By Milbrey Barthalow
Along Route 20 about a half mile before it intersects with Route 3 (where the Sheetz gas station is located) is a marker erected by the Virginia Department of Historical Resources describing an event in the Campaign of 1781 called Lafayette’s Maneuvers. While many of us are familiar with the area’s role in the Civil War, the marker is a small reminder of events that affected the area in Revolutionary times.
The Marquis de Lafayette, not quite 20 years old, had come to the Colonies in 1777 to help us during the American Revolutionary War. He was commissioned a Major General by Congress, and soon met General Washington, with whom he had a lifetime friendship. He went back and forth to France several times over the next few years, and even returned one time with 6000 troops. He returned in the spring of 1781 and was asked to join General Anthony Wayne, to stop British General Cornwallis’ army.
Over the next few monthsthe, colonists and Cornwallis played a game of “cat and mouse” in the region from Richmond to Charlottesville to Williamsburg. On June 4, 1781, Lafayette and his troops crossed the Rapidan River after drawing Cornwallis away from the coast. They made camp in a field just east of the river on Ellwood Plantation that belonged to William Jones. At this time, Ellwood Manor had not yet been built, so William and his wife, Betty, were living in a small settlement house. Field hands alerted Mr. Jones that soldiers were in the field so Mr. Jones had a meal prepared for Lafayette and his officers and sent food down to the fields for the troops. The chase continued the next day, and finally ended October 19, 1781, when Cornwallis and his men surrendered at Yorktown, VA.
Lafayette soon returned to France, but retained the desire to return. Forty-one years later, President Monroe invited Lafayette to visit the U.S. on the eve of the country’s 50th anniversary. Lafayette arrived August 15, 1824, along with his son and his secretary. On October 19, 1724, he was at Yorktown for the anniversary of Cornwallis’ surrender. In November, he spent time at Monticello with his friend, Thomas Jefferson, whom he found very frail. While there James Madison, from nearby Montpelier, dropped in unexpectedly. The entourage then began a journey to Fredericksburg for a reception, stopping at Wilderness Tavern, which was owned by William Jones. Mr. Jones may have even provided a nice “coach and four” and accompanied the entourage to Fredericksburg. The trip of 15 miles took almost 2 hours.
They wintered in D.C. with the expectation of returning to France in early spring 1825 but Lafayette wanted to visit his friend Jefferson once more, so they journeyed again to Virginia. On August 15, 1825, he stopped at Ellwood Manor, now completed and William Jones fed the group a plantation breakfast. On August 16, he stopped at Montpelier to visit Madison again, and they visited Jefferson August 18 to 21. He returned to D.C. for his birthday, September 6, celebrated at the White House with President John Q Adams. He returned to France the next day, taking with him soil from Bunker Hill, which was buried with him upon his death in 1834. His visit, which was supposed to last 4 months with visits to 13 states, stretched into 13 months with visits to all 24 states.
So, yes, Lafayette “dined” at Ellwood Plantation – twice.