George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Marquise de Lafayette, 14 January 1790

From the Marquise de Lafayette

Paris 14. January 1790.

Sir

Amidst the agitations of our revolution, I have always participated in the pleasure which Mr de La Fayette found in following your footsteps, in observing, according to your example and your lessons, the means of serving his country, and in thinking with what satisfaction you would learn the effects and success of them. Permit me, to offer you the assurance of this sentiment and permit at the same time to request of you a favour which interests me sensibly. Mr Poirey the secretary of Mr De la Fayette1 and who is at present that of our national guard, loaded with kindness by you in America where he has had the happiness of meriting your approbation has not ceased since that time, to give to Mr De la Fayette testimonies of attachment, and he has rendered to this cause important services and above all very affecting to him. His ambition is to obtain the glorious distinction of an American Officer, the Ribbon of Cincinnatus is the object of all his wishes, and Mr De la Fayette would think he could not refuse him the permission, if you would deign to confer upon him, a brevet commission. I set a great value upon obtaining for him this favour, and it would be to me a great pleasure if I owe it to your goodness for me, I should recieve almost as much pride as gratitude from it, ⟨and⟩ that it would be the means of acquitting a little what we owe to Mr Poirey, and which I believe due to him more than to any other person, persuaded as I am, that his vigilant cares have contributed very much in the midst of the Storms to the preservation of what I hold most dear in the world. Mr De la Fayette approves my request, and will leave to me I hope the pleasure and the glory of having obtained the success of it from you Sir, and of joining on this little occasion the hommage of my personal gratitude, to that of all his sentiments of admiration, attachment and respect, which I participate with him and with which I have the honour of being, Sir, Your very humble and very obedient servant

Noailles de la Fayette

Accept I entreat you the hommage of respect of our little George and his Sisters, and permit that Mrs Washington receive here mine and those of all our family.

The Chr de la Colombe who has had the honour of serving under your orders,2 and whose patriotism and sentiments for Mr De la Fayette have rendered eminent services to our cause as well in his province as in the parisien Army, in which he is Aid-Major, having known that I had the honour of writing to you wishes that I offer to you his best respects. Pardon my writing in french I in treat you, the occasion required it, and for six months since it is a great deal for me to recover my ideas in my own language. It is true that in writing to General Washington it is more my heart than my mind that dictates my expressions. This is my excuse, if I am indiscreet, this the justification of my confidence.3

ALS (photocopy), NIC; translation (photocopy), NIC. The text of this document has been taken from the contemporary translation.

1Joseph-Léonard Poirey entered the French service in 1770 and later came to America with Lafayette in 1780 to act as his military secretary. Poirey served in the Virginia campaign and at Yorktown and returned to France with Lafayette. He was currently serving as captain secretary general of the French National Guard with the rank of major. In response to the request of the marquise de Lafayette, GW wrote the Senate in May 1790 asking that Poirey might, on the basis of his earlier service in America, be granted the brevet rank of captain. “I am authorised to add, that, while the compliance will involve no expense on our part, it will be particularly grateful to that friend of America, the Marquis de la Fayette.” See GW to the United States Senate, 31 May 1790. The Senate confirmed the appointment on 2 June 1790 (DHFC description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends , 2:71).

GW replied to the marquise’s letter on 3 June 1790: “It gives me infinite pleasure, in acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 14th of Jany last, to transmit the Brevet Commission, that was desired for Mr Poirey. Aside of his services in America, which alone might have entitled him to this distinction, his attachment to the Marquis de la Fayette and your protection added claims that were not to be resisted. And you will, I dare flatter myself, do me the justice to believe that I can never be more happy than in according marks of attention to so good a friend to America and so excellent a patriot as Madame la Marquise de la Fayette. Nor did she need any excuse for making use of her own language to be the interpreter of so much politeness & persuasion as she has found means to convey in one short letter. In truth that language, at least when used by her, seems made on purpose to have fine things communicated in it; and I question whether any other, at least in the hands of any other person, would have been equally competent to the effect.

“By some accident your letter reached me only a few days ago. This fact is the sole reason of your not hearing sooner from me, & must be an apology for any seeming neglect on my part. I request you will present my Compliments to the Gentleman who desired to be so cordially remembered to me. Mrs Washington and her two youngest Grand-Children (who live with us) join me in offering our affectionate regards to your family: in whose welfare, believe me Madame, no one is more deeply interested than he who has the honor to subscribe himself with the purest sentiments of respect & esteem Your Most obedient & Most humble Servt.” The text of GW’s letter, as far as the phrase “making use of her own language to be” is taken from a facsimile of an ALS in the Sotheby, Parke-Bernet catalog 4267, part III, Sang Collection sale. The remainder is taken from a copy in David Humphreys’ writing in DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

2Louis-Saint-Ange Morel, chevalier de La Colombe (1755–c.1800) came with Lafayette to America in 1777 to serve the marquis as an aide-de-camp. La Colombe later, in 1783, retired from the King’s Dragoons with the rank of major. In 1791 he became colonel of an infantry regiment in France and in 1792 again served as Lafayette’s aide. He was arrested during the French Revolution but escaped and came to the United States in 1794 where, except for a brief trip to France, he remained for the rest of his life.

3The original French version of this letter reads: “Au milieu des agitations de notre revolution, j’ai toujours partagé les soucis que ⟨temoins⟩ Mis De la fayette, a suivre vos ⟨traces⟩, et devoir en vos exemples, en vos leçons, des moyens de servir sa patrie, et a songer, avec quelle satisfactions vous en apprendrais les ⟨illegible,⟩ et ses Succés. permettés moy de vous offrir l’assurance de ce Sentiment, et permettés moy en meme tems de vous demander une grace qui minteresse sensiblement. Mis Poisey, Sécretaire de Mis De la fayette et qui l’est a présent de notre garde nationale; comblé de bontés par vous en amérique, où il a eu le bonheur de meriter votre suffrage; n’a cessé depuis ce tems, de donner a Mis De la fayette, des temoignages d’attachement, et il a rendu a cette cause, des services importans, et surtout trés ⟨touchans⟩ pour Lui. Son ambition est dobtenir la glorieuse marque d’officier américain, Le ruban de Cincinnatus, est lobjet de tous ses voeux; et Mr de la fayette ⟨coriroie⟩ pouvoir ne pas Lui refuser la permission de la porter, Si vous daignies lui accorder un brevet dofficier. je mets un prix extrême à Lui obtenir cette grace, et elle en auroie pour moy, un bien particulier. Si je la devois à votre bonté pour moy. j’en aurois presqu’ autant d’orgueil que de recconnoissance, en meme tems que ce seroie un moyen d’accquitter un peu, celle que nous devons a Mr Poisey, et que je crois Lui devoir plus que personne, persuadée comme je le suis, que des soins vigilans; contribuere beaucoup au milieu des orages a la conservation de ce que j’ai de plus cher au monde. Mis de la fayette approuve ma demande, et me laissera j’espere le plaisir, et la gloire, d’en avoir obtenu de vous le succès, monsieur, et de joindre en cette petite occasion l’hommage de ma recconnoissance personelle, a celui de tous Les sentimens, d’admiration, dattachement et de respect, que je partarge avec Lui, et avec Lesquels j’ai lhonneur d’être, monsieur, Votre très humble et très obeissante Servante

“noailles de la fayette

“agrées je vous en Supplie Lhommage du respect de nôtre petit George et de Ses Soeurs, et permettes que ⟨mme⟩ Washington recoive ici Les miens, et ceux de toute notre famille.

“Le Ch(er) de La Colombe, qui a eu l’honneur de servir Sous vos ordres, et dont Le patriotisme, et Ses sentimens pour Mis de La fayette ont rendus déminens Services, a notre cause, tant dans sa province que dans l’armée parisienne, ou il est aide major, ayans sue que j’avois l’honneur de vous ecrire, veut que je vous offre his best respects, pardonnés je vous en Supplie, Si jécris en françois, mais Loccasion ⟨prescrie⟩, et depuis Six mois c’est beaucoup pour moy, de retrouver mes idees dans ma propre Langue. il est vrai que pour ecrire au Gal Washington, c’est plus mon coeur que mon esprit qui dicte mes expressions, c’est mon excuse, si je suis indiscrete, c’est la justification de ma confiance.”

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