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Language barriers, time zones and far distances were no problem for York County employees who spent months working with various American and French organizations to piece together one of the biggest events in Yorktown’s history.
The Hermione, an 18th-century French frigate replica of the ship that brought the Marquis de Lafayette to America in 1780, arrived in Yorktown on Friday amidst fanfare and flourish.
Brian Fuller, York County’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism manager, is credited with spearheading the ship’s arrival on the Yorktown side.
He has been working for more than a year with the Friends of the Hermione-Lafayette in America — the organization responsible for the ship’s 12 stops along the east coast — the Colonial National Historical Park, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and more to plan events, ceremonies and exhibits that span three days on the waterfront.
From parking and security to the opening ceremony to scheduled re-enactments, exhibits and demonstrations, Fuller, along with York County’s Gail Whittaker, Vivian McGettigan and Laurie Coleman, have been essential to the event, which was projected to draw thousands over the three days.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Fuller said, adding communication has been essential between the various groups. “Everybody put egos aside, everybody put their personal interests aside and they bonded together to make this happen.”
Fuller thanked the “whole cast of community involvement” that helped put together the event, including Christopher Newport University, Sister Cities Yorktown, the Sons of the Revolution and the French embassy in Washington D.C.
One of the local groups that contributed to the weekend’s events is the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, who is providing public deck tours of the Godspeed, lectures on the history of the ship and Lafayette, artillery demonstrations and re-enactor performances. The 17th-century ship Godspeed greeted the Hermione on the York River early Friday morning with a cannon salute.
Jim Holloway, the foundation’s director of museum education services and operations, said he was proud to have been “on the ground level” for the coordination of the French ship’s arrival.
“This is a one-of-a-kind type of an event,” he said. “Any event that brings different communities together brings a very positive experience.”
Along the Yorktown Waterfront, the Watermen’s Museum worked with the county and the Friends of the Hermione-Lafayette in America to make sure Yorktown was the first port-of-call.
The Watermen’s Museum’s fundraising efforts helped offset the county’s $200,000 appearance fee and logistical costs, and the museum fed the 80-person Hermione crew Friday night.
“Everybody has worked together as a real good team,” President Steve Hornsby said. “The biggest piece of this is, it highlights the fact that the French really were the ones that gave us our freedom. Most people don’t realize that. There’s a lot of big changes that are happening in the American point of view because of the ship that’s coming in.”