A French aristocrat who was instrumental in the American Revolution, and toured the country — including  southern Maine — decades after the war,  will be recognized locally thanks to a bill sponsored by State Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford.

The bill, LD 267, signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills on July 8, honors the Marquis de Lafayette, a general under George Washington’s Continental Army during the fight for American independence, by erecting signs in portions of Maine where he visited during 1824 and 1825.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, Lafayette was summoned to return to the states from his home in France because he was the only general from the war still living. During his tour, he met with old friends and colleagues.

“Recognizing the Lafayette Trail in Maine is part of an effort all over the Eastern Seaboard to recognize the historical significance of the Marquis de Lafayette,” said Deschambault. “He helped secure French support for American independence and fought alongside Americans during the war.”

According to the bill, signs and markers, bearing the Lafayette Trail logo provided to the department by The Lafayette Trail, Inc., will be erected near numerous locations along the route he followed during his visit to the state from the Maine/New Hampshire state line into South Portland.

They markers will be placed in Kittery, South Berwick/North Berwick, Wells, Kennebunk, Biddeford, Saco, Scarborough and South Portland.

According to the bill, funding for the project must come from another agency or organization, or the markers will not go up.

“It’s my understanding that Lafayette Trail, Inc., would handle the funding for this project,” Lisa Haberzettl, spokeswoman for the Maine Legislature Senate Majority Office, said in an email..

A portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette by Rembrandt Peale hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A bill sponsored by State Sen. Susan Deschambault to designate The Lafayette Trail, marking locations where he traveled in Maine during his 1824-1825 return to America from his home in France was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills. Courtesy image

Deschambault initially submitted a bill to erect the signs or markers in 2019. However, that bill died due to the coronavirus pandemic when the Legislature adjourned early, according to Haberzettl.

Deschambault said she was asked to submit a bill by a New Hampshire legislator so the trail markers could continue — Massachusetts and New Hampshire have already approved them. She then began reading about Lafayette, who was 19 years old when he came to America in 1777. She said she became fascinated with the story of the Marquis de Lafayette’s involvement with the American Revolution and his later trip to America, where he made several stops in York and Cumberland counties.

“He’s an interesting character,” Deschambault said. “It is interesting a young man like that could be taken under the wing of Gen. Washington.”

Noting the rich history of the French in Maine, she said, “I welcome the opportunity to amplify the connection between our two countries and cultures. Recognizing the trip Lafayette took when he visited Maine is an easy way to maintain his legacy and keep his memory alive.”

In 1824, Lafayette stopped in the Kittery area. The next year, he spent the night of June 23 in Dover, New Hampshire, and stopped in South Berwick the following morning for breakfast at the invitation of local townspeople, according to an account published by the Old Berwick Historical Society.

According to the New England Historical Society, Lafayette was then escorted to the Cleaves Hotel in Saco. He apparently dined with Capt. Seth Spring, a veteran of the Battle of Bunker Hill, at a visit to Spring’s Tavern on Spring Island in Biddeford, according to the Maine Memory Network.

Lafayette Park in Kennebunk. Dan King photo

Born to a distinguished family in France in 1757 as Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette traveled to the American colonies in 1777, when he was 19. He was commissioned as a major general and introduced to Gen. George Washington, who would become his lifelong friend and mentor. Lafayette was wounded in the Battle of the Brandywine in September 1777 and reportedly joined Washington and the Continental Army to camp for the winter at Valley Forge.

Washington gave Lafayette command of an army in Virginia, and in 1781 he conducted hit-and-run operations against forces under the command of Benedict Arnold. He later chased British commander Lord Charles Cornwallis and his English troops across Virginia, trapping him at Yorktown in late July 1781. A French fleet and several additional American armies joined the siege, and on Oct. 19 Cornwallis surrendered, ending the Revolutionary War and ensuring independence for America, according to historical accounts.

“History – whether our country or our state history – needs to be preserved and nurtured. Projects like the Lafayette Trail can serve to bring that history to life, create pride in the local community and educate our young,” said Beverly Robbins, the state regent of the Maine State Organization of the Daughters of the American Revolution, when testifying in support of the bill in February.