François Joseph Paul de Grasse

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François Joseph Paul de Grasse
De Grasse painting.jpg
Nickname(s) Comte de Grasse
Born (1722-09-13)13 September 1722
Le Bar-sur-Loup, Provence, France
Died 11 January 1788(1788-01-11) (aged 65)
Tilly, Île-de-France, France
Buried Church of Saint-Roch, Paris
Allegiance Sovereign Military Order of Malta Order of Saint John (1734–1741)
 Kingdom of France (1741–1784)
Service/branch  French Navy
Years of service 1734–1784
Rank Lieutenant général des armées navales

War of the Austrian Succession

American War of Independence

François Joseph Paul de Grasse (September 13, 1722 – January 11, 1788) was a French admiral, also known as the Comte de Grasse. He is best known for his command of the French fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake, which led directly to the British surrender at Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War.

British Admiral Rodney defeated and captured de Grasse the next year, at the Battle of the Saintes in the Caribbean. De Grasse was widely criticised for his loss in that battle. On his return to France, he demanded a court martial; it acquitted him of fault in his defeat.

Early life[edit]

François-Joseph de Grasse was born and raised at Bar-sur-Loup in south-eastern France, the last child of Francois de Grasse Rouville, Marquis de Grasse.[1] He earned his title and supported his Provençal family.

Marriage and family[edit]

De Grasse married Antoinette Rosalie Accaron in 1764, and they had six children who survived to adulthood, among them his son Alexandre Francois Auguste de Grasse. He inherited the title and had a career in the French army. His younger brother Maxime became a Knight of Malta and died in 1773. They had four sisters: Amélie Rosalie Maxime, Adelaide, Mélanie Veronique Maxime, and Silvie de Grasse. Silvie married Francis de Pau in Charleston, South Carolina, and had a family with him in New York City.

After Antoinette died young, de Grasse married again, to Catherine Pien, widow of M. de Villeneuve. She also died before him and lastly, he married Marie Delphine Lazare de Cibon.[2]

In addition, during his times in India, de Grasse is believed to have fathered a mixed-race, French-Indian boy with an Indian woman in Calcutta. The boy, born about 1780, was known as Azar Le Guen. De Grasse brought his natural son back to Paris with him for his education and formally adopted him, naming him George de Grasse. After his father's death, the young man went to the United States by 1799, where he settled in New York City. He worked for a time for Aaron Burr, likely meeting him through a connection of his father's. Burr gave him two lots of land.[3] He married and educated his three children: son John van Salee de Grasse became a respected physician in Boston and served as a surgeon during the American Civil War.

Naval career[edit]

At the age of eleven (1734), de Grasse entered the Order of Saint John as a page of the Grand Master. He served as an ensign on the galleys in wars against the Turks and the Moors.[4][5] In 1740 at the age of 17, he entered the French Navy.[4]

Following Britain's victory over the French in the Seven Years War, de Grasse helped rebuild the French navy in the years after the Treaty of Paris (1763). He was intermittently stationed in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, from the 1760s to 1781.

American War of Independence[edit]

The flagship Ville de Paris during the Battle of the Saintes in 1782

In 1775, the American War of Independence broke out when American colonists rebelled against British rule. France supplied the colonists with covert aid, but remained officially neutral until 1778. The Treaty of Alliance (1778) established the Franco-American alliance and France entered the war on behalf of the rebels and against Great Britain.

As a commander of a division, de Grasse served under Louis Guillouet, comte d'Orvilliers at the First Battle of Ushant from July 23 to 27, 1778. The battle, fought off Britanny, was indecisive.

In 1779, he joined the fleet of Count d'Estaing in the Caribbean and distinguished himself in the battles of Dominica and Saint Lucia during 1780[clarification needed] and of Tobago during 1781. He contributed to the capture of Grenada and took part in the three actions fought by Guichen against Admiral Rodney in the Battle of Martinique (1780).

US Postage Stamp, 1931 issue, honoring Rochambeau, George Washington and De Grasse, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the victory at Siege of Yorktown, 1781.

Yorktown campaign[edit]

De Grasse came to the aid of Washington and Rochambeau's Expédition Particulière, setting sail with 3,000 men from Saint-Domingue. De Grasse landed the 3,000 French reinforcements in Virginia, and immediately afterward decisively defeated the British fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake in September 1781. He drew away the British forces and blockaded the coast until Lord Cornwallis surrendered, ensuring the independence of the United States of America.

Battle of the Saintes[edit]

De Grasse returned to the Caribbean, where he was less fortunate and was defeated at the Battle of St. Kitts by Admiral Hood. Shortly afterward, in April 1782, he was defeated and taken prisoner by Admiral Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes. He was taken to London, and while there briefly took part in the negotiations that laid the foundations for the Peace of Paris (1783), which brought the war to an end.

He returned to France and published a Mémoire justificatif. In 1784, he was acquitted by a court-martial.

Later life[edit]

He died at Tilly (Yvelines) in 1788; his tomb is in the church of Saint-Roch in Paris.[6]

His son Alexandre Francois Auguste de Grasse published a Notice biographique sur l'amiral comte de Grasse d'après les documents inédits in 1840.

Memorials and honors[edit]

Tomb of de Grasse in the Church of Saint-Roch, Paris
  • De Grasse was the name of two medium-sized French Line passenger ships, one built in 1924 in Scotland, and the other formally the 1956-built Bergensfjord of Norwegian America Lines, which was introduced in 1971. The first ship was famous world-wide, serving the transatlantic route; it later was used by the Allies as a troop ship in World War II. Refitted, she was the first French Liner to inaugurate service after the war's end. After being supplanted by newer ships in the company, the liner was sold in 1952 to Canadian Pacific Lines as an emergency replacement for their fire-damaged Empress of Canada for the busy Coronation Year season. It was sold again in 1956 to Grimaldi-Siosa Lines and then to another firm who modernized her further and renamed her Venezuela. After grounding near Cannes in 1962, she was scrapped later in the year.
Grasse Mount in Burlington, Vermont, named for Admiral de Grasse.
  • The second De Grasse served the Le Havre–Southampton–West Indies service with little success, as ships were being replaced by the airlines. West Indies cruises, plus assignments to the Baltic, Mediterranean, and North Africa, also suffered mixed profits. She was sold off in 1973. After service under a short string of new Israeli and Greek owners, and, after two fires in 1977 and 1980, was scrapped in Greece.[9]

Other vessel names[edit]

The French Navy has had two vessels named in his honour:

The United States Navy has had three vessels named in his honour:



  1. ^ "The Operations of the French Fleet Under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2: As ... - Google Books". Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  2. ^ Notice%20biographique%20sur%20l'amiral%20comte%20de%20Grasse%20d'apr%C3%A8s%20les%20documents%20in%C3%A9dits.&f=false John Gilmary Shea, The Operations of the French Fleet Under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2: As Described in Two Contemporaneous Journals, Bradford Club, 1864, pp. 22-23
  3. ^ P. Kanakamedala, "George DeGrasse a South Asian in Early African America", in India in the American Imaginary, 1780s–1880s, ed. by Anupama Arora & Rajender Kaur; Springer, 2017, pp. 228-243
  4. ^ a b Stewart (2008), p.95.
  5. ^ "François-Joseph-Paul Grasse". Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  6. ^ Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse at Find a Grave
  7. ^ Burridge, Pauline E. (December 3, 1930). "Glimpses of Grasse Mount, Part II". Vermont Alumni Weekly, Vol. X, No. 10. 
  8. ^ "Herbert Hoover: Message to Dedication Ceremonies for a Monument of Admiral Comte de Grasse at the Trocadero Palace in Paris, France". 1931-05-04. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  9. ^ William H. Miller Jr., Picture History of the French Line, Dover Publishing, 1997.


  • Lacour-Gayet, Georges, La Marine militaire de la France sous le règne de Louis XV (Paris, 1902).
  • Lewis, Charles Lee. Admiral de Grasse and American independence. Arno Press, 1980.
  • Stewart, William (2009) Admirals of the World: A Biographical Dictionary, 1500 to the Present. (McFarland). ISBN 9780786482887

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Grasse, François Joseph Paul, Comte de". Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 369. 

External links[edit]