The Five Statues of Lafayette Square

So, last night was supposed to be something different; a new friend was going to take me on a surprise tour of 4 unknown statues within DC, with hot cider/chocolate/brandy stops in between.  Well, we only saw one statue from a distance, and the cold and the need for actual food, as well as a discussion about politics, shortened the evening considerably.  But I still needed my adventure of the week.  So this morning I decided to go see the 5 statues of Lafayette Square, which borders the White House, and figure out who these guys were.  It was a nice little adventure – as the day was about 20 degrees warmer than last night.  And because I could squeeze it in during my lunch hour at work.

(As I said in the rules, some weeks will be short little adventures because of deadlines – others a bigger deal.  Soon, some bigger ones.)

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President Andrew Jackson’s statue is in the middle of the park.

So – the main statue of Lafayette Square. You would think this would be of Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette, but no, the statue for Andrew Jackson (U.S. President, 1829–1837) was smack in the middle of the park. Although the park was named after Lafayette in 1824, the first statue actually erected was Jackson’s in 1853. Andrew, and his four cannons, are in the prime line of sight from the White House.  One wonders if it was meant to inspire warrior-like intentions in Presidents.  I’d prefer a giant dove of peace.  Or a person hugging a tree.

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Note men standing on the White House roof – no idea why.

The other four statues turn out to be for foreign generals and gentleman who served in the American Revolution.  (sources: Wikipedia and other top 5 Google results),

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Southeast – Marquis de La Fayette.

Lafayette’s statue is on the southeast corner of the square, and was erected in 1891 to honor the former Marquis de La Fayette (aka Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier), who volunteered (serving as a General) in the American Revolution, helped bring in French support for our revolution, and then helped encourage countries, including France, to become democracies; thus he became the Hero of the Two Worlds.  After being jailed in France after their revolution, released by Napoleon, serving and then declining many roles in France, he later took a rock star tour of the U.S. and had many landmarks named after him.

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Southwest – Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau.

In the southwest corner is a statue of Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau – another French nobleman, but this one sent by France with his regiment to help during the American Revolution.  Rochambeau later went back and served in the French revolution.  The statue was a gift from France to the U.S. in 1902, to signify friendship between the two countries.  Rochambeau’s hand is pointing because apparently the British commander General O’Hara attempted to surrender to Rochambeau during the American Revolution, and Rochambeau pointed instead towards George Washington.  I gathered this from a 1902 New York Times article, which also contains the long speeches given during the unveiling.

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Northeast – Brigadier General Thaddeus Kosciuszko.

Bushy-moustached Polish soldier at the base of Kosciuszko’s statue

The northeast corner of the park holds the statue of Brigadier General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, erected 1910.  A friend of Thomas Jefferson’s, from Poland, he served as a colonel in the revolutionary war.  He was promoted later after he designed West Point.  In Poland, he led the Kościuszko Uprising, was captured, later pardoned, then returned to the U.S.   He wanted to return to Poland for family and a political emergency, and apparently Thomas Jefferson procured him a false passport to do so [will confirm].  Finally, he tried to leave in his will money to free and educate former slaves; after three times at the U.S. Supreme Court, the money went to an educational institution in New Jersey for African-Americans.  Btw – I have never seen a bushy mustache on a statue before.

Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben – military methods wiz from Prussia

In the northwest corner is the 1910 statue of Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.  Also known as Baron von Stueben, he was from Prussia and initially served in the Revolutionary war as a volunteer without pay.  He wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual, a standard U.S. military manual until 1812.  He also organized how camps were laid out – so that kitchens and latrines weren’t next to each other, for instance. A very useful guy to have on our side.  According to Wikipedia, Steuben spoke little English and would yell to his translator, “Over here! Swear at him for me!   He settled in the U.S., went in debt a lot, but was given an estate, and then lived a relatively modest life.  Today, a number of U.S. cities (Chicago, for instance) have von Steuben day as part of German heritage celebrations, including von Steuben parades (http://www.germanparadenyc.org/).

I never knew.  Cool.

P.S. Dad, here is a picture of houses surrounding Lafayette Square – it has changed from the neighborhood you saw when you worked in DC!

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2 thoughts on “The Five Statues of Lafayette Square

  1. Thanks for that peek into history! I’d forgotten about the importance of French influence, which may have at least some socialist influence on at least some historically adept Conservatives, who may well have at least some respect for how and why our country became free of English top down rule. But maybe France was pretty top down at the time as well?

  2. Pingback: The Year 2014 in Adventures | adventuresacross2014

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