Visit of the “Hermione”

In a previous post, mention was made by SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY in a letter to MARY WHITE MORRIS of a dinner she had attended at the Lafayettes. (The Jays dined there frequently.) Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis, had returned to France after the victory at Yorktown in 1781 and was much celebrated. Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, his wife, (pictured) had expressed a desire to visit America but she never did make that trip. Lafayette, however, returned to the United States in 1784 to visit George Washington. When he came back to Paris he became embroiled in the chaos of the French Revolution. He ordered the storming of the Bastille, sending the key of that prison as a souvenir to Washington.

Lafayette became the leader of the liberal aristocrats and favored a constitutional monarchy. For his views he, with many other aristocrats, were considered guilty of treason by the Radicals who had taken control of the Revolution. In the Reign of Terror that followed, he was seized and imprisoned in Austria. Since Adrienne came of an old aristocratic family, her mother, grandmother, and sister were guillotined. (Read a description of the execution recorded by their Catholic confessor here.) She was also arrested but her life was spared due to the intervention of prominent Americans. When Adrienne was released she, with two of her daughters, joined her husband in prison in Austria. (That sort of thing was done back then.) In 1797 Lafayette was freed and, with his family, returned to France. Sadly Adrienne died at age 47 in 1807. Lafayette made another trip to the United States in 1824. It was a triumphal tour.

We were reminded of his visit by an event that occurred this past weekend when a replica of the ship Hermione on which Lafayette sailed in 1824 arrived in New York. Passing Governor’s Island to the sound of celebratory cannon fire, the three-masted, 32-gun frigate docked at the South Street Seaport. On Sunday, accompanied by many private vessels, it sailed around the southern tip of Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River to the Intrepid. Returning to the East River it made its way to Greenport on Long Island. The Hermione resumes its journey northward along the coast this week, with stops at Newport (8-9); Boston (11-12); Castine, Maine (14-15); and Lunenberg/Halifax, Nova Scotia (18), before returning to France.

In honor of Lafayette’s visit to the New-York Historical Society in 1824, that institution currently has an exhibition which is worth seeing—“Lafayette’s Return: The ‘Boy General,’ the American Revolution and the Hermione;” it will run through August 16. See details here.

If your curiosity has been piqued you may want to read a new biography of Lafayette: The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio.

Presumed portrait of Adrienne Lafayette by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard painted in 1790.

  1. Despite Lafayette’s supposed philanderings (something that was apparently also done back then) his relationship with his wife always seemed like quite the love story to me.

    Comment by Mary Jean Adams — July 7, 2015 @ 8:36 am

  2. Re. the falsely claimed portrait above, if you have friends in the art world in D.C. area perhaps they can help finally fix this international embarrassing error….

    To give you a small idea just how bad the internet is for Adrienne Lafayette notice this painting described in a major museum in Washington,D.C. and this gullible website.
    This portrait is definitely NOT Adrienne Lafayette! Adrienne Lafayette had large BROWN eyes but the unknown sitter here with the smug look, has very different fatter facial features and clear BLUE eyes!  Adrienne didn’t wear makeup or jewelry except her wedding ring, always wore a signature handkerchief over her shoulders, and was in 2 prisons during those 1793-4 years listed as painting date and she (exactly like her husband) NEVER used her, permanently disavowed, noble title after June 19, 1790, and dearly wanted to move to US with her family, till she got very ill from those imprisonments.  When the American wives (dressed in silks) first met Adrienne in Paris they were shocked  at how “little dressed” she was.  She didn’t look that good in and out of prison and they lost everything during the Terror.    
    What ignorance!…for both that art museum and this website to fall for this string of lies!

    Comment by T. More — August 17, 2015 @ 12:40 am

  3. Thank you for the correction.

    Comment by Janet — August 18, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

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