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Grasse-Tilly, Francois Joseph Paul, Count de 1723-1788

Naval officer; born in Valette, France, in 1723; entered the navy when eleven years old; was conspicuous in the American Revolutionary War; and died in Paris, Jan. 11, 1788.

On Aug. 3, 1781, the French fleet, under his command, appeared on the American coast. He had sailed from France, towards the end of March, with twenty-six

Map: Virginia 1788, position of the English and French fleets previous to the action.

ships-of-the-line, followed by an immense convoy of about 250 merchantmen. That convoy he put safely into the harbor of Port Royal, having carefully avoided a close engagement with a part of Rodney's fleet, under Admiral Hood. He engaged with British vessels at long range (April 29), and so injured them that they were obliged to go to Antigua for repairs, and, meanwhile, he accomplished the conquest of Tobago in June. He then proceeded with the fleet of merchantmen to Santo Domingo, and soon afterwards sailed with an immense return convoy, bound for France. After seeing it well on its way, he steered for Chesapeake, and, despite the activity of British fleets watching for him, he was safe within the capes of Virginia, and at anchor, with twenty-four ships-of-the-line, at the beginning of September. He found an officer of Lafayette's staff at Cape Henry, sent to request him to blockade the York and James rivers, so as to cut off Cornwallis's retreat. This was done by four ships-of-the-line and several frigates; and 3,000 French troops were sent to join Lafayette.

Admiral Rodney supposed part of the French fleet had left the West Indies for America, but did not suppose the whole fleet would take that direction. He thought it only necessary to reinforce [143] Admiral Graves, so he sent Admiral Hood with fourteen ships-of-the-line for the purpose. He reached the Chesapeake (Aug. 25, 1781) before the French. Not finding Graves there, he proceeded to New York, where news had just arrived that the French squadron at Newport had gone to sea, plainly with intent to join the new French fleet. In the hope of cutting off one or the other of the French fleets before the junction could be effected, Graves sailed with the united British fleets, nineteen ships-of-the-line, and was astonished, when he arrived at the capes of Virginia, to find the French anchored within. De Grasse, also surprised at this sudden appearance of a heavy British fleet, ordered his ships to slip their cables and put to sea. For five days the contending vessels manoelig;uvred in sight of each other. De Grasse avoided a close contact, his object being to cover the arrival of the squadron from Newport. So a distant cannonade was kept up. De Barras entered the Chesapeake. Graves finding his vessels badly shattered, returned to New York to refit, leaving the French in undisturbed possession of the bay, and the French transports were then sent to Annapolis to convey to the James River the allied armies.

On April 12, 1782, a fierce naval engagement occurred in the West Indies

Count De Grasse-Tilly.

between Count de Grasse and Admiral Sir George Rodney. The count's flag-ship was the Ville de Paris, the same as when he assisted in the capture of Cornwallis at Yorktown. She was a magnificent vessel, which the city of Paris had presented to the King (Louis XV.). The count fought his antagonist with such desperation that when he was compelled to strike his colors only two men besides himself were left standing on the upper deck. By this defeat and capture there fell into the hands of the English thirty-six chests of money and the whole train of artillery intended

Count De Grasse's autograph.

for an attack on Jamaica. The French lost in the engagement, in killed and wounded, about 3,000 men; the British lost 1,100. For more than a century the French had not, in any naval engagement, been so completely beaten.

The family of De Grasse were ruined by the fury of the French Revolution, and four of his daughters (Amelia, Adelaide, Melanie, and Silvia) came to the United States in extreme poverty. Congress, in February, 1795, gave them each $1,000, in consideration “of the extraordinary services rendered the United States in the year 1781 by the late Count de Grasse, at the urgent request of the commander-in-chief of the American forces, beyond the term limited for his co-operation with the troops of the United States.”

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