Fraunces Tavern Museum’s exhibit on “The Lancelot of the revolutionary set”
BY ERICA MAGRIN
Any and all exhibits concerning Alexander Hamilton have skyrocketed in popularity since the rise of composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, “Hamilton.” The life of this often-overlooked founding father has suddenly become more interesting than just a history lesson. Trinity Church is the burial site of Hamilton and his family, including his wife, Eliza; his sister-in-law, Angelica; and his son Phillip, who are all characters in the musical as well. Visitors to Trinity Church’s historic cemetery have increased significantly since the show’s fall opening. Recently, the church even hosted a pop-up exhibit featuring the first U.S. treasury secretary and his lineage. The Alexander Hamilton room at the American Museum of Finance has also benefited from the upsurge, with the museum posting: “you’re not a true “Hamilton” fan until you’ve visited [this site].”
But with popularity comes mass influx, and this founding father’s history is no exception. With everyone demanding more Hamilton, the Fraunces Tavern Museum is turning to another figure featured in the hit musical. “Lafayette,” the new exhibit at the downtown landmark, showcases Hamilton’s brother-in-arms, General du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette — a name which the musical rhymes with “the Lancelot of the revolutionary set.” In a similar way to that of his financially minded friend, interest in this historical hero has become more prominent, hence the Fraunces Tavern Museum exhibit.
The new exhibit features 20 different artifacts relating to Lafayette, including his pistol, sash and calling card. Also on display is a “life masque” of the war hero, crafted by noted French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. This was molded in 1785 “by placing layers of plaster of Paris over Lafayette’s face,” according to the museum. “There are three versions created after the original, all of which are in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The one exhibited here is a [20th century] Louvre-made copy. This later 1790 version replica hides Lafayette’s well documented long sloping forehead with a wig.” Various portraits of the revolutionary solider are on display with the artifacts as well, some of which were engraved as early as 1790.
Lafayette played an important part on the battlefield in both the American Revolution and the French Revolution, having been a military officer in both the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830. Because of this, historians often refer to him as “the Hero of Two Worlds.” Born a French aristocrat, he was commissioned an officer of the military at age 13, and soon came to the colonies because he found the idea of the American Revolution noble and committed himself to the cause, becoming a major general when he was only 19. It was at this point in his life that he made the acquaintance of Alexander Hamilton and company. After aiding the colonists in victory at the Battle of Yorktown, Lafayette returned home to France in 1787. With the intersection of Thomas Jefferson he assisted in authoring the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. After the storming of the Bastille, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France. Eventually being forced to flee the country by a radical faction, Lafayette returned to France once again in 1797 and became a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1814.
He returned to the United States in 1824, for an 16-month tour of all 24 states. He debarked at Castle Clinton, steps from the museum, to a hero’s welcome. He died 20 years later in 1834 and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill.
Lafayette is on view at until the end of the year. The Fraunces Tavern Museum is located on Pearl Street. Ticket prices are $7 – a lot less expensive than the sold-out musical.