“She sails like a bird,” the Marquis de Lafayette wrote of the Hermione – the ship that carried him and a cache of materiel across the Atlantic in 1780 and which is the model for a modern replica which arrived in the United States on Friday.
The New-York Historical Society in Manhattan is celebrating Lafayette, the “Boy General” whose friendship with George Washington and diplomatic networks in Paris helped win the American Revolution with a new exhibit timed to the arrival of the Hermione.
Lafayette’s Return: The “Boy General,” the American Revolution, and the Hermione is on view through August 16, 2015. The Hermione set sail from France on April 18th for a the 3,819-mile journey to Yorktown, Virginia, where it arrived Friday to great fanfare; a port call over July Fourth weekend in New York City is also planned.
Lafayette first arrived in the colonies in 1777 at the age of 20, eager to join the nascent American Revolution. He went on to play a major role in George Washington’s defeat of the British army, aiding “the insurgents” by both his pen and sword. Lafayette enjoyed a hero’s return to France in 1779 and on his return attended court at Versailles, lobbying on the American revolutionaries’ behalf. Lafayette convinced King Louis XVI and his closest advisers to send an expeditionary force of 6,000 soldiers to support the American cause. In March 1780, aboard the Hermione, Lafayette returned to America with military aid.
The New-York Historical Society’s installation in its “Monumental Treasures Wall” will highlight Lafayette’s early years – the tragic death of his father in the Seven Years’ War, Lafayette’s Enlightened education, and his budding fascination with antiquity’s military heroes. The exhibition follows Lafayette through the American Revolution: examining his military service, his voyage aboard the Hermione, and his role in securing French support that helped win the war in 1781.
Objects on view reflect the deep holdings in American history of the New-York Historical Society and include treasures from La Grange—Lafayette’s chateau from 1802 to 1834—which have never been on view outside of France. Letters written in Lafayette’s hand will also be on loan from the libraries of Cornell University and Lafayette College. Highlights include:
- War correspondence by Lafayette, his wife, and six-year-old daughter;
- A cypher, alongside secretly coded letters shared with Washington;
- Lafayette’s Ceremonial Sword, a gift from the Continental Congress;
- Lafayette’s Medal of the Society of the Cincinnati, presented to him by George Washington in 1784;
- An invitation to Lafayette’s famous Parisian dinner parties addressed to Benjamin Franklin dinner in Paris sent by Lafayette to Benjamin Franklin; and
- A portrait of Lafayette donated to New-York Historical by General Ebenezer Stevens, Lafayette’s Artillery Officer during the Virginia campaign of 1780.
On Saturday, July 4 from 10 am to 6 pm, the New-York Historical Society will invite families to celebrate America’s independence and the Marquis de Lafayette with scavenger hunts, performances of Revolution on the River by the Hudson River Ramblers, and other interactive programs organized through the DiMenna Children’s History Museum. A full calendar of family programs is viewable at http://www.nyhistory.org/
The Hermione’s arrival will also be complemented by an installation on Governors Island curated by New-York Historical Society’s Student Historian Teen Leaders. New York City and the American Revolution will provide site-specific context for the Hermione’s arrival within the broader history of the American Revolution, and reference Governors Island’s historic military use by the British and Continental Forces during this time. Visitors can enjoy the free installation and drop-in family programs every Saturday and Sunday between July 4 and September 24, 2015. For more information: http://www.nyhistory.org/
About the Hermione
The Friends of Lafayette-Hermione in America, Inc. is a non-profit organization, partnering with local heritage and nautical groups, students and teachers K–12, as well as many cultural institutions, museums, and universities. The Hermione will be welcomed at each port with a program of educational, musical, culinary, and special events. For more information, visit: www.Hermione2015.com.
Photo: The Hermione arrives in the morning fog of Yorktown, Virginia on Friday.