Historic Revolutionary War-replica ship sets sail for U.S.

A French ship, the 32-gun frigate "Hermione," is expected to set sail later today from Western France to the United States. The "Hermione" is a full scale replica of the 18th century warship that carried the Marquis de Lafayette back to General George Washington and the American Revolution in 1780. CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports from Rochefort, France on how this all came to be.

It's a replica of what may be one of the most important and the most forgotten ships in U.S. naval history. And in a way, it's coming home.

The original sailing frigate, Hermione, left port in France in 1780, carrying the best friend the American Revolution ever had to Boston.

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The Hermione

The Marquis de Lafayette was a French aristocrat and sympathizer with the upstart colonies, who served in George Washington's army and who secured vital French support for the then flagging revolutionary cause.

Hermione's trip 235 years ago brought Lafayette back to the colonies with news that the French were sending men and ships to help fight the British. Now the replica Hermione is making the same trip.

As recreations of history go, the new Hermione is a spectacular example. Over 200 feet long, with 16,000 square feet of sail, she's been built using the same materials and a lot of the same methods as the original. It took money from both sides of the Atlantic to fund the project, not to mention 17 years and the wood from 3,000 oak trees to build her.

Back in the age of sail, it took 250 people to handle a ship like this. The modern version gets by with just 80 -- most of them volunteers and most French. Although, there are a few Americans, including Woody Wiest.

"One of the things about a ship like this is that you get people from all around the world coming and sailing," Wiest said. "And when you put people side by side onboard a ship they're puking together, they're cleaning the toilets together, they're really bonding. It makes for a very close and open relationship between people and it lasts forever."

There'll be plenty of opportunity for bonding on the trip to the U.S., which is expected to last about four weeks. Hermione will visit port cities from Virginia to Maine beginning in June. And she'll draw a crowd.

The original Hermione is now known as Freedom's frigate. Without her and without Lafayette and the French support he secured, history could have been a lot different. This replica is a reminder that will be hard to miss.