By proclamation of the General Assembly, Fayetteville is “Where North Carolina celebrates Lafayette’s birthday.”
The party this year takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 6 and 7. Sponsored by the Lafayette Society and the Transportation and Local History Museum, the celebration unfolds every year at several venues across the city the weekend after Labor Day.
The Marquis de Lafayette sailed from France in 1777 to fight for American independence as a major general under Gen. George Washington. He was given command of the Army of Virginia, and he was instrumental in the defeat of Cornwallis in the decisive battle at Yorktown in 1781. After returning home, Lafayette continued to fight for “government by the people” in the French Revolution and remained a steadfast advocate for human rights, especially the abolition of slavery.
Fayetteville is the “first and only” when it comes to Lafayette. It is the first city in the nation named for him — in 1783. And it is the only namesake city he actually visited — in 1825.
The birthday festivities begin Friday evening with “Arias and Artifacts” at Methodist University in Davis Memorial Library. “Friends in War, Friends in Peace” will honor two young men, separated in time by 200 years, who were determined to fight for liberty on foreign soil: Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette and Fayetteville native Pfc. William Mitchell “Billy” Shaw. A free program about these patriots of the American Revolution and World War II begins with refreshments at 5:30 p.m. At 7 p.m., the celebration moves to the Matthews Center on campus with “An American in Paris,” a lively hour of music highlighting composers who studied at the Conservatoire Américaine de Fontainebleau. Tickets for the concert cost $10 and may be purchased at the door or in advance at City Center Gallery & Books by calling 910-678-8899.
On Saturday, the Lafayette Trail Tour in downtown Fayetteville starts at 8:30 a.m. with coffee and croissants at the Museum of the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry. On the tour, guests will see the places Lafayette visited in 1825. The expert narration by FILI Commander Bruce Daws will paint a picture of what the visit, with all its pageantry and celebrations, would have been like. Guests will have the rare opportunity to tour inside the historic Phoenix Masonic Lodge where Lafayette, a Free Mason, was entertained. A light lunch will be served at the lodge. The cost of the all-inclusive tour is $30 per person, $25 for students and teachers. Reservations are required — visit City Center Gallery & Books, or call 910-678-8899.
Also on Saturday, the Museum of the Cape Fear will celebrate Lafayette’s birthday and the American Revolution with the annual Festival of Yesteryear: Revolution on the Cape Fear, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Arsenal Park. In addition to numerous fun and educational activities for the whole family, this year’s event features professional actor Stephen Seals of Colonial Williamsburg portraying James Armistead Lafayette, an enslaved African American who served in the Continental Army as an aide under the Marquis de Lafayette. Admission is free, and there will be a Lafayette birthday cake-cutting at 1p.m. with free ice cream and cake at “Camp Lafayette” as long as it lasts.
The weekend celebration ends Saturday night with “Party Like You’re in Paris,” a free wine-tasting party at The Wine Café at 108 Hay St. from 6-8:30 p.m. There will be a variety of excellent but affordable French wines for tasting and purchase. This “virtual tour” of France has become a social highpoint of the summer for many people.
For more details about the Lafayette Birthday Celebration, visit www.lafayettesociety.org.
The Lafayette birthday celebration includes a Lafayette Trail tour hosted by Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Commander Bruce Daws.