Lafayette’s Ship, Hermione

Today’s post will cover transportation from long ago.

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Transportation, Colonial Trades, Revolutionary War, Friendship, Inventors (Samuel F. B. Morse), Current Events

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Charles Willson Peale, Samuel F. B. Morse

History Paintings, Portraits, Wood Carving, Art Jobs


Close up of Hermione in the Naval battle of Louisbourg, by Auguste-Louis de Rossel de Cercy

I was really excited to visit the replica of the French frigate, Hermione, in Annapolis today. The tall ship will visit many American east coast ports this summer. It brings back fond memories of visiting reproductions of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in 1992 with my girls. Alas, I digress, so back to the subject.

For those of you who teach the American Revolution, you know that the Hermione carried Lafayette to the Colonies in the1780s. Lafayette brought along with him news of France’s aid in the form of 5,550 soldiers and five frigates. It is believed that this help resulted in America winning its independence from Great Britain.

So you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with art? Actually, art is naturally integrated into everyday life.  First, art often records history as seen in the history painting pictured below.


Naval battle of Louisbourg, by Auguste-Louis de Rossel de Cercy

Second, artists record what people look like and what they wear through portraits. Colonial portraitist, Charles Willson Peale, created a couple of paintings depicting Lafayette.


The painting, “Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown”, was commissioned by the Maryland Legislature following the Battle of Yorktown, the last battle of the Revolutionary War. The initial portrait commission was for George Washington alone. By adding Lafayette and Tilghman ( Washington’s aide, originally from Maryland, holding a paper conveying Cornwall’s surrender), this painting became not only a portrait painting, but also a history painting and earned Peale some extra bucks to boot.

“Lafayette” (Friendship Portrait commissioned by George Washington)

This was not Lafayette’s first visit to the Colonies. He had volunteered his military assistance in 1777 and was made a Major-General in the Continental Army. Lafayette and George Washington became close. So close that some say it was like a father and son relationship. As a sign of their friendship for one another, Washington and Lafayette commissioned portraits of each other. Today we exchange bracelets or necklaces. They exchanged portraits. Well, I guess it’s their version of exchanging class pictures or family photos (only a whole lot more work). What a difference from our instant, click of a button, portraits of today.


“Marquis de Lafayette” by Samuel F.B. Morse

In 1824, Samuel F. B.Morse was commissioned to paint the above portrait of Lafayette, while the Marquis was visiting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution. Morse’s name may sound familiar. That’s because he invented the telegraph and the Morse Code. Morse started out as a painter. He wanted to be a history painter.  After that plan did not pan out, he decided to devote his life to inventing.

Third, art helps decorate our lives. Let’s look at the wooden ship itself. For transportation and trade in the 1700s, wooden boats were needed. It just so happened that the northeastern colonies provided the perfect environment (woods near shore) for this industry. Tradesmen like carpenters, joiners and coopers were needed to complete a ship. Woodcarvers were also employed to embellish said boats. See examples of figureheads and stern pieces and how woodcarving evolved in America here:

Woodcarving from the Index of American Design

L'HermioneL'Hermione figurehead

The hermione’s figurehead is of a lion. See a video of how she was made here:

Check out these sites for possible ship projects for your students:

Help students draw a basic tall ship here (perhaps leaving out the pirate details):

Here is a cool background for the ship:

I like Paul Klee’s ” Night Ships” in this unit:

Another “Night Ship”lesson:

Well, I hope you have found one or more kernels of information in all this to enrich your lessons. And, if the Hermione visits a town near you, I hope you get to visit her!


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