Trying to figure out how, when, and exactly where American Revolutionary War hero Lafayette (Wikipedia) came through Northern Kentucky is a task mired in stories handed down and enhanced by way too many generations. Somebody’s Great Great Granny said if she had been lucky he would have come by her farm, instead of the farm off to a different road to the east. She talks about going over to that other road to see him. The next generation remembers it as, she saw Lafayette pass by her farm. Two generations later, he’s staying for dinner, and two generations after that, he spent the night, proposed to the daughter, knighted the son, and left them a magic lamp to sell on eBay.
The irony of it all is that Lafayette was traveling with a man who wrote down and documented everything The Great Man said, everywhere he went, and noted everyone he met. You can read, literally, books (plural); mounds of documents on what Lafayette did between Louisville, and Lexington, how muddy the roads were in Frankfort, who proposed each of the 12 toasts in Lexington and what each of them said when they toasted, and how Lafayette responded to each – long, dreary, dreadfully flowery overwritten prose at it’s best/worst. All documented: ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
But the guy doing the documentation took a few days off when Lafayette went from Lexington to Cincinnati, so we’re relying on what great-great-great-great-grandma’s relatives remember for a lot of this:
Seignior Marie-Joseph-Pail-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, Baron De Vissac, lord of St. Romain, Fix and other places, left Lexington for Georgetown on the evening of Tuesday, May 17, 1825. It is generally believed he spent that evening at the Blue Springs, the Scott County home of Col. Richard M. Johnson. It was five miles from Georgetown, on what is today US 460, near its junction with US 227.
He’s thought to have left Georgetown about 4 am for Williamstown on the morning of May 18. Consensus is that he stopped at the home of Captain William Arnold, in Williamstown, and in several accounts, is said to have had breakfast there. We find one account that reports he stayed overnight. He didn't. Elliston’s 1876 History of Grant County repeats the breakfast assertion, and notes that Arnold and Lafayette had known each other in the Revolutionary War. Elliston says Lafayette was with Arnold for two hours. The Rural Community Conference’s 1929 History of Crittenden Community says that: “The Henderson house [earlier owned by people named Rouse] just south of town was at that time a Wayside Inn, whose proprietor was Col. Littleton Robinson. Here Gen. Lafayette and his escort stopped for dinner and the people of the community assembled to pay honor to the great Frenchman. The traditions of the Robinson family relate the legend that the pet deer of a young daughter of Col. Robinson, from the deer park back of the house was killed to provide a dinner of venison for the distinguished guest and his friends.” The Grant County News (5-22-1925) reports that “Lafayette is 'supposed to have stopped' in the old Rouse house, now owned by Mrs. Henderson.” It goes on to say “according to an old legend, a bootjack which Lafayette used in pulling off his boots remained in the family.”
Lafayette stayed for the night at the Gaines Tavern, 20 miles south of Cincinnati. You can read that he stayed in the “Gaines Tavern in Williamstown, 2o miles south of Cincinnati,” but the schedule lends itself more to Walton than Williamstown, and Walton fits the 20-mile description. There is a very old Gaines house about a mile north of Walton.
A.M. Yealey, Florence historian, says in his History of Boone County, Kentucky, in 1960 that Lafayette stopped at Thomas Madden’s tavern, run by some people named Williams, in the village to dine (maybe) and spend the night (he didn't), and left a half dollar to “pay for his keep” (who knows . . .). Yealey owned the coin, obtaining it from the heirs of the Williams’.
You can read that Lafayette stopped at one of the Piatt houses near Petersburg. He didn't.
John Burns’ A History of Covington notes the existence of a number of questionable Lafayette sightings. He says there was a claim that Lafayette stopped at Locust Grove, the farm of Leonard L. Stephens on Richardson Road, about 12 miles from Covington. He repeats a story that there was a reception at the Carneal Home on E. Second Street, but is justifiably skeptical of it, as are we. There's a Kentucky Post article by Mary Laidley, c. 1930, which repeats the Carneal story, and notes that the reception there was given by William Southgate. We agree with Burns that it's probably a fiction: there just isn't the time in the schedule. Burns is more confident that Lafayette stopped at the tavern of Alexander Connelly at the corner of Second and Garrard before being rowed across the Ohio in “an elaborate six-oared barge.” Fact: Lafayette crossed to Cincinnati about midday on May 19, 1825.
Unlike the previous paragraphs, the Maysville events are pretty well documented. After some days in Cincinnati, Lafayette took the steamer Herald upriver, and arrived in Maysville for a couple of hours on the afternoon of May 21, 1825. About noon, Lafayette’s party left the Herald, moved up Fish Street to Second, Second to Main Cross, and down Main Cross to Capt. Langhorne’s hotel, where he received visitors and had lunch. At two p.m., they returned to the steamer, proceeding up Main Cross to Second, down Second to Market, and down Market to the landing, from which they steamed up river.
Merging the rumors, conjectures, and published opinions, and throwing them all against a reasonable time line to account for a stage coach of the day to plod through muddy, rutted roads, we would argue that he left Georgetown early in the morning, likely arrived in Williamstown in time for a late breakfast or early lunch, had dinner in Crittenden, stayed the night in Walton, visited Florence for a late breakfast, had a quick drink or lunch in Covington, and was off to Ohio, where, after being regaled for a day or so, went up the river, stopping in Maysville before leaving the Northern Kentucky Views area.
Or, maybe not.