My association with Lafayette began more than 20 years ago when I researched and wrote the first book on the American Revolution’s Battle of Brandywine: September 11, 1777: Washington’s Defeat at Brandywine Dooms Philadelphia.
Lafayette and Brandywine are twinned in America’s fight for independence. When I realized Lafayette’s shedding of his blood at Brandywine marked the beginning of his assent to becoming an American hero, I knew a book was needed on Brandywine and Lafayette and Lafayette’s pivotal role in securing America’s freedom.
My research led me to the American Friends of Lafayette. AFL is a wonderful organization with knowledgeable and dedicated scholars of Lafayette and history. When I had a question or came across conflicting bits of information, an AFL member had solutions backed up by historical data.
COVID caused me months of public inactivity. I used the time to complete my manuscript. Barricade Publishing then edited, designed, printed and released Lafayette at Brandywine: The Making of an American Hero, on October 31, 2021.
This article contains my impressions of my travels with Lafayette to many states, talking about my book and Lafayette. The big and disappointing take away from this journey is that most Americans are unaware of Lafayette’s contributions to our freedom. Despite a college and the many towns, counties, roads, historical markers, and statutes commemorating Lafayette, he is being lost to history. Part of my undertaking is to spread the word about Our American Hero.
Authors eagerly anticipate the delivery of their new books. I was no exception and was a little dismayed and concerned as paper shortages, delivery issues and manufacturing problems delayed the expected release date of August 2021. My first major presentation was scheduled for October 19 in Yorktown, Virginia, where Lafayette played an integral part in the surrender of English General Cornwallis’s army in 1781. I needed the books for that event!
My first television show was with the community television station at Hershey’s Mill in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The taping took place before the book was available. Joining me on the program was artist Adrian Martinez, who created the excellent cover for the book. Luckily, less than a week before my Yorktown talk, my advance copies of Lafayette at Brandywine: The Making of an American Hero arrived from Barricade Publishing.
Before an audience of Lafayette experts and enthusiasts at the Hornsby House Inn, I gave a summary of the book and thanked them for their help in the research. The morning after my talk, David Bowditch, proprietor of the popular bed and breakfast inn, asked me what most impressed me during my research of Lafayette. I selected the emotional encounter Lafayette had with the young son of a Virginia tavern keeper during his tour as our Nation’s Guest. Lafayette noted this was a memorable moment for him. The youngster thanked Lafayette for all he did securing our freedom for his parents, for him and for the country. I recount the story of Lafayette and the young boy in most of my talks.
During the visit I also did a book signing at the Gallery at York Hall, Yorktown. The Yorktown engagements were the perfect way to launch a national Lafayette tour that continues today.
Upon returning to Pennsylvania, I was the initial speaker at a Hershey Mill’s Golf Club speakers’ series. More than 100 people – maxed the capacity of the room – attended, including graduates of Lafayette College. A highlight was a special rice cake – Lafayette’s favorite – served for dessert.
The hectic month of October continued as I ventured to North East, Md., to sign books at Kathy’s Corner Shop. Over the years, I’ve done a number of signings at the shop on my history and true crime books. I’m honored that a section of the store’s bookshop has signed copies of my works.
On October 25, I was hosted by Kendal at Longwood, situated near where the first shots of the battle were fired. Even though COVID restrictions kept down the numbers in the audience, the talk was streamed over the internet.
Before the official release of Lafayette at Brandywine: The Making of an American Hero, I made appearances at the Avon Grove and Kennett Square libraries and the Maris Gove retirement community.
The pre-release month was busy and successful!
November was as busy as October. Presentations were made at the Phoenixville Library, Ashbridge Manor Retirement Community in Downingtown, West Chester Rotary and Hibernia Mansion in a Chester County park.
On land adjacent to some major fighting at Brandywine is the Westminster Presbyterian Church. The church’s senior group arranged a presentation. A special event took place on the portion of the battlefield where Lafayette was wounded. A good friend was getting married and she was looking for an unusual outing for members of her wedding party before her big day. She asked me to give a tour of the Brandywine battlefield and I took them to Birmingham Hill, the Birmingham Meeting House and Lafayette Cemetery. Note, Lafayette is not buried in Lafayette Cemetery.
COVID played havoc with my schedule. I was asked to appear on the wonderful show PA Books on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. The taping was delayed two weeks but the final show, with host Phil Beckman, was wonderful. I do a number of signings at Barnes & Noble stores in December. COVID caused cancellations except for one at the Barnes & Noble in Wilmington. COVID didn’t stop a good crowd from a signing at Barbara Moore Fine Arts studio in Chadds Ford, again located on the battlefield.
The final in-person presentation of 2021 was for the Longwood Rotary at Longwood Gardens on December 23. The world-famous garden, associated with the du Pont family, is on the path taken by the British Army from Kennett Square to the Brandywine River. The last event of the year was taping a show for Massachusetts’s Rev 250 series.
After a zoom presentation for the Fort Plain Museum in New York at the end of January, the board of directors of the Sons of the American Revolution heard my talk at its annual luncheon on February 5. The next month I talked to a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Pennsylvania Cable Network aired the Lafayette interview as part of its celebrated PA Books series on the evening of Sunday, February 6 and repeated the show the next morning. Periodically, the show is repeated on the network.
My other February presentation was at the Ware Presbyterian retirement community in Oxford on February 10.
Four April events involved Lafayette, including a talk at a historical group in Rising Sun, MD., on April 3 and a presentation on April 13 at a West Chester Sunrise Rotary group. The other two presentations were unusual.
On April 20, a special event was created at The General Warren, an inn near the Paoli battlefield. The inn was in operation during the American Revolution. The chef created a special menu based on foods served during the period, including Lafayette’s rice cake. A special touch was a cake with Lafayette’s portrait! The main dining room was filled with more than 70 attendees. The date was selected because 19-year-old Lafayette sailed from Spain to the colonies on April 20, 1777, to begin fighting for our freedom.
Nathan Papers’ group hosted its first Authors of the American Revolution Book Festival on April 23. I signed books and was a panel member during the Quakertown event.
Two special days were spent in Fayetteville, NC, the town named for Lafayette. The trip was put together by American Friends of Lafayette members Hank and Diane Parfitt. On May 12, I gave a talk before the Sons of the American Revolution and the Lafayette Society of Fayetteville at the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Company hall and museum. The museum contains the carriage used by Lafayette during his visit to the town in 1825. The next day I signed copies of my book at the City Center Gallery & Books, owned by Diane.
Lafayette’s appeal isn’t limited to American Revolution devotees. On May 21, I was at a Civil War event at the Solanco Historical Society in Quarryville at the Robert Fulton Homestead. A man commented, “Every student should study the life of Lafayette.” Of course I agreed.
When I returned home from Quarryville, a letter was waiting for me from a woman living in Berwyn, PA. She wrote, “Just finished your Lafayette at Brandywine and thoroughly enjoyed it. Had not realized how young Lafayette, so committed to helping us earn our freedom, would leave France against the orders of King Louis XVI and sail for America from Spain. Understand now why the peace was negotiated in Paris and called the Treaty of Paris!
“Reading books about our Revolutionary history these past few years gives me hope and courage to continue to fight in these chaotic political times for our constitutional republic.” After posting the comment on social media, Chuck Schwam of the AFL commented, “Every human being should get to know Lafayette’s story (Adrienne as well). The world would be a safer and kinder place if they did.”
A flood severely damaged the wonderful Brandywine River Museum of Art in 2021. After refurbishing, I was the first speaker at the museum. The event sold out with 70 people attending and 69 more on Zoom. We conducted the talk in a room where the Brandywine could be seen outside the window. The Brandywine Conservancy now owns Birmingham Hill where Lafayette was wounded. Of course I talked longer than allotted but all were listening and they had some wonderful questions.
The annual meeting of the AFL took place June 9, 10, 11 and 12 in West Point. Some of the AFL members started to call me “Brandywine.” I purchased a large Lafayette banner from Hank Parfitt. It was originally made for the Fayetteville Lafayette group. The banner attracts lots of attention at events! The banner is now a companion for “Flat Lafayette” that AFL member Patty Maclay carries to Lafayette events!
On the anniversary of our nation’s birth, July 4, I presented on Lafayette at Unionville Presbyterian Church during its National Bell-Ringing Celebration. A week later I was back at the General Warren Inne to talk about Lafayette before the Paoli Battlefield Preservation group. About 70 people filled the main dining room.
A reader made several wonderful comments. She believed Lafayette would have made a wonderful President and we need someone like him today. She also said my book placed “her in the midst of action, just like her favorite writer, Hemmingway!”
The sad realization that Lafayette isn’t universally known was evident during a talk at a home owners’ group. They had little interest or energy. Some said they had never hear of Lafayette and he was never discussed in school. Discouraging especially considering Lafayette Road leads to the development. Later in the month, Lafayette, and his banner, did receive laudatory comments from people attending a festival in Lititz.
September was an extremely busing month, beginning with AFL presentations at the American Revolution Museum in Philadelphia during Labor Day weekend. On September 6, Vista.Today published my article on Lafayette, Brandywine and Freedom. See https://vista.today/2022/09/chester-county-author-america-freedom/. A comment on the article from Clair Leaman: “Congratulations on your continued excellent work, Bruce. I enjoyed the enlightening article. Thanks for keeping current generations aware of our amazing history.”
The anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine is September 11. I signed books that weekend at Chadds Ford Days on the battlefield. On the anniversary day I gave a presentation at the Hale-Byrne House in Delaware. A very good crowd attended on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The historic home is where Lafayette spent his 20th birthday before the Battle of Brandywine.
The next weekend was an event hosted by the Paoli Battlefield Preservation group. Even though Lafayette missed the Paoli engagement because of his wound suffered at Brandywine, he was of great interest at the event.
The major event of the American Revolution season took place on September 24 and 25 as a two-day event commemorated the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine. I was co-chair of the event and more than 800 re-enactors took part. Ben Goldman portrayed Lafayette. I was honored to introduce Ben and also AFL President Alan Hoffman and COO Chuck Swam. Many of the 10,000 people attended the event stopped to say hi to Lafayette.
A year after giving my first AFL presentation, I was back in Yorktown for the festivities. I did a book signing at the American Revolution Museum. Upon my return I talked to French students at Bayard Rustin High School, West Chester, about Lafayette.
Of course Lafayette was a Mason and on October 26 I gave a presentation before the Melita Lodge No. 295 in Philadelphia. About 80 people attended the dinner. The Masons are proud of Lafayette. A Lafayette bust is showcased in the Masonic hall in Philadelphia.
The reaction to my talk on Lafayette in Moorestown, N.J., was wonderful. Members of the joint library and historical society reacted: “I thoroughly enjoyed the program…Lafayette last night was extremely interesting and informative. The presenter was amazing as he told his story without notes…Good speaker.”
Another encouraging comment about Lafayette came at a holiday craft show in Warminster. During the morning, a man purchased a book. “Lafayette doesn’t receive the credit he deserves,” he commented. Later, the man returned to shake my hand and thank me for researching and writing the book. He immensely liked the portion he had read.
Many people have commented about the need for a film or television series on Lafayette. On November 26, I had a wonderful dinner with Manuel Roman, a Frenchman who is a script writer. He believes this project on Lafayette could become a television production.
The Lafayette presentations for the year concluded with talks before the West Chester Exchange Club and the Right Angle Club in Philadelphia. The Right Angle Club members were extremely interested in Lafayette, a perfect way to end 2022.