The Lafayette Land Grant of 1825
His name was Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Ives Gilbert Du Mottier, Marquis de Lafayette. He was born into a wealthy, land-owning family in French province of Auvergne. Following his family tradition, he was commissioned a military officer at the age of 13.
In 1777, when he was just 19, Lafayette sailed to America to fight with the American colonists for independence from Britain. The Continental Congress had been overwhelmed with French officers who arrived without military experience or the ability to speak English. Lafayette had learned some English en route to the Americas and was fluent within a year of his arrival. In addition, his membership in the Freemasons helped open many doors for him in Philadelphia. He was soon "adopted" by General George Washington and served as a major general on Washington's staff. In the middle of the war, he sailed home to France to ask for an increase in French support. After his return to America, Lafayette led the army that defeated General Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. This was the last major land battle of the war in the North American Region the resulted the surrender of Cornwallis and the capture of more than 7,000 British soldiers which prompted Britain to begin negotiations that ended the war.
In 1824, Congress expressed its gratitude to General Lafayette by presenting him with the sum of $200,000 and a township of his choice in the United States. A township is a block of land six miles by six miles square which amounts to 36 square miles which is a little more than 23,000 acres. Lafayette selected land in the northern Florida territory, which had just become a US territory in 1821, and land here was expected to greatly increase in value. The land he chose was near his friend, Richard Keith Call who owned The Grove Plantation in the newly established town of Tallahassee. (Call was a delegate to US Congress from Florida and was a third and fifth territorial governor of Florida.) The warrant for the land grant was signed by President John Quincy Adams on July 4, 1825.Lafayette's lands were a part of Township One North, Range One East. Today, you will find a marker in the middle of a sidewalk next to the bridge in Cascades Park. That marker represents the southwest corner of the Lafayette Grant and is also the principal reference point from which the entire state of Florida is surveyed. The northwest corner is located near Maclay School, the northeast corner is on Roberts Road, a mile east of Centerville Road, and the southeast corner is Lake Lafayette. See a full map HERE.
Lafayette decided to use the lands to establish a town where slavery was outlawed. Several Frenchmen who knew Lafayette, such as Prince Achille Murat, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, moved to the area, as well as many free black settlers. Many of the French moved west to New Orleans or back to France, as they found the climate here far too warm. Lafayette himself never visited his land in Florida and did not own the land for long. His first sale was in 1833. Lafayette died in May of 1834 and ownership of his remaining land here passed to his heirs in France. By 1855, all of the land included in the township had been sold to individual buyers. As of today, the lands that were originally part of the grant have been subdivided into 24,400 separate parcels. It is the home of many Tallahassee neighborhoods including two which bear his name - Lafayette Park and Lafayette Oaks.