Photo | Jordan Parker
Marquis de Lafayette visited Mobile on April 7, 1825. During a stop in Mobile last week, Julien Icher spoke about his effort to recognize Lafayette’s broader travels around the country.
In July 2017, Julien Icher, a native of France, set out on a mission across the eastern U.S. to memorialize the Marquis de Lafayette’s journey across the nation during the early 1800s.
During a stop last week in Mobile, Richards DAR House hosted Icher to speak about Lafayette’s visit to the Port City in 1824. While the French general’s layover here may have been brief, many feel his broader impact on the country is deserving of recognition.
Icher is the founder and executive director of The Lafayette Trail, a project aiming to recognize the routes of Lafayette’s 1824-1825 farewell tour and create a historic trail to educate others about his endeavors as the “Nation’s Guest.” Icher created the project in 2016.
After receiving his master’s degree in geography and geographic information systems from École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Icher’s journey began when he partook in a 2015 cultural exchange program at the College of William and Mary in Colonial Williamsburg for his postgraduate research.
Before he set off, Icher’s father introduced him to a member of the American Friends of Lafayette (AFL), a historical society that celebrates Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, otherwise known as Gen. Lafayette. Once he arrived in the states, Icher attended his first AFL meeting in Yorktown and was invited to join the society.
Thus began Icher’s interest in Lafayette’s accomplishments and the mark he left on our country.
“In America, people passionately come around here to try to portray what kind of a guy he was and the ideals he stood for, but it’s so different than what we have in France that it caught my interest,” he said.
While earning his master’s degree and conducting research, Icher gained experience in geospatial programming. One element of The Lafayette Trail project is an interactive mapping program Icher created allowing users to learn more about what Lafayette did at each location he visited.
Icher said information about Lafayette’s later visits to the U.S. is displayed in an active manner. Traveling from city to city, Icher analyzes each town’s history of Lafayette through its archives and adds his findings to the map.
Another objective of the project is to reach out to local officials to enlist their support in having markers placed at historic spots relative to Lafayette’s tour.
In Alabama, the old “Federal Road” connected to Fort Mitchell, and the Chattahoochee River was discovered to have been traveled by Lafayette during his trip across the state. Icher found that a few years ago Sen. Richard Shelby made an effort to have the site marked, noting Lafayette had traveled the road and river. However, the marker was never placed. In coming months, Icher said, he hopes to expand his interactive map across all states Lafayette traveled and establish additional markers.
Icher is seeking help in installing as many markers as possible by inviting local legislators to be sponsors and co-sponsors, especially those who have displayed an interest in historical endeavors. He said he is also willing to work with service organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
“I have worked with DAR consistently during my project,” Icher told the crowd at Richards DAR House. “I’m amazed that you’re wonderful caretakers of American History, and in the 1920s there was a nationwide program to put markers all over, and everywhere I go I am amazed to see all of those DAR markers.”
The warm welcome Icher has received from service organizations left an impact, and he is hopeful he will accomplish the goal of placing markers and remembering those who fought during the Revolutionary War. He has also accompanied French President Emmanuel Macron on trips to the U.S. to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
“I try to forge the 21st century friendship between [us],” he said. “Put boots on the ground, try to raise awareness and it’s a true delight.”
So far, Icher has made progress with historical markers in the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York, and hopes to have more placed in the coming months.
If you would like to learn more about The Lafayette Trail project, you can visit thelafayettetrail.com. Icher may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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