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If it weren’t for one Frenchwoman living in Virginia, the ship replica Hermione may not have picked Yorktown as a port for its journey to the U.S.
Nicole Yancey, a longtime Peninsula resident raised in France, knew a reproduction of the 18th-century ship that brought Marquis de Lafayette to America to fight with George Washington was in the works 15 years ago, and she wanted to make sure Yorktown was not forgotten when it eventually set sail.
“Yorktown was critical in the American Revolution,” Yancey said, adding she spent hours poring over books, learning about how the ship was used not only to bring the young Frenchman to America but also as an escort convoy, a supply carrier and a battle frigate. “The more I read, the more it became obvious that the Hermione was in the Chesapeake [Bay] and that it was imperative to bring it to Yorktown.”
Yancey has served as a representative to her native country for many years. She was named an honorary consul to France in September 1987 and has served as a liaison for Virginia on the Washington Rochambeau National Historic Trail, which traces the allied forces’ march by land and sea in the summer of 1781.
She helped coordinate the Yorktown Bicentennial Celebration and was involved in the building of a French memorial at the Yorktown Battlefield. Most recently, she was named an outstanding volunteer of the year by York County.
When the Hermione’s trip to the U.S. was being coordinated, Yancey insisted Yorktown had to be part of it.
She reached out to York County and has been heavily involved in helping the county put on the three-day event – scheduled to begin June 5 – corresponding with the Friends of the Hermione, the group that is managing the ship and its route to more than a dozen ports, and other French officials involved in the ship’s arrival.
“She’s been invaluable,” said Brian Fuller, the county’s parks, recreation and tourism manager. “She’s been a very good confidante that we can rely on to help us out.”
Along with her efforts to bring the Hermione to Yorktown, she has spearheaded the installation of a wayside marker on the Yorktown Waterfront that represents the defeat of General Charles Cornwallis in 1781.
The wayside marker is part of the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, which encompasses more than 680 miles of land and water trails through the east coast. Interpretive signs and road markers along the way describe the route of 4,000 French soldiers who marched under General Rochambeau from Newport, RI to Yorktown.
On June 5, following the arrival of the Hermione, a wayside marker titled “Converging at Yorktown” will be dedicated next to the freight shed, thanks to Yancey’s efforts.
Yancey has not seen the ship fully constructed yet, and when she does see it sailing along the York River for the first time, she will be surrounded by friends and family, some of whom have made the trip from France.
“For me, it’s a bigger excitement just to discover it,” she said. “When it’s coming on the York River at 8 o’clock in the morning, it’s going to be spectacular.”
Correction 5/31/15: A previous version incorrectly listed the location of the wayside marker “Converging at Yorktown.” The wayside marker and dedication will be next to the freight shed.