LAFAYETTE and the HERMIONE
The Hermione, a replica of an 18th century Liberty frigate, set sail on April 16, 2015 from Port des Barques, France for a transatlantic crossing of 27 days and 3819 miles. It will arrive in Yorktown, Virginia to commemorate the historic voyage of the Marquis de Lafayette who sailed in 1780 to support George Washington and the American Revolution. Lafayette brought 5,150 men and 5 frigates as reinforcements and he had financed the whole enterprise himself. He was only 22 years old.
In Yorktown, Lafayette’s frigate took part in the blockade that led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army, helping to turn the tide of the American Revolution. Lafayette fought for the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and became an American general. He also became a symbol of the Franco-American Alliance and a part of the mythology of the United States. His motto was “Why Not.” Of the Hermione he said, “She sails like a bird.”
When he returned to France, Lafayette wanted to expand the rights and liberties of ordinary people but he was also a royalist and wanted to keep Louis XVI on the throne. Lafayette was a moderate who believed in an empowered nobility and a constitutional monarchy, but France was then moving towards radicalism. Lafayette was eventually relieved of his command of the French national militia and accused of treason. He was imprisoned for 5 years. In 1824, he made a triumphal return to the United States and was celebrated everywhere.
During World War I, when General Pershing’s aide, Charles Stanton arrived in Paris in 1917 he uttered the famous words: “Lafayette, nous voici.” (Here we are)
Lafayette died in 1834 at age 76 and President Jackson declared a national day of mourning.
There are at least 36 cities and numerous counties and other localities named for Lafayette in the United States but in France he is not as well remembered. There is a small “rue Lafayette” in Paris, but when people on that street were recently asked whether they knew who it was named for, most did not. One person guessed that it was perhaps for the founder of the Galeries Lafayette (a Parisian department store).
Lafayette is also the subject of a statue in New York’s Union Square Park by Frederic Bartholdi (the designer of the Statue of Liberty). He is buried in Paris at the Picpus Cemetery. The American Flag floats over his tomb.