Without help from the French, the Americans might never have won their fight for independence from the British, and the United States as we know it might never have been born.
And among the French, no one loomed larger than the Marquis de Lafayette, who inherited a massive amount of money from his parents and would become one of Gen. George Washington's most trusted officers.
Near the end of his life, in 1824, Lafayette returned to the United States for a grand tour, one in which he rekindled not only old friendships but also a passion for liberty that the American Revolution had secured but that was by no means guaranteed to remain in place.
Today, Lafayette's lengthy route is being retraced by Julien Icher, a Frenchman with a passion for U.S. history and with advanced degrees in geography and geographic information systems.
A project manager for the Consulate General of France in Boston, Icher founded the Lafayette Trail, an online account of the trip and soon to serve as the basis for a book.
Icher recently visited Charleston, doing research in local archives and hitting the places where the historic French figure slept, spoke and partied.
Lafayette had many reasons behind his final trip, said Greg Ohanesian, a Bennettsville attorney and leader of the Société Française de bienfaisance.
Lafayette mainly wanted to encourage America's democratic experiment at a crucial time. Years before, the French Revolution had faded and given way to the restoration of the monarchy in 1814. Meanwhile, the United States was experiencing its own deep political divisions after the founding fathers had passed on.
"The country was divided in 1824, but when Lafayette came ... they came together and celebrated the nation's guest. Americans swooned over him," Icher said. "He visited all 24 states, all that were states at the time."
Lafayette arrived in Charleston on March 13, 1825, and visited the Izard family's Elms Plantation, currently part of the Charleston Southern University campus, the Heyward Washington House, now a museum at 87 Church St., and the William Gibbes House at 64 South Battery.
He visited the Charleston Theatre on Broad Street, the Charleston Orphan House, City Hall and the Pinckney mansion, which once stood at 235 East Bay St. He slept at St. Andrews Hall on Broad Street.
Lafayette's other South Carolina stops included Cheraw, Columbia, Edisto Island, Beaufort and Camden, where he laid the cornerstone of a monument to Baron de Kalb in front of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church, Icher said.
When Lafayette died in 1834, the U.S. House and Senate chambers were draped in black, and he has tributes and memorials across the United States, including the square directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
But that's not so much the case in South Carolina, except for a roadside marker outside Georgetown.
Ichner did visit the historic house at 34 Meeting St., where a plaque notes that Lafayette once was feted there. The house then was owned by Daniel Huger, whose father had greeted Lafayette upon his first arrival in America at Hobcaw Barony in 1777. In the late 18th century, Huger tried to free Lafayette from prison in Austria.
Icher ultimately hopes his detailed chronicling of Lafayette's 1824-25 travels will encourage cities and states to do more to recognize him, especially as the bicentennial of the trip is coming up in six years.
"I want to empower the local communities to tell the story the way they want, but I want to make sure they have the information," he said.
In 2002, a Joint Resolution from Congress granted Lafayette U.S. citizenship, one of only eight times that has happened (others include Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, Mother Teresa and Revolutionary War figures Casimir Pulaski and Bernardo de Galvez).