Tuesday, June 9, 2015

l'Hermione-General Washington, Lafayette, and Mount Vernon Port of Call

Today l'Hermione dropped anchor on the Potomac River within view of General Washington's famed estate, Mount Vernon. This beautifully crafted French ship speedily brought Lafayette to Boston in 1780 with news from the king of France that France was officially and openly entering the American Revolution with sorely needed aid for the Americans! (More of the fascinating story is here.)

This month l'Hermione is making a tour of the Eastern seaboard of the United States that would have made Lafayette proud. Sunday we got to see Lafayette's incredible ship docked in Yorktown. (Pictures here, 2 of which were added tonight from my daughter's camera.) In 1824 the Marquis de Lafayette, renown as the friend of America, was invited to make a grand tour of our country by President Monroe. Lafayette accepted and thoroughly enjoyed every single moment. The tour lasted through 1825.

One of the stops he made on that tour was to Mount Vernon. However that was not Lafayette's first stop at this lovely estate. During a reconnaissance mission to Virginia in the spring of 1781, Lafayette detoured to see the home of the great man under whom he served in the Continental Army...the man who was like a father to him.

Lafayette's second visit to Mount Vernon was his only visit upon the grand estate with the man who had adopted him as a son. In 1784 Lafayette happily arrived after having received an invitation from Washington.  While taking a tour of Mount Vernon today, the docents take guests upstairs to the Lafayette Room where the marquis stayed on this visit.

By 1824-1825, during Lafayette's grand tour, General Washington and his wife Lady Washington had passed away. In great somberness Lafayette paid his respects at the Old Tomb which overlooks the river. This was quite an emotional moment for Lafayette. He and his adopted father had had so many plans to visit one another across the sea, more than the few visits they had had.

 Joined by his son, George Washington Lafayette, they took the steps down to the Old Tomb which overlooked the Potomac.

Lafayette descended into the vault first. Time passed. Tears were shed. Lafayette returned to bring his son into the vault with him.  Many years before, while Lafayette was imprisoned during the French Revolution, his son had lived in safety with the Washingtons.


This afternoon after many appointments my daughter and I arrived at Mount Vernon to see the ship again. First I asked if the ship had arrived, and indeed it had! We were due for a snack, so our first stop was to Cafe Lafayette for a treat which we enjoyed outdoors in the lovely cool summery breeze!




Then we excitedly walked to the mansion behind which the Potomac wound its way to Washington DC. As we turned the corner...there was l'Hermione!
What a beautiful French ship!
Of course the flags are not accurate to 1781, however they are required by modern maritime law.
We spent a long time enjoying the view from below the mansion, as well as at the Mount Vernon pier.  L'Hermione did not dock at the pier because the water there is too shallow. 
The view of the mansion from the ship can be seen in  my slide show in this post, when we took a boat tour from the Mount Vernon pier several years ago. The tour took us up river so that we could view Washington DC, and then came back down river.  As we approached Mount Vernon, a overwhelming feeling of emotions swelled within my heart. It is a feeling common to many ships who pass by. Often ships can be heard paying naval honors in memory of General Washington as they sail by. Even Lafayette on his Grand Tour, as he left Washington on a steamboat named Mount Vernon, gazed somberly upon the tomb of his adopted father as they sailed by to meet with the USS Brandywine.  The first order of business for the newly commissioned USS Brandywine was to return Lafayette to France in 1825. Lafayette's first battle in America was the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. He was shot in the leg. Washington had his personal surgeon attend to Lafayette, telling him, "Treat him as if he were my son." These words from the stoic General Washington were uttered about 6 weeks after meeting the 19 year old from France.

We sat and viewed the beautiful French ship for a long time as a delightfully cool summer breeze wafted about us. We listened to the waves lap at the dock while we imagined the exuberant Lafayette of his youth on board the colorfully vibrant and speedy ship en route from France to America.  Reluctantly we pulled ourselves away from the serene setting. We walked past the mansion into the pleasure garden where Washington had a paterre planted after the American Revolution, it is said, in a fleur-de-lis to honor his adopted son from France. "For the first time again since I left Germany, I saw here a parterre, clipped and trimmed with infinite care into the form of a richly flourished Fleur de Lis." -From the Journal of Benjamin Latrobe


As we left the garden with utter contentment, we couldn't help but admire these lovely  flowers as well.


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