Bastile Key

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“Key of the Bastile. This key of the old Paris prison known as the Bastile, was sent by La Fayette to Washington after the destruction of that edifice by the infuriated populace on the 14th of July, 1789. This was the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was originally a royal place, built by Charles the Fifth of France in 1369. It was afterward used as a state prison, like the Tower of London, and became the scene of dreadful sufferings and frightful crimes. When the mob gained possession of it in 1789, they took the governor and other officers to the Place de Greve, where they first cut off their hands and then their heads. With the key, La Fayette sent a plaster model of the old building. The model, somewhat defaced from long exposure in the Alexandria museum, is among the collections of the National Institute, while the key retains its ancient position at Mount Vernon. It is of wrought iron, seven inches long. La Fayette, in his letter to Washington which accompanied the key and picture, dated ‘Paris, March 17th, 1789,’ said, ‘Give me leave, my dear general, to present you with a picture of the Bastile, just as it appeared a few days after I had ordered its demolition, with the main key of this fortress of despotism. It is a tribute which I owe as a son to my adopted father; as an aid-de-camp to my general; as a missionary liberty to its patriarch.’"—Lossing, 1851


Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851)II:415


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