LafayetteMarie-Joseph, Paul, Yves, Roch, Gilbert Motier de Lafayette(6 septembre 1757 - 20 mai 1834)
Soldier of the American Revolution.
Lafayette, a French soldier and statesman, became so moved by America's fight for independence that he sailed to America at his own expense and received the rank of major general at the age of nineteen. Wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, he spent the winter at Valley Forge with Gen. George Washington, establishing a lifelong friendship. Lafayette cooperated closely with Benjamin Franklin in efforts to obtain financial support from France for the American cause. In 1781 he played a major role in the victory at the Battle of Yorktown. The names of Lafayette's children, George Washington Lafayette and Virginie Lafayette, exemplified his love for America.
When Lafayette returned to France after his final visit to the United States, he took with him several tons of American soil, in which he ultimately was buried.
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Washington, Georgia and the French connection:
Dating from 1780, Washington, Georgia, is the first town chartered in the name of General George Washington. Although we can't claim that the good general and president ever "slept here," many others did as Wilkes County was the most populous in Georgia according to the census of 1790. Settlers poured through this area seeking new lands and opportunities. Though some families have stayed for generations, most came for only a few decades or less. All, however, added their own personality to the mix so that Washington-Wilkes is a community filled with diversity, history and culture.
In 1787, Sarah Hillhouse, a genteel New England lady whose husband brought her to the backcountry of Georgia, described Washington as "about 50 miles from Augusta...and 20 from Indian lands. There is a court house, jail, and a good Latin and grammar school. The land is high and very hilly for this part of the country; the soil exceeding good. I wish I could give you as aggreeable an account of the inhabitants of the land. There are a few, and a very few, worthy good people in the country near us, but the people in general are the most profane, blasphemous set of people I ever heard of...[But] it's a good place for business and unless some misfortunes happen to Mr. Hillhouse, he will make money here."
With the evolution of the cotton economy, the area continued to be a very good place for business and, with the continuing influx of new people from new and exotic locales, there came a new vibrancy and sophisticationc, which eventually caused Sarah Hillhouse to change her tune..
First and foremost among the new settlers were the French. Some Huguenot familes who had arrived on American soil following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in the 1680s, such as the Lamars, Jordans, and DuBoses, had come with the first wave of Wilkes County settlers in the 1770s. But many others selected this lovely Piedmont refuge after escaping the French Revolution or the rebellion on Sainte Domingue (Haiti) in the early 1790s. Most first came to Charleston but, hearing of opportunities here, chose to move and transform the community of Washington.
The entire west side of the Square became a French settlement. The general merchandise store of Nicholas Leprestre and Louis Maquire was the largest in town. Leprestre also owned considerable acreage in the county. His daughter married Robert Simpson, a relative of Alexander H. Stephens who was Vice President of the Confederacy. Louis Prudhomme established a slave market on the northwest corner of the Square and operated it until 1809 when he returned to Paris as a very wealthy man. Its operation was taken over by John Cormick, an Augustan, who had married Francoise Dugas. The Dugas family was highly influential with Madame Poulien Dugas establishing a Select School for Girls in her home on Liberty Street. Her son, Louis Alexander Dugas, became a physician and was one of the founders of the Medical College of Georgia.
On 20 November 1798, a large number of the French settlers petitioned, and were approved for, citizenship through the Court of Wilkes County. Among those named were Leprestre and Maquire along with the families of Gilbert Gabriel, Francois Mercier, Jean and Rene Duboisberrenger, and Francois Aubin. In addition, among other French families settling locally were the Catonetts, Courvoisies, DeRochefeuilles, Desmortiers, Laplaces, Laflores, Leseuers, Revieres, Roquemores, Rosignols, and St. Almands.
Dr. Anthony Poullain, whom legend describes as the Marquis de Lafayette's personal physician, arrived about 1792 after fighting in the French Revolution. He built the original portion of the magnificent house which is now known as "The Cedars."
In the first decade of the nineteenth century there were so many French in Washington (some estimates say almost twenty percent of the residents of the town) that the local newspaper ran some ads and notices in French and gave serious thought to a bilingual edition.
By 1820, however, most of the French had moved on to more metropolitan areas of the south and west. A few of the families did remain, intermarrying with the more predominant Scots-Irish and English inhabitants. Their influence, though, continues even to this day giving Washington an ambience unlike any other small Georgia community.Vive la France!
For more information about early French settlers and the Huguenot Society of Georgia click here.
Washington, Georgia today:
This county seat of Wilkes County has more antebellum homes than any other city of its size in the state. Washington is the site of the Cooper-Sanders-Wickersham House, currently the Lafayette Manor, which housed the mantel of the Cabinet Room of the Heard Building where Jefferson Davis formally dissolved the Confederacy on May 5, 1865.
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