Bay Area Fundraiser for Repairing the Hermione, La Fayette’s Frigate of Freedom 

Bay Area Fundraiser for Repairing the Hermione, La Fayette’s Frigate of Freedom 

The replica of ship that first brought La Fayette to the United States, The Hermione, is currently in dry dock in France for vital repairs and the San Francisco Bay Area is coming to its aid by raising funds.

There are several famous sailing ships in American history. Perhaps the starting trio is the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria which were the fleet of ships that Columbus used to discover the Americas in 1492. Then there was the Mayflower that sailed from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts carrying Pilgrims who established the first permanent New England colony in 1620. 

A relatively unknown but important historical ship was the Hermione. It was the French Royal Navy’s frigate that became famous when it transported General La Fayette to the United States in 1780 to deliver the news to George Washington that France would support the rebels in the American Revolutionary War with a squadron of ships and soldiers. The Hermione became known as “La Fayette’s Frigate of Freedom.”

A replica of the Hermione at Chateau La Fayette in Chavaniac, Haute-Loire © Martha Sessums

The Hermione is also renowned for playing a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War. While waiting for the French fleet to arrive in Newport, Rhode Island, the ship patrolled the eastern coast where it encountered several British warships and its crew fought valiantly. For two years, the Hermione continued as part of the French fleet battling the British to escort convoys and ferrying artillery and supplies, including gunpowder for the Siege of Yorktown. She returned to France in 1782 at the end of the war. Unfortunately, a year later the Hermione ran aground off Le Croisic, France and sank.

But the history of Hermione was far from over. In 1997, members of the Centre International de la Mer started constructing a replica of the original Hermione in Rochefort, France, along with the support of various French/American organizations such as the French Heritage Society. Born again 235 years after the original Hermione, the replica sailed to the United States in April 2015 and was welcomed in US waters including Yorktown, Mount Vernon, Boston and New York.

Unfortunately, in 2021 a fungus attacked the wooden hull making the ship fragile. A major project was launched to save the Hermione which is now in dry dock near Bayonne, France.  

The Hermione in dry dock in Anglet © Association Hermione – La Fayette

This is where the San Francisco Bay Area is coming to the rescue. The total cost of repair for the Hermione is 10 million euros, of which 5 million euros have already been raised. Several groups in the Bay Area French community have joined forces to sponsor a fundraiser on May 19, 2024 to help complete the restoration project. The event will take place at Emerson Montessori School in Palo Alto from 9am to noon. It will feature a live, virtual conference with several of Hermione’s restoration experts from the dock in Bayonne. It will include a history of the ship and its famous passenger La Fayette plus details of the military actions during the Revolutionary War. It will also include a tour of the ship, details of the repair project and some boat model demonstrations. 

“When the Hermione Association and the French American Cultural Society issued a distress call to preserve this unparalleled vessel, we responded promptly,” said Upi Struzak, President of Alliance Française Silicon Valley (AFSCV) which is a partner in the fundraising event. “This vessel holds significant symbolic value, commemorating a pivotal moment in history between the Kingdom of France and the birth of the United States.”

The fundraiser is officially sponsored by several groups in the Bay Area French community. These include French Heritage Society Northern California Chapter, the French American Cultural Society, the Consulate General of France in San Francisco and the Alliance Française Silicon Valley. Other Bay Area Alliance Française that support the fundraiser are Alliance Française de San Francisco, Alliance Française de Berkeley along with the Alliance Française in Santa Rosa (which is planning a fundraiser) and the Monterey Peninsula. Worldwide supporters include the Association Hermione-La Fayette and Friends of the Foundation de France USA. Other sponsors are Petit Pot, Hotel Enchante, Frenchery and the South Bay Model Shipwrights Club. 

“The objective of the repair work is to have Hermione sailing again in early 2025 to conduct sea trials and train a new crew,” according to Thomas Célérier, Co-Chair of the French Heritage Society Northern California Chapter and on the Board of Directors of AFSCV. “It will then sail to the US again in 2026 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the nation that the ship, France and La Fayette helped create.”

The Hermione in action © Association Hermione – La Fayette

The Hermione repair project is using some of the most competent contractors in France, including the same company that is currently repairing the roof of Notre-Dame in Paris, according to Célérier. A total of 40 square meters of solid wood pieces need to be replaced. Stern repairs are nearly completed but the bow work is ongoing. Current technology is to use stratified pieces of wood rather than solid wood as that is easier to shape and more resistant to fungus.

“It’s crucial for the public to take ownership of their heritage; it is a collective responsibility,” said Struzak. “Each of us plays a role in safeguarding and cherishing our shared cultural legacy . . .  (which) provides an opportunity to explore pages of history that are often overlooked and shrouded in silence.” 

The restoration site is open to the public © Damien Roussel

Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who joined the Continental Army led by George Washington. He served with distinction and in the middle of the war sailed back to France to lobby for French support, which was granted. Upon his return to America in the Hermione, he was given senior positions in the Continental army and played an important role in the Siege of Yorktown, a decisive battle in the war.  Upon returning to France, La Fayette became a key figure in the French Revolution, inspired by the American Revolution. He is celebrated as a hero in both France and the United States.

If France Today readers are interested in supporting the repair work of the Hermione and cannot attend a fundraiser, tax deductible donations can be done through the Friends of the Foundation de France USA here.

Lead photo credit : The US Navy welcomes the Hermione

Share to:  Facebook  Twitter   LinkedIn   Email

More in French history, Hermione, Lafayette, tall ships

Previous Article What to Do in France in May
Next Article On the Trail of the Olympic Torch in France

Related Articles

Martha Sessums is the France Today Ambassador for San Francisco. Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Fern Nesson
    2024-05-08 05:21:33
    Fern Nesson
    For more on Lafayette's important contribution to the American Revolution (and our country's gratitude,) see my article in Fance today: