‘Lafayette, we are here!’ Visiting the General Horatio Gates House in York, PA

This summer, I visited York County History Center’s Colonial Complex, where my good friend, Marquis de Lafayette, agreed to pose for a selfie with me. Located at 157 West Market Street in York, PA, Lorann Jacobs created this life-size statue of the French aristocrat and American Revolution hero. It was placed on the sidewalk at this location in 2007.

Statue of Marquis de Lafayette by Lorann Jacobs.

But why here?

The statue’s location is due to a career-altering toast Lafayette gave on the second floor of the building known today as the General Horatio Gates House in 1778. In all likelihood, that speech played a role in thwarting a scheme to oust George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in a schedule historians call the “Conway Cabal.”

The General Horatio Gates House was built by Joseph Chambers in 1751 and connected to the Golden Plough Tavern through a shared kitchen. It is a 2.5-story brick and limestone dwelling in the Georgian style. It was the home of General Horatio Gates, while the Second Continental Congress convened in York, from September 30, 1777, to June 27, 1778.

General Horatio Gates House in York, PA.

The Conway Cabal began in the fall of 1777 after the Battle of Brandywine. The supposed leader of this movement was Brigadier General Thomas Conway, an Irish member of the French Army who commanded a brigade in Washington’s Army.

Conway had been critical of Washington’s performance in the battle, and he believed that Gates was a more capable commander. Conway wrote a letter to Gates, calling Washington a “weak general” and suggesting that Gates should replace him.

During the winter of 1777-1778, Horatio Gates, a Revolutionary War general, rented the property next to the Golden Plough Tavern from George Irwin. During this time, the Continental Congress had convened in York, and Gates arrived to serve as the President of the Board of War.

Gates shared Conway’s letter with Congressman James Lovell, and they began to spread rumors about Washington’s incompetence. They also tried to convince the rest of Congress to promote Conway to major general, which would have put him in a position to challenge Washington for command of the Army.

The room where it happens.

However, one night at a dinner where prominent men were toasting Gates, Lafayette raised a glass to honor his commander, George Washington, affirming France’s support of Washington and helping to end Conway’s Cabal. Lafayette later wrote of the dinner, saying he did so as a show of support for Washington and to embarrass those who did not show the same loyalty.

“Lafayette, we are here!

While likely a coincidence, the implication of Lafayette’s statue also being near North Pershing Avenue was not lost on me. Here’s why.

On May 10, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed General John J. Pershing the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. Pershing and the first 14,000 United States infantry troops landed in France on June 26, 1917. Less than a week later, on July 2, 1917, Pershing led a symbolic march through Paris, ending at the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette, to repay a 140-year-old American debt.

At the age of 19, French aristocrat Lafayette set sail for the American colonies, seeking adventure and inspired by the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality. In 1777, he arrived in America and offered his services to the Continental Congress without pay, earning the rank of major general in the Continental Army due to his social connections and enthusiasm for the American cause. His commission was partly a result of his association with Benjamin Franklin, who appreciated the young nobleman’s eagerness to join the struggle for independence.

Thomas Jefferson commissioned this portrait of Marquis de Lafayette. (Portrait by Joseph Boze, 1790)

Throughout the Revolutionary War, Lafayette became a trusted confidant of General George Washington and was involved in numerous pivotal battles. He displayed bravery and leadership, earning the respect of his American counterparts. Lafayette played a vital role in the Battle of Brandywine, where he was wounded, and later participated in the crucial Siege of Yorktown, culminating in British forces surrendering under General Cornwallis.

Beyond his military contributions, Lafayette was a staunch advocate for the American cause in Europe, using his diplomatic skills to garner support and supplies from France. He successfully lobbied for increased French involvement in the war, which proved pivotal in securing American independence.

When Pershing and his troops arrived at Lafayette’s grave, Colonel Charles Stanton, Pershing’s aide-de-camp, who was fluent in French, stepped forward and spoke.

“It is with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue.” 

Then he turned towards the grave, raised his arm, and dramatically exclaimed, “Lafayette, we are here!”

The crowd erupted into cheers, and the words “Lafayette, we are here!” quickly became a rallying cry for the American troops in France. The phrase was a reminder of the debt the United States owed to Lafayette and expressed the American commitment to fighting alongside France in World War I.

The visit to Lafayette’s grave was a decisive moment of symbolism, helping to boost morale on both sides of the Atlantic. For the French, it was a reminder of their long friendship with the United States and gave them hope that the Americans would help them win the war. For the Americans, it reminded them of the sacrifices their forefathers had made, and it inspired them to fight for the same ideals of liberty and freedom that Lafayette had fought for.

If you visit the Gates House, pay your respects to Lafayette, being sure to utter the immortal words, “Lafayette, we are here!”

“Lafayette, we are here!

Planning Your Trip

Learn fun facts like this and more at 157 W Market St, York, PA 17401, when you visit the Colonial Complex in York, PA. For more information and to schedule your guided tour, visit their website. They are open from April to November, with tours at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm.

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