Historic Visits to Bolton

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, April 1999)

This past month, the Bolton library provided me with a five-volume collection of letters to and from the Marquis de Lafayette. From these letters, I could verify that Lafayette was in Bolton on five occasions, and that General James Mitchell Varnam and his brigade, as well as Colonel Henry Jackson's regiment, not only were in Bolton but cooked up lunch on the meeting house green and the Rose Farm on the rainy day of July 28, 1778.

The cookout on our green is confirmed in the diary of a Jeremiah Greenman, where he describes the afternoon. This huge encampment of the Continental Army occurred as they marched to Rhode Island to drive the British redcoats into the sea. The liberation of Rhode Island gave the French navy a safe place to land Rochambeau's troops for their march to Yorktown.

Lafayette's first trip through Bolton occurred on his return from France after convincing King Louis VI to send troops. He landed in Boston and took the Revolutionary Road to Morristown, New Jersey, passing through Bolton around May 4, 1780. Lafayette again passed through Bolton on July 22, 1780, on his way to Newport to greet General Rochambeau, who had recently landed.

The most interesting trip is mentioned in volume three of the letters. Lafayette says he will visit Lauzon's legion in Lebanon on either the 14th or 15th of February 1781. He says he is going to take Rochambeau's route, "in order to give Rochambeau's arrangements a fair chance. I shall give this General exact information about our march." He obviously goes through Bolton the day after visiting Lauzon.

The fourth trip of General Lafayette through Bolton was on December 7, 1781, just after the British suffered their final defeat at Yorktown. Sherm Tarr, a reporter for the Hartford Courant, sent me a copy of that paper from December 11, 1781, where it is reported that he passed through Hartford.

General Lafayette's final trip through Bolton was on or about October 13, 1784, when he traveled from Albany, New York, to Hartford, then through Bolton to Boston. There were two routes from Hartford to Boston, and both went through Bolton. When Lafayette would stop at Lebanon or Providence, he went through the center of Bolton. If he ever took the more northern route, he would have traveled through Bolton Notch. On two of the five occasions he might have gone through the Notch, because he did not write any letters that revealed his route.

We now have 23 historic visits to Bolton documented, starting with the first white trappers, then the first Colonial settlers, and extending to General Washington eating lunch at the Rose Farm on March 4, 1781, and President Washington's passing through Bolton Notch on November 9, 1789. Within two years the Revolutionary Road should be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The French are now planning to put the road in the famous Michelin tourism guides, which are sold throughout the world. That will make tourism-related businesses more viable in Bolton.