“So that freedom lives, men will always have to stand up and fight against indifference or resignation.”
La Fayette was one of them, and remains a symbol to this day. Rebuilding the Hermione – the frigate he took to go to America – is a way of paying an authentic homage to La Fayette and keep the memory of a great adventure of solidarity between people.
The fitting-out of the form of dry dock (1997)
In July 1997, the Hermione-La Fayette association embarked for a tremendous challenge : the reconstruction of the Hermione frigate – the ship which allowed La Fayette to join the American insurgents in the struggle for their independence in 1780.
Rebuilding the Hermione means reconstituting of an element of our maritime heritage. It’s the opening of a big construction site contributing to the economy and culture of a whole region.
Because we need the past to build the future
Rochefort, a new town of the 17th century, was born thanks to Colbert’s decision to develop a new Royal arsenal on the banks of the Charente in order to construct, arm, supply and repair a war fleet able to resist enemies’ assaults.
Rochefort harbor at the time of the Hermione by Vernet
Today, Rochefort invents itself another future based on a heritage which is unique in the world, composed of the old Corderie Royale, a marvel of the former Arsenal, now restored after 20 years of efforts, and by forms of dry dock, the eldest of which dates from the 17th century.
The rebuilding of an 18th century ship is integrated in the develoment of a new identity, with a view to providing France with a testimony of its naval past as well as with a symbol of Franco-American fraternity through a ship whose name is related to that of a man, La Fayette, a symbol of the support brought by the French to the insurgents in America.
The restored Corderie Royale
The frigate Hermione, a witness of a golden age of French naval construction
In 1778, in Rochefort’s arsenal, the Hermione started to be built on a construction hold near the Corderie Royale. Over 210 feet from stern to bow, with 16.000 square feet of sail spread over 3 masts, the Hermione was built according to plans by the engineer Chevillard Aîné With the Courageuse, the Concorde and the Fée, the Hermione was part of a group of 4 frigates built in Rochefort. Belonging to the category of so-called light frigates, characterized by their speed and agility, the Hermione was fitted out with 26 cannons shooting 12-pound cannonballs, hence its name “frigate of 12”. With a length of 1732 and a width of 433 the frigate took 11 months of work for one hundred carpenters, blacksmiths, drillers, caulkers and convicts for a total of more than 35,000 days of work.
Hermione painting by Rossel de Cercy
A ship forever linked to the legend of La Fayette
“From the first moment I heard the name of America, I loved it; from the instant I knew it struggled for freedom, I was consumed with the desire to shed my blood for her I will count the days I got the chance to serve it, everywhere and anytime, among the happiest days of my life.” La Fayette
Summer 1776, the break is accomplished between England and the « insurgents », the supporters of the independence of English colonies in North America.
In January 1779, back from America where he had volunteered to serve the American cause, Gilbert Motier, Marquis of La Fayette, a French gentleman of 21, tried his best to obtain the official support of France.
He managed to convince King Louis XVI and his general staff to offer military and financial assistance to the troops of General Washington.
On March 21, 1780, the young major general La Fayette boarded the Hermione. He went to fight alongside the American insurgents who were struggling for their independence.
He landed in Boston after a 38 day crossing and met General Washington to announce the impending arrival of French reinforcement.
18 months later, the American insurgents, whom La Fayette had joined, won decisive victories, first in Chesapeake Bay, then in Yorktown, with the support of French troops led by Rochambeau and de Grasse.