18th century French warship replica makes historic voyage to America

WASHINGTON — It was a battle a young America was losing  —  the battle for  independence.  That was until the French stepped in, providing the edge America so desperately needed in its revolution against the British.

A young Frenchman played a pivotal role in helping secure independence from Great Britain.   His name was Marquis de Lafayette, and he was on board a French warship in 1780 that helped change the course of American history.

Now a full-scale replica of that French frigate called the “Hermione” is on a historic voyage heading up the East Coast, making 12 stops along the way.

Beginning in Rochefort, France —  the same place where Lafayette left on his journey to America in 1780 — the tall ship then arrived at its first port in Yorktown, Virginia (June 5-7).  It stops at Mount Vernon on June 9, then on Wednesday it will anchor for three days (June 10-12) in Old Town Alexandria along the waterfront. It goes from there to Annapolis and then Baltimore, Md.

Miles Young, president of the American Friends of the Hermione-Lafayette, recounted the historical significance of the ship, which took 17 years to replicate.

“In 1780, if anyone had come to America, at that point, they would think that the American insurgencies would lose their war against Great Britain,”  he noted.  Lafayette had spent two years lobbying France’s king to come to the aid of the Americans against the Brits.  On March 19, 1780, Lafayette left France on board the Hermione bound for Boston.  Once there, Lafayette would travel to New Jersey to catch up with Gen. George Washington and deliver the great news that the French were sending a large military force to battle the British.

Young says when Lafayette told Washington the news that a tear ran down the general’s cheek.

The crew of the Hermione, now anchored in Yorktown, Va. (Courtesy of York County)

“Because he knew it was a guarantee of eventual victory,” he says.

Frenchman Lafayette was only 19 when he became an American general serving under Washington in the Continental Army.  Lafayette and Washington developed a deep bond.  Young says Lafayette became the son Washington never had, and that Washington became a father figure for Lafayette since Lafayette’s own father died fighting against the British.

Lafayette’s military forces played a pivotal role in the surrender of British Gen. Charles Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown, where the the Hermione was part of a blockade in the `York River which forced their surrender.

“That was the beginning of the end, if not the end for the British,” says Young.

The high point of the Tall Ship’s journey will take place in New York, where the Hermione will be escorted by hundreds of sail and motor boats past the Statue of Liberty during a July 4 parade to mark  Independence Day.

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