- "A promise is a promise - even when made to a lunatique."
- ―De Grasse to Connor, 1781.[src]
François-Joseph Paul, Marquis de Grasse Tilly, Comte de Grasse (1722 – 1788) was an admiral in the French Navy who was best known for his command of the French fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake, which directly led to the British surrender at Yorktown.
Early life and career
Born as the youngest child of a French nobleman, de Grasse joined the military at the age of eleven when he became a page in the religious military Order of Malta. Having fully joined the French Navy in 1740, he had become a captain by 1775, helping the French secure Saint-Domingue.
Battle of the Chesapeake
- De Grasse: "Lafayette promised me a fleet beyond compare, and a captain without peer! Instead I find myself greeted by one old ship and a boy in costume!"
- Connor: "I promise we are all you need, Admiral."
- De Grasse: "I doubt this very much. But beggars do not choose, hmm?"
- —De Grasse meeting Connor at Chesapeake Bay, 1781.[src]
In 1781, de Grasse was promoted to Admiral, and despite failing health was ordered to sail to America to aid George Washington and the American revolutionaries. Washington gave de Grasse a choice between attacking the British stronghold of New York City or Virginia, where a large amount of British troops were stationed. De Grasse chose Virginia, reasoning that the waters were easier to navigate in, and that he didn't have the required equipment for a siege of New York.
Being stationed in the West Indies, de Grasse attempted to head for Virginia in secrecy, causing the Royal Navy to send ships to Chesapeake Bay in an attempt to cut him off. While the British took the fast route, de Grasse and his fleet took a slower route, avoiding larger shipping lanes and staying out of sight. When the British fleet arrived at Chesapeake Bay, they found it empty, and sailed for New York to rendezvous with the rest of the Navy. This left the Bay empty when de Grasse arrived in August 1781. Less than a week later, the British fleet returned, heavily outnumbered by de Grasse's fleet occupying the Bay.
Around this time, the Assassin Connor had sought de Grasse's help through the Marquis de Lafayette, in order to shell Fort George and create a distraction so that he could slip inside undetected and kill Charles Lee. Meeting with the Assassin briefly before battle, de Grasse instructed him to hold Chesapeake and keep British ships away from Yorktown, while the admiral engaged the main fleet and led them south, away from Yorktown's harbor.
The fleets only fought for two hours, before night fell, and it was the only time they fired upon each other. With the British away from the harbor, French reinforcements arrived from Rhode Island, and occupied the Bay again. After the battle, Connor met with the admiral again, and the latter agreed to the Assassin's plan, though he admitted it made no sense to him.
Ten days later, de Grasse's fleet was anchored in New York's harbor, flying British flags scavenged from the wrecks in the Chesapeake. After Connor lit a signal fire, the fleet opened fire, breaching Fort George's walls and creating the diversion Connor desired. De Grasse's victory at Chesapeake was so important that Washington wrote to him the day after Charles Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, saying that the honor of the victory there belonged to the admiral.
De Grasse died in 1788, briefly before the beginning of the French Revolution. Despite his actions during the Revolutionary War, the French revolutionaries considered him nobility, and his estate was ransacked. His family fled to the United States afterwards, being welcomed as the children of a hero.
- In The Tyranny of King Washington, the outfit which Benjamin Franklin wore was identical to de Grasse's.