The best-known of the Frenchmen who fought against the British in the American Revolution, Lafayette, born an aristocrat, arrived in Philadelphia in 1777 at the age of nineteen with a commission as major general. At Brandeywine he served on Washington's staff, beginning a lifelong friendship with the future president. In 1779 he returned to France and persuaded King Louis XVI to send a 6,000 man expeditionary army to aid the colonists. His best showing was at Yorktown in 1781, when he forced the British commander Lord Cornwallis to retreat across Virginia. Returning to France in 1782 he was promoted to brigadier general.
On a much heralded tour of America in 1824, Lafayette, who was now the last surviving general of the Revolution, came to Boston. He was received in Doric Hall, and addressed the General Court from the original House Chamber. Less successful back in France in his later years, however, he was almost tried for treason after the monarchy was overthrown in 1830 for his efforts to suppress radical democrats.
Horatio Greenough, seeking a commission that would secure his place in the art world, imposed on his friend, author James Fenimore Cooper, in Paris, to obtain permission to model a bust of Lafayette. The general was much in demand, however, and Greenough waited several weeks for the first sittings. The result was several identical busts, carved upon his return to America, including the one at the State House. Toga-draped in the classical tradition, with a hint of the idealization, Greenough has communicated Lafayette's considerable height and physique through the thick neck and broad shoulders crossed by the military sword strap. Yet he has also captured furrowed brow and sagging jowls of the aged general, to reinforce the public's memory of the revered patriot. Similar versions of this bust are at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Since 1935 the twentieth day of May is celebrated as Lafayette Memorial Day in Massachusetts. In recognition of his lasting contribution to Franco-American friendship and cooperation, a plaque was installed in Doric Hall in 1992.