Magical History Tour
The Revolutionary Hermione Voyage 2015
By Todd R. Sciore
Roll up, that’s an invitation, roll up for the history tour. Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America (FOHLA) are calling all history buffs, Francophiles and general sailing enthusiasts to partake in the festivities surrounding L’Hermione’s heralded return to American shores. In Greek mythology, Hermione was the daughter of King Menelaus of Sparta and Helen of Troy.
She was renown for her beauty, and this trait is also found in the regal lines of her most famous namesake ship, the 18th century French frigate that played a historic role in America’s fight for independence from England. While not the original ship, it is a painstakingly reconstructed replica that has been nearly two decades in the making. South Florida Opulence recently had a chance to speak with Miles Young, President of FOHLA about this ceremonious event.
Relaunch of the L’Hermione Replica Ship
The genesis behind this ambitious project stemmed from the location of the original wreck being discovered on the ocean floor in the late ’80s off the coast of France. “It was too fragmented…but there was enough of it to really get a sense of it…and it raised the idea in people’s minds in Rochefort that one could build an exact replica of the original ship in the same place where the original ship was made,” said Young.
This multimillion dollar endeavor was undertaken with methodical attention to every detail using the same building techniques available in 1779. As a testament to the fastidious workmanship, trees were meticulously selected to form the hull, every eyelet for the sails was hand sewn and the cannons were fabricated in the original foundry. Miles proudly noted that outside of an engine “for Coast Guard reasons” that “it’s probably the most authentic 18th century ship that’s ever been reconstructed,” then quickly added with a laugh that “…the one point where authenticity has been compromised is the latrines. We took the view that this is the one area where even the most ardent reenactor would want some modifications!”
The Historic Tale
So why all the fuss? The Hermione’s passenger log includes one of the most revered men of his time by French and American historians alike – the young Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) who boarded her and came to the aid of General George Washington’s army. Soon to become fast friends, Washington gave him the rank of Major General. While some scholars feel Benjamin Franklin did the heavy lifting, Lafayette is credited with persuading France to come to the aid of the insurgent colonists. The relationship between France, then a major power broker, and the fledgling United States, played a pivotal yet often overlooked role in America’s fight for independence. Ironically, it was this same movement that inspired the subsequent French revolution.
This year, on April 18, with departure from Rochefort, France, the Hermione embarked on her 27-day transatlantic crossing for a long-awaited U.S. return voyage during the summer of 2015, winding her way up the East Coast with an itinerary calling for stops at a number of historically significant ports including both Yorktown, VA and Mount Vernon in early June. Followed by Alexandria, VA, Annapolis, Baltimore; Philadelphia, Camden, NJ, New York, Greenport, NY; Newport, RI and Boston. Other July stops include Castine, ME; Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and St. Pierre et Miqueton. She is expected to arrive at Brest, France on August 10 and back to Rochefort on August 25. “For all sorts of technical reasons, we’re doing it in reverse order…Yorktown clearly is where the endgame was.” The journey will include a variety of public pier-side events, exhibits and educational activities highlighting Franco-American relations during the Revolutionary War. “We will have reenactors in every port,” Young said.
The stop in Philadelphia coincides with a spectacular Tall Ships event. “She will be the pride of honor leading the tall ships in, and the tall ships should be with her up to Newport” to offer onlookers a grand spectacle from land, sea and air. The spirit of Lafayette’s slogan Cur Non (“Why Not?”) lives on in this project. “I think it’s captured the imagination because of the sheer audacity of it,” said Young. The same could also be said about a ragtag bunch of colonists standing up to the British Crown over taxation.