Bon Anniversaire, Lafayette!


Today is the birthday of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette (1757 – 1834), hero of the American Revolution and two separate revolutions in his native France. I’ll forgive you if you’re not as interested in him as I am at the moment. Everywhere I turn I seem to bump into him. Actually, you do too, only you may not have realized it. Here in New York we have this, for example:


As well as this:


And two blocks from my house in Brooklyn, there’s this:

I made a kid get out of the way so I could take this shot but I forgot to tell him to move his scooter

I made a kid get out of the way so I could take this shot but I forgot to tell him to move his scooter

Ah, that's more like it!

Ah, that’s more like it!

As we’ve blogged here, this part of Brooklyn was the site of a major Revolutionary War battle.

And as we’ve blogged here, many of my ancestors and relatives fought in the Revolution, which is why it is prominent in my mind at the moment.

And all my family research has uncovered more related stuff. For example, I learned that my father’s hometown Fayetteville, Tennessee is named after….Fayetteville, North Carolina, which is named after…the Marquis de Lafayette. (Duh! It never occurred to me. But take the French article “La” off the front of his name, and there you have it). And my (3rd) great uncle is one Polk Lafeyette Stewart (1845-1924). They know how to honor their heroes down there.

Of course, Lafayette is second only to the Statue of Liberty in symbolizing Franco-American amity. (Don’t bother making a joke about canned spaghetti. It is beneath us both). One of the most surprising (and welcome) discoveries of all my recent family research is the amount of French ancestry I have. I had known about the usual Medieval Bretons, Normans and Franks — most people of English and Scottish ancestry have a great many of those in their lineage. What I hadn’t known about was that I have modern French forbears who came to America. I thought I had none, but it turns out I have tons on my Southern side, many or most of them (presumably) Huguenots. Those who have observed a certain Gallic arrogance and predisposition to rationalism in my character can look to the surnames Vanquellin, Noblett, Brereton, Bertrand, D’Aubigne,  DeConde, Benin, DeBonnette, Jouany, LaFuite, LeGrand, Dubois, Michaux, Broucard, LeFevre, RochetBrasseure, Buschier, Mahieu, Lobel, Lessard, Rochet, Laigniez, Coulliard, Paddoc and Traillour,  (all names in my family tree) for an explanation.

And the final reason why Lafayette is on my radar, and will be even more so in a few weeks? One of my favorite contemporary writers Sara Vowell is coming out with a new book about him! The pub date is October 20 and rest assured I’ll be reading that and blogging about it — si vous me passez l’expression — tout suite. Pre-order it here. 



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