From De Grasse
Port au Paix [Saint-Domingue] June 12th 1789.
Since the Letter with which I have been honored from your Excellency,1 I have determined to ask leave of the Court to visit my estate, and to request permission of you to go & present my respects to you, and to beseech you by the friendship with which you have honored my father to have the goodness to give a proof of it to my family, who will preserve it with as much care as I shall seek to merit your esteem & friendship by my services. If you blame me, my General, yet pardon me, and grant, I beseech you, my request.
I have seen in the Saloon of M. de Rochambeau your portrait;2 I have viewed it a thousand times with a desire to possess it, and I have almost thought of asking him to permit me to take a copy of it; but I have never dared to make this request lest it should displease him, for of such a present one ought to be jealous, at least I should be highly so. grant me this favor in the name of the friendship which you had for my father—and of the confidence which your Excellency placed in him.
This mark of your Goodness, joined to the honorable testimonies with which your Excellency & the United States of America have gratified my father, will be a lasting & respectable deposit ⟨in⟩ my family.
Deign to join to your goodness permission for me to come and declare personally the sentiments of profound respect with which I have the Honor to be my General, Your Excellency’s most Hbe & most Obedt Ser.3
Le Cte auguste De Grasse
Translation, DNA:PCC, item 78; ALS, marked duplicate, DNA:PCC, item 78. The text is taken from a translation prepared for GW.
Alexandre-François-Auguste de Grasse-Rouville, comte de Grasse, marquis de Tilly (1765–1845), the only son of François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse-Tilly, entered the French army in 1781 and by 1789 was a captain in the Royal Guinne cavalry regiment stationed at Port au Paix in Saint-Domingue. In 1793, several years after the outbreak of the slave insurrection on the island, de Grasse and his family were forced to flee to the United States, arriving at Charleston in August 1793. For his account of his tribulations, see his letter to GW, 24 Aug. 1793 (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Deprived of his estates in Saint-Domingue and France and now destitute, de Grasse sought employment in the United States and apparently served for a time under Paul Hyacinte Perrault in the construction of fortifications for the United States on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. During the Quasi-War he applied unsuccessfully for an appointment in the Corps of Engineers (GW to de Grasse, 9 Sept. 1799, DLC:GW; de Grasse to Alexander Hamilton, 3 Sept. 1799, Hamilton to de Grasse, 18 Sept. 1799, DLC: Hamilton Papers). De Grasse was naturalized an American citizen at Charleston in 1799, but shortly after 1800 he returned to France and resumed his military career, serving in 1802 with Leclerc’s forces against the insurgents in Saint-Domingue.
1. De Grasse wrote GW on 11 Mar. 1788, announcing his father’s death and requesting GW’s aid in securing for him membership in the Society of the Cincinnati. GW sent a letter of condolence on 18 Aug. 1788, adding that membership in the Cincinnati must be conferred by the society. De Grasse was finally admitted in 1796 as an hereditary member in the Georgia Society of the Cincinnati.
2. The Washington portrait owned by Rochambeau, known as the Rochambeau Three Quarter Length portrait, was painted by Charles Willson Peale. For a description, see Eisen, Portraits of Washington, description begins Gustavus A. Eisen. Portraits of Washington. 3 vols. New York, 1932. description ends 2:355–56. De Grasse was evidently unsuccessful at this time in his attempt to acquire a portrait since he wrote to GW, 7 Dec. 1795, again requesting a likeness.
3. The original letter reads: “Daprés la Lettre que j’ai Eu L’honneur de recevoir de Votre Exelence, je me Suis determiné à demender un Congé à la Cour Pour venir dans mes biens Et vous demender la Permissions de Vous aller Presenter mes hommages Et vous Prier Par L’amitié, dont vous avés honoré mon Pere de vouloir bien En donner un temoignage, à ma famille qui le Conservera autent que je chercherés à meriter Par mes Soines Votre Estime, Et votre amitié, un Sentiment ce mêle à mes desires, ce Sentiment Est, la jalousie. Si vous me blamé, Mon General, Pardonné moi, Et acquiessé je vous Suplie à ma demende.
j’ai vue dans Le Salon de Mr de Rochembeau votre portrait, je l’ai regardé mille fois avec Envie Et ait Presque Pensé lui demender de vouloire m’En laiser tirer Copie. Mais je n’ai jamais osée faire cette demarche Crainte de lui deplaire, car d’un Pareille Cadot L’on doit Etre jaloux, du moins je le Serés beaucoup. accordé moi cette faveur, au nom de L’amitié, que vous aviés Pour mon Pere, Et de la conffiance que Son Exelence avoit En lui.
“cette marque de bonté, joint au temoignage honorable, dont Son Exelence Et les Etats unis de Lameriques, on bien voulu Gratiffier mon Pere Serai[t] dans ma famille, un depot Sacrée Et à jamais respecté.
“d’aigné joindre à vos bontés la Permission de vous aller faire de vive voix Part des Sentimens du Plus Profond respect avec lesqu’elles je Suis de Son Exelence Mon General Votre três humble Et três obeissent Serviteur” (DSoC).