George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Marquise de Lafayette, 8 October 1792

From the Marquise de Lafayette


Department of the upper Loire at Chavamac1 near Brioude

Sir,8t Octr 1792.

Without doubt you have learnt our misfortunes—You know that your disciple—your friend has not ceased to act in a manner worthy of you, and of liberty—You know that his unalterable attachment to the Constitution which he swore to maintain, drew upon him the hatred of a powerful faction which wished to destroy it—that, proscribed by this faction—and accused at the head of his Army; he, wishing to avoid adding a new crime to his Citizens, withdrew his head from the sanguinary fury which pursued the courageous friends of liberty—and was already on his way to gain a neutral Country, from whence he intended to go among you, and offer up his wishes that his ungrateful Country might find defenders who would serve it with as much zeal & disinterestedness & love of liberty as him. His wish was that I should go with all our family to join him in England, that we might go & establish ourselves together in America, and there enjoy the consoling sight of virtue worthy of liberty. but before he arrived to this desireable point—and even before he reached a neutral Country it was necessary for him to cross a small corner of the enemys territory. There he was met and taken prisoner on the 23d Augt. He is yet in their hands. He was at first carried to Namur—then to Nivelle—from thence to Luxembourg, from thence I learnt by the public papers, that on the 6th of Septr they carried him to Wezel a City of Westphalia, under the dominion of the King of Prussia—and that there they seperated him from 3 members of the Constituent Assembly, who had been partakers of his lot and carried him alone to the Citadel of Spandau between Berlin & Potsdam. The motives—the design of such strange & cruel conduct on the part of his enemies are too deep for me to penetrate. They have not permitted him to write a line. He was taken by the Troops of the Emperor altho it is the King of Prussia who retains him a prisoner in his dominions. And while he suffers this inconceivable prosecution from the enemies without—the faction which reigns within keep me a hostage at 120 leagues from the Capital—judge then at what distance I am from him.2

In this abyss of grief the idea of owing to the U.S. and to M. Washington—the life & liberty of M. Lafayette re-animates my heart with some hope. I hope every thing from the goodness of a people with whom he has set an example of that liberty of which he is now the victim—And shall I dare speak what I hope? I would ask of them, through you, an Envoy who shall go to reclaim him in the name of the Republic of the U.S. wheresoever he may be retained, and who may make, in their name with whatso[e]ver power he may be, the necessary engagements to emancipate him from his captivity, & carry him to their bosoms. If his wife & his Children could be comprised in this happy mission, it is easy to judge how sweet it would be to her and to them; but if this would retard or embarrass, in any degree, the progress or his success—we will defer the happiness of a reunion yet longer, and when we shall be near you we will bear the grief of seperation with more courage.3

May heaven deign to bless the confidence with which it has inspired me. I hope my request is not rash. Accept the homage of the sentiments which have dictated this letter to me, as well as that of attachment & tender respect with which I am

Noailles Lefayette

Translation, in Tobias Lear’s writing, DLC:GW; two copies, in French and in John Dyson’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, in French and in Dyson’s writing, NjMoHP. The first of the two French copies in DLC:GW, which appears in CD-ROM:GW, includes at the end Dyson’s notation in English: “I have written & shall send 2 Copies of the above lest by accident one of them Should miscarry.” That copy apparently was the one that Dyson enclosed in his letter to GW of 8 Dec. 1792 from “Gunton near Lowestoft Suffolk [England],” in which Dyson wrote: “I am just arrived in England from the family of Monsr Lafayette where I have constantly resided these last twelve months, the following Letter was delivered me by Madame Lafayette with a desire of its being forwarded to you by the first occasion, her present Situation is truly affecting, Separated from her Husband without the means of hearing from him, herself in captivity under the Safe-guard of the Municipality She is anxiously expecting the decision of his & her own destiny—under these circumstances She relies on your influence to adopt Such measures as may effectuate their mutual freedom” (DLC:GW). The docket, in GW’s writing, on Dyson’s letter to GW reads: “From Mr John Dyson 8th December 1792 enclosing a letter from Madame de la Fayette 8th October 1792 recd Feb. 20th.” Lafayette had brought Dyson from England earlier this year as his farm manager in order to introduce English cattle and swine into French husbandry.

Dyson’s third copy of this letter, which is in NjMoHP, includes the following postscript, which solicits assistance for the men who were captured with Lafayette and which does not appear in Dyson’s other copies or in Lear’s translation: “Si les bontés des Etats Unis peuvent s’etendre aux compagnons d’infortune de M. Lafayette ce sera y mettre le comble, mais comme la haine ne semble pas les poursuivre avec tant d’acharnement, je ne crois manquer à aucune delicatesse en demandant pour eux comme pour moi et mes enfans & que le soin de leurs interêts ne retardent pas les Secours qu’exige la position de M. Lafayette.

“Messr Maubourg, M. Bureau de Puzy et M. la Colombe qui a l’avantage d’avoir servi les Etats Unis meritent d’être distingués parmi les Compagnons d’infortune. Messrs Romeuf, Pillet, Masson, Curmeer les deux jeunes frères de M. Maubourg sont au nombre des Prisonniers, et ont tout le droit possible, à l’interêt le plus tendre par leur attachement à Monsr Lafayette depuis le commencement de la Revolution.”

1This name was incorrectly transcribed by Lear from the original “Chavaniac” that appears on the French copy that GW received on 20 Feb. 1793 with Dyson’s letter to him of 8 December.

2For background on Lafayette’s departure from France and his subsequent capture and imprisonment, see Gouverneur Morris to GW, 23 Oct. 1792, source note and note 1. Among those captured with Lafayette were three other former members of the National Assembly: Alexandre Lameth, Marie-Charles-César de Fay, comte de Latour-Maubourg, and Jean-Xavier Bureaux du Pusy.

3For GW’s efforts to aid Lafayette’s family, see GW to Marquise de Lafayette, 31 Jan. and 16 Mar. 1793.

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