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Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881
By George Holbert Tucker

Chapter 33

Lafayette's Four Visits

Lafayette visited Norfolk four times during his last triumphant visit to the United States in 1824-25. On the first occasion he was the official guest of the borough. The other times he was just passing through on his way to other places.

Lafayette left Alexandria aboard the steamboat Petersburg on his way to Norfolk for his official visit on October 17, 1824. On the way he stopped over at Yorktown for a two-day gala celebration of the forty-third anniversary of the surrender of Cornwallis, at which General Robert Barraud Taylor of Norfolk was one of the principal speakers. Proceeding to Jamestown by way of Williamsburg, Lafayette was met on the morning of Friday, October 22, 1824, by a delegation from Norfolk. And after "a sumptuous collation was served" aboard the Petersburg, the party left for Norfolk.

It was a never-to-be-forgotten day in the borough, and thousands had come from miles around to welcome the hero of the Revolution. At 5 p.m., a lookout who had been posted for the purpose sighted the Petersburg. And as soon as the signal was given, Norfolk's inner harbor resounded with salvos of artillery.

Anchoring in midstream, the Petersburg was met by an elegantly decorated 18-oared barge in which the Nation's Guest and his suite were rowed to the foot of Market Square that was brave with the colorful uniforms of the local military and the bright Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes of the people who crowded every available foot of space, peered from every window, and perched precariously on rooftops to get a glimpse of the old hero.

Lafayette was welcomed to the borough, under a specially constructed arch at the head of Market Square, by Norfolk Mayor John E. Holt, after which he was driven to Mrs. Hansford's boarding house at Main and East streets where suitably elegant quarters had been prepared for him. That evening the borough was ablaze with candles, lamps, and transparencies, while forty-two bonfires turned night into day along the waterfront.

On Saturday morning, Lafayette held a "levee," after which he and three hundred invited guests dined at the Exchange Hotel to the music of the Mozart Amateur Band. Then, when the last toast was drunk, Lafayette accompanied General Taylor to his home, "where he supped in company with a numerous party." On Sunday morning, Lafayette attended services at Christ Church on Church Street, and that afternoon he left for a visit to Fort Monroe.

In describing this visit, Captain Rufus Baker of the Engineers wrote to his mother, "Gen. Lafayette visited our post, stayed all night with us -- reviewed our Regiment, and eat and drank -- and then eat and drank again -- In fact, Mother -- he eats like an Alderman, and always has a keep appetite for duplicate dinners, suppers & breakfasts -- and I am told that he considers York river oysters that fill a tumbler -- as mere vegetables."

On Monday, October 25, 1824, Lafayette visited Castle Calhoun (the Rip Raps), Portsmouth, and the Gosport Navy Yard. That night he was entertained by his Norfolk hosts at a grand ball in the new Customs House at Church and Water streets which he left at 11:30 p.m. to take a steamboat for Richmond, "quitting the ballroom, where everything partook of joy and gratitude."

Lafayette passed through Norfolk on three other occasions. On January 21, 1825, he was again in Norfolk for a few hours on his way from Baltimore to Richmond to attend a session of the Virginia Legislature. Six days later, he arrived in Norfolk again from Richmond on his way back to Baltimore, at which time he was entertained at breakfast by the borough authorities at Carr's Hotel on Main Street.

Lafayette passed through Norfolk for the last time on February 25, 1825, when he arrived from Washington aboard the steamboat Potomac and left around noon the same day in Thompson's Stage for Suffolk on the first leg of his Southern tour.

Chapter 34
The Norfolk-Portsmouth Ferries

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

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