October 19, 1781: The British surrender to American and French forces at Yorktown, ending the Revolutionary War
August 24, 2013: we got married
August 24, 1814: British forces capture Washington, DC and burn landmarks (including the White House)
There is, I sometimes like to think, a nice coincidence of noteworthy dates in my relationship with Jon and America's relationship with England. While Jon has promised not to ransack DC, the metaphor for October 19 and August 24 is too good to ignore, and Jon and I have lots of fun teasing each other* with our respective countries' shared history. A few weekends ago, the opportunity arose to experience some of that history when the good ship Hermione docked in Baltimore harbor.
Who or what is the Hermione, you ask? Let me tell you!
In 1777, the Marquis de Lafayette, then only 19 years old, came to the colonies from France to volunteer his services against the British in the Revolutionary War. He returned to France in early 1779, having served with distinction and been made a general under Washington, to convince King Louis XVI to send men to join the war to help turn the tide against the British. A year later, Lafayette sailed back to the United States aboard the Hermione with the news that a large and well-equipped French force would be coming to supplement the ragged but undaunted American troops. General Lafayette's forces and the Hermione, which was part of the blockade in the Chesapeake Bay, played a critical role in the siege of Yorktown in 1781 that led to Cornwallis' surrender and American victory.
The Hermione ran aground and was wrecked off the coast of France in 1793, but a 20-year effort yielded a perfect replica of the 18th century frigate and, in late spring, the new Hermione set sail from France towards the United States. The voyage took 34 days - it took 38 in 1780 - and the ship and its crew were greeted with great fanfare in Yorktown in early June. We caught the Hermione in Baltimore and had a blast roaming the deck and chatting with the fantastic historical re-enactors!
Jon has actually sailed on tall ships, so he approached the day with a professional eye. Here's what he has to say about the Hermione:
Obviously, I can't give the Hermione too much credit for anything, because that would be giving credit to the French and their history, and to do that chills me to my British core. That said, she's a beautiful vessel, and all the more so because of the love and painstaking attention to detail that clearly has gone into this decades-long rebuild of one of the great gallic square-riggers. Understandably, we were only shown around the top deck, but I would love to see how "authentic" life has been made below decks for the volunteers (who were hanging around forlornly in period costumes). I didn't see too much evidence of scurvy on the crew, happily, so perhaps some concessions have been made.
As a side note, at the centre-top of the photo below is the topmast - a small platform you use to get up the rigging to the top sails. There are two ways to get on it from below - you can use the lubber's hole, which allows you to just pop though a small opening in the topmast and get on the platform. If you're confident/want to look cool, you use the Jacob's Ladder - an overhanging rope ladder that juts out diagonally from the mast below. The guys going up these things have harnesses, but you only clip on once you've got to where you're stopping, so fair play to them!
*Mostly I have fun. Jon doesn't have as much fun. That might be because his country lost to my country... twice. But whatever. That's water under the bridge, right?