Replica of General Lafayette's ship arrives in Yorktown

5th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

A replica of a French frigate that in 1780 transported General Lafayette to America to rally US rebels battling for independence arrived to great fanfare Friday in the Virginia town where British forces eventually surrendered.

Fireworks lit up a gray sky in Yorktown -- where American forces led by George Washington and French soldiers scored a decisive victory over the British in 1781, prompting their capitulation -- to mark the Hermione's arrival.

The three-masted tall ship -- constructed using only 18th century shipbuilding techniques -- fired 21 cannon rounds to announce its arrival at 8:21 am (1221 GMT). A 21-gun salute echoed out from the shore in reply.

Several hundred people braved a persistent drizzle to come cheer the stately ship -- a symbol of Franco-American friendship. Onlookers waved flags while fife and drum corps played and people walked about in period attire.

Dozens of French and American officials were also in attendance in the East Coast port. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal were expected at a formal ceremony later in the day.

"It's such a marvelous day. We will never forget France, without which we would not be the United States," said Catherine Camillucci, a 60-something resident of nearby Gloucester.

"I've been waiting for this moment for 18 years. It's a very emotional moment," said Brigitte van den Hove-Smith, president of the group Friends of the Hermione.

The replica of the Hermione, which took almost two decades to build, left the Ile d'Aix on France's western coast on April 18 and retraced the 3,700-mile (6,000-kilometer) journey across the Atlantic.

"She is beautiful," said John Broadwater, a retired marine archeologist.

- Historic victory -

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

Beyond the French troops who joined the American rebels in the month-long battle against the British at Yorktown in late 1781, French ships helped blockade the port, leading to the British surrender.

That French contribution is something the Friends of the Hermione group is highlighting as the frigate makes its tour.

Miles Young, president of the group, said it was vital to remember how "French intervention was critical" to the American rebel victory.

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 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 Hermione will be feted as it makes 11 stops on the US East Coast over the next month, including in Philadelphia and Boston. It will also visit Canada.

Francophiles, history buffs and tall ship fans are expected for three days of festivities in Yorktown, which is located near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

A gala dinner is scheduled for Tuesday in honor of the ship in Mount Vernon -- the home and burial place of Washington, the first US president.

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.

© 2015 AFP

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