Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette, was born on 6 September 1757, in Chavaniac, France, into a family of noble military lineage.
When he was just two years old, his father, a Colonel of grenadiers, died fighting in the Seven Years’ War against the British. Both his mother and grandmother died when he was at the age of twelve.
In 1771, when he was 14 years old, he entered the Royal Army. Two years later, he married 14-year-old Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, a member of another prominent French family (she was related to the King).
On August 8, 1775, he met the Duke of Gloucester, who spoke with sympathy for the struggle going on in the colonies and inspired Lafayette to sail to the newly declared United States in 1777 to join the uprising.
He bought a ship with his own money and despite the fact that King Louis XVI refused permission for him to go to America, he sailed anyway. He landed near Charleston, South Carolina, on 13 June 1777, and soon he impressed the colonial leaders with his passion.
From Charleston, he traveled on to Philadelphia. Here, he was made welcome by the Congress, which, on the 31st of July, commissioned him a major general after he offered to serve without pay.
However, Congress saw his rank as honorary and his principal duty was to act as assistant to General George Washington.
Lafayette finally saw action at the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, where he was shot in the leg during the fighting. George Washington appealed to the doctors to take particular care of Lafayette, which made the bond between the two even stronger and lasted until Washington’s death.
He returned to France in 1779 to convince the King to provide more troops for the American cause, and then came back to America, where he played a vital role in the entrapment of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
He was welcomed as a hero when he returned back to France, where he was promoted to major general in the French army. In 1784, Lafayette visited America on Washington’s invitation, visiting all twenty-four states in the Union.
Upon his return to France, he was perhaps the most popular man in the country. He organized trade agreements with Thomas Jefferson, the American ambassador to France, and he also helped foment the revolution there. He served in the National Assembly and was the principle author of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
On 26 July 1789, he was named the commander of the National Guard – saving the royal family from a Paris mob in October. He took command of the army in 1792 when war was declared with Austria. He was captured by the Austrians and was released after five years. However, Napoleon refused to allow him to return to France. He finally returned to France after few years later with military annuity and permission to live in Lagrange.
In 1824, Lafayette made a triumphant return to the United States on a tour that lasted fifteen months. The Congress rewarded him for his contribution in the American Revolution. He was given two checks, one for $120,000 and another for $80,000. He was also given an amount of land in 1803. When he returned to France he became known as the “hero of two worlds.”
He took with him a plot of American soil and it was with this that he was buried in 1834.