France watches for signs of Lafayette shipwreck

By Bo Petersen - Post and Courier

France will be closely watching the renourishment dredging here and the Charleston Harbor dredging about to take place. That's because somebody rooting through trash in Paris found a scrawled, historic link:

"The ... La Victoire, of and for Bordeaux," the document reads, "commanded by Jean Baptiste Le Boursier (who some time ago brought over the Marquis de LaFayette with other French noblemen and others) on the 14th unfortunately struck upon the bar, where the vessel and cargo were entirely lost, but none of the people."

The bar might well have been off Folly Beach. La Victoire was departing Charleston on June 14, 1777, after carrying Lafayette to the Colonies and a fabled place in the American Revolution.

It evidently grounded trying to clear the channel, which at the time wound south along Morris Island and the north end of Folly.

Since the documents' discovery tied Lafayette to Bordeaux, France, French journalist Jean-Michel Selva, of Sud Ouest, and others in Bordeaux have hoped to find some remnant of the ship lost more than two centuries ago.

The dredgings might be their best chance.

"It's possible the workers will find one of two cannons or the bell of the ship," he wrote in an email.

There's not much possibility. The harbor channel has been dredged several times since it was first dug, and any remnants likely are far gone.

But there is a tantalizing chance, at least, with the Folly Beach dredging.

The Lafayette story is a curious but often overlooked bit of Lowcountry lore. As a 19-year-old French junior officer, he defied orders, sneaking out of France aboard the ship to join the Revolution with some like-minded troops.

They sailed for Charleston, but feared they would be seized by British ships offshore, so they landed at North Island, today's Yawkey Preserve, in the Santee Delta.

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