CEO, Sodexo Group
The story of the Hermione, Freedom’s Frigate, is a fascinating history lesson. From her first voyage across the Atlantic in the 18th century, to her present day struggle for rebirth, it’s the story of the bond between two nations and the value of freedom that we often take for granted. To those of us in France who have followed her reconstruction over the past 20 years, it’s a story we want to share with the rest of the world.
The Hermione was a Concorde class frigate that played a critical role in the American Revolution. The ship was built in the port of Rochefort, France, in 1779. Designed for speed and maneuverability, the Hermione was hailed as the fastest ship in the French Navy, a veritable greyhound in the water. With 26 cannons shooting 12-pound cannonballs, she was a real force to be reckoned with in her day. But what is most significant about Hermione is her raison d’etre, her reason for being.
In 1779, a 21-year-old Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, had just returned from America where he joined in the colonists’ struggle for freedom. ‘The Boy General’ was so passionate about the nation’s fight for independence that he convinced King Louis XVI to provide military support to the revolutionaries, and work on the Hermione began.
After 11 months of sweat and toil by more than 100 blacksmiths, carpenters, drillers and convicts, Lafayette boarded the Hermione on March 20, 1780, and sailed across the Atlantic. He landed after only 38 days, and was reunited with General George Washington in Yorktown, Virginia, where he announced the arrival of French reinforcements. Just 18 months later, with the support of the French troops who helped win several decisive battles, the Americans gained their independence from England. Unfortunately, in 1793, the Hermione ran aground and was destroyed by heavy seas. But her legend lives on.
In 1997, a group of supporters called the Hermione-Lafayette Association embarked on a journey of their own: to reconstruct a historically accurate replica of the 18th century ship and make her seaworthy. Once again, the docks of Rochefort sprang to life.
Now, the next leg of her journey is underway. In April, the Hermione left the River Charente in France to follow the same route to America that Lafayette took over 250 years ago. After landing in Yorktown, the ship sailed to Mount Vernon and on to the ports of Alexandria, Virginia, and Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland. Along the way, the Hermione is welcoming visitors who are learning about her rich history.
I’m proud that Sodexo has been a strong supporter of the Hermione project, and that we will be there to welcome her as she sails into Annapolis. Just like Lafayette, our organization is passionate about the ties between France and the United States, and the spirit of liberty that unites us. Our mission to improve Quality of Life for the millions of people we serve every day around the world would, I am sure, resonate with those who first launched the historic vessel. I encourage you to follow the journey of the Hermione as she visits ports in the United States, and to join us in celebrating her proud heritage of uniting nations and people.
Michel Landel is CEO and Chairman of the Executive Committee and Member of the Board of Directors, Sodexo.