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Lafayette and Roche-Fermoy

September 14, 2010

During Sunday’s Battles of Trenton walking tour the question was asked about just when the Marquis de Lafayette joined the fight on the American side. I confess I didn’t have the answer at hand when asked. However, it did make me think of the contrast between Lafayette…renowned for his service to the American cause, and another Frenchman who placed himself in service of the fight for Independence: Matthias de Roche-Fermoy.

Fermoy was born in the West Indies and was one of many “foreign” to gain command positions in the Continental Army. While he successfully led a brigade during the first Battle of Trenton (December 26, 1776), he abandoned his troops at an advance position during the run up to the Battle of the Assunpink, January 2, 1777. Although Fermoy fled he somehow managed to maintain his commission until he resigned in 1778 after being passed over for promotion.

Lafayette was immediately taken with the notion of the American colonies declaring and fighting for their independence. By December of 1776 he had arranged to enter American service as a major general. It wasn’t until June of 1777 that his self-financed ship landed in South Carolina and another month before he arrived in Philadelphia. Here he met General Washington and the two remained friends for life.

It wasn’t until July 31 that the Congress finally granted Lafayette his commission. His distinguished service to the American cause is well documented:

  • Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine yet organized a successful retreat.
  • Served during the Battle of Rhode Island
  • Returned to France and negotiated an increased French commitment.
  • Back in America, he blocked Cornwallis’ troops at Yorktown while Washington prepared for battle against the British.

It is no wonder that the Continental Congress had grown weary and wary of these foreign volunteers.

Moreover, it was a good thing that they ultimately accepted Lafayette into the service.

Lafayette, along with General Washington, was adopted by Trenton as a favorite son.  Today’s Lafayette Street downtown bears witness to the high regard this Frenchmen was given by the city.

There is no Roche-Fermoy Street, anywhere, that I know.

  1. Peter P permalink

    Roche de Fermoy. what could be a more aristocratic sounding French name. But an Irish eye would quickly pick him out as a Roche from Fermoy County Cork. Likely the descendant of one of the “Wild Geese”, those thousands of Irish who fled to the continent in the 17th and 18th century with no prospects at home. In fact Princess Di was of this family, a branch of whom obviously “got their head right” with the “New Order” and kept their lands. Poor Roche also got blamed for tipping off the American escape from Mt. Independence on Lake Champlain in 1777 by setting his headquarters ablaze. But it is always easier to blame the foreigner. 🙂

    • Wendy permalink

      I like your post! I believe I am related to Matthias. My Great x5 grandfather was James Roche , attorney general of Martinique in the 1700s. He was noted in Burkes peerage books as being 7th in descent from David Roche Lord Fermoy, lineage comes directly from David’s 6th son Philip of Scrall and Rahan. It makes me wonder if Matthias was my relatives brother …

  2. This is the first I’d learned of the Irish background for Roche de Fermoy. Thank you for pointing it out.

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