By Crissy Neville
In September 1783, when Great Britain officially recognized the United States as an independent country, plans were already underway to rename a North Carolina city after a hero of the war that had created the new nation.
State leaders decreed the new city, which combined the towns of Cross Creek and Campbellton, would be called Fayetteville, after Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette. It became the first of more than a dozen cities to be named for the young Frenchman. In March 1825, it became the only namesake city to be visited by Lafayette.
One-hundred ninety-three years later, Fayetteville continues to celebrate its connection to Lafayette. On September 7 and September 8, it will celebrate the 261st birthday of the marquis, who was born on Sept. 6, 1757.
Many festivities are planned by the Lafayette Society, which promotes awareness of Lafayette’s contributions to America’s freedoms. Among other things, the marquis was a staunch opponent of slavery and oppression.
“We are so lucky to be named after someone with lofty ideals which he thoroughly practiced. He was always a doer, not just a talker,” said Hank Parfitt, president of the Lafayette Society.
The celebration begins Friday, September 7, with “Arias and Artifacts,” an annual event at Methodist University. The artifacts are up first, at 5:30 p.m. at Davis Memorial Library, which houses a collection of items connected to Lafayette and his time. The spotlight this year will be on the newest item in the collection – a circa-1830 letter from Lafayette to the Polish support committee in Paris.
Dr. Lloyd Kramer, director of the Carolina Public Humanities at UNC-Chapel Hill, will give a short talk about the letter and Lafayette’s interest in the Polish revolution.
Later, at 7 p.m., the Arias portion of the evening will be held at nearby Hensdale Chapel. This hour-long concert will include both instrumental and vocal music with performances by Russian pianist Anastasia Popova Bryant, Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra trumpeter Larry Wells and international pianists Jesse Davis, Lawrence Quinett and Amanda Virelles.
Tickets for the concert are $10 at the door but may be purchased in advance at City Center Gallery & Books at 112 Hay Street or by calling 910-678-8899. Advance purchases are recommended.
On Saturday, the celebration continues at the Museum of the Cape Fear’s “Festival of Yesteryear” in Arsenal Park. Held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., this free event is a day of living history with reenactors, period crafts and fun for the whole family. Around 1 p.m., a birthday cake will be cut. Slices and ice cream will be served to all comers while supplies last. For information, check museumofthecapefear.ncdcr.gov.
Author Jeffrey Finegan, who has written children’s books about George Washington from the perspective of other historical figures, including Lafayette, will be at the Festival of Yesteryear from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at City Center Gallery & Books in downtown Fayetteville from 4-6 p.m.
From 6-8:30 p.m., you can toast Lafayette during a free French wine tasting event at The Wine Café at 108 Hay St. Dubbed “Party Like You’re In Paris,” the event will include small plates of French cheese for purchase.
Finally, the birthday celebration wouldn’t be complete with a visit to Cross Creek Park, so make the trek if you are able. Devastated during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, the park has been completely repaired and a rededication ceremony is expected to be held later this year.
So snap a picture of the bronze statue of Lafayette. Maybe even take a selfie with him. And wish our famous Frenchman a very happy birthday.