comte de Grasse

François-Joseph-Paul, comte de Grasse

13 September 1722 in Provence, France
11 January 1788 in Tilly (in north-central), France




François-Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse-Tilly, was a French admiral who played a significant role in the American Revolution. Born in 1722 in the city of Bar-sur-Loup, France, de Grasse grew up in a family of minor nobility with a long history of military service.

At the age of 13, de Grasse joined the French navy and quickly rose through the ranks. He proved himself to be a skilled sailor and strategist and was eventually appointed as the captain of his own ship. During his early career, de Grasse saw action in several conflicts, including the Seven Years’ War, in which he served in the West Indies.

In 1781, de Grasse was given command of the French fleet in the West Indies. That same year, he played a critical role in the Battle of Chesapeake Capes, a naval engagement that paved the way for the decisive American victory at the Siege of Yorktown. De Grasse’s fleet successfully engaged and defeated a British fleet led by Admiral Thomas Graves, thereby ensuring that the French navy would have control of the waters around Virginia and preventing the British from resupplying their forces.

De Grasse went on to lead the French fleet in the Battle of the Saintes, a decisive victory against the British in the Caribbean. This victory effectively ended British naval superiority in the region and was a major turning point in the American Revolution.

After the war, de Grasse returned to France and was hailed as a hero. He was made a chevalier of the Order of Saint-Louis and was granted a substantial pension by the King Louis XVI. However, his career was not yet over. In 1789, he was appointed as commander-in-chief of the French navy and was given the task of modernizing and reorganizing the fleet.

Unfortunately, de Grasse’s efforts were cut short by the outbreak of the French Revolution. He was accused of being a royalist sympathizer and was imprisoned. Although he was eventually released, his health had been severely compromised by his time in prison, and he died in 1788.

De Grasse was widely admired for his bravery, his strategic acumen, and his leadership skills. He was a skilled naval tactician who was able to outmaneuver his opponents and win decisive victories. His contributions to the American Revolution were critical and he played a key role in securing victory for the fledgling United States.


There is a symmetry between the folly of Burgoyne’s march south to Saratoga and that of Cornwallis’s march north to Yorktown. Military historians debate why Burgoyne risked marching south from Fort Edward in the same way that they question why Cornwallis advanced north beyond North Carolina into Virginia. Although Cornwallis had none of the outward vanity of Burgoyne, the two men were similar in that they were both junior generals and neither of them was commander in chief of the British army in America. Both blamed their subsequent failures on rigid orders and insufficient latitude. They both expected to march through predominantly friendly territory. They both ignored the chain of command and went over the heads of their superiors to communicate independently with Lord George Germain. They both allowed their supply lines to become overextended and their forces suffered harassment by enemy militia. They presided over the two most decisive defeats of the American Revolutionary War.

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy
The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (2013)