On April 28, 1780 the French Naval Frigate Hermione docked in Boston after a fast voyage from Rochefort, France. Its mission was to safely return its single illustrious passenger, the Marquis de Lafayette, to the United States. He carried a momentous secret message: King Louis XVI would provide 6 ships, 5,500 troops, money and military goods for General George Washington’s destitute army. This assistance from France was essential to the victory at Yorktown, the end of the Revolutionary War, and the birth of the U.S.A.
As Lafayette traveled to meet General Washington, Captain Louis Rene de la Touche offered the services of Hermione to Massachusetts. He was asked to sail to Maine, at that time part of Massachusetts, on a reconnaissance mission to assess the British force occupying the strategic peninsula of Pentagoet in Penobscot Bay, in the town of Penobscot, part of which later became Castine. After this successful mission, Hermione remained in America and engaged the English Navy until the war’s end.
In 2012 a faithful reproduction of Hermione, a 32-gun Frigate, was launched in France at the historic Rochefort Naval Yards. She sailed to the USA in 2015 to commemorate La Fayette’s 1780 voyage, calling at many east coast ports from Yorktown to Boston, and at Halifax on the way home. This voyage rekindled French pride in their nation’s important contribution to the American cause.
Hermione’s visit recognized not only that Castine (“Pentagoet,” then) was the first American military mission for Hermione, but also that the town’s strategic location and character were pivotal in the destiny of North Atlantic America during the long battle for dominance between England and France for. Today Castine is a singular remnant of French history in the United States and long a center of military resistance and commercial success.