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Marques La Fayette's Wife Saved From Reign of Terror by Monroe's First Lady-French Revolution Story

Updated on September 5, 2014

Bronze Medal

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Elizabeth Monroe

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It was in 1794 that President George Washington appointed my husband James as the United States Minister to France When we arrived in France it was in chaos. We heard that 17,000 people had been killed by the guillotine Mobs roamed the streets with knives, axes, guns, and nooses. Many more thousands of innocent people were killed. This was not like our revolution which was about liberty, not revenge and slaughter

Officials rifled our baggage and stole our provisions. There was little we could do about it, but  I refused to be intimidated by the lawlessness of the officials. I kept my head high and grasped the hand of my little daughter. James, who had been an officer under general Washington during the American Revolution, is very tall, especially compared to the Frenchmen. He assumed his haughty, military bearing and his attitude demanded respect for himself and our family.

Settling In

It took us a long three days to get to Paris, the capital. We heard that Robespierre had been executed a few days ago. However, the countryside was peaceful, but we had troubles when we arrived though. Governor Morris, who was not a very nice man, was also not very cooperative. He was connected with scandals with several Parisian ladies and resented being recalled.

We were kept waiting for days. Finally my husband boldly sent a letter to the president of the National Convention announcing our arrival and making clear his intention to present his mission to the peoples representative.

No one had ever done this before. It was a bold move but James was a bold man.  He was representating a bold new nation for the first time presenting itself to the world. When he showed himself in person they were overwhelmed by both his physical size and his personality, as I heard later. They listened to his speech even applauded his presence.

To the Capital

It took us a long three days to get to Paris, the capital. We heard that Robespierre had been executed a few days ago. However, the countryside was peaceful, but we had troubles when we arrived though. Governor Morris, who was not a very nice man, was also not very cooperative. He was connected with scandals with several Parisian ladies and resented being recalled.

We were kept waiting for days. Finally my husband boldly sent a letter to the president of the National Convention announcing our arrival and making clear his intention to present his mission to the peoples representative.

No one had ever done this before. It was a bold move but James was a bold man.  He was representating a bold new nation for the first time presenting itself to the world. When he showed himself in person they were overwhelmed by both his physical size and his personality, as I heard later. They listened to his speech even applauded his presence.

 We were able to move into the house that Morris had occupied. James as well, as I, was delighted with the new quarters. It was near the embassies, giving us a social life that was enjoyable as much as it was international. We quickly moed to improve our French.i dould enroll our eight year old Eliza at a boarding school overseen by Madame Jeanne Luise Herriette Campin’ In Saint-Germaine-en-Laye.

James was very successful and by years end the French had given him nearly allt that he requested. Because of the good will he engendered he obtained the release of many Americans from the French prisons. We were concerned about Adrienne de Lafayette the wife of the heroic Marquess who had helped so much in our own revolution. I knew that James hesitated to compromise his diplomatic status by intervening.

Madame de La Fayette

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I told him I would go to the prison my self to obtain her release. He said it was too dangerous. “Nonsense,” I said,” the French admire women who are courageous. Just look at their admiration for Joan of Arc.”

I finally convinced him that I was the logical choice. To act in his behalf. I had become known as the La Belle Americaine and it gave me respect among the French. In order to dress the part I wore a regal, dark velvet dress contrasted by a white ermine scarf. The coach was ostentatious and I loaded it with baskets of wines, food, and gifts. I climbed in and we rode off confidently through the mobs of Paris to the Plessis Prison, which was notorious near the Sorbonne.

I stepped out of the coach as the footman opened the door. I held my head high and walked to the door and if walking to a neighbor’s for luncheon.

The crowd gathered and I could hear them wondering whose carriage is this?

“The wife of an American minister” they exclaimed. To see Madame Lafayette. The prison keeper brought me to the iron railing to which the gate was attached.

Her mother and grandmother had shortly before been taken from this prison and beheaded, and she expected to be getting the same treatment. When heard the wife of the American Minister was calling she became frantic and that is the way she was when we met. When was she was released she accompanied me to our house.

Another joy was when a few days later a shabby man shuffled to the door with a fourteen-year old boy. The boy was dirty, shaggy-haired. Madame Lafayette when she heard his voice rushed to the door to find her son George-Washington Lafayette.

My husband saw to getting passport for the boy under the name George Motier and sent him home to George Washington, his godfather

We did many things in France before we returned to Virginia in 1807.

© 2011 Don A. Hoglund

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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      That should have been interesting.Thanks for commenting.

    • Chuck RitenouR profile image

      Chuck RitenouR 

      7 years ago from Front Royal, Virginia

      I watched a PBS documentary on Lafayette just last night. I enjoyed this.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I share your sentiments.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      It was a college professor that first made history interesting for me also. High school...forget it.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      History is full of stories. Like you I did not like history the way it was taught until about my Junior year at college and got in a series of courses on American Intellectual and social History taught by a very interesting professor. In a course of his I took some years later he would even act out some of the parts. His portrayal of Mickey Spillane and Norman Mailer was much fun. He did reading from each somewhat in character to show that their viewpoints on women were about the same even though they were opposites politically.

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an interesting way to present a slice of history. You should have been a history teacher! I always hated the subject of history as most of it was taught when I was young. As an adult, I love it! I had only one teacher ever that taught it much like a story as you do and it was so much more interesting.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for you comment.

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 

      7 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      dahoglund, this is just the right cup of tea for Francophiles! Thank you! lilyfly

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks much for the comment.She was an interesting lady.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      La Belle Americaine was certainly a bold, brave lady. Another great story. Thanks.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for the comment and rating. As first ladies go it appears Dolly Madison overshadowed the other early ones so I think the Mrs Monroe was not appreciated as much as maybe she should have been.

    • jstankevicz profile image

      jstankevicz 

      7 years ago from Cave Creek

      Elizabeth Monroe was certainly brave, to go to the prison and intervene. Great story telling! Voted up and awesome.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Glad you stopped by. thanks for the comment.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Well done as usual!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for commenting.I'm drawn to this sidelights of history.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you dahoglund for a hub of great reading. Thank you for sharing. it. Godspeed. creativeone59

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