Replica of General Lafayette's ship due in Yorktown

4th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

A replica of the Hermione, the French ship that transported General Lafayette to America in 1780 to rally US rebels battling for independence, arrives Friday in the Virginia town where British forces eventually surrendered.

The three-masted tall ship is expected to dock at roughly 8:00 am (1200 GMT) in Yorktown for its first official stop in the United States.

The Chesapeake Bay port town is where American forces led by George Washington and French soldiers accompanied by Lafayette scored a decisive victory over the British in 1781, prompting their capitulation.

The ship left France in mid-April, embarking on an Atlantic crossing to retrace the voyage made by French general Gilbert du Motier -- the Marquis de Lafayette -- 235 years ago before he arrived on US soil to help America's rebels.

"Lafayette is remembered as 'the French hero of the American Revolution'," said historian Laura Auricchio, author of "The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered."

"He has come to embody the long and honorable legacy of French-American friendship."

- 'Lafayette is everywhere in the US' -

The general, who was born in 1757 to a noble family in south-central France, joined the American Revolution at age 19, inspired by the cause.

"Lafayette is everywhere in the United States. Scores of cities, towns, counties, villages, parks, schools and streets carry his name or variants on it," Auricchio said.

A symbol of more than two centuries of Franco-American alliance, the Hermione will be feted as it makes 11 stops on the US East Coast over the next month or so, including in Philadelphia and Boston. It will also make a stop in Canada.

The high point of the celebrations 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 US Independence Day.

On Tuesday, the frigate was given a welcome by the US Navy's USS Mitscher off Norfolk in Virginia.

Tribute was also paid to sailors who died in the Battle of the Capes -- fought between the British and French near the mouth of the Chesapeake -- several weeks before the decisive Battle of Yorktown began.

- Cognac on board -

According to the Hermione's website, the boat has since been in Norfolk following its 3,700-mile (6,000-kilometer) journey across the Atlantic, where it will go through customs before departing for Yorktown.

On Friday, the Hermione will be welcomed with a 21-gun salute followed by a ceremony attend by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal.

A wreath will be placed in honor of those who died in the Battle of Yorktown.

Francophiles, history buffs and tall ship fans are expected for three days of festivities that will include tours of the Hermione, actors dressed as Washington or Lafayette, and fife and drum music.

On Tuesday, a gala dinner will be held at Mount Vernon, Washington's estate on the Potomac River near the US capital.

Cognac that has been transported on the boat -- there was also some onboard Lafayette's original ship -- will be auctioned off for charity.

Some 80 crew members sailed the 213-foot (65-meter) ship, which left Ile d'Aix, in southwest France, on April 18.

Back in 1778, the original Hermione took a mere six months to build. The new replica took 17 years to construct, mobilizing hundreds of craftspeople from around the world.

The project is the brainchild of a group of history and sailing enthusiasts who two decades ago embarked on the arduous task of recreating the vessel using only 18th-century shipbuilding techniques.

The project cost $32 million (25 million euros), financed by more than four million visitors to the shipyard in Rochefort in southwestern France where the Hermione was built, as well as through crowd-funding initiatives for specific parts of the ship.

The Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America association helped raise a quarter of the $4.5 million needed to make the trip.


© 2015 AFP

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