The Siege Will Commence Tomorrow at Yorktown!

"The Siege Will Commence Tomorrow!"

Why September 17, 1781 is an important date

in American history.

A contemporary print depicting the American-French forces on land and sea besieging Yorktown, Virginia; a well-orchestrated joint effort that led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and a turning point in America's fight for independence.

Editor’s Note: What stirring words that continue to echo to this day and date.

A map depicting de Grasse's fleet intercepting the British line of frigates at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay on September 5, 1781, a signal achievement that was instrumental to the French-American land campaign that choked off Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. The siege began on September 17 and, without relief from the British Navy, Cornwallis surrendered on  on October 19, 1781. This map was originally prepared by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), a distinguished American naval historian.

A map depicting de Grasse's fleet intercepting the British line of frigates at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay on September 5, 1781, a signal achievement that was instrumental to the French-American land campaign that choked off Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. The siege began on September 17 and, without relief from the British Navy, Cornwallis surrendered on  on October 19, 1781.

This map was originally prepared by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), a distinguished American naval historian.

September 17, 1781, is important moment in American Revolutionary history. What’s more, did you know that Hermione played an important supporting role in the French naval blockade in 1781 leading up to this date? She sailed as part of Admiral de Grasse’s proud fleet, whose presence at the mouth of the Chesapeake prevented an English fleet led by Admirals Graves and Hood from rescuing British forces, led by Lord Cornwallis, whose troops were completely hemmed in at Yorktown by allied French-American forces in September 1781.

French Admiral de Grasse

Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America wishes to thank Glen Hoptman and Lightbeam Studio for permission to share this fascinating account below – including an excerpt from the Hermione’s actual log book about Hermione’s role in this history-making siege – with the followers of Lafayette, the Hermione and American Revolution history buffs of all ages. 

With Lafayette having assured Washington and French General Rochambeau, in a meeting held in Williamsburg on the 14th of September, 1781, that General Cornwallis was indeed trapped in Yorktown, the French-American allied siege was scheduled to commence on September 17th, 1781.

French General Rochambeau

In large measure, thanks to the victory of the French fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake (aka Battle of the Capes) on September 5th, 1781 – during which the Hermione performed valiantly in a supporting role but not at the actual battle – the Americans and their French allies have the British under Cornwallis with their backs to the Chesapeake with no opportunity of escape.

British Admiral Hood

Imagine if British Admiral Hood had stayed at the Chesapeake on the 25th of August (when his fleet first passed by the opening to the bay), instead of sailing north to New York, he might have been able to inflict serious damage on Admiral de Grasse’s fleet.

Instead, Admiral de Grasse arrived on the 28th of August, ‘with a fleet of 24 ships carrying 1,700 guns and 3,000 soldiers. The land forces were put ashore several days later and joined with the army of the Marquis de Lafayette.’

The rest, as they say, is history!

From the log of the Hermione, Friday, September 28, 1781:

“At noon, I noted two ships. . . . 

A contempary painting of Hermione.

A contempary painting of Hermione.

At 1 o’clock, a cool breeze came from SE.  I navigated toward the West.  At 2 o’clock, I recognized two ships in view as two frigates.  When I approached them within one and a half leagues, I gave signals and they responded.  I displayed my number.  Soon thereafter, they posted theirs.  I knew by this method that these frigates were the Concorde and the Surveillante. At 6 o’clock, I joined them.  I put my dinghy into the sea and I came on board the Concorde.  I learned that the squadron of Mr. Barras had joined the army of the Comte de Grasse on the 7th of this month; the latter had arrived on August 29th; the English frigates, the Iris and the 32-gun Richmond, had been captured as well as several other ships (totaling 10); Lord Cornwallis had taken refuge in Yorktown that we were about to attack; and the Navy was in the bay of the York River.  I entered the bay with these frigates.  At 9 o’clock, they left the coast in order to perform surveillance.  My location was 9 and a half fathoms; the seabed consisting of mud.  I anchored the ship and waited for daylight.  I logged in at the point NW of Cape Henry to SSE at a distance of 2/3rds of a league.”

Translation of this excerpt from the official Hermione Log, courtesy of Lightbeam Studio.

Glen Hoptman, Founder of Lightbeam Studio, who is not only one of our group’s Strategic Partners but whose group now working on “The Tides of Revolution: The Hermione Game.” (Click on link, and scroll down for a brief preview of this educational and interactive game.)

For American history buffs, followers of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, please keep current by visiting www.hermione2015.com

Hermione On Its Way to the Atlantic!

Hermione Departs Rochefort for Sea Trials

Out to the Atlantic! On September 7, 2014, the Hermione, pictured above, was accompanied by an enthusiastic flotilla of sail and motorboats as she made her way to the Atlantic for sea trials.

This past Sunday, 7 September 2014, amid flags, bunting, thousands of interested followers, on land and sea, the Hermione sailed away downstream on the Charente for the open ocean and a series of long-awaited sea trials

For in-depth coverage in both US and French media, please click on our link below, Hermione In The News, for a boatful of dockside and on-the-water reports, and plenty of great photographs at: 

http://www.hermione2015.com/hermione-in-the-press/

Happy Birthday Lafayette!

Celebrate Lafayette's Fête Anniversaire -

September 6, 1757 

Un Grand Gateau: Lafayette Cuts His Birthday Cake in a spirited celebration at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania.

Photo: Courtesy of Lafayette College

Editor’s Note: In commemoration of General Lafayette’s birth on this day in 1757, we reprint an article that appears on the Lafayette Society, which is based in Fayetteville, North Carolina, one of many wonderful towns across the US that is named after the “Hero of Two Worlds.”  As you will read, Fayetteville has the distinct honor of being the first town in the United States to be named after Lafayette! 

The Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America wishes to thank the Lafayette Society for permission to run in full the following account of Lafayette’s visit to Fayetteville in 1825. For more information, please see: www.lafayettesociety.org

 Lafayette in Fayetteville

By Roy Parker Jr.

As the New Year came in 1825, everybody was getting excited about a birthday party celebrating the “Spirit of 1775” and marking the 50th anniversary of the American War of Independence.

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775. John Trumbull, 1786.

Old political division had largely been put aside in what was known as "the era of Good Feeling." In the previous year, Congress and President James Monroe, who had been a young officer in the Continental Army, heartily endorsed the plan to invite the aging heroes of the revolution to the party.

President James Monroe

And so it was that the Marquis de Lafayette came again to the shores he had first seen in 1777 as a 19-year-old aristocrat of France, determined to fight for the American cause.

 For more than a year, Lafayette traveled throughout the United States, first in New England, and then turning south. In the first days of March 1825, the Lafayette entourage entered North Carolina, traveling first to the little Roanoke River town of Halifax, where the state's Provincial Congress had declared for independence, then to the state capital in Raleigh.

 And then to the destination that was already dear to the heart of the visitor, the village of Fayetteville, the first place in the new United States to bear his name.

The entourage of "the General" (he rode in a coach) was accompanied from Raleigh by a mounted troop of Wake County militia. It was nearing five o'clock when he was welcomed to Fayetteville by the town's three volunteer military companies, the Fayetteville Light infantry, the "Corps of Artillery," and the Fayetteville Light Horse.

A contemporary account describes the scene:

Lafayette Memorial, Fayetteville, North Carolina

 "The weather was excessively bad; the rain fell in torrents, yet the road for several miles before we reached the place was crowded with men and boys on horseback, and militia on foot; the streets of the town were filled with a throng of ladies, in full dress, hastening across the little streams of water, to approach the General's carriage, and so much occupied with the pleasure of seeing him that they appeared almost insensible of the deluge which threatened almost to swallow them up.

 "This enthusiasm may be more readily imagined, when it is recollected that it was expressed by the inhabitants of a town founded, about forty years ago, to perpetuate the remembrance of the services rendered by him whom they honored on that day.

 "Although he stayed in Fayetteville for only about 24 hours, Lafayette was honored by several banquets and receptions, reviewed countless militia and state troops, and had time to inspect the brand new Lafayette Hotel, hurried to completion in time for his visit.

"As he prepared to depart for South Carolina, Lafayette offered a toast to the town:

Commemorative sign in Fayetteville, North Carolina, noting Lafayette's visit on March 4-5, 1825.

"Fayetteville. -- May it receive all the encouragement's and attain all the prosperity which are anticipated by the fond and grateful wishes of its affectionate and respectful namesake."



 In his short stay, Lafayette indeed made the most of his hours. In addition to the Lafayette Hotel, where he stayed for two hours at a ball attended by "2 or 300," he went also to the building of the Masonic Lodge. 


The original Lafayette Hotel in which Lafayette stayed during his visit to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

He listened to welcoming speeches from the Town House, the predecessor of today's Market House, which he was said to have recognized from a drawing made by a French artist and which hung in his home in France.

A 19th century photograph of the Market House, Fayetteville, North Carolina.

A 19th century photograph of the Market House, Fayetteville, North Carolina.

He seems to have spoken with or received the courtesies of scores of townspeople. Especially memorable was his reunion with an old comrade from the War of Independence, Isham Blake, who had been a 25-year-old musician in Lafayette's headquarters when the 24-year-old general commanded Patriot force in Virginia. The two were together when the British surrendered at Yorktown in 1781.

A later description of their meeting was appropriately vivid: "They embraced and tears dimmed their eyes. When they grew calm, they had much to say to each other and fought anew the battles of Brandy and Yorktown."

 A unique meeting was with a young free black woman, Julie Memerell, who was described as "the only person in town who could converse with him in French." She would later that year become the wife of saddle maker Matthew Leary, the town's leading free black artisan, whose father and grandfather had been soldiers in the War of Independence. They would become the parents of Lewis Sheridan Leary, who would be killed in 1859 as a member of abolitionist John Brown's failed raiding party at Harper's Ferry, in what is considered the opening shot of the American Civil War.

Lafayette described a more lighthearted meeting at the ball in his honor, when he "delighted in the presence" of a captivating young visitor from Bertie County, "the Beautiful Miss Capehart of Avoca."

Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America wishes to credit and thank the Lafayette Society for permission to reprint this essay.

For American history buffs, followers of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, please keep current by visiting www.hermione2015.com

The Perils of Peace - Celebrating the 231st Anniversay of the Treaty of Versailles

"The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Independence After Yorktown"


An Interview with Thomas Fleming, American Historian

"On 3 September 1783, Great Britain formally acknowledged the independence of the United States with a definitive treaty signed in Paris. On the same date, Britain signed a peace settlement with France – the main formal ally to the Americans – and Spain at the Château de Versailles. George Montagu, 4th Duke of Manchester signed for Britain and Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes signed for France." This unfinished portrait of American signatories - Britain's representatives declined to pose - by contemporary artist Benjamin West, depicts, left to right, John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin. Photo and caption: Courtesy of http://xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/1783_Treaties.htm

"On 3 September 1783, Great Britain formally acknowledged the independence of the United States with a definitive treaty signed in Paris. On the same date, Britain signed a peace settlement with France – the main formal ally to the Americans – and Spain at the Château de Versailles. George Montagu, 4th Duke of Manchester signed for Britain and Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes signed for France."

This unfinished portrait of American signatories - Britain's representatives declined to pose - by contemporary artist Benjamin West, depicts, left to right, John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin.

Photo and caption: Courtesy of http://xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/1783_Treaties.htm

Thomas Fleming, a distinguished American historian, is author of more than 40 books and novels. In 2007, Smithsonian Books/Harper Collins published his "The-Perils-Peace: America's Struggle for Independence After Yorktown."

Editor’s Note: On September 3, 2014,  America celebrates a largely forgotten, but an epochal anniversary: The 231st anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, in which Great Britain formally acknowledged the independence of the United States.

In the two-year period between Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in October 1781 and achieving our independence in September 1783, there were many military, political and diplomatic setbacks in our fight for independence. Contrary to popular sentiments at the time in the wake of the British surrender, the war’s successful conclusion was by no means inevitable. Lack of funds to finance Washington's army, bitter political infighting in our nascent Congress, and the clash of personalities among patriots all combined time and again to almost derail America’s quest for liberty.

Thomas Fleming is an award-winning historian, who frequently appears on PBS-TV in documentaries concerning American history.

Thomas Fleming, a distinguish American historian and best-selling novelist, author of “The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown”, Smithsonian/Harper Collins, 2007, below depicts the hard-fought battles, the unrelenting political intrigues and delicate diplomatic talks that ultimately won our independence from King George III.

Question: Would you describe the set of challenges that the Revolution –and General Washington especially – faced after the great American-French victory at Yorktown? 

Answer: Washington feared that Yorktown would convince many Americans that the war was over. This was anything but the case. The British still had 25,000 well-trained troops in America. The combined American and French regular armies barely totaled 10,000 men. In Philadelphia, the Continental Congress was torn by pro and anti French factions. In London, King George III grimly resolved to continue the fight. In Paris, King Louis XVI and his ministers faced imminent bankruptcy and were talking about a compromise peace that would leave the British in possession of Georgia, South Carolina, and the lower counties of New York, including New York City.

Q: Would you tell us about Washington’s relationship to young Lafayette?

Washington and Lafayette enjoyed a lifelong friendship, a close father-and-son type of relationship.

 A: The forty-nine year old Washington had no children. The nineteen-year-old Marquis’s father had been killed in battle when he was two years old. Washington was charmed by the passion and courage with which the young French nobleman embraced the American cause. When Lafayette was wounded at the battle of Brandywine in 1777, Washington told an army doctor to “take care of him as if he were my own son.” Lafayette was soon calling Washington “my adopted father.” It was an intimacy that transcended politics.

Q: In Washington’s army “family,” there were several aides who also won his affection. Could you tell us about some of them?

A contemporary print of the surrender of Cornwallis. In truth, Cornwallis was not present at the surrender, claiming illness, and sent his second in command, General Charles O'Hara.

A: Perhaps the least known was Tench Tilghman, a thirty-five year old Philadelphia merchant with family roots in Maryland. He served without pay (like Washington) for six long years. Washington gave him the honor of carrying the dispatch informing Congress of the Yorktown victory to Philadelphia. Another important man was 26-year-old Alexander Hamilton, who played many roles, from ghostwriter to political advisor.

At Yorktown he led the climactic assault on a key British redoubt, forcing Cornwallis to surrender. In the 1790s he won fame as President Washington’s brilliant Secretary of the Treasury. Another man Washington liked was Connecticut born David Humphreys. He was given the honor of carrying the flags of the captured British regiments to Philadelphia. Later he accompanied the General to Annapolis where he resigned his commission in 1783. None of these men achieved the father-son intimacy Lafayette won with his “adopted father” but all of them, especially Hamilton, made large contributions in the struggle for independence.

 Q:  Could you sketch Lafayette’s role in the run-up to peace negotiations with the British?

King of France, Louis XVI.

A: Lafayette was a crucial voice at the start of the post-Yorktown years. As he prepared to return to France, Washington wrote him a very serious letter, urging him to tell Louis XVI that the war was far from won and both nations would have to maintain a strong fleet as well as an army in America if they hoped to win. Wearing the uniform of an American major general, Lafayette’s arrival in Paris in 1781 caused a sensation. He joined Ambassador Benjamin Franklin in persuading the French to give the Americans an additional loan of 12,000,000 livres (about four million dollars) to keep the Revolution from collapsing. During the next months, Lafayette was consulted by both sides in the peace negotiations with the British, when their delegation came to Paris.

 Q: Why is Lafayette not better known – and more appreciated—in the United States?

 A: Lafayette was once extremely well known. When he returned in 1824 to help celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of Independence, he drew immense crowds in every city he visited. But in France, his fame has been damaged by the turbulent politics of the 1789 French Revolution. Lafayette and his allies lost control of that upheaval and it turned into a bloodbath (known as the Terror), forcing him to flee the country. Some radical Frenchman still view him with dislike. This may have affected his status among some Americans. But anyone who studies the Revolution soon comes to appreciate him.

 Q: How much credit does Lafayette merit for America’s independence?

 A: A great deal.  He – and his wife Adrienne’s influential family – were crucial voices in persuading France to sign a treaty of alliance with the American Revolutionists in 1778. The Marquis’s heroics on the battlefield won him great popularity – which helped change public opinion in France and thus influenced King Louis XVI and his cautious ministers. 

Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, after a portrait by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun.

In 1781, the Marquis was received by the King and Queen Marie Antoinette at their Versailles  – a crucial statement of royal support for the struggling Americans. It is not too much to say without Lafayette, there would have been no French alliance and no American independence.

 Q: In both America and France, Lafayette campaigned all his life for liberty and democratic principles – universal suffrage, an end to slavery, even to some extent for women’s rights. Was he a bit –or a lot -- ahead of his times?

 A: He was only a bit ahead on universal suffrage. He was one of many voices pushing this idea. But he was a far ahead in calling for an end to slavery. Washington was shocked at first when Lafayette told him he would never have drawn his sword for America if he knew he was founding “a republic of slavery.” Lafayette’s stand changed Washington’s mind. When he became president, he began urging Americans to do something about slavery -- and, don’t forget, he freed all his slaves in his will. 

In my book, A Disease in the Public Mind, I call Washington our “forgotten emancipator.”  Lafayette deserves the credit for this transformation. As for women’s rights, I’m inclined to think the intense love he felt for his wife Adrienne was a step in this direction, at least in France. It was not fashionable to love one’s wife in aristocratic French circles.

MARC JENSEN - HERMIONE'S "MARITIME AMBASSADOR"

A Talk with Marc Jensen – Hermione ’s "Maritime Ambassador"

Marc Jensen, Director of Maritime Operations, Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, aboard the Hermione in May 2014 in Rochefort, France.

Photo: Courtesy of Marc Jensen

Hermione in its berth in Rochefort, France.

Editor’s Note: A sailor in New England waters all his life, Marc Jensen first saw L'Hermione frigate in 2001 and was hooked. With family roots in Poitou-Charentes region on France’s Atlantic coast, Marc took full advantage of his ancestor’s home, only minutes from Rochefort where the ship is berthed, to follow the Hermione frigate’s historically accurate reconstruction every summer. In early 2011, Marc became a US delegate for the project.  Since then, Marc has served as Director of Maritime Operations for the Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, to help realize the ship's visit to the US in 2015.

Marc has a lifelong love of being on the water.

Photo: Courtesy of Marc Jensen

A bilingual alumnus of the Lycée Français de New York, Marc is pleased to bring French and American culture to light through this endeavor and underscore the deep historical ties that connect the two nations. 

An engineer and educator by training, this project both fascinates and excites Marc by its potential to teach, enlighten, and inspire. Marc says, “Hermione’s voyage is not simply a culmination of a dream, but a beginning of new educational bridge between France and the United States.”

Here below is a conversation with Hermione’s “Maritime Ambassador” Marc Jensen, who, earlier this summer, passed tough physical requirements in order to join Hermione’s crew when it sails in May 2015 for the US.

Question:  How did your love for sailing begin?

ANTIBES: One of the Jensen family''s first sailboats.

Photo: Courtesy of Marc Jensen

Answer:  Sailing was a part of my life before I was even aware of it. My father and his brother began boating by building a sailing canoe in their Hollis, Queens basement over a winter and sailing it in the ocean south of Long Beach--a real challenge that captured them. They lived aboard boats as young men after the war to make the most of the GI Bill funding. My family was never far from the coast, marinas and the chance to get back aboard. The summer of my 9th year my father invited me to sail a 35' Crocker Ketch named Pole Star, built in 1933, from New Haven to the Cold Spring Harbor on the north shore of Long Island; it was an evening sail, and half way across Long Island Sound I began to see fireworks along every coastline. It was July 4th seen in a completely different, marvelous way; now I was hooked by the adventure. Sailboats were always an important part of my life from that point on.

On the Antibes: Marc sailing with his father. Photo: Courtesy of Marc Jensen

On the Antibes: Marc sailing with his father.

Photo: Courtesy of Marc Jensen

My brother and I went on to purchase our first sailboat when I was a young teen--a 13' Blue Jay, which we refurbished, sailed for several years and then sold at a profit to buy the next larger boat. That was the pattern until, when I turned 18, my brother and I convinced my father to invest in a 43' Gulfstar, (a yacht named Antibes, because my father's dream was to sail her to France-unfulfilled) that we ran as a charter all through our college years. This is when I learned to live aboard and fine-tune my skills by teaching others. Antibes remained in our family for decades and served as the ship that I taught my own two children, Madeleine (now 25) and Benjamin (21), how to sail.

Q:  Have you ever sailed across the ocean, in what kind of vessel, how long, and highlights?

A:  At 19 I was asked to be part of a delivery crew to bring a Swan 47' yacht to New York from Bermuda. It was to be my only ocean crossing experience to date, though I've sailed the coastal ocean many times since. I have so many memories of those five days on the Atlantic, but two stand out.

In 1762, only five years after Lafayette was born, Benjamin Franklin named the steady northward current along America's eastern seaboard, extending from Florida to the northern Atlantic, the Gulf Stream, which he called "a mighty river."

In the above 18th century map, the Gulf Stream is depicted in dark gray.

On the third day out, we started crossing the Gulfstream and for 24 hours we were tossed around quite a bit. At night, when it was harder to see the waves, we did our best to keep a true course but quickly learned that the sea pattern included an occasional wave that would come up from behind us, slap the stern and then shower us with warm stream water. After the shock of the first hit, we learned to pull the hoods of our foul weather gear over our heads when we heard/felt the slap and let the water shower over us because the phosphorescence that ensued – lighting up all our faces – was a joyous, wonderful break from the work of sailing in such conditions.

The second surprise for me was when we arrived at the docks in Stamford, CT. Maria Mann, the captain for the delivery and quite the teaser, asked me to be the first to step off the boat and grab the lines. As she anticipated, I stepped off and my knees buckled almost immediately when I stood on something that was no longer moving. I can still hear her laugh and say, “See, it's easier being at sea!”

Walter Cronkite, CBS newsman, at the wheel of his beloved Windje yacht.

Side note: Maria is one of the people that came into my life through sailing that enriched in deeply. A few years after the Bermuda trip, I ran into her again in Edgartown, where she was now the Captain aboard Walter Cronkite's Windje. I was invited to dine aboard this beautiful ship and had the pleasure of meeting the man that had formed my understanding of world events and his family. On the sea were are all equals, with respect for what each other has achieved ashore, but an understanding that it takes more than that to be a complete person.

Q:  When did you become aware of L'Hermione?

A:  It was 2001. I was on vacation in France when my cousin, Jean-Pierre Tallieu, who lives 15 minutes from Rochefort took me to see her. I had followed the construction of a 35' sailboat by my Long Island neighbor, Mr. Wethey, when I was a child--I would sit for hours watching him and helping when he asked. When I saw L'Hermione, all those fond memories came back. The sounds, smells, shapes were all there, only on a scale that defied description! I returned every year since to watch her grow into the marvel she is today.

Q:  When did you become involved with the project, and what is your role?

Jensen's family has roots in the Rochefort area on France's Atlantic coast in Poitou-Charentes region, while through his daughter's friendships, he was introduced to members of Hermione's French Association.

Jensen's family has roots in the Rochefort area on France's Atlantic coast in Poitou-Charentes region, while through his daughter's friendships, he was introduced to members of Hermione's French Association.

A:  In the summer 2010, my daughter did an internship in a laboratory in Toulouse. She discovered that one of the lab's head researchers had family in Marennes, which is right next to La Tremblade, where her cousins were, and is only a short drive from Rochefort. A friendship between the families ensued. In March of 2011, I met Pierre Gras, who lives in Marennes, through my daughter. Pierre is retired and has been working with the Hermione Association in France since the beginning. He quickly felt my enthusiasm and understood my desire to contribute in a meaningful way. Thanks to him I became known to Isabelle Georget (Hermione Association, Rochefort, France) and through her, I was introduced to Remi Forgeas (Treasurer of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America) in the US.

My role evolved as the planned Hermione trip to the US in 2015 became progressively a stronger reality. The turning point, for me, was in the fall of 2012 when I toured the east coast with Jean-Francois Fountain, his wife Claire and the ship's commander, Yann Cariou. We were the technical team to scout out sites for the Hermione to visit. I made the initial contact with the maritime people in each potential port who were very helpful. Many of them suggested we stop in to speak with Tall Ships America in Newport, which we did. They have become a strategic partner that has helped us navigate the often-subtle negotiations with the ports.

Q:  What was your experience like to qualify for Hermione’s 2015 transatlantic voyage in Rochefort, France earlier this year? Was it tough to climb to the ship’s highest mast?

Climbing Hermione's heights is not for the faint-hearted, but Jensen passed with flying colors, earning a spot on the historic voyage from Rochefort to America in 2015!

Climbing Hermione's heights is not for the faint-hearted, but Jensen passed with flying colors, earning a spot on the historic voyage from Rochefort to America in 2015!

A:  I have always worked to maintain a certain level of physical fitness, mostly to keep up with my kids as they grew up to be able to do outdoor adventures together and now to remain active as long as possible. When the word came through that the French Association was going to be willing to take volunteers between the ages of 18 and 60 for the crossing I immediately submitted my letter of intent and CV. They were received, reviewed and accepted quite quickly as I bring to the adventure, not only my sailing skills but years of experience maintaining and repair boats, often with Rube Goldberg-type approaches to help get out of sticky situations.

The only challenge that was put before me was the need to climb the rigging and do so with convincing ease. I will admit that I trained for this. I was not sure that my grip or arm strength would be sufficient. I changed my weight lifting routine to include more upper body and I went rock climbing in a center in Brooklyn. It turns out that rock wall climbing is the way the team in France stays fit while in port of Rochefort, too.

Hermione's Commander Yann Cariou.

For my “ascension,” as Hermione’s Commander Yann Cariou liked to tease me about it, I arrived early on a weekday morning and was fitted to a harness and signed my waiver. I was frankly excited to get to this...I was confident and also resigned to the idea that it was best to find out now if I did not have what it would take to do this rather than later. I was escorted aloft, by Jens Langert, who is the lead rigger aboard L'Hermione. He has decades of experience and made me feel immediately "at-home" as we climbed. He was also clever; we got about half way up to the point on the first set of ratlins where one turns to climb upside down to the outside edge of the maintop (platform) when he stopped, we had only climbed for 30 seconds and I wondered why we'd stop here. I quickly realized that he was judging my comfort level with the experience while allowing me to get use to handling the harness and the dual set of clips that kept me tethered at all times to a safety line, as well.

He instructed to let my legs do the work – much as in rock climbing! – and to let my arm relax as much as possible. Less than a minute later we were off for the first critical point--the run upside down to the maintop. The training paid off: I had no difficulty hanging from lines and navigating the turn around the edge of the maintop.

Once there we maneuvered around the rigging. Jens showed me how to furl a sail and answered all my questions. I must have been up there for over 90 minutes. A strange thing occurred after about 30 minutes...I realized that to move comfortably around the rigging it was important to only move one appendage at a time--one hand or one foot to the next point of contact but not both. This way one always has 3 points of contact with the ship to feel her move and be anticipate any need to latch on quickly.

I could have stayed up there a long time if I had had a job to do and I was happy to be connected to the ship in such a way.

Sailing is a great deal about feel: the wind in the sails, the water against the rudder and hull, and the weather against your skin. When we used to charter Antibes, my brother and I would take turns playing a trick on the families aboard – especially if there were kids aboard. While sailing and heeling over, when no one was looking, one of us would grab the shrouds of the mizzen and "walk" up the mizzen mast to the spreaders (about 20 feet high) and stand up there. Soon, someone would ask, “Hey, did anyone see Marc?”, and my brother would answer that I was likely hiding and could they find me. It was a great way for everyone to get to know every inch of the ship. I had forgotten what that felt like until I was in L'Hermione's rigging – the pulse of a ship is accentuated aloft, the forces she deals with and exerts are amplified. It's like putting your hand on the heart of a runner after the race; it's an intensely intimate moment.

Q:  What do I anticipate learning from the crossing in 2015?

A:  Everything! I am a learner by nature. I love speaking with people about what they do, why, how, etc. I am certainly a novice in so many areas when it comes to square rigger sailing and I can't wait to start classes!

I also anticipate learning a great deal about myself. Crossing the ocean has been a dream of mine for many decades. Will I like it as much as I expect to? Will I have what it takes to live the rhythm aboard? Will I bring something meaningful to the story? In any event, I know I will see, hear, smell, taste, and feel things that can only be had out there, for that I am very grateful!

Q:  What will my biggest challenge be while aboard?

A:  “The young do not know enough to be prudent and therefore they attempt the impossible -- and achieve it, generation after generation.”

-- Pearl S. Buck,

My biggest challenge will be maintaining this older model of a human body in operating condition. I will need to be mindful from the first moment about addressing the slow wearing of one's physicality from simply being "in the elements" 24/7. Sun, wind, and water all are beautiful and deleterious if not respected. I will let some prudence give way to the youthful exuberance that brought me to this project and to dream of sailing L'Hermione across the Atlantic. 

 

American Revolution history buffs, admirers of Washington, Jefferson and Lafayette, nautical enthusiasts and followers interested in L'Hermione's 2015 voyage from Rochefort, France to the Eastern seaboard are invited to follow this blog for all the latest news and plans in 2014 and 2015.

For more information about Hermione's voyage, including all the upcoming maritime-related activities planned in the U.S in 2015, please see: www.hermione2015.com

Lafayette - Hero of Two Worlds, Three Revolutions

              Lafayette – Hero of Two Worlds, Three Revolutions -

                                        A Bastille Day Talk

With the Arc de Triomphe in the background, a French honor guard on horseback leads a Bastille Day parade down the Champs Elysées boulevard in Paris.

With the Arc de Triomphe in the background, a French honor guard on horseback leads a Bastille Day parade down the Champs Elysées boulevard in Paris.

Interview with

Diane Windham Shaw

Curator and Director of Special Collections,

Skillman Library, Lafayette College
 

Skillman Library, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, which is world-renowned for its collection of priceless Lafayette-related documents, letters and objects covering his triumphant tour of the United States in 1824-1825.

Photo: Courtesy of Lafayette College

A contemporary print depicting the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789; the 'second' of three revolutions in which Lafayette played a critical role.

A contemporary print depicting the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789; the 'second' of three revolutions in which Lafayette played a critical role.

Ever since July 14, 1790, on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris, France and the French celebrate this momentous event. It’s a day of parades of all kinds – the one down the Champs Elysées boulevard in Paris is especially memorable – but also a time for its citizens, and all peoples, to contemplate the concepts of liberté, fraternité et égalité.

While amateur historians, francophiles and American Revolutionary history buffs know of Lafayette’s critical role in America’s fight for independence, fewer still know that Lafayette played a central role in not one, but two more French revolutions!

French King Charles X reigned from 1825 to 1830 before being deposed as a result of his ultra-consertive political views.

French King Charles X reigned from 1825 to 1830 before being deposed as a result of his ultra-consertive political views.

Lafayette was not only a central figure in the ‘first’ French uprising that began on July 14, 1789, but also another in 1830. In this second French revolution, and Lafayette’s third revolution, the “hero of Two Worlds” battled mightily for a constitutional monarchy; in the process, he abandoned his lifelong friendship the then-reigning monarch, Charles X, the youngest brother of Louis XVI, who had assumed the throne in 1825, on the death of Louis XVIII the year before. (Born in the same year, 1757, Lafayette and the Comte d’Artois, as Charles X was known before his short reign, were playmates at Versailles.)

By 1830, the conservative, reactionary Charles had lost the support of the French National Assembly. Known as the “July Revolution,” Lafayette was a key figure in a quick, relatively bloodless movement to dethrone Charles X. The upshot? The French nation – with Lafayette front and center in this high-stakes political drama – asked Louis Philippe -- known before this as Duc d'Orleans, who was a cousin of the royal Bourbon family, and a leader of the moderate Orleanist party -- to be France’s first constitutional monarch in a new government patterned after the British monarchy, that is with a strong, independent, and popularly elected national assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among other republican principles.

French King Louis Philippe (1773-1850), in a daguerreotype photograph taken in 1842.  Forced to abdicate in 1848 in yet another French political upheaval, Louis Philipe's reign is remembered as the "July Monarchy."  Unfortunately, like his three Bourbon cousins -- Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X -- he too became increasingly conservative during his reign, only to be succeeded by Napoleon's cousin, who, after a coup, declared himself Napoleon III, Emperor of France in 1852.

Given his lifelong commitment to bringing about constitutional government, Lafayette, “Hero of Two Worlds,” can be said to have been crucially involved in “Three Revolutions.”

UP IN SMOKE - During and after his triumphant return to America in 1824-1825, Lafayette's image graced everything from almanacs, playing cards, crockery, and opera fans, to,  above,  a fanciful image of a young Lafayette gracing a cigar box.

Photo: Lafayette College Art Collection

Few scholars know more about Lafayette’s entire career and steadfast commitment to liberty, democracy and anti-slavery than Diane Shaw, Curator and Director of Special Collections at Skillman Library at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania.  At Lafayette College, a Strategic Partner of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America and named after our Hero of Two Worlds, Diane Shaw began building on the College’s remarkable collection of Lafayette documents and other historic objects on her arrival more than three decades ago.

The Friends of Hermione-Lafayette recently asked Ms. Shaw to talk about the Lafayette Collection at the Skillman Library, an edited version of her replies is posted today in honor of Bastille Day and Lafayette.

Question:  How did Lafayette College come to be called in honor of the Marquis and how did it amass such an amazing trove of Lafayette letters and other treasures?       

Diane Shaw: Lafayette College has the honor of being the only American College to be named for Lafayette and it has everything to do with the timing.  Like the rest of America in the fall of 1824, the citizens of the small, but thriving town of Easton, Pennsylvania were abuzz with the news of Lafayette’s arrival in America.  Some 200 of these citizens went to Philadelphia in September to greet “The Nation’s Guest.” That December, several of the town leaders met to plan for the establishment of a college and the choice of name was a given.  It would be named Lafayette “in memory and out of respect for the signal services rendered … in the great cause of freedom.” 

The Lafayette Collections at the College, which include manuscripts, rare books, objects, prints, paintings, and sculpture, have been building since 1926, when our New York Alumni Chapter bought the first group of materials.  Additional materials were acquired through the efforts of the American Friends of Lafayette, which was established on our campus in 1932. Other materials have been added by gift and purchase and the College is still actively collecting. 

Q:  You came as a Librarian to Lafayette College almost 30 years ago, how has your estimation of Lafayette evolved over this period as you have come to know so much about his life?

DS: My first real education on Lafayette was the result of our involvement as a major lender to the marvelous exhibition, “Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds,” organized by the Queen’s Museum in New York in honor of the Bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989.  A gift from an alumnus enabled us to give the collection full archival processing in 1989-90, which added to our knowledge about the man and our holdings.  But it was not until 2000, when I began to work on an exhibit for the College on Lafayette’s role in the anti-slavery movement, that I really began to understand what a significant role he had played in this and other human rights movements and how his views, which were formed at a very early age, remained consistent throughout his life.

Q.  Would you care to describe highlights of the mutual esteem, respect and friendship between Lafayette and Washington?

FATHER & 'SON" - Lafayette in a detail of a 19th century painting depicting a meeting with our nation's founding father, George Washington, on the porch of his beloved Mount Vernon. Photo: Lithograph from the painting by T.P. Rossiter and L.R. Mignot. Lafayette College Art Collection

FATHER & 'SON" - Lafayette in a detail of a 19th century painting depicting a meeting with our nation's founding father, George Washington, on the porch of his beloved Mount Vernon.

Photo: Lithograph from the painting by T.P. Rossiter and L.R. Mignot. Lafayette College Art Collection

DS: When he arrived in Philadelphia in July of 1777, Lafayette was introduced to George Washington and the two quickly became close.  It was a father-son relationship.  Lafayette had lost his father in battle at age two and Washington had no children of his own.  Lafayette brought out a warm and affectionate side of the ordinarily taciturn Washington.  Lafayette simply adored Washington, naming his only son George Washington Lafayette.  This great friendship, which lasted until Washington’s death in 1799, is documented in the College’s Skillman Library by 149 original letters written by Lafayette to Washington—an absolute treasure trove of material—eight and ten page letters mostly from the period of the American Revolution and including the 1790 letter that transmitted the Key to the Bastille to Washington.

Q:  Would you please give us an insight into Lafayette's Anti-Slavery sentiments and actions through his entire life?

Lafayette composed the text of this testimonial in 1784 in gratitude for the services rendered by James Armistead.  In 1824, the Richmond artist, John Blennerhasset Martin, created this broadside, featuring a facsimile of Lafayette's text and a likeness of James Armistead made from an earlier painting by the artist. Here is the text of the letter below: This is to certify that the bearer by the name of James has done essential services to me while I had the honor to command in this state.  His intelligences from the enemy’s camp were industriously collected and faithfully delivered. He perfectly acquitted himself with some important commissions I gave him and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of.  Done under my hand, Richmond, November 21st, 1784. Lafayette Photo, Caption and Transcription:  Lafayette Memorabilia Collection, Skillman Library

Lafayette composed the text of this testimonial in 1784 in gratitude for the services rendered by James Armistead.  In 1824, the Richmond artist, John Blennerhasset Martin, created this broadside, featuring a facsimile of Lafayette's text and a likeness of James Armistead made from an earlier painting by the artist. Here is the text of the letter below:

This is to certify that the bearer by the name of James has done essential services to me while I had the honor to command in this state.  His intelligences from the enemy’s camp were industriously collected and faithfully delivered. He perfectly acquitted himself with some important commissions I gave him and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of.  Done under my hand, Richmond, November 21st, 1784. Lafayette

Photo, Caption and Transcription:  Lafayette Memorabilia Collection, Skillman Library

DS: The first inkling of Lafayette’s interest in the welfare of slaves can be found in Lafayette College’s collection in a 1783 letter Lafayette wrote to Washington, requesting Washington’s partnership in purchasing a plantation where they could try an experiment in the gradual emancipation of slaves.  Lafayette’s request includes this remarkable closing sentence: “If it be a wild scheme, I had rather be mad that way than to be thought wise on the other tact.”  When Washington was unwilling to join him, Lafayette bought a plantation in Cayenne (present day French Guiana) to try the experiment on his own.  Thus Lafayette’s role in the anti-slavery movement played out on three continents.  In addition to South America, he lobbied for the rights of slaves and free blacks in the colonies in the National Assembly in France, and in America he joined anti-slavery societies and used the Farewell Tour of 1824-25 to express his support for American blacks.

An engraving from the Lafayette College, Stillman Library Lafayette collection depicting both African Americans and whites greeting Lafayette on his arrival in America. Photo: Photo: Courtesy of Lafayette College, Stillman Library

An engraving from the Lafayette College, Stillman Library Lafayette collection depicting both African Americans and whites greeting Lafayette on his arrival in America.

Photo: Photo: Courtesy of Lafayette College, Stillman Library

Q.  Lafayette was a lifelong advocate for human and civil rights, would you comment on this aspect of his philosophy and actions in this regard?

DS: In the years just preceding the French Revolution, Lafayette worked hard for the restoration of civil rights to French Protestants and he was largely responsible for their gains of limited rights in the late 1780s, including the legitimacy of Protestant marriages and births, legal rights of burial, and the right to own property and worship privately.  Lafayette also lent his support to French Jews during this period as well, supporting their rights for citizenship with voting privileges.  Later in life he added his support to the movement to abolish the death penalty.  And although he did not work directly for the rights of women, one historian has even called him a proto-feminist, for the serious interest he took in the ideas of a number of women writers and reformers of his day.

 Q.  Likewise, Lafayette was also a supporter for Native Americans, with whom he came in contact a number of key moments in his travels in America, both during and after the Revolution.

Lafayette embracing an American Indian.

Photo:  Lafayette Prints Collection, Skillman Library

DS:  Lafayette’s interest in the American Indian dated back to the American Revolution, when he was instrumental in establishing an alliance with the Six Nations in 1778 and was given the honorary name Kayewla by the Iroquois. During his American visit of 1784, he helped negotiate a peace with the Six Nations over access to the lands of western New York and he arranged to take a young Onondaga boy back with him to France to receive a European education.  Native Americans were eager to greet Lafayette during the Farewell Tour of 1824-25, and Lafayette made a point to meet with them, even leaving a ball in Illinois to spend time with the daughter of a chief he had known during the Revolution.  In Alabama in 1825, Lafayette’s entourage entered the state on Creek lands, and the Creek Indians pulled Lafayette’s carriage by hand up the riverbank, where two delegations—one white and one Indian—were waiting to welcome him to the state.  The tension over who had official hosting rights was diffused by Lafayette, who went first with the Creeks to watch a ball game they had planned in his honor.

Q:  One exceptional strength in your Library's collection is Lafayette's Farewell Tour, would you please sketch some highlights from that time during 1824-1825 during which time he visited all 24 states in our young nation?

A Lafayette playing card, one of countless decorative works produced during Lafayette's grand tour of  America in 1824-1825. Photo: Lafayette Memorabilia Collection, Skillman Library

A Lafayette playing card, one of countless decorative works produced during Lafayette's grand tour of  America in 1824-1825.

Photo: Lafayette Memorabilia Collection, Skillman Library

DS: Lafayette’s Farewell Tour was an event unlike any other in American history.  From the moment he landed in August 1824, amid a welcoming flotilla at Castle Garden in the New York harbor, until his departure in September 1825 with a barrel of American soil to be used to cover his grave, Lafayette was embraced by the young republic as a venerated symbol of the American Revolution. Everywhere he went during the 14-month tour he was hailed as a hero and regaled with parades, ceremonies, balls, and dinners in his honor. 

Thousands of Americans turned out to see him in every city.  They followed his travels in their newspapers and after he left, they gave his name to a host of towns, counties, boulevards, and parks.  Another legacy of the tour was the explosion of creative and decorative works—paintings, sculpture, engravings, souvenir ceramics and glassware, commemorative ribbons and medals, books, orations, poems, and pageants.  The Lafayette Library has a wonderful collection of these souvenirs, including two of my favorites—a deck of cards with Lafayette as the Ace of Spades and a clothes brush with the bristles dyed to spell “Lafayette, 1825.”

Q:  Tell us briefly about some 'contemporary' treasures in your collection related to Lafayette, the Hermes scarf, the vase and perhaps one other item?

The famous, limited-edition Hermes Lafayette silk scarf released in 2007, in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Lafayette's birth. A quick look at the map of the United States illustrates more of the famous battles of the Revolution, including Yorktown, where the Hermione "Freedom Frigate" was part of the fleet of the French Navy in 1781. Photo: Lafayette Memorabilia Collection, Skillman Library

The famous, limited-edition Hermes Lafayette silk scarf released in 2007, in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Lafayette's birth. A quick look at the map of the United States illustrates more of the famous battles of the Revolution, including Yorktown, where the Hermione "Freedom Frigate" was part of the fleet of the French Navy in 1781.

Photo: Lafayette Memorabilia Collection, Skillman Library

DS: One of the exciting ways we celebrated the 250th anniversary of Lafayette’s birth in 2007 was to work with Hermès on a commemorative scarf.  The Lafayette College limited edition of the scarf, which was offered for sale by the Friends of Skillman Library, sold out almost immediately.  Another contemporary piece from the 2007 anniversary that Skillman Library acquired was a spectacular French ceramic piece made by the Longwy firm.  This large, ball-shaped vase, designed by Jean Luc Curabet , features Lafayette on one side and a Native American on the other.  We are always interested in acquiring Lafayette-related items, old or new.  Documenting the many ways that Lafayette is portrayed is part of our mission.  Lately, we’ve beefed up our collection of children’s books related to Lafayette and our newest purchase, which hasn’t even arrived yet, is a Lafayette baby shoe from the Farewell Tour.  There is never a dull moment ………

### 

ABOUT DIANE SHAW:

Diane Shaw is the Director of Special Collections and College Archivist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.  She has overseen the activities of the Special Collections since 1985 and the College Archives since 1987. 

She holds a Master of Librarianship degree, as well as her B.A. from Emory University, where she also spent the first part of her career as an archivist. Before coming to Lafayette Shaw spent a year at Lehigh University.

Lafayette was the age of a college sophomore when he first came to America.  Here Lafayette College's great statue of the young Lafayette by Daniel Chester French is a focal point on campus in front of the College Chapel.  Lafayette College

Lafayette was the age of a college sophomore when he first came to America.  Here Lafayette College's great statue of the young Lafayette by Daniel Chester French is a focal point on campus in front of the College Chapel.  Lafayette College

As curator of the Lafayette College’s extensive collections on the Marquis de Lafayette, she was asked to collaborate with Mount Vernon on an exhibition commemorating the friendship between Lafayette and George Washington.  The exhibition, with many items drawn from Lafayette College’s collection, was on view at Mount Vernon, Lafayette College, and the New-York Historical Society between 2006 and 2008.  Shaw authored the lead essay on this filial friendship in the published catalog, A Son and His Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington (Mount Vernon, 2006)

In 2001, she mounted an exhibition, entitled “Lafayette and Slavery” at Lafayette College’s Skillman Library.  She has written about Lafayette, slavery, and human rights for the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Lafayette Alumni Magazine.  In 2009, she made presentations on Lafayette and his anti-slavery activities at Boston’s Lafayette Day commemoration and at Trenton’s celebration of its 225th anniversary as the Nation’s capital.  In 2013, she served as editor for a collection of essays published by the American Friends of Lafayette, which included her essay “‘I have been so long the friend of emancipation’: Lafayette as Abolitionist.”

In 2012, she was named a Chevalier in the Ordre des arts et des lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication for her work with the Lafayette collections.

###

American Revolution history buffs, admirers of Washington, Jefferson and Lafayette, nautical enthusiasts and followers interested in L'Hermione's 2015 voyage from Rochefort, France to the Eastern seaboard are invited to follow this blog for all the latest news and plans in 2014 and 2015.

###

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CHEF WALTER STAIB VISITS HERMIONE IN ROCHEFORT TO FILM "A TASTE OF HISTORY" EPISODE

Chef Walter Staib Films Aboard Hermione for Upcoming Culinary Episode on “A TASTE OF HISTORY” TV SERIES 

CHEF ON DECK! Chef Walter Staib, City Tavern, Philadelphia, PA, (right) aboard the Hermione in Rochefort, France, which is located in the Charente-Maritime region of southwestern France. Chef Staib, along with photographer, Jim Davey (left), were shooting footage for an upcoming episode of "The Taste of History," series that will air on PBS-TV and other stations. Photo courtesy: Jim Davey

CHEF ON DECK! Chef Walter Staib, City Tavern, Philadelphia, PA, (right) aboard the Hermione in Rochefort, France, which is located in the Charente-Maritime region of southwestern France.

Chef Staib, along with photographer, Jim Davey (left), were shooting footage for an upcoming episode of "The Taste of History," series that will air on PBS-TV and other stations.

Photo courtesy: Jim Davey

Editor’s Note: In early June 2014, Chef Walter Staib, City Tavern, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, traveled to see the Hermione tall ships frigate in Rochefort, France. There, Chef Staib filmed a segment for “The Taste of History” series. This history-and-culinary-themed episode will be broadcast on PBS (and other networks) and celebrates the heralded return of the Hermione to Yorktown, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, among other US ports in 2015.

For this episode, Chef Staib was filmed on board and in and around Rochefort, the vessel’s homeport in Charente-Maritime region in southwestern France, famous for its seafood, by Jim Davey of Multi Media Productions, Inc., Richboro, Pennsylvania.

Supported with a generous donation by a strong supporter of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, Chef Staib’s Hermione episode, featuring recipes from the American Revolutionary era enjoyed by both Lafayette and General Washington, will air later this year.

Here below is Chef Staib’s travel account to Rochefort.

Sailing Back in Time – A flight, a Few Time Zones & Two Centuries

I am a culinary ambassador to the 18th century. One of the many men who inspire me the most is the Marquis de Lafayette. We’ll get into this life a bit more later, but for now, I’ll just say I was excited when I first learned about the project to recreate his 1780 frigate ship, L’Hermione.

With the French flag flapping crisply in the perfect early June morning,   the weather was perfect for Chef Staib's visit to the Hermione. Photo courtesy: Jim Davey

With the French flag flapping crisply in the perfect early June morning,   the weather was perfect for Chef Staib's visit to the Hermione.

Photo courtesy: Jim Davey

It was a challenge to find time and the resources to go to the source and film where it was being built in Rochefort, France for my show “A Taste of History.” The show combines cooking and history and teaches viewers little-known facts about the founding of America and the world in the 18th century. Thanks to the Miles Young, president of the Friends of Hermione – Lafayette in America and some exceptionally helpful people in Philadelphia, we made it happen. I didn’t go into this completely unprepared. I met with the curator of Independence Seaport Museum Craig Bruns, who brought a trove of ship sketches and primary resources. The Library Company of Philadelphia, which was founded by none other than Benjamin Franklin, chipped in with menus and documentation about Lafayette in America, as did archivists from Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Historian Emmanuel de Fontainieu discussing the role of Louis XIV's Corderie Royale rope-making factory, pictured in the background, which is located in Rochefort, only steps away from the Hermione's berth. Photo courtesy: France 3

Historian Emmanuel de Fontainieu discussing the role of Louis XIV's Corderie Royale rope-making factory, pictured in the background, which is located in Rochefort, only steps away from the Hermione's berth.

Photo courtesy: France 3

I flew to France and took a train to the little town Rochefort, about 20 km in-land, armed with a production crew and a sense of curiosity. Standing there, right there where the ship towered over me, in the very same dry dock that the original ship sat, that was an amazing moment for me personally and for the show! I met with historian and author Emmanuel de Fontainieu, who explained how much rope and manpower it took to raise an anchor at a capstan.

On board, I talked with experts who enlightened me on all kinds of things. Who knew it took 1200 m2 of sails to make the ship fast? Anne Renaud, sail maker, told me about the process of making 17 sails from linen woven in England to keep them light in weight. Captain Yann Cariou described his forthcoming 2015 voyage in detail, comparing it to his experiences in the French Navy and on commercial tall ships. A captain is a conductor of a great orchestra. Every little piece must be in harmony or it won’t work, but the consequence of a sour note is a casualty at sea.

There are so many things I learned on this trip to film the ship for my show, “A Taste of History.” Many things that make total sense, but that never occurred to me, came into reality. King Louis XIV fortified the military harbor that was established in 1665. He built his marina in Southwestern France for ship building not on the sea, but in-land along a winding tributary of the Charente River. That put the port in a much safer area where attacking ships could not easily reach the commissaries, docks, and merchants that made shipbuilding possible.

Another new tidbit -- this ship takes 30 km – 18 miles! – of rope to operate all its sails. That’s a lot of rope. Just to make that much rope for each ship being built each year, the French king had the "Corderie Royale" or royal rope factory built. When it opened, it was the largest building in Europe to accommodate all that hand woven rope. It’s unbelievable, but they could build one of these massive ships in just six months.

MILES AND MILES OF ROPE: At the time of its construction in 1685, the Corderie Royale - where rope was manufactured for the King's Naval vessels - was the single longest building in the world, longer than even the end-to-end width Sun King's Versailles palace.

MILES AND MILES OF ROPE: At the time of its construction in 1685, the Corderie Royale - where rope was manufactured for the King's Naval vessels - was the single longest building in the world, longer than even the end-to-end width Sun King's Versailles palace.

The restored Corderie Royale, the bistros, bakeries, and blacksmith shops, all of it is still here and this place feels like you’re walking through a town in the 18th century. It’s easy to forget it’s the 21st century and that I boarded a plane, train and taxi to get here. It was amazing to stand where Lafayette stood to board his new ship, but more importantly, where thousands of tradesmen came and went doing their daily work. That’s another thing I learned – each component, or ingredient in a recipe for a ship, must be strong for the ship to voyage the ocean. The hand-sewn sails work with the braided cordage ropes that work with the French oak planks that are held together with hand forged nails.

L’Hermione was the ship that changed the American Revolution and the history of our nation. In 1780, Lafayette contracted it and sailed with a crew of about 316 and his retinue of 14 to the American Colonies to announce France’s participation in the revolutionary war. He was bitter to the English because his father died in the French Indian war. He was a dear friend to George Washington, like a son to the general, and he pleaded with the king of France to be on the right side of history, at the side of the new nation formed on democracy.

Then as now, Rochefort is a bustling hub for seafood, and merchandise of all kinds. In this 18th century painting by Joseph Vernet, workers, buyers and sellers are bustling at one of Rochefort's docks, with tall ships in the background. Claude-Jospeh Vernet (1714-1789)

Then as now, Rochefort is a bustling hub for seafood, and merchandise of all kinds. In this 18th century painting by Joseph Vernet, workers, buyers and sellers are bustling at one of Rochefort's docks, with tall ships in the background.

Claude-Jospeh Vernet (1714-1789)

L’Hermione is not just a time capsule, but also a study in the craftsmanship of the 18th century and the life of an everyday sailor. It wasn’t easy. As a chef, I think it wasn’t much of a delicious life, either. Shops in town catered to the ships. Butchers salted meat, fishmongers salted fish, and shops dried tomatoes and fruit to sell to the captains preparing for a long voyage crossing the ocean.  That was for the officers. Sailors got hard tack, or dried, hard biscuits, that bakeries made by the pound for outgoing vessels.

The kitchen in the recreated L’Hermione is not the same as the original. It’s equipped for the modern crew of professional sailors and volunteers that will take a six-week voyage from Rochefort to America in spring 2015. I’ll be here on the dock in Philadelphia to welcome her back to the city. And just as the Continental Congress did in 1780, I’ll walk just blocks from the river to my restaurant City Tavern to celebrate with a feast in true 18th century style.

 For more information on Chef Staib, visit www.staib.com. Learn more about his show at www.atasteofhistory.org or look for it on your local PBS station and television listings. To experience an 18th century meal and make reservations at City Tavern Restaurant, visit: www.citytavern.com

American Revolution history buffs, admirers of Washington, Jefferson and Lafayette, nautical enthusiasts and followers interested in L'Hermione's 2015 voyage from Rochefort, France to the Eastern seaboard are invited to follow this blog for all the latest news and plans in 2014 and 2015.

To receive regular Hermione2015.com updates, please click here and sign up: 

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MILES YOUNG RECEIVES NAVY LEAGUE’s LEADERSHIP AWARD

Miles Young, President of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, noting the historic importance of Hermione's planned 2015 voyage to America and the enduring example of Lafayette's commitment to liberty and democracy.

Photo: Courtesy of New York Council Navy League

MILES YOUNG HONORED

with

NAVY LEAGUE’s LEADERSHIP AWARD

from New York Council

On June 23, 2014, the New York Council of the Navy League celebrated its 112th Anniversary Dinner in the Starlight Room of the Waldorf Astoria by honoring of Miles Young, President of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, and awarding him the Council's “Leadership Award.”

In acceptance of the Award, Young received a Tiffany plaque, whose citation states, “Miles Young has embraced the L'Hermione project, not just out of the love of history, but also out of a belief that it is important for the young of today to see history as a living force, which can shape the ideas of tomorrow.”

In thanking the Navy League for his award, Young commented on the significance of Hermione's role in Lafayette’s career and his commitment to our Revolutionary cause, “Nothing testifies more strongly that this is much more than the voyage of a ship, but that it is also about the spirit of democracy. Lafayette epitomized that. As an American General at the age of 19, and with the belief that anything was possible, Lafayette speaks to us down the generations. Voyage 2015 will celebrate that spirit, and its particular relevance to American and French young people today.”

About The Navy League: The national group has three missions: To enhance the morale of active duty personnel and their families; To inform Congress and the American public on the importance of strong Sea Services; To support youth through programs such as the Naval Sea Cadet Corps, NJROTC and Young Marines, that expose young people to the values of our Sea Services. For more information, please visit: nynavyleague.org