François-Joseph-Paul, comte de Grasse

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About François-Joseph-Paul, comte de Grasse

A Patriot of the American Revolution for FRANCE with the rank of ADMIRAL. DAR Ancestor # A031348

  • François Joseph Paul, marquis de Grasse Tilly, comte de Grasse, né au château des Valettes de Le Bar (actuellement Le Bar-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritimes) le 13 septembre 1722 et décédé le 11 janvier 1788 au château de Tilly dans les actuelles Yvelines, est un officier de marine qui sert l'Ordre de Malte et la Marine royale française. Il assume divers commandement lors de la guerre de Succession d'Autriche et de Sept Ans avant de terminer sa carrière comme lieutenant-général lors de la guerre d'indépendance américaine.

Nommé en 1781 commandant de la principale escadre française, son action résolue dans la baie de la Chesapeake permet la victoire décisive de Yorktown. Lourdement battu et capturé en 1782 à la bataille des Saintes, il connait la disgrâce royale jusqu'à sa mort, même si ce combat est sans conséquence sur la suite de la guerre. Les historiens l'ont réhabilité et les marines américaines et françaises donnent régulièrement son nom à de grosses unités de guerre.

  • François-Joseph-Paul Grasse, Count and Marquess de Grasse-Tilly, lieutenant-general of the naval forces; b. near Toulon, 1723; d. at Paris, 11 January, 1788. His family was one of the oldest of the French nobility. His father, Françoise de Grasse-Rouville, Marquess de Grasse, was a captain in the army. At the age of eleven, François-Joseph entered the naval service of the Knights of Malta (1734), and served during the Turkish and Moorish wars. In 1739 he entered the French navy, and, after serving on several vessels, was, in 1747, captured and taken prisoner to England, where he remained two years. Returning to France, he was made a lieutenant, and served under La Galissonière during the Seven Years War, and under D'Ache in the East Indies. Promoted to captain in January, 1762, he received the brevet of Knight of St. Louis in 1764.

The treaty of alliance between France and the United States was signed 6 February, 1778. The first naval engagement after the signing of the treaty took place off Ushant, 27 July, 1778, between the French fleet under Count D'Orvilliers and the English under Admiral Keppel. Count de Grasse was in command of the "Robuste", and was severely engaged during the action, which was undecisive in its results. Promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, he sailed from Brest in 1779, in command of a squadron, to the West Indies to join the fleet under Count d'Estaing, who was subsequently succeeded in command by Count de Guichen.

Returning to France, he was promoted to lieutenant-général des armées navales (admiral), and sailed from Brest for the West Indies on 24 March, 1781, with a fleet of 23 ships of the line and a large envoy under his command. He arrived offMartinique 28 April, 1781, and next day had an engagement with the English fleet under Admiral Hood, which resulted in Hood's withdrawal. On 2 June, 1781, he captured the Island of Tobago, and then proceeded to Cape Français (now Cap Haïtien), where he found awaiting him a French frigate bearing dispatches from Washington and Rochambeau, urging his co-operation in the proposed movement, by which it was hoped to strike a decisive blow at the English forces in Virginia. De Grasse acted promptly; the frigate that brought the dispatches was sent back to Newport, Rhode Island, and by 15 August, Washington and Rochambeau knew of the intended coming of the fleet. Three thousand five hundred soldiers under command of Marquess St-Simon were taken on board and also a large sum of money, urgently needed by the Americans. On 30 August, 1781, De Grasse anchored in Lynn Haven Bay, just within the Capes of the Chesapeake, with 28 ships of the line. Three days before (27 August, 1781), the French squadron at Newport, consisting of four frigates and eighteen transports, under Count de Barras, sailed for the rendezvous, making a wide detour to avoid the Engolish fleet then at New York. Immediately on learning of De Barras's departuere, the English fleet under Admirals Graves and Hood sailed for the Chesapeake to intercept De Barras before he could join De Grasse. The English fleet arrived off the Chesapeake, 5 September, 1781. De Grasse got under way, went out to meet them, and, without bringing on a general engagement, managed his fleet so skilfully that many of theEnglish ships were very severely damaged. De Grasse kept the English fleet engaged for five days, and then returning found De Barras safely at anchor.

Graves returned to New York, and with him disappeared all hope of relieving or reinforcing the English forces at Yorktown under Lord Cornwallis. The siege of Yorktown continued, but the control of the sea made only one issue possible, and with the surrender ofLord Cornwallis on 19 October, 1781, the independence of the United States was virtually decided. On receiving the news of the surrender, Congress named 13 December, 1781, a day of thanksgiving, and on 29 October, 1781, the thanks of Congress were tendered toWashington, to Rochambeau, and to De Grasse. It was also voted to present to Rochambeau and to De Grasse two pieces of the field ordnance taken from the British at the capitulation of Yorktown, to be engraved with a short memorandum. The day after the capitulation Washington wrote to De Grasse: "The surrender of Yorktown, the honour of which belongs to your Excellency, has greatly anticipated (in time) our most sanguine expectations".

On 5 November, 1781, De Grasse sailed from the Chesapeake, arriving at Martinique on the 25th. In January, 1782, he captured the Island of St. Kitts. On 8 April, 1782, the fleet under De Grasse was attacked by Admiral Rodney off Martinique, with no advantage resulting to either. On 12 April, however, the greatest naval battle of the century (known as the Battle of the Saints, from the adjacent islands of Les Saintes) wsas fought. Both fleets engaged in desperate action, which lasted from daylight until after 6 P. M., when De Grasse's flagship, the "Villede Paris", struck her colours after a brilliant but hopeless defence; the other ships of the fleet, except those captured, scattered and fled for safety.

After the surrender, De Grasse was taken by Rodney to Jamaica, and thence a prisoner to England, where he received a great deal of flattering attention, which he accepted with such complacency as to irritate his countrymen, by whom he was accused of not having maintained the dignity and reserve becoming one who had been vanquished. While a prisoner on parole in London he published a defence of his conduct of the battle, and accused his captains of disobedience, etc., blaming them for his defeat. In 1783, after peace was proclaimed, he returned to France. A court martial was ordered (1784), which entirely exonerated every one whom he had attacked. De Grasse was not satisfied with the finding of the court, protested against it, and demanded a new trial. The minister of marine, in acknowledging the receipt of his protest, replied in the name of the king: "His Majesty, dissatisfied with your conduct in this respect, forbids you to present yourself before him". Viewed with disfavour by the king, DeGrasse went into retirement, and his public career was closed. Four years afterwards he died, 11 January, 1788.

He was married three times. His surviving children were driven into exile during the Revolution, and reached the United States. His son, Count Alexander de Grasse, Marquess de Tilly, was appointed by the United States Government engineer of Georgia and the Carolinas, and a pension of one thousand dollars a year was bestowed on his daughters. Two of the daughters died of yellow fever at Charleston, South Carolina, 1799, but the youngest, Madame de Pau, was long a resident of New York. She left two sons and five daughters; the daughters married leading merchants of New York.

Lieutenant Général des Armées Navales François-Joseph Paul, marquis de Grasse Tilly, comte de Grasse (13 September 1722 – 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 decisively defeated the following year by Admiral Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes, where he was captured. He was widely criticized 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 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.

Naval career

In 1734, de Grasse became an ensign on the galleys of the Knights Hospitaller. 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

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).

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

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.

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


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.

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 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.

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


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François-Joseph-Paul, comte de Grasse's Timeline

September 13, 1722
Le Bar-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
February 14, 1765
Age 42
Versailles, Yvelines, Île-de-France, France
Age 43
Age 44
May 28, 1773
Age 50
Age 53
Age 55