Many heirlooms are treasured not because of monetary worth but for sentimental reasons. Families immigrating to Kansas brought such treasures with them and told their descendants stories about the objects.
These slippers are an example of this tradition. They supposedly were worn in 1784 at a Philadelphia ball given to honor the Marquis de Lafayette. Perhaps the young woman who owned them saved the slippers because they reminded her of a very special evening. Eventually her sister acquired them. The slippers and the tale of their origin passed through the hands of the sister's descendants, and her granddaughter Caroline Wade probably brought along the slippers when she immigrated to Kansas Territory around 1857. The names of family members have been lost over the years, but the slippers and their story have remained.
The wealthy Marquis de Lafayette was born and raised in France. At the age of 19, he left his teenage wife and baby daughter for the rebelling British Colonies in North America. He landed near Charleston, South Carolina, in 1777 on a ship he purchased to take himself and other European soldiers to fight against the British. While he had little real military experience when he arrived, the Marquis assumed the rank of major general and became one of the most notable figures of the American Revolution. He was still popular in 1784 when he returned to America from France. The Marquis visited Philadelphia several times from August to December of that year.
While it is difficult to verify the exact history of these slippers, their construction and ornamentation indicate they were made before 1805. The slippers are hand sewn of striped green silk, now faded. The opening is bound with a thin silk ribbon. In addition, a straight sole with a severe point was typical of slippers constructed at the end of the 18th century. After 1805, slippers tended to have rounded toes.
The slippers are in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.
Entry: Lafayette Slippers
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.