On June 5 my family and I drove to Yorktown, VA to catch the arrival of the Hermione, or L’Hermione, as it is known in its country of origin. This wholly new reconstruction of the 1779 frigate, seventeen years in the making, had just sailed from France and will be conducting a multi-city tour of the United States over the next several weeks before heading to Nova Scotia and then finally home. Made famous for ferrying the Marquis de Lafayette across the Atlantic on his second trip to America to herald the arrival of the French fleet during the American Revolution, the original Hermione holds a special if albeit largely forgotten place in U. S. history that this new Hermione seeks to restore more front and center to American consciousness.
Though we were delayed by an open drawbridge and therefore unable to attend the initial arrival in port and the firing of cannons in its honor, we did nonetheless arrive at the Yorktown waterfront in time to hear the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, make his welcome and opening remarks to the captain, crew, and dignitaries that oversaw the voyage. The waterfront park was beset with demonstrations of shipbuilding, makeshift museum displays on Lafayette, the original Hermione, and the American Revolution, park service kiosks, and food vendors; and overrun with re-enactors, some from Colonial Williamsburg, some not. By the time we were able to tour the ship (3 PM), John Adams was a little over the experience, but bore up well as we hoisted him up the rickety ladder to see this piece of history come alive.
The new ship adorned with faux cannon, fleur-de-lis, a lion figurehead, and a striking yellow and blue paint job is nothing short of marvelous. Though visitors were only allowed on deck (the tour is free after all), newsreel and internet footage shows the crew living in relatively proximate conditions to the 18th century. There are some modern conveniences such as state of the art navigational equipment and two 400-horsepower engines in the event of no wind, but for the most part all things modern are carefully concealed so as to leave the impression that this is an antique sailing vessel newly restored, rather than a lovingly crafted copy of the original.
I can’t stress enough the importance I place on shared cultural or historical experiences like these. Like Colonial Williamburg, or Mt. Vernon, or many others, seeing the Hermione was an opportunity to touch a piece of the past (albeit an impressively reconstructed one), to immerse oneself in a piece of history, to learn, to grow, and to get excited about something other than what modern culture or social media have to offer next. In this case it was probably a once in a lifetime experience for us as a family. And that’s the other part of the day that gets me so excited about it. The Hermione is here in the United States for only a brief time and then she’ll be gone. She may be back again someday, but for the time being the window is narrow and therefore the seeing of her is extra special. For my part, I know that Nancy and I created a unique memory with our son that was fun, educational, free, and definitely worth our time. And we bought the T-shirts! I would encourage anyone else who is able and so inclined to do the same.
If you’re interested in seeing her while she’s in the U.S. here’s their website with scheduling and lots more information: