François Joseph Paul de Grasse

François Joseph Paul de Grasse
Nickname(s) Comte de Grasse
Born 13 September 1723 (1723-09-13)
Le Bar-sur-Loup, Provence, France
Died 11 January 1788 (1788-01-12) (aged 64)
Tilly, Île-de-France, France
Buried at Church of Saint-Roch, Paris
Allegiance Sovereign Military Order of Malta Order of Saint John
 Kingdom of France
Service/branch  French Navy
Years of service 1734–1784
Rank Lieutenant Général des Armées Navales

Lieutenant Général des Armées Navales François-Joseph Paul, marquis de Grasse Tilly, comte de Grasse (13 September 1723 – 11 January 1788) was a French admiral. 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.

De Grasse was defeated the following year by Admiral Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes, where he was captured. He was widely criticised for this. On his return to France, he demanded a court martial; he was acquitted of fault in his defeat.

Early life

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] who earned his title and supported his Provençal family. At the age of eleven, he entered the Order of Saint John as a page of the Grand Master.

In 1734, de Grasse became an ensign on the galleys of the Knights Hospitaller.[2] In 1741 at the age of 19, he entered the French Navy.

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).

American War of Independence

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.

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 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

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

Main article: Battle of the Saintes

He 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, published a Mémoire justificatif. In 1784, he was acquitted a court-martial.

Later life

He died at Tilly (Yvelines) in 1788; his tomb is in the church of Saint-Roch in Paris.[3]

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


Tomb of de Grasse in the Church of Saint-Roch, Paris

There is a monument commemorating Admiral de Grasse and the sailors who helped the United States achieve its independence from the British Crown at the Cape Henry Memorial, Joint Expeditionary Base East, Virginia Beach, Virginia. It is maintained by the Colonial National Historical Park of the National Park Service. A statue of Admiral de Grasse is in the Place de la Tour of Le Bar-sur-Loup, the village where he was born and grew up and another statue is located in the riverwalk landing located in Yorktown, Virginia.

Sometime between 1829-1839, Heman Allen a former U.S. Representative and Ambassador to Chile named the Grasse Mount estate in Burlington, Vermont after Admiral de Grasse.[4]

A. Kingsley Macomber, an American resident of France since the end of World War I, commissioned the monument of Admiral de Grasse at the Trocadero Palace in Paris in 1931.

The Grasse River, which flows through St. Lawrence County, New York, is named for him.

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, servicing the transatlantic route and later served 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, 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.

The first De Grasse (1924) as she appeared following World War II, with one streamlined funnel instead of her original two. This ocean liner was among the most famous in the world at this time.
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 the old colonial trades were being supplanted 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, lived under a short string of new Israeli and Greek owners, and, after two fires in 1977 and 1980, was scrapped in Greece.[5]

Ayn Rand claimed to have emigrated to America on the first De Grasse.[6]

Other vessel names

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

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



  1. "François-Joseph-Paul Grasse". Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  2. Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse at Find a Grave
  3. Burridge, Pauline E. (December 3, 1930). "Glimpses of Grasse Mount, Part II". Vermont Alumni Weekly, Vol. X, No. 10.
  4. William H. Miller Jr., Picture History of the French Line, Dover Publishing, 1997.

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


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