Lafayette’s Hermione Returns to Boston

Before it heads back to France, tour this 1780 replica tall ship.

The Hermione in Rowes Wharf on July 11-12 / Photo by Shaula Clark

The Hermione in Rowes Wharf on July 11-12 / Photo by Shaula Clark

If you happened to be perched on a roofdeck in Fort Point early Saturday morning, you could see the masts of the Hermione gliding by. And if you listened really carefully, you could just make out pealing church bells heralding her arrival. As she sailed into Rowes Wharf for her July 11-12 appearance, Old North Church rang the bells, just like they did when Hermione first arrived in Boston, carrying the Marquis de Lafayette, 230 years ago—a time when the ship wouldn’t have been obscured by a frenzy of residential towers crowding the current Seaport as it was today. Rather, in 1780, its 185-foot height would have dwarfed pretty much everything in the city, being nearly as tall as Old North Church—a building said to have been chosen for Paul Revere’s famous lamplight signals precisely because it was the tallest spire in Boston.

Although Revere’s name may be more immediately familiar to Bostonians, the Marquis de Lafayette played a hugely important role in America’s war for independence, leading American troops to victory in the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, the battle that won the Revolutionary War. The Hermione, a 32-gun frigate, is the vessel that carried Lafayette from France to America, and Boston was the ship’s first port of call.

In 1997, nearly two centuries after the Hermione sunk in a shipwreck, dedicated enthusiasts decided to resurrect the famous frigate; building was completed in 2014. As part of Hermione‘s 2015 maiden voyage—a 7,500-mile trip across the Atlantic—her return to Boston is one of most highly anticipated historical events this summer.

On Saturday, throngs lined Rowe’s Wharf to get a turn touring the magnificent blue-and-gold ship, its French flag billowing in the July breeze. Reenactors in toasty-looking 18th-century garb weaved through the crowd and posed for pictures. Across the way, at the temporary Heritage Village display set up on the Greenway, curious onlookers were treated to a diverse spread of 18th-century oddments. A Lafayette reenactor held court, breaking character to talk about what it’s like to play a long-dead Frenchman; craftsmen expertly shaped oars with centuries-old woodworking techniques; and Philly history buffs Charles and Donah Beale showed off their impressive collection of 1700s medical implements, regaling rubberneckers with grim tales of horsehair sutures, laudanum painkillers, and bloodletting.

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A reenactor playing Lafayette / Photo by Shaula Clark

Sunday is Boston’s last chance to see the Hermione before it heads up to Maine, then Canada, and then back to France. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the public can tour the ship (no RSVPs are required; admission is first-come, first-served); and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., spectators are invited to check out demonstrations and entertainment at the Heritage Village.

Heritage Village Activities on Sunday, July 12

Middlesex County 4-H Fife & Drum Corps
10 a.m., 12:15 p.m.

David Hildebrand of the Colonial Music Institute
10:45 a.m., 3 p.m.

Three Sheets to the Wind (sea shanties)
1 p.m., 3:30 p.m.

Crown and Colony Baroque Dance Group
1:45-2:45 p.m.

Lafayette Reenactor Appearance
11:45 a.m., 4:15 p.m.

Shipbuilding and Other Demonstrations
12-4 p.m.

Demos include:

  • Ship caulking, demonstrated by shipbuilder Joe Chetwynd.
  • Trunneling (assembling planks using wooden nails/rods), demonstrated by staff from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum.
  • Oar assembly, demonstrated by Graham McKay of Lowell’s Boat Shop.
  • Rope-making, demonstrated by the crew of the Hermione.

For the full schedule of events, visit