On this date – July 31 – in 1777, a 19-year-old French aristocrat, Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette, accepted a commission as a major-general in the Continental Army—without pay. (Shown here to the right of George Washington.)
This was not a popular idea – according to the History Channel, the Continental Congress agreed to accept help from the French military expert, Baron Johann DeKalb, and his protege, the Marquis de Lafayette. Meanwhile, King Louis XVI feared angering Britain and prohibited Lafayette’s departure, and the British ambassador to France demanded the seizure of Lafayette’s ship and his arrest. Lafayette, though, managed to escape, set sail and elude two British ships dispatched to recapture him.
Following his safe arrival in South Carolina, Lafayette traveled to Philadelphia, expecting to be made General George Washington’s second-in-command. Although Lafayette’s youth made Congress reluctant to promote him over more experienced colonial officers, the young Frenchman’s willingness to volunteer his services without pay won their respect and Lafayette was commissioned as a major-general.
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