Hermione French Ship That helped to win America’s Liberty

Written by on August 22, 2014 in French Style, Poitou-Charentes

Hermione French ship

An extraordinary project to recreate an 18th Century ship which sailed from France to America and helped America to win the War of Independence. A mission to honour the memory of a young French nobleman with a passion for America. A story of two countries whose ties were forged when America was born and whose legacy lives on…

Many Americans will be aware of the General Lafayette (1757-1834); his name is taught in history lessons alongside that of the Founding Fathers of America. Many streets and schools are named after him in America. He was a young Frenchman who played a pivotal part in the American Revolution and his story is one of extraordinary valour and stubbornness.  His actions mean that France is in fact, the USA’s oldest ally.

Lafayette

Born Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Mortier, Marquis de Lafayette, in 1757, he was orphaned at an early age, married at 16, wealthy and an idealist. Whilst still a teenager, the Marquis resolved to support the American fight for Independence and joined up as an unpaid volunteer serving under General George Washington. Realising more aid would be needed to help the Americans win their cause he returned to France with a remarkable personal mission; he would negotiate backing from the French King Louis XVI. He succeeded, however the debt that this caused in France contributed to the fiscal crisis which that lit the fires of the French Revolution.

Later Lafayette worked alongside Thomas Jefferson to establish trade agreements between the US and France. The home where he lived with his family – his son was called George Washington – in Paris, was the headquarters of Americans in Paris where luminaries like Benjamin Franklin met weekly.

L’Hermione French Ship

Hermione boat

General Lafayette embarked L’Hermione at Rochefort on 11 March 1780 and arrived in Boston on 28 April carrying the then-secret news that he had secured French aid for Washington. The frigate had been built at Rochefort by shipwright Henri Chevillard in 1778-1779. L’Hermione fought in several important battles and afterwards returned to France but was destroyed just a few years later.

21st Century replica of the original Hermione

hermione construction

In 1993, a group of American friends were discussing the history of Lafayette and L’Hermione and thought it would be a great idea to recreate the ship. The original idea was conceived in New York by French author Érik Orsenna and American Benedict Donnelly, whose father was a GI who landed on the beaches of Normandy during WWII. The building of a replica frigate is an hommage to the brave French general who supported America and to the history of the French Navy. It is also, says Dr Kissinger, recognition that “The United States and France have a long history of working together for shared principles. From French support when The Hermione tipped the balance against Britain in the Revolutionary War to long years fought together during World War I & II, there has always been a mutual and deep belief in liberty and freedom as our common cause.”

hermione in dock at rochefortIn 1997, work began. Called Hermione-Lafayette, the ship’s design is based on documents discovered in British archives of Hermione’s sister ship, La Concorde, which was captured by the British.

This is incredible quest is  due to complete in 2015 when the frigate will make its inaugural voyage from Rochefort to Yorktown, Virginia, where the original L’Hermione took part in the blockade that led to the British surrender at Yorktown, the turning point in the American Revolution.

It is a most extraordinary undertaking. Quite apart from the +3million people who have made donations towards the cost, there is the splendid line up of the board of the Friends of l’Hermione-Lafayette in America. They’ve worked tirelessly to bring the project to life under the honorary chairmanship of Dr Henry Kissinger.

But the most astonishing aspect of the built is that the entire frigate is being crafted authentically – exactly as it would have been when it was first built. The carpentry, metal work, riggings and sails are true to the original designs and methods in use in the late 1700s. The original ship was created in eleven months at Rochefort. This ship too is being built at Rochefort by artisans and hundreds of volunteers, but it has taken rather longer. Those old skills that have been lost over the centuries have been rekindled, there has been fanatical attention to historical accuracy and it has taken almost twenty years to build.Sails have been hand sewn, metal work has been forged, chairs made, lanterns created, anchors cast, guns and cannons fabricated – every aspect has been researched and lovingly reproduced.

hermione carving

hermione deckFrench Connections

american redwood in franceThe French support for the American War of Independence sparked a trend amongst the nobility and many of them imported and planted American trees to show their encouragement. If you walk round a chateau and spot a Redwood tree – it could well be planted in the name of Lafayette 200 years ago, like this one at the Arborteum de Poulaines in the Loire.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the last surviving member of those who signed alongside Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin etc. was Charles Carroll (Carrollton, USA).  He had been educated in St Omer in northern France and spent almost 20 years in France and was in the first delegation to seek help from France at the request of George Washington. The collection of books at Saint Omer that Charles Carroll may well have studied dating back to the 7th Century can be seen at the extraordinary St Omer Public library.

In 1865 the French decided to give America a present to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, it took longer to organise but has become an enduring symbol of the alliance between the two countries and their shared love of liberty: The Statue of Liberty.

The Hermione will sail from Rochefort in April 2015, recreating her famous voyage of 1780, arriving in America in August 2015 landing at Yorktown and then sailing to key points on the coast.

See the video to see just what an amazing undertaking this has been:

You can follow the progress of the project and find out where to see L’Hermione at: www.hermione2015.com, www.hermione.com

Tags: ,

Related Articles

Fun things to do for the family in La Rochelle France

Anyone who’s ever been to La Rochelle knows that it’s the essence of charm and style. A pretty harbour surrounded by cafés and stalls. Historic twin towers stand watch and usher in the Atlantic,  ancient covered arcades and narrow streets that lead to the market. An effortless southern style in a western corner of France. […]

Continue Reading

5 fabulous family activities in La Vendée France

La Vendée is a great place for family holidays, 18 famous seaside resorts and more activities than you could possibly do in a busy week of fun! Family fun for foodies As a foodie that loves to uncover natural food sources, one of my personal highlights  on a visit to La Vendée , was our […]

Continue Reading

Staying at Puy du Fou theme park in France

Although it’s described as a theme park there are no rides here. Instead think more along the lines of Universal Studios as there are several shows to be wowed at. And, they will astound you – no matter what your age. Romans, Pirates and Pianos at Puy du Fou This is one of the most […]

Continue Reading

French berets from the world’s most specialised beret seller

The beret – there’s nothing quite like it to define French-ness. The beret is an icon, a fashion accessory and a statement – it’s instantly recognisable as a symbol of France all over the world.  You only have to see someone wearing one and you can’t help thinking of France and French flair. Of course […]

Continue Reading

The Marais Poitevin of Poitou-Charentes

The quaint little country town of Coulon is home to the Maison du Marais Poitevin visitor centre and start point for boat tours in the Marais. Or to give it it’s full name, the Marais Poitevin, 18,553 hectares of waterway network. It was entirely created by man, close to the Atlantic coast, a little south […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top