Lafayette’s 1825 Visit to Leesburg Commemorated

By Nancy Spannaus*

June 22, 2024—More than 75 people gathered on the lawn of the Charles Hamilton Houston Courthouse in Leesburg today, for a ceremonial unveiling of a trail marker commemorating the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to the town in 1825. Presiding over the event was Julien Icher, founder and president of The Lafayette Trail, Inc., who noted that this was the 117th marker erected by his organization to honor the 200th anniversary of Lafayette’s 1824-5 tour as “guest of the nation.”

After pointing out that the day of Lafayette’s visit, like today, was described by the accompanying President John Quincy Adams as perhaps the “hottest day of the season,” Icherintroduced a number of dignitaries. In their remarks, each one elaborated an aspect of Lafayette’s significance and legacywhich deserves to be learned by American citizens today.

Interestingly, one could say from the evidence of the ensuing speeches, that the purpose of the marker is already being fulfilled, as most of the speakers noted that preparations for the event had impelled them to study the history of a man they knew little about. As a result, the speakers provided the audience with considerable historical substance, as you will see below.

French Consul-General Caroline Monvoisin

Ms. Monvoisin, the first speaker, dedicated her remarks to significance of the French-American alliance, which the young Lafayette did so much to bring about. We are celebrating two anniversaries, she said: the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the Bicentennial of Lafayette’s tour. Together these events are a perfect illustration of how the destinies of our two countries are intertwined. She noted how she had seen signs of Lafayette’s presence in her travels all around the United States – streets, parks, cities, and counties named after him. It is a fitting tribute to his decision to risk everything to fight for the American cause, which he equated with democracy, justice, and freedom. 

Markers like this are key to ensuring that future generations remember and appreciate the memory of Lafayette and France’s contribution to the Revolutionary War. This task takes on even more meaning with the new war in Europe. We must be inspired by Lafayette’s vision today.

Julien Icher and the William G. Pomeroy Foundation

Icher then presented an overview of his organization’s project, before reading a letter from the head of its prime funder, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. The Lafayette Trail intends to erect 145 historical signs to mark Lafayette’s visit to all 24 states of the Union. It is particularly apt, Icher noted, that the Leesburg marker on the courthouse lawn follows the renaming of the Courthouse after civil rights lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston, as Lafayette was a strong advocate against slavery.

In his letter, Foundation founder Bill Pomeroy emphasized his organization’s commitment to commemorating community history and educating the public. The organization began in New York State in 2005 with an emphasis on diversifying the bone marrow registry, and has now expanded to funding roadside markers and plaques throughout the country. At least 2000 have been put up so far.

DAR District VIII Director Kimberly Scott

Ms. Scott brought greetings from the District 8 of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which has 1400 members in Northern Virginia, and then described the process by which Lafayette got to Leesburg.

Loudoun County first issued its invitation in August of 1824, soon after the General arrived in this country. She read the letter which expressed the hopes of Loudoun residents that he could visit them and their appreciation of his contributions to ages to come. Lafayette’s initial response was to doubt that he would be able to come.

Yet, in the summer of 1825, when he was in Washington, Lafayette decided that he wanted to visit with his former comrade in arms, former President James Monroe, who was living at Oak Hill in Loudoun. Thus, the trip was planned, and Leesburg, Loudoun’s County seat, was able to host the General after all. Scott read a description of the festivities. She concluded by noting that Lafayette’s visit to Leesburg was sometimes called the “Farewell Detour,” as it was a fortuitous result of the General’s decision to see an old friend.

Leesburg District Supervisor Kristin Umstattd

Ms. Umstattd devoted her remarks to describing Lafayette’s military role, of which General Washington was originally skeptical, but which gained his increasing respect. Lafayette played a significant role on the battlefield from Brandywine to Yorktown. She also touched on his strong advocacy against slavery, which he conveyed to both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, perhaps with some effect. 

She concluded with the story of Lafayette’s determination to acknowledge his commitment to America even in death. When visiting Boston’s Bunker Hill during his tour, he secured a small amount of dirt from the battle scene, which he and his entourage, which included his son George Washington Lafayette, took back to France. Then, at his instruction, that dirt was spread on his gravesite following his demise.

Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk

To Mayor Burk came the task of describing the GeneralLafayette’s visit to Leesburg. After a short review of his early history, and noting that his trip was aimed at celebrating the prosperity of the nation he had helped to create, she detailed his itinerary: how a council member escorted him from Oak Hill to the town; how thousands cheered him along the route; that he met with a group of veterans in western Leesburg; and then his events in Leesburg itself.

The highlights were his march through the town, to which an estimated 10,000 persons had gathered to greet him (Burk noted that Loudoun County had only 23,000 residents at the time); and the grand banquet on the courthouse lawn. Toast followed toast, honoring the General, the President, George Washington, and the republican values of the nation. President Adams, she noted, toasted Leesburg itself.

On the Question of Toasts

In response to Mayor Burk’s quizzical comment about the toast raised to South America, Icher added an important explanation. The toasts were not just to express good feelings, he said; they expressed the sense of mission for the gathering. And one of those missions shared by many republicans at the time was the liberation of the South American colonies from Spanish rule.

Lafayette himself had two major international missions in mind: the regeneration of ancient Greek culture, and the liberation of South America. He was determined to uphold freedom everywhere.

Loudoun County Chair Phyllis Randall

Chair Randall’s remarks followed in the same vein, as she emphasized Lafayette’s commitment to international relationships. He was not merely interested in establishing justice, including abolition, in France and America, but in establishing and improving international relationships between nations. We’re not here just to unveil a marker, she said. We should honor the man for all he did for international relationships and carry on his vision.

The Unveiling

Before the unveiling, Icher made a few more remarks. Lafayette was a man committed to universal principles, he said; he even went to prison for them. In France, he was known as “an American at Versailles,” but first and foremost, he was committed to France and America working to liberate the rest of the world.

The marker was then unveiled by Consul General Monvoisinand Mayor Burk.


Throughout the event, due recognition was given to the sponsors of this event, who included: the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, The Lafayette Trail, Inc., the Consulate General of France in Washington, DC, the Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution, the Loudoun VA250 Committee, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, the Loudoun County Department of General Services, and the Town of Leesburg.


*Nancy Spannaus is a public historian specializing in the history of the early republic, and especially the political economic contribution of Lafayette’s good friend Alexander Hamilton. Her books are Hamilton Versus Wall Street, and Defeating Slavery: Hamilton’s American System Showed the Way.