Lafayette’s Hermione Voyage 2015 – Yorktown
My journey with L’Hermione started in August 2014 while vacationing in Brittany, France. A news article in the local paper with a photo of L’Hermione in Rochefort where she was built caught my eyes. L’Hermione Voyage 2015 was the result of a seventeen year project in France at the end of which the French war ship replica would cross the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 2015 like it did in 1780 with the Marquis de Lafayette on board. Back then, Lafayette said of L’Hermione that “she sails like a bird”. Lafayette was impatient to reach Boston to break the news to General George Washington that French naval support was on its way to help bring freedom to America. L’Hermione and Lafayette, America’s adopted hero, played a pivotal role in ending the Revolutionary War. Thanks to that article, I decided that I wanted to be a part of the journey 235 years later. I knew it would be a fabulous human adventure on both sides of the Atlantic. Back home in the Midwest, I found out that Yorktown, in Virginia, would be the first of several stops L’Hermione would make along the East Coast of North America. As a result, I headed to Yorktown and arrived there on Friday morning June 5th, 2015.
Upon my arrival at Yorktown I was excited to find myself a part of a large crowd of French and American enthusiasts like myself. I was surrounded by an array of both French and American flags flying everywhere, including a Gwenn-ha-du flag representing the people of Brittany. Included in the large crowd of fellow enthusiasts were re-enactors wearing the clothes from that period in 1780. One had the feeling of being thrown back in time and the emotion of the moment was overwhelming and one that I will never forget.
That morning of June 5th, L’Hermione made a triumphal arrival in Yorktown cutting through an early morning mist on the York River. She then engaged in a traditional canon salute which was responded to by the Americans from both land and ship to re-celebrate her arrival. Fireworks followed with loud excitement from the crowd. At 10:00 am, the official ceremony started with an opening from the President of the Hermione-Lafayette Association, followed by the Governor of Virginia and French Representative Segolene Royal who each made a speech about the significance of the event. The crowd was standing like one people, one culture celebrating the friendship, unbreakable, between the American and the French people.
Yorktown officials did a remarkable job making its downtown free from cars and full of history. The Heritage Village offered entertainment and educational programs around Lafayette, the Revolutionary War, and L’Hermione with re-enactors, performances, educators and food. Music of the 17th and 18th centuries could be heard. Local museums such as the Yorktown Victory Center, the Victory Monument or the Watermen’s Museum offered special exhibits or events. The Historic Main Street was occupied on Saturday and Sunday with Virginia’s Finest Fair. I had a chicken crepe, which was too sweet for my palate trained on the best crepes in the world – in Brittany. The York Hall had several events and book signings. I attended the Lecture on “The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered” and bought the book. I purposely asked the question to the author “what role did Lafayette’s mother played in his life”. I knew she was from Brittany and had worked to give Lafayette his wealth and social status in Paris, which the author expanded on. I have always liked that Lafayette’s ideals came from Brittany in addition to a provincial childhood in Auvergne.
On that same first day, Friday, June 5th, I went on board of L’Hermione. I discovered a gorgeous 145 foot long war ship made of native French oak, with 26 canons on board, and with a multitude of sails and three masts. Worth noting, the Captain Yann Cariou is a Breton and so were many of his crew. I wish I could have tasted the barrels of cognac they had on board. The crew, dressed in 1780 garb, met with the visitors and were answering questions or telling their story on board one the most beautiful symbolic French war ships ever re-built. Though I had to leave the ship eventually, I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic view of her from my hotel room’s large window and balcony, so I could go to sleep and wake up seeing L’Hermione laying gracefully in the water. The public tour was free and so were many of the events and lectures offered by the city of Yorktown.
My journey with L’Hermione started in August in 2014, continued on June 5th 2015 and I am convinced that for me this journey will never end. Next stop for L’Hermione is Mount Vernon where George Washington’s estate is located. L’Hermione will also make a stop in New York City during the July 4th weekend, independence. For Bastille Day, L’Hermione will be in Castine in Maine. I am a part of L’Hermione Voyage and thinking about planning my next trip so I can see her again, one step closer to Le Marquis de Lafayette.
Text & Photos : Valerie Le Borgne
is an organization established to create, facilitate, promote, and sponsor wide-ranging innovative and collaborative cultural and economic projects that strengthen and foster relations and cooperation between the United States of America and the region of Brittany, France.