"Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country."
In Spring, Historic Beaufort Foundation celebrates Beaufort's French heritage and honors a Revolutionary War hero, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. The Lafayette Soiree is a well-heeled event held at one of Beaufort's private, historic homes - une fête extravagante - and well worth a trip to Beaufort to attend. The arrival of guests is accompanied by a classical music quartet, sparkling wine flows and a festive, genteel atmosphere envelops the softly-lit garden of Tidewatch. This annual event is the primary fundraiser for Historic Beaufort Foundation, an organization that has worked faithfully to preserve this beautiful city on the banks of the Beaufort River. As I stand on the dock at Tidewatch and watch the sunset over the river I am thankful for their efforts.
The Marquis de Lafayette stemmed from a most noble family from Haute-Loire Auvergne, France. His birthplace, Chateau de Chavaniac, was built in the 14th century and defines the town of Chavaniac still today. What is so remarkable about Lafayette is that even though he was born in to the privileged noble class of France, he believed so strongly in the right of freedom and liberty for all. He sought to advance, "not the national interest of one country or another, but the liberty of all mankind." He was a firm believer in a constitutional monarchy and his ideas on possible government structures for France were modeled after Britain and the United States. He opposed slavery and authored the Declaration of the Right of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. Instead of owning slaves, he proposed they work as free tenants on the land of plantation owners. He put this idea to test on a plantation he purchased in the French colony, Cayenne.
Today, both the French and American flags fly above Chavaniac Castle. The castle and grounds are well-preserved by the Lafayette Memorial Association. The castle museum gives insight in to a day in the life of the Marquis de Lafayette and his family. It also has on display a lock of George Washington's hair, Ben Franklin's ring and original letters by Lafayette.
This mountainous region of Auvergne, west of the Rhone river, is steeped in history and off the beaten tourist path. Be prepared to parler francais on occasion. Auvergne is crossed by two rivers, the Loire and the Allier. Visit the Gorges of Allier, the picturesque village of Lavaudieu and the pilgrimage town of Le-Puy-en-Velay, a stop on the route to Sanitago de Compostela in Spain. Stay at Chateau Royal de Saint-Saturnin or the 19th century manor hotel Le Manoir de la Manantie, both near Clermont-Ferrand. For your art-fix, visit the Roger-Guillot Museum in Clermont-Ferrand. This wonderful museum was constructed on the sight of a 17-18th century Ursulines convent. Architects, Adrien and Claude Gaillard, envisioned a light-filled museum which is centered around an atrium designed by Peter Rice. The museum is home to over 1,500 works of art from the middle ages to 20th century.
Wandering through the delightful Haute-Loire, I am struck by the contrast between where Lafayette came from and where he ventured to in the New World. I can't help but wonder what the Marquis thought as he disembarked from his ship, La Victoire, near Georgetown, South Carolina. He has been quoted, "Charleston is one of the best built, handsomest, and most agreeable cities that I have ever seen." I'm sure he thought the same of Beaufort, Charleston's little sister city.