General Lafayette and the US Connection

Marie – Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette

General Lafayette

General Lafayette In North America

Marie – Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette is surely one of the most extraordinary figures of modern history. While still in his early 20s he played a really important role in securing American independence. His guiding philosophy of life was that nothing is impossible “Cur Non” (Why not).

In 1777 at the age of 19, against the wishes of the French government he secretly sailed to America enlisting as a volunteer and somehow managing to be commissioned as a major general. He met Washington and they developed a deep bond of friendship. Lafayette served with distinction most notably rallying the troops at the Battle of Brandywine.

In 1778 Lafayette was wounded and had to return home to France and for the next two years he lobbied the American cause and even won back royal favour eventually. In support, Louis XVI agreed to send a well-equipped military force and although this was under French command, Lafayette’s role as American general serving under Washington was recognised.

Hermione Voyage To Boston 1780

The frigate Hermione, only recently built was assigned to Lafayette and left Rochefort on March 19, 1780. The crossing was to take 30 days and in order to get Boston as quickly as possible, the captain carefully avoided military action.Arriving in Boston harbour, Lafayette sent word to Washington and the Hermione was met with a 13 gun salute. Lafayette sped on to meet with Washington and inform him of the scale of the French intervention. On 4 May 1781, the Hermione was moved to Philadelphia and the entire Continental Congress, in tribute, paid the frigate a visit to commemorate her actions up and down the coast. Lafayette meanwhile had been moved to the Virginia frontline.

Lafayette’s forces play a crucial part at Yorktown where the British were harried with gorilla tactics and in Chesapeake Bay, Hermione was an important part of the blockade ultimately leading to the British surrender. Returning home later in the year, General Lafayette bade farewell to Washington and the two would never meet again. Lafayette would always remain an ardent friend of the United States finally returning one last time in 1824 for a tour where he was given a hero’s welcome and showered with plaudits.

In 1997 a unique shipbuilding project started – to build a replica of the frigate Hermione. Completed in 2014 in the town of Rochefort where the original ship was built, the replica set sail on 7 September and 2015 will see the ship embark on a historic voyage. You can read more and see a gallery of photographs we took after the ship was completed on our Hermione project page.

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