Book Review: David A. Clary, Adopted Son : Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution

Book Classification : Nonfiction - United States history - military history - American Revolutionary War


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Adopted Son : Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution
by David A. Clary
Hardcover - 592 pages
First Edition, 2007
Published by Bantam Dell,
a division of Random House

ISBN-10: 0553804359
ISBN-13: 978-0-533-80435-5

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Book Review


In the French aristocratic system of the day, where the oldest son inherited the most status, The marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the youngest son of a youngest son, would have been a low level aristocrat. They were his deeds that made him the hailed subject of minstrel songs.

The name of the marquis de Lafayette was Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier.

Adopted Son by historian David A. Clary is an account of the American revolution from the perspective of the intimate friendship between George Washington (1732-1799) and Lafayette.

The two-year-old French boy was there when his father was killed in battle in 1759, and his mother died in 1770. At 14 Lafayette acquired his first military experience in the French army, and at 19 he traveled to America to volunteer to serve without pay in the army of the American colonies.

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David A. Clary ,
Adopted Son : Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution

Washington, who had become the commander of the American army in 1775, immediately accepted Lafayette's assistance and found it valuable. Clary's angle in presenting the story is an effect of the twenty-five year age difference between these two men, "the childless Washington and the fatherless Lafayette." [From the dedication]



About the Author

David A. Clary, former chief historian of the U.S. Forest Service, is the author of numerous books and other publications on military and scientific history. He has been a consultant to several government agencies and has taught history at the university level. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, Beatriz.

- From the Publisher


The Battle of Brandywine in 1777 [see the map on page 112] gave Lafayette his first experience under fire, after which a leg injury made him useless for two months. Not yet recovered, he insisted on being part of a assault at Gloucester being planned by Gen. Greene. "One foot booted, the other wrapped in a blanket," writes Clary, "Lafayette again rode off to do righteous battle." [128] "Determined to be in the way of danger" he went to Gloucester and participated in the defeat of the Hessians there. It was his first experience commanding. [129]

It was for Lafayette's performance at Brandywine that Congress voted in 1777 that "Washington be informed, it is highly agreable" that Lafayette be given the command of a division. In December of that year, Washington decided to give Lafayette the division that was formerly led by General Adam Stephen. [130] (Stephen had been kicked out of the army in November after being accused of giving bad orders and other "misbehaviour" that caused many unnecessary casualties in the battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania in October.)

Clary conveys the story of the Revolution and its colorful personalities with the help of seven maps, an extensive "cast of characters" table, and 57 black-and-white illustrations.

The author's purview of the Revolution through the friendship between the two leaders allows historical events to ride on human emotion. He shows a youthful Lafayette thrust abruptly into adulthood and leadership, trying to catch up with himself. Hear about the Lafayette who sometimes had "more money than sense" [91] and was occasionally found "whining about American attitudes." [216] Clary shows the relationship that gave rise to the book's title. Washington gives Lafayette "some fatherly advice about what cause they were fighting for." [217] The author depicts the older leader acquiring increasing confidence in the the younger leader's ability to devise strategy. Read about Lafayette's suggestion to Washington to gather the French troops on Long Island, combine them with Americans, and begin the 1780 invasion of New York. [226] Clary also communicates feelings of disappointment. Read about Lafayette's inability to assist the governor of Maryland in 1781 in resisting repeated attacks on British ports because his own troops were "out of food and almost naked" [297-298]

The book provides a vivid account of the ending of the war. In 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia, a division led by Lafayette combined with American troops led by Washington and French troops under French General Rochambeau. They defeated the troops of British General Cornwallis and accepted their surrender. The Yorktown campaign is described as "an engineering operation," but whereas the French army had engineers, and the American army had none, it would be "an American operation" and yet "plotted by French specialists following French methods." [332-333] Lafayette remarked of this campaign, "The engineers troll about like sorcerers making circles about poor Cornwallis." [333]

The events at Yorktown were Lafayette's last participation in the American army, but his role was not finished. The marquis participated in peace negotiations, working for chief diplomat Benjamin Franklin. [350] September of 1783 saw the Treaty of Paris and the end of the Revolutionary War.

After the victory for American independence, when Lafayette was once again living in France, the spirit of the American democratic experiment dwelled in him. He became an activist for adopting religious tolerance in France. Lafayette was also an activist for abolishing slavery in France and the French colonies, recruited into this task by abolitionist John Jay. [376-377] He bought a sugar plantation in French Guyana so that he could emancipate the slaves who were operating it. [377]

Lafayette was first elected to political office in France in 1787. That was, of course, the same year that the new United States ratified a Constitution.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

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Book Description from the Publisher's Press Release

They were unlikely comrades-in-arms. One was a self-taught, middle-aged Virginia planter in charge of a ragtag army of revolutionaries, the other a rich, glory-seeking teenage French aristocrat. But the childless Washington and the orphaned Lafayette forged a bond between them as strong as any between father and son. It was an unbreakable trust that saw them through betrayals, shifting political alliances, and the trials of war.

Lafayette came to America a rebellious youth whose defiance of his king made him a celebrity in France. His money and connections attracted the favor of the Continental Congress, which advised Washington to keep the exuberant Marquis from getting himself killed. But when the boy-general was wounded in his first battle, he became a hero of two countries. As the war ground on, Washington found in his young charge the makings of a courageous and talented commander whose loyalty, generosity, and eagerness to please his Commander in Chief made him one of the war's most effective and inspired generals. Lafayette's hounding of Cornwallis's army was the perfect demonstration of Washington's unconventional "bush-fighting" tactics, and led to the British surrender at Yorktown.

Their friendship continued throughout their lives. Lafayette inspired widespread French support for a struggling young America and personally influenced Washington's antislavery views. Washington's enduring example as general and statesman guided Lafayette during France's own revolution years later.

Using personal letters and other key historical documents, Adopted Son offers a rare glimpse of the American Revolution through the friendship between Washington and Lafayette. It offers dramatic accounts of battles and intimate portraits of such major figures as Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, and Benjamin Franklin. The result is a remarkable, little-known epic of friendship, revolution, and the birth of a nation.

Book Reviews

"Few stories in American history are more intriguing, or touching, than that of the bond that developed between General Washington and the Marquis d'Lafayette. With verve and charm, David Clary shows how the childless Washington, who felt betrayed by many of the men who surrounded him, and Lafayette, who never knew his father and lusted for glory and the chance to help the American cause, drew close in a loving and trusting relationship. With his engaging style, Clary succeeds in bringing to life Lafayette and Washington, and also in acquainting readers with America's great and, at times seemingly forlorn, struggle for independence."

-- John Ferling , author of A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

"As Clary shows from the extensive correspondence that Washington and Lafayette conducted, their relationship deepened into an unabashedly paternal-filial one.... Portraying youth learning from experience, Clary's history will deservedly tap the readership of the War of Independence."

-- Booklist

"A beautifully crafted, insightful study of the deeply intertwined lives of Washington and Lafayette, two key figures in the transforming age of revolution."

-- Susan Dunn , author of Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light

"A finely researched work on the sometimes awkward, often endearing, and ultimately historic relation between two great leaders."

-- James MacGregor Burns , Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom, and George Washington

"David Clary's Adopted Son is a fascinating account of the relationship between Washington who lacked a son and young Lafayette, who lacked a father. It was a warm, affectionate connection that was greatly satisfying to both men, one that significantly strengthened France's commitment to America during our War of Independence. This fine study deserves a wide readership."

-- Don Higginbotham

"A riveting history of a tumultuous time in America and France...I loved this book."

-- Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison , author of American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country

"This is a remarkable book about two of the most remarkable men of the revolutionary era-indeed, of any era. At long last we have the full story of how the Father of Our Country and his French `adopted son,' the Marquis de Lafayette, joined hands across the Atlantic and on the battlefield, and together launched a new nation and a new age of democracy around the world."

-- Arthur Herman , author of How the Scots Invented the Modern World

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