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Lafayette and Slavery
An Abolitionist timeline

We know of Lafayette's disdain for slavery as early as 1783. In a letter addressed to General George Washington dated February 5, 1783, he shared his desire to do away with slavery. Throughout his life, Lafayette consistently advocated for universal human rights and abolitionism. With the help of his wife Adrienne, he implemented a revolutionary model for a plantation in Cayenne, South America (today's French Guiana) in the mid 1780s to demonstrate the mechanisms by which gradual emancipation could lead to a successful long-term insertion of the newly freedmen and women into a free society. During his Triumphal Return to the U.S. in 1824, Lafayette made several subtle gestures of sympathy toward African Americans, even though public orders often forbade Black men from attending official gatherings organized in honor of "the Nation's Guest". Although Lafayette's early actions were not followed at the time, his example is now a source of inspiration for the nation as the country revisits the legacy of the founding generation and scrutinizes its relationship with slavery. Find out below the key moments in Lafayette's lifetime that defined what is now considered the most forward-thinking abolitionist agenda of the founding generation.




February 5 Letter to George Washington proposing a plan Which Might Become Greatly Beneficial to the Black part of Mankind.


November 21 Testimonial in support of James Armistead's efforts to secure his freedom.


April 13 Lafayette asks that Alexander Hamilton sponsor him to join the Association Against the Slavery of Negroes.
Implementation of The Cayenne Experiments demonstrating the need for education, labor reward, and gradual emancipation of enslaved workers and arguing for the nonessential nature of slavery for economic prosperity.


February 22 In a letter, Lafayette challenges John Adams about the dilemma of slavery in a free country.

Late 1780s

Lafayette joins the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.


November 4 Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette revealing Jefferson's knowledge of French philosophers and their ideas about Morality and Men.


June 1 In a letter, Lafayette confronts Thomas Jefferson about his policy of "disseminating" slavery in the Western territories.


September 10 He visits the African Free School in New York City.
October 19 He meets in Yorktown, Virginia with a Black man who had rendered him services by way of information as a Spy during the Revolutionary War.
November Lafayette visits James Madison, at his home, Montpelier, in Virginia. The two men discuss the issue of slavery in the United States.


February 19 Lafayette attends the Annual Meeting of the American Colonization Society, of which he was a member.
March Lafayette Meets with Pompey, a Black man and old acquaintance from the Revolution, who had been originally prevented from entering a room where Lafayette was entertained while in Columbia, SC.
March The Mayor of Savannah, GA issues a public order requiring residents to keep their servants away from public honors to Lafayette.
April 15 Lafayette writes to His Daughters and Granddaughters about slavery and anti-Black prejudices in Louisiana.
April 18 Lafayette greets the African American War of 1812 Veterans in New Orleans.
November Lafayette is interviewed about slavery in the African Repository and Colonial Journal.


November James Madison writes a letter to Lafayette asking for more information about Frances Wright's experiment in Tennessee.


May Lafayette wrote his last known letter about abolition of slavery to the Abolitionist Society in Glasgow, Scotland.

To Learn More...

  1. Lafayette and Slavery, Special Collections, Skillman Library, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania.
  2. Pennsylvania Abolition Society Papers, The University of Pennsylvania.
  3. Lafayette The Abolitionist, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 2007.
  4. Lafayette's Testimonial to James Armistead Lafayette, Skillman Library, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania.