Tuesday, November 20, 2012

General Lafayette in Fredonia

An account of the circumstances surrounding Lafayette's visit which appeared in the Censor of 3 July 1872.

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2000


In the body of his article, newspaper editor Frisbee commented that "I am not able to give the names of our principal citizens who bore a part in the ceremonies, owing to a favor I extended to some person in lending a file of the Censor [for 1825], being requited by his cutting out and purloining a whole half sheet of the paper that gave a full account of the reception." The Censor in 1825 had a small format. Each issue was made up of four pages, two leaves. In other words, a large sheet folded once. Half of that sheet, containing pages 1 and 2, was "purloined." The bound volume is now in the Barker Historical Museum containing only the 3rd and 4th pages of 9 June 1825.

 Frisbee's 1872 account was answered by a letter from L[evi] R[isley] of Shady Brook, Iowa, commenting on some aspects of Lafayette's visit and the theft of the Censor article. Soon after Frisbee's article appeared, Miss Jane Osborne lent her copy of the report on Lafayette's visit to a rival newspaper, the Advertiser & Union, and it was published there during the week of 11 August 1872. Although no copy of that issue is now extant, the Censor ran a copy taken from the Advertiser, on 21 August 1872.

               The Censor also ran Frisbee's reaction, in which he said "I made some effort to ascertain what became of it [the stolen half sheet], but got no satisfaction from the quarter where I had good reason to look for it; but it seems my suspicions were well founded, as it has been brought forth from an old scrap book by a member of the family to which the files were loaned [the Osbornes]."

               This was followed on 28 August by a partial retraction. The Censor editor announced that he had examined "the copy furnished the Advertiser by Miss Osborne, and are satisfied that it was cut from some paper called the Chautauqua Advertiser," and that Mr. F. erred in his belief that it explained the fate of his lost article." The documents were shown to Frisbee who added: "After a more full examination of the 'mutilated parts' I am satisfied the account published in the Advertiser & Union from the 'scrap book' material was not the one abstracted from my files of the Censor, but from some other Chautauqua paper, so that the mystery as to what did become of it after the loaning remains unsolved. . . . I am satisfied the one alluded to as the 'fair perpetrator' is not the one who did the deed." The Censor editor's reference to the Chautauqua Advertiser as the source for Miss Osborne's scrap book clipping uses the later name of the Gazette. It was common practice for the Censor and the Gazette to run items borrowed from each other at that time.

               When Frisbee described the purloining of the half sheet from his volume of the Censor, he did not mention that some of the text towards the end of the account had continued on to page 3. When that lengthy fragment (some 120 lines) is compared to the scrap book version which ran in the Advertiser and was reprinted in the Censor in 1872, they are seen to be virtually identical. The minor differences can be attributed to a careless typesetter. The 1872 version corrects "Capt. Fowle" to "Towle," changes a "was" to "were," and omits the word "so" from the phrase "circumstances render it necessary that my stay with you should be so short."         

               It seems obvious that the scrap book version is a verbatim copy of what also appeared in the Censor of 9 June 1825. By comparing the number of column inches taken up by the page 3 copy with its equivalent in 1872, we can determine that the first part of the 1825 account must have taken up some three and a half columns on page 2. In 1825 the pages were normally five columns wide. Since the "purloiner" did not take page 3 with something over a column of text from the same article, it may be that he/she was after some other item on page 2.

               Because it appeared in a Fredonia paper, the original version began with Lafayette's early morning arrival in Fredonia, carried through to his departure from Dunkirk for Buffalo, and only then tacked on an account, provided to the Censor by an unnamed participant, of Lafayette's arrival first in Westfield and his progress on to Fredonia.

               In addition to this earliest account, written immediately after Lafayette left Dunkirk by ship for Buffalo, there is also a typed version of what is entitled "Copy of contemporary account of Lafayette's visit to Fredonia written by the Hon. John Crane." It is dated "1885, June 1st.," that is, the date on which A. Z. Madison, Secretary of the Fredonia Historical Association, copied Crane's original, which was found among the papers of Charles F. Matteson. The specific date when Crane wrote his account is not given. John Crane was a prominent citizen of Fredonia, 34 years old at the time of Lafayette's visit.

               Following Frisbee's article of 3 July, in the 10 July 1872 issue of the Censor,  J. E.  Baldwin added his "Recollections" of Lafayette's visit. Baldwin seems to have been a member of the local Militia at the time, since the focus of his article is on their part in the events. There is a Jesse E. Baldwin, born in 1796, who came here with his family in 1810. He would have been 29 in 1825.

               Andrew Young issued his History of Chautauqua County in 1875 after several years of work on the subject. The record of Lafayette's visit was significant enough for him to include a separate section early in the volume to tell the story. The seven-page account begins with a brief biographical sketch of Lafayette's life and then describes his 1825 visit here, beginning with his reception in Westfield, then Fredonia, Dunkirk, and his departure. Although Young gives no sources, the text seems to be taken directly from the 1872 Censor reprinting, including the use of "were" in place of "was." However, Young did replace the word "so" as in the original. The text has been edited down somewhat from the 1872 version, perhaps to fit the space he was willing to make available.

               In the 13 July 1892 issue of the Censor appeared an anecdote entitled "Alex and Lafayette" by Olive Risley Seward, the daughter of Hanson A. Risley. It is a thinly disguised version of the events as seen by "Alex" (Hanson Risley's middle name was Alexander) and no doubt told to his children. He died the year after this piece appeared. This account focuses on the preparation, particularly those the children were involved with, Lafayette's triumphant arrival, and the presentation of each citizen in line, including babes in arms. This account is the source of the story about the fine shawl handed on from one woman to another as she was to be received. In their 27 July 1892 issue, the Censor ran a letter from Miss Seward adding further comments. "I have heard the event [LaFayette's Reception], described all my life. . . . Father [Hanson Risley] was here [Washington DC] when I wrote the sketch and remembers every incident of the day distinctly. . . . The friend who went up the hill with Alex was his cousin Fidelie Brigham. Mr. D. J. Matteson, my cousin Kate Matteson's grandfather, was the master of ceremonies. . . . It was Mr. Matteson, the judge [Charles F. Matteson, D. J. Matteson's son, 9 years old in June 1825], who told me the story of my grandmother Crosby's plum-colored shawl and bonnet, and how he reflected on the strange vanity of women as one after another they came up in a copy of Mrs. Crosby's fashionable attire." 

               Hanson Risley must have been very impressed by the events of June 1825, since, later, when he was a student at the Fredonia Academy (1827-1835), he delivered a "Eulogy Upon General Lafayette" at an oral examination. It apparently was memorable enough for H. C. Frisbee to quote some parts of it in the account he wrote in the 3 July 1872 issue of the Censor, some 40 years later. (Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, the journal kept by Lafayette's secretary was translated into English and published in Philadelphia in November 1829. It is referred to in Hanson Risley's piece, which puts his "Eulogy" then as delivered somewhere between 1830 and 1835.)

               In the 11 April 1900 issue of the Censor was printed an article copied from the New York Journal, referring to Lafayette's 1825 journey. The editor added the comment that Devillo White, then 9, witnessed Lafayette's arrival and remembered that Gen. Leverett Barker had "illuminated his mansion [the Barker Historical Museum] with a number of candles at each window pane." One part of a sash was scorched and Barker never permitted it to be painted over. It was in 1900 that a brass marker was put by the scorched portion to commemorate that reminder of Lafayette's visit.

               Responding to that article, in the issue of 2 May, was Mrs. Lydia Bradish, who indicated that Leverett Barker had not been alone. She described how her mother put candles in every window of their home on West Main Street. Lydia D. Houghton was ten years old in 1825.  Years later, in the Buffalo Evening News of 5 May 1956, appeared a feature article entitled "When Fredonia Used Gas Jets to Honor Hero." Aside from erroneous statements about gaslight, it does add some details such as Mrs. David Brown lending her "boughten" carpet for the platform and that Sally Patrick Crosby, young wife of Dr. Orris Crosby, lent her "magnificent purple silk shawl" and a Tuscon [i.e., Tuscan] bonnet" with a white plume to other ladies in line. There is a reference to Lafayette commenting on the repeated appearance of the shawl and bonnet, but, since that is not mentioned in the original account of 1825, nor in his secretary's journal, it may be a later embellishment to the tale, like the story of the gas jets.

               In July 1995 a hitherto unavailable collection of Lafayette's papers, including many documents relating to his 1824-25 trip, began to be microfilmed by the Library of Congress. The complete set of microfilm is available in the Manuscript Reading Room of the Library and may well offer additional information about Lafayette's triumphal tour.

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