. Enthusiasm shone in his eyes. He wanted nothing - except to fight for Liberty, the goddess of his idolatry. He was as one following a vision, in quest of a Holy Grail - the triumph of the rights of man. He went away, and when he returned it was as if our own heroic past had returned to bless and purify us. Liberty was the religion of Lafayette, and his faith remained undivided an unshaken. With all his grace of soul, he was well nigh a fanatic in its service. When he said that the happiest day of his life would be when he mounted the scaffold for his faith, he did not exaggerate. A soldier of the order of poets, his life had a purity as amazing as its unity. Ardent and serious, yet gay and gallant, he is of such stuff as legends are made of.

If men see after death what passes here below, what must have been the feelings of Lafayette when, fourscore and three years after his bodily death, he looked down from his home in the celestial habitations and saw France again in dire danger, sorely pressed by foreign foes, fighting for her life, and a general in an American uniform standing by his grave in the cemetery of Picpus, and heard him say:

"Lafayette, we are here!"


- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Jul. 1928

Masonic Service Association of North America

Where Was LaFayette Made A Mason?

Brother Lafayette entered the Grand Lodge Above on May 20, 1834. Many Lodges in 1934 will dedicate meetings to a memory only less immortal than that of his friend and brother George Washington. To aid n such undertakings, this Bulletin sets forth the principal contradictory testimonies about this Masonic making.

Julius S. Sachse, Grand Librarian if the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, learned student and scholar. wrote (Brochure. 1916):

"No original documentary evidence is known to be in existence which records the initiation of General Lafayette in the Masonic Fraternity, nor in what Lodge or when it took place. It has always been a tradition in Masonic circles that General Lafayette was made a Mason in one of the Military Lodges at Morristown, New Jersey, where a Festal Lodge was held December 27, 1797, for which occasion the jewels and furniture and clothing of St. John's Lodge No.1 of Newark, New Jersey, was borrowed. The meeting proved a great success, sixty- eight brethren being present, one of whom was George Washington. "There is another tradition that General Lafayette was made a Mason in a Military Lodge which met at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78, but no official records of such action have thus far been discovered."

Dr. Fredrick W. Hamilton, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, eminent and learned Masonic scholar, write (The Builder, March 1921):

"Where and when La Fayette was made a Mason is not known. There are at least two quite different traditions, but neither rests on any very substantial basis or historic fact. Not improbably it was on the eve of his momentous diplomatic mission to France when he was just twenty-two; almost certainly it was in the Army Lodge; very probably it was at the insistence and in the presence of Washington. What is more likely than that Washington should have desires to weave the bond of Masonic brotherhood around the young man who was to play so delicate and important a part in the relations between the great Mason who commanded the American Army and the other great Mason, America's greatest diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, who was American Ambassador to the French King.?

"When La Fayette made his last visit to the United States the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania received him with distinguished honors, but before doing so appointed a committee to investigate and report upon his Masonic regularity. The committee reported that they had made careful investigation and were fully satisfied, but unfortunately their report gave no information whatever as to the evidence upon which this conclusion was based.

"Gould, in the "Library of Freemasonry.' named the place of ceremony as Morristown, N.J., saying, "According to the late C.W. Moore, all the American Generals of the Revolution, with the exception of Benedict Arnold, were Freemasons. The Marquis de Lafayette was among the number, and it is believed that he was initiated in American Union Lodge at Morristown, N.J., the jewels and furniture used on the occasion being sent by St. John's Lodge at Newark, N.J."

Under the full page portrait of Lafayette which embellishes this article, appears this caption: "The Marquis Lafayette was admitted into Freemasonry in American Union Lodge which was held in a room over the old Freeman's Tavern, on the north side of the green, Morristown, New Jersey, during the winter of 1777, at which time Brother George Washington presided in person."

As Benedict Arnold "was" a Mason, his name was expunged from the rolls after he was proved a traitor; the reader must decide for himself how much weight can be given the testimony of "the late C.W. Moore."

Past Grand Master Harry J. Guthrie, Delaware, Contributed a scholarly paper on Lafayette to "The Builder", in March, 1925. From it the following is abstracted:

"General Lafayette arrived in this country on June 14, 1777; received a commission (honorary in effect) as a Major General from the congress and was later assigned to Washington's staff July 31, 1777; led part of the troops in the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, where he was wounded in the leg and remained incapacitated at Bethlehem, Pa., until the later part of October. He volunteered for duty when scarcely able to place a boot on his foot, was assigned to the command of General Green and assisted in a reconnoiter with a view of giving battle to Lord Cornwallis, strongly entranced at Gloucester Point, N.J. The fact that the whole country between New York and Philadel-phia was held in British grip precludes the probability of a gathering of general officers of the American Army attending a Masonic function at Morristown, N.J. between the first of November and the fifteenth of December 1777, on which date Washington went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pa., where Lafayette was quartered until after Dec. 30, 1777, after which time he went to Albany, N.Y.

"This should satisfy the mind as to the utter improbability of his having taken any degrees at Morristown, N.J. in 1777. But I am inclined to think the printed date of 1777 an error and that it should read 1779 in accordance with the tradition. History and government records inform us that on October 21, 1778, Lafayette, as a Major General, was granted a leave of absence to go to France to return at his convenience. (Probably on a secret mission) Lafayette left Boston Harbor Fe. 11, 1779 for France; and the fact that he was presented with the Congressional sword at Havre on Aug. 24, 1779, comes pretty near proving that he arrived in France. On the return trip he sailed aboard the French frigate Herman from Rochelle March 19, 1780, and landed at Boston April 28, 1780, and on May 13, 1780, the Continental Congress considered his return to America to resume his command as a fresh proof of zeal, etc., etc. So it was not possible for him to have received the degrees of Freemasonry at Morristown, N.J. in December 1779, and that is the reason a reference was not made to him and that his name was not included in the Lodge register which contained the names of Washington and the other sixty- seven distinguished visitors."

Gould, in his "Military Lodges," says:

"In December, 1777, the Army retired to Valley Forge, and it was there - according to evidence which seems to be of a trustworthy character - that General Lafayette was initiated. The French Officer, though he had been received very warmly and kindly by General Washington, experience much uneasiness from the circumstance that he had never been entrusted with a "separate command." During the winter he learned there was a Lodge working in the camp. Time hanging heavily on his hands, and the routine of duty being monotonous, he conceived the idea that he would like to be made a Mason. His wish, on being made know to the Lodge, was soon gratified, the Commander-in-Chief being present and in the chair at the time of his initiation.

"After I was made a Mason,' said Lafayette, "General Washington seemed to have received a new light. I never had from that moment any cause to doubt his entire confidence. It was not long before I had a ‘separate command' of great importance.'"

Moore in his "Masonic Biography" states: "He had already become a member of the Masonic Fraternity." (This was prior to his coming to America.)

Findel, in his "History of Freemasonry," states that Lafayette attended a Masonic meeting December 25, 1775, for the purpose of consecrating a lodge named Da La Candeur. Particular mention was made of Lafayette being present.

Brother W.P. Strickland, D.D., stated in his late sixties that Lafayette was a member of the Fraternity when he came to America. Earl B. Dellzell, in the "Grand Lodge Bulletin," Iowa, November, 1930, states"

"In the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee of 1825, pages 133 and 135, the minutes of the Grand Lodge of Wednesday, May 4, 1825, state: "Our illustrious brother General Lafayette was unanimously elected an honorary member of this Grand Lodge.' Later we find: ‘Our illustrious brother General Lafayette was introduced by Bros. Andrew Jackson and G.W. Campbell, received with Grand Honors, and seated on the right of the W.W. Grand Master.' "'At the conclusion of the Grand Master's address of welcome, Lafayette made a feeling and appropriate reply, in substance as follows:'

"'He felt himself highly gratified at being so kindly welcomed by the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, and at being made an honorary member of that Lodge, in which he had been introduced by the distinguished brother Mason who had erected the lines of New Orleans, and, in technical language of the Craft, had made them "well-formed, true and trusty." He had, he said, been long a member of the Order, having been initiated, young as he was, even before he entered the service of our country in the Revolutionary War. He had never for a moment ceased to love and venerate the institution, and was, therefore, peculiarly delighted to see that it had spread its genial influence thus far to the west, and that his brethren here were not only comfortable, but brilliantly accommodated. He considered the Order as peculiarly valuable in this country where it not only fostered the principles of civil and religious liberty, but was eminently calculated to link the extremities of this wide republic together, and to perpetuate, by its fraternizing influence, the union of the States.'"

Contrast this with the statements made by Dr. George W. Chaytor, addressing Lafayette Lodge No. 14, A.F. & A.M., Wilmington, Delaware, January 18, 1875, on the fiftieth anniversary of its constitution. (Quoted from the Guthrie article in "The Builder," March, 1925): "He was not a Mason when he landed in America, nor was he a Mason at the Battle of Brandywine. The Army under Washington, in December, 1777, retired to Valley Forge, where they wintered. Connected with the Army was a Lodge. It was at Valley Forge that he was made a Mason. On this point there should be no second opinion - for surely Lafayette knew best where he was made a Mason. We have this statement from himself - made at the time he was the guest of the Grand Lodge of Delaware, and to members of that Grand Body. The statement he made was as follows:

"He had offered his services to this country from the purest motives, and he knew that, in his heart he had no selfish impulses. He found a people struggling for liberty against tyranny, and he put his whole soul in the cause. That Washington received him in the kindest and warmest manner, and never in any direct way showed the he had not the fullest confidence in his intentions and ability as a soldier, but yet, he could not divest his mind of a suspicion (that at times gave him great discomfort) that the General of the American Army was not altogether free from doubt in his case. This suspicion was engendered from the fact that he had never intrusted him with a separate command. This fact, he said, weighed upon him and at times made him very unhappy. With this exception, he had not the least cause for discomfort. During the winter (1777-78), as the Army lay at Valley Forge, he learned there was a Masonic Lodge working in camp. Time hanging heavy, and the routine of duty being monotonous, he conceived the idea that he would like to be made a Mason. He made his wish known to a friend, who at once informed him that he himself was a Mason, and would take pleasure in making his wish known to the lodge. This was done, and he was there made a Mason. He also stated that Washington was present and acted as Master of the Lodge at the time of initiation.'

"This statement was made to members of the Grand Lodge, from some of whom it was received. I have no doubt that he said what I have here given, for the parties making the statement were gentlemen as well as Masons, and their public lives show the estimate their fellow citizens placed upon their honor and characters. I know that much doubt and contradiction had been bandied about the important point in Lafayette's life. Various places have been stated as the point of his initiation - but an Army Lodge was always the organization in which he secured light.

"I have not yet finished his statement - the later part is evidence of the former. In the beginning he stated he felt rather hurt that Washington had not shown sufficient confidence to entrust him with a separate command. Now listen to what he said later: "After I was made a Mason, General Washington seemed to have received a new light - I never had, from that moment, any cause to doubt his entire confidence. It was not long before I had a separate command of great importance.'"

Past Grand Master Guthrie says of this writer:

"Dr. George W. Chaytor, well and favorably known, was a notable physician and enthusiastic Mason. He was born December 25, 1813, initiated September 7, 1841, raised November 2, 1841, and died April 14, 1878; respected by all men. He served his lodge as Master and in 1845 became a permanent member of the Grand Lodge of Delaware and was immediately elected Senior Grand Warden, Grand Secretary, 1849-59, Chairman of Committee on Foreign correspondence in 1875, elected Grand Master of Masons of Delaware in 1875."

Just how much Dr. Chaytor really knew, and how much he was influenced by tradition is now only a matter of speculation. Even a reliable and worth witness may easily be misled in reporting on history a hundred years after the fact. It is interesting, at least, that Chaytor and Gould report the same language as coming from the lips of Lafayette as far as the "separate command" is concerned.

No attempt is here made to settle a question which has vexed the most learned. That Lafayette was an enthusiastic, loyal and devoted Mason no one can doubt; his reception on his final visit to this country was one long Masonic Pilgrimage with Grand Lodges and Lodges vieing with each other to do him honor. But just where he was "brought to light" is so involved with contradictions, that only further discoveries seem likely, finally to settle it to the satisfaction of Masonic Historians.


In "The New Age" magazine for July 1941, Brother Ray Baker Harris, Librarian of the Supreme Council, 33 deg., Southern Jurisdiction, revealed the acquisition of a rare 18th century program of the inauguration of Lodge St. Jean de la Candeur in Paris in December, 1775

The Lodge had invited to the inauguration ceremonies "the Honorary, Regular and Subordinate Officers, and Deputies, of all Lodges composing the Grand Orient of France, and all brethren who could be recommended as regular Masons." Obviously the ceremonies were held "In Lodge."

Attached to the program is a Tableau of 100 "Les Chers Freres Visiteurs." The Marquis de Lafayette is listed among the visiting Brethren.

While this seems to establish conclusively that Lafayette was a Mason in 1775 before coming to America, it leaves unanswered the question of when and where he was made a Mason.

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Apr. 1934

Masonic Service Association of North America

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