During George Washington's life, many notable French guests came to Mount Vernon including Rochambeau, Houdon, Michaux, Lafayette and his son George Washington Motier Lafayette. After Washington's death, high-profile French visitors continue to visit. Some of these visitors are Clemenceau, de Gaulle, d'Estaing, Cousteau, and Sarkozy.

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau

1781

An experienced, skilled, and very diplomatic soldier, who was sent to command French troops fighting alongside the Americans in 1780. He worked closely with George Washington, forming a team that succeeded in dealing the British a final defeat at Yorktown, which ended the military phase of the American Revolution. Rochambeau and Washington stopped at Mount Vernon on their way to the battle of Yorktown in 1781, and there is some indication that the two planned their strategy for the upcoming conflict in the New Room.

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Major General François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux

1781

Major General François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux traveled to Mount Vernon as an aide to Rochambeau during the march to Yorktown. During the war, Chastellux served as an important liaison between Washington and Rochambeau because of his strong knowledge of the English language. He and Washington developed a close friendship, writing deeply personal letters to one another throughout later years. In 1786, Chastellux published his travel journal of North America, Voyages de M. le Marquis de Chastellux dans l’Amérique Septentrionale. He sent a copy to Washington, who also obtained an English version for his library.

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Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine

1782

Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine, was one of nine French officers encamped at Alexandria, Virginia who received an invitation from Martha Washington to dine at Mount Vernon on July 20, 1782. Custine was commander of the Saintonge regiment of Rochambeau’s army and an acquaintance of George Washington. His dinner visit was the perfect opportunity to present Mrs. Washington with the gift of a tea and coffee service created at his porcelain factory at Niderviller. These dishes, monogrammed with Washington’s initials in gold and decorated with a rose motif, were probably made in France just before Custine left with his regiment to fight in the American Revolution. Claude Blanchard, a member of the French forces under Custine’s command, later wrote about the dinner at Mount Vernon in his campaign journal. He describes a pleasant visit with Mrs. Washington saying, “we left her respectable company after having spent a very agreeable and truly interesting day.”

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette

1784

The Marquis de Lafayette was a French born aristocrat who was appointed a general in the American army.  The young Lafayette became one of General Washington's closest confidants. Three years after an American and French victory at Yorktown, Lafayette returned to the United States for a four-and-a-half-month visit. Welcomed in America as a hero, Lafayette spoke to six state legislatures and the Continental Congress on the importance of a strong federal union, and assisted with the Iroquois peace negotiations at Fort Schuyler in New York. The highlight of his 1784 tour, however, was his ten-day visit with George Washington and his family at Mount Vernon. Writing home to his wife, Adrienne, Lafayette said of the General, “I assure you that in retirement General Washington is even greater than he was during the Revolution.” They enjoyed a pleasurable visit both would remember with sincere affection. While they corresponded and sent gifts to one another until the end of Washington’s life, they never saw each other again. When Lafayette returned for his grand tour of the United States in 1824 at the invitation of President Monroe, he briefly stopped at Mount Vernon again to pay his respects. It was later recounted that Lafayette visited Washington’s tomb alone and returned to his party with tears in his eyes.

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Jean-Antoine Houdon

1785

Jean-Antoine Houdon and his three assistants arrived at Mount Vernon on October 2, 1785. The accomplished and renowned sculptor was sent from Paris by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to fulfill a commission ordered by the Governor of Virginia to create a statue of George Washington. In an effort to know his subject better, Houdon followed Washington around for several days, observing his movements and expressions. While at Mount Vernon, Houdon began working on a clay bust and applied plaster to Washington’s face to make a life mask. He presented the finished clay bust to Washington as a gift before departing for his trip back to France on October 17. Houdon completed the formal statue of Washington using the life mask as his guide. George Washington kept the clay bust in his study, and many considered it his most accurate likeness. The Houdon bust was one of the only original Washington artifacts left in the Mansion when Mount Vernon was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1858.

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Thomas Antoine Mauduit du Plessis

1786

Frenchman who came to America to join the Continental Army before France became involved in the conflict, winning acclaim at Brandywine, Germantown, Red Bank, and Monmouth. He returned to France after the war but came back to Georgia, where he bought a large amount of land, with the intention of becoming a farmer. In 1786 he visited Mount Vernon. He was back serving France by 1787 and was sent to Santo Domingo, where he was killed during the uprising.

Andre Michaux

1786

French botanist, described by George Washington as having been “sent by the Court of France to America (after having been only 6 Weeks returned from India) came…with letters of Introduction & recommendation from the Duke de Lauzen, & Marqs. de la Fayette to me. He dined and returned afterward to Alexandria on his way to New York, from whence he had come; and where he was about to establish a Botanical garden.” Seven years later, in 1793, Washington would subscribe some money to help the American Philosophical Society send Michaux on a scientific expedition (much like the later one of Lewis and Clark) to the Pacific, but that expedition was actually a front for the French minister Edmond Genet’s plan to attack Spanish holdings west of the Mississippi and was called off.

Martin Oster

1786

French consul at Williamsburg, Virginia. He came to America as a diplomat during the American Revolution; was vice-consul in Philadelphia, 1781-1783, and held the same position in Norfolk and Williamsburg, 1783-1792. He visited Mount Vernon in 1786.

Marquise de Brehan

1788

French artist; sister of Elénor Francois Elie, the Comte de Moustier, who was the French minister to the United States. While at Mount Vernon, in 1788, she began a miniature portrait of George Washington, which she completed after his election to president. She also did a miniature of Martha Washington’s youngest granddaughter, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis.

Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville

1788

French journalist and reformer. He came to America on behalf of three financiers interested in investing in the United States, as well as to decide if he would like to move permanently to the new country. He visited Mount Vernon in 1788 with letters of introduction from the Marquis de Lafayette. Would later go back to France, where he became an active participant in the French Revolution, but he eventually fell out of favor and was guillotined.

Victor Marie du Pont

1788

An attaché to the French legation in the United States. He visited Mount Vernon in 1788. Returned to France in 1789, where he became an aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette. Later he held several diplomatic posts in America. In 1800, he and several members of his family moved permanently to the United States.

Elénor Francois Elie, Comte de Moustier

1788

French minister to the United States. A career diplomat, de Moustier served as minister to the German state of Trier in 1778. He visited Mount Vernon in 1788. Served as minister to Prussia in 1790. Later he helped Royalist exiles of the French Revolution negotiate with the British and Prussians.

George Washington Motier de Lafayette

1796

George Washington Motier de Lafayette, the only son of the Marquis de Lafayette, lived with the Washingtons in Philadelphia and at Mount Vernon for two years during his father’s imprisonment. He had managed to escape France when the rest of his family was arrested during the French Revolution. With the help of James Monroe, the American Minister to France, he was able to procure a passport to the United States. Although there were political tensions between the U.S. and France at this time, George Washington was relieved in February 1796 when the House of Representatives supported his decision to care for his dear friend’s son and heir. George Washington de Lafayette returned to France upon his father’s release from prison in 1798. They journeyed back to Mount Vernon together in 1824 during Lafayette’s official tour of the United States.

Prince Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte

1861

Despite traveling to Mount Vernon at a precarious time, Prince Napoléon Bonaparte seemed to enjoy his visit on August 6, 1861. His hostess for the day was Sarah Tracy, the Secretary of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, who took care of Washington’s home for the duration of the Civil War. She had ordered the Mansion to be well cleaned, and purchased claret wine to serve the Prince and his entourage when they arrived. While the Prince spoke English very well, most of the others in his party spoke only French. Fortunately, Tracy spoke conversational French and learned from two of the gentlemen that their group had not eaten breakfast and had grown quite hungry during the journey from the city to Mount Vernon. She asked her staff to cook everything they had on hand and served them a modest meal, of which they were very appreciative. Sarah Tracy later wrote they were all very interested in Mount Vernon and “seemed perfectly familiar with General Washington’s history.” The Prince expressed his hope that Washington’s home could remain safe and neutral during the current conflict.

Prince Philippe, the Comte de Paris

1890

Prince Philippe, the Comte de Paris, arrived at Mount Vernon on the U.S. steamer Dispatch on October 8, 1890. While a significant number of distinguished gentlemen were in Prince Philippe’s entourage, the visit “was devoid of anything like an official character,” according to Philadelphia’s Public Ledger newspaper. When asked if he had ever visited Mount Vernon before, the Prince replied, “I sailed past it several times, but in those days it was not considered a safe landing place,” referring to his two years of service in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The party was given a complete tour of the estate lasting around an hour. Prince Philippe was particularly interested in the key to the Bastille on display in the Mansion, and asked an attendant to copy the letter written by the Marquis de Lafayette in which he forwards the key to Washington as a gift. He later expressed to the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association his gratitude and pleasure of finally visiting the home and tomb of Washington.

Georges Clemenceau

1865

Georges Clemenceau first visited Mount Vernon circa 1865 and again on December 6, 1922 while in the United States on a lecture tour. His companions that day were Jean Jules Jusserand, French Ambassador to the United States, and two American signers of the Treaty of Versailles, Henry White and General Tasker Bliss. The group received a tour of the estate by the Superintendent, Harrison H. Dodge who later mentioned the visit in his book. Clemenceau confided in Mr. Dodge that he had visited Washington’s home many years ago as a young man while living and teaching in the United States during the 1860s. He must have appreciated these experiences as he later donated his Mulhouse Centennial Medal, given to him by the city of Mulhouse, to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. In his donation letter, he wrote, “I took the liberty of presenting it to the Mount Vernon Museum in order to place under the auspices of George Washington that memento of the glorious part taken by the noble soldiers of the Republic of the United States.” The medal still remains in Mount Vernon’s collections.

French and British War Commissions for World War I

1917

Mount Vernon hosted a number of military envoys and diplomatic missions during World War I. Only three weeks after the United States declared war, a large group of men from the French and British War Commissions, including ambassadors, congressmen, and other officials visited the estate in a formal display of unity and commitment to victory. Former Prime Minister René Viviani and Marshal Joseph Joffre headed the French contingent. A ceremony was held at Washington’s tomb where Viviani delivered an address and Marshal Joffre place a bronze wreath on the sarcophagus stating, “In the French Army all venerate the name and memory of Washington. I respectfully salute here the great soldier and lay upon his Tomb the palm we offer our soldiers who have died for their country.” Following the ceremony, the whole party toured the Mansion and gardens.

Aristide Briand

1920

French statesman who served eleven terms as Prime Minister of France during the French Third Republic and was a co-laureate of the 1926 Nobel Peace Prize. He visited Mount Vernon in 1920.

Ferdinand Foch

1921

Ferdinand Foch was the supreme allied during World War I. Marshal Ferdinand Foch visited Mount Vernon during his tour of the United States in the autumn of 1921 as a special guest of the American Legion. He was accompanied by several other officers of the French and American military. After placing a wreath on Washington’s tomb, he and his party were given a brief tour of the Mansion. Several days earlier, the Superintendent of Mount Vernon, Harrison H. Dodge was asked to send a tree sapling from the grounds of Mount Vernon to New York for Marshal Foch to plant during a ceremony. Mr. Dodge provided a “small White Oak” for the purpose.

Henri Giraud

1943

Two days after his arrival in the United States for a conference with President Franklin Roosevelt and other U.S. officials, General Henri Giraud made a brief trip to Mount Vernon. Escorted by Lieutenant-General Lesly McNair, Giraud and the other French officers were extended every courtesy by Resident Director Charles C. Wall, who gave them all a tour of the estate. Giraud somberly laid a wreath at Washington’s tomb and signed Mount Vernon’s guest book.

Charles de Gaulle

1944

General Charles de Gaulle was the head of the Free French military forces during World War II and later became President of France. De Gaulle visited the United States for several days in July 1944, spending time in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Americans in both cities warmly welcomed him. While the focus of his trip was a meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt, and to strengthen agreements between the U.S. and France, the General also made several ceremonial stops at historic or patriotic sites, including Mount Vernon. His visit was very brief, but he managed to tour most of the grounds, posed for press photographs, and signed the Mount Vernon guest book. This diplomatic trip to the U.S. occurred in the middle of an eventful summer, between the D-Day invasions in June and the Liberation of Paris in August.

Giscard d’Estaing

1976

In honor of the Bicentennial of the United States, French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing dedicated his country’s gift to the American people in a formal ceremony at Mount Vernon on May 19, 1976. Washington’s home was chosen as the recipient and host site for this gift, a sound and light program entitled “The Father of Liberty” which illuminated the Mansion and its surroundings during the 47-minute production featuring events of the Revolutionary era. The program’s premiere night included remarks by President d’Estaing, President Gerald Ford, and the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Elizabeth Cooke. Mount Vernon continued to present the sound and light show each evening during warm weather months for the next year.

Jacques Cousteau

1985

Jacques Cousteau, the famed ocean and undersea explorer, celebrated his 75th birthday at Mount Vernon in a lavish event sponsored by Ted Turner and Turner Broadcasting. Over 2,000 people attended including several celebrities. Cousteau and his son, Jean-Michel, arrived by helicopter ahead of the other attendees for a guided tour of the Mansion and gardens. His boat Calypso docked at the wharf bringing his special guests. The party was featured in a television production celebrating Cousteau’s life and legacy, and was seen by millions of viewers worldwide. Members of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association presented Cousteau with the gift of a cutting from an original Washington elm tree.

Nicolas Sarkozy

2007

President George W. Bush and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France held a closed-session meeting with advisors in the New Room of the Mansion at Mount Vernon on November 7, 2007. The two world leaders met to discuss strengthening security and encouraging democracy in the Middle East. Historians noted it as the first time the Mansion was used for a substantive meeting between heads of state. At the following press conference, both Presidents referred to following in the historic footsteps of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, who perhaps also discussed matters of international importance in the same room more than two centuries before. Bush remarked, “I have a partner in peace who has clear vision, basic values, who is willing to take tough positions to achieve peace.” Following the business session, they walked through the Upper Garden to the Greenhouse where they enjoyed a luncheon prepared by the White House chef.

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