Today, the Illinois Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when General Lafayette, on his last visit to America, met with friends at Kaskaskia, Illinois on April 30, 1825.
From the Chicago Historical Society Bulletin of June 1925:
Lafayette in Illinois
At the invitation of Congress, General Lafayette made his third and last trip to America in the latter part of 1824, and became the guest of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and other eastern cities.
In February, 1825, Lafayette and his staff started on a southern and western tour down the Potomac and Chesapeake, through Virginia and the Carolinas, and across Georgia and Alabama. From Mobile Bay he went on vessel to New Orleans.
Every where he met with receptions which demonstrated the reverence of the American people toward their revolutionary heroes.
From New Orleans, Lafayette sailed up the Mississippi, visiting the new states and marvelling at the progress of the wilderness.
Visit to Kaskaskia
In November, 1824, the Legislature of Illinois had sent an invitation, accompanied by a letter from Governor Coles, to Lafayette, asking him to visit Illinois.
April 12, 1825, Lafayette answered the Governor’s letter, accepting the invitation and suggesting the possible places for a visit.
“I must avail myself of the kind, indulgent proposal made by several friends to meet me at some point near the river, in the State of Illinois. I would say, could Kaskaskia or Shawneetown suit you to pass one day with me? I expect to leave St. Louis on the 29th of April, but being engaged for a day’s visit at General Jackson’s I might be at Shawneetown on the 8th of May, if you don’t take me directly from St. Louis to Kaskaskia or some other place.”
Upon receiving this letter, Governor Coles sent William Schuyler Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, to St. Louis with a letter to be given to Lafayette on his arrival, informing him that Kaskaskia would be a suitable place for his visit to Illinois.
April 30, 1825, Lafayette and his party arrived at the frontier town founded by their countrymen. They were accompanied on the steamer Natchez by many prominent citizens from the places of their former visits.
The guests were cordially received in Kaskaskia and taken to the residence of General Edgar, a revolutionary patriot, where a delightful reception was held in honor of the distinguished General.
An address of welcome was given by Governor Coles to which Lafayette made a short reply.
The citizens of Kaskaskia were then introduced to Lafayette. Some of the old revolutionary soldiers who had fought with him at Brandywine and Yorktown were there and affectionately greeted their old commander.
The company then went to Colonel Sweet’s tavern, which was decorated appropriately by the ladies of Kaskaskia, and where an ample dinner awaited them.
The celebration was continued by a ball, given by William Morrison, Sr., which lasted far into the night.
Many of the Indian tribes were represented. It was the time of the year when the Indians were at Kaskaskia to sell the furs of their winter’s hunting and trapping.
During the day Lafayette’s private secretary, Levasseur made some short excursions into the adjacent country and met a handsome young Indian woman who asked if Lafayette was at Kaskaskia, and expressed a strong desire to see him.
“I always carry with me a relic,” she said, “that is very dear to me; I wish to show it to him; it will prove to him that his name is no less venerated in the midst of our tribes than among the white Americans for whom he fought.”
She showed the French man a letter written by Lafayette to her father, an Indian chief of one of the Six Nations, thanking him for the courageous way in which he had served the American cause.
Just before his death the old chief had given the letter to his daughter, and told her it was the most powerful charm that could be employed with the whites to interest them in her favor.
The young lady was taken to Kaskaskia and introduced to Lafayette, who recognized the letter and cordially received its possessor. He could not conceal his emotion in relating evidences of the fidelity and courageous conduct of some of the Indian nations toward the American cause.
Shortly after midnight Lafayette bade farewell to the citizens of Kaskaskia and embarked for Nashville, Tennessee.
Levasseur later wrote, in regard to Lafayette’s appreciation of the reception at Kaskaskia:
“We saw neither the military apparel nor the splendid triumphs we had perceived in the rich cities; but the accents of joy and republican gratitude which broke upon his ear was grateful to his heart, since it proved to him that wherever American liberty had penetrated, there also the love and veneration of its people for its founders were perpetuated.”
The Illinois Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal of the Marquis de Lafayette, circa 1820s.