Revolutionary Real Estate

Statesmen, soldiers and spies who made America and the way they lived

(Cheryl Carlin)
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A message was dispatched to Betsy Hamilton (the gravity of her husband's injury was kept from her at first), and she hurried south from the Grange. The journey of nine miles required almost three hours, but with their seven surviving children, Betsy arrived in time to find she had been summoned to a death watch. His physician dosed him liberally with laudanum to dull the pain, but Hamilton survived only until the next afternoon when, at two o'clock, he breathed his last.

The Owens-Thomas House
Savannah, Georgia

Although born to a noble French family, Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier was certifiably a Founding Father. All Americans seemed to understand that instinctively: after not having set foot on American soil for forty years, "the friend of Washington" received a great outpouring of popular sentiment upon his arrival late in the summer of 1824. Day after day, the sixty-seven-year-old Frenchman met with a universal welcome of speeches, parades, endless toasts, banquets, and cheering crowds.

The Marquis de la Fayette (1757–1834) arrived in America as a nineteen-year-old volunteer (de la Fayette officially became Lafayette after a 1790 French decree abolishing titles). The young man had been a captain in the French dragoons when he embraced the cause of the American revolt, in 1775. Drawing upon his inherited wealth, he purchased and outfitted a ship, La Victoire, which landed him in South Carolina in 1777. A month later he met George Washington, and the two men established an immediate and enduring bond.  The Frenchman was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine and experienced the harsh winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge.  After a respite in France, where he helped persuade his government to recognize the new nation and provide military aid, he returned to America in 1780 and played a hero's role at Yorktown, in the war's deciding battle. Back in Europe after the close of the war, he was imprisoned in the wake of his country's revolution, but his America connections remained important to him. During Lafayette's incarceration, the wife of the American minister to France, Mrs. James Monroe, arrived at the La Force prison in Paris in the official carriage of the U.S. Legation, demanding—and obtaining—the release of Madame Lafayette.

Much later, Lafayette welcomed the letter from James Monroe. "The whole nation," wrote the President on February 24, 1824, "ardently desire[s] to see you again." Lafayette accepted Monroe's invitation. Instructions were issued by Congress that General Lafayette should expend not one cent on his tour (much of his wealth had been confiscated during the French Revolution). A stop he made in Savannah reflected the kind of celebration he met with. In three days he was feted by the city's leaders, dedicated two monuments, and stayed in one of the city's most elegant homes.

Another sometime visitor to America designed the mansion Lafayette visited, known today as the Owens-Thomas House.

Excerpted from Houses of the Founding Fathers by Hugh Howard, with original photography by Roger Strauss III. Copyright 2007. Published by Artisan, New York. All rights reserved.

Houses of the Founding Fathers: The Men Who Made America and the Way They Lived by Hugh Howard, Artisan, 2007


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