George Washington Papers

To George Washington from de Grasse, 15 March 1784

From de Grasse

L’Orient [France] the 15th March 1784

My Dear General

I can not at this time answer the friendship with which you honor me unless it is by a proof of my confidence in you and I give it with pleasure.1

I have the honor to send to you the memorials which I have submitted to the consideration of the Court Martial for their better information of my conduct.

The sincere desire I have to make you judge of this affair induces me to deviate from the order I have received not to communicate those memorials in print. I request you not to shew them to any body, or if you think proper to make use of them I wish you would have them transcribed.

I hope, my dear General that when you have read them with attention, you will be sensible that I have not deserved that you should change your opinion of me; But that all my fault on the 12th day of April 1782 was being unfortunate.2

The Court martial assembled in this place for the determination of this affair will, I hope, determine soon.

I request your leave, my dear General to acquaint you with the issue whatsoever it may be.

I am waiting to hear from you with that impatience arising from the most sincere friendship; Do me the favour to let me hear from you the soonest possible.3 Depend always on the tender and respectful attachment with which I have the honor to be My Dear General Your Excellency’s Most obedient Humble Servant

The Count De Grass.
Associated in the Cincinnati

Translation, DLC:GW; LS, DLC:GW. GW received the letter and read the translation in Philadelphia in May 1784. A transcription of the signed French version is in CD-ROM:GW.

François-Joseph-Paul, comte de Grasse, marquis de Tilly (1722–1788), the commander of the French fleet at the siege at Yorktown in 1781, met defeat off the coast of Martinique in 1782 at the hands of the British admiral Samuel Hood. Forced to surrender his flagship, Ville de Paris, on 12 April 1782 in Saints Passage, de Grasse was taken to London where he was a prisoner of war until allowed to return to France in August 1782.

1De Grasse wrote to GW on 28 Jan. 1783 telling of his defeat in the waters of the Leeward Islands. GW responded on 15 May 1783 to assure de Grasse that “Altho the 12th of April 1782, was an unfortunate Day to your Excellency, yet it has not tarnished your Glory in the Minds of those who know your Character & have been justly informed [of] the Circumstances of that Days Action. ... It only proves, what many a noble Hero has heretofore experienced, that Fortune is a fickle Mistress in the Distribution of her Favors—and that, like a true Coquette, she is often best pleased with giving pain to her most deserving and meritorious Gallants.”

2In 1782 de Grasse published a mémoire justifying his actions in the battle at Saints Passage and blaming his defeat on the failure of some of the captains in his fleet to follow his orders. On 29 April 1783 the king ordered a conseil de guerre to be formed to investigate de Grasse’s charges. The council of war was not actually convened until early in 1784, and it was not until 21 May 1784 that it issued its voluminous report, for the most part exonerating de Grasse’s captains and, by inference, placing the onus on de Grasse for making unfair or false charges against them.

3GW acknowledged de Grasse’s letter from Philadelphia on 15 May: “My Dr Count, It was at this place I had the honor to receive your favor from L’Orient of the 15th of March—The confidence with which you have honored me, is a pleasing testimony of your friendship—it shall not be abused. And the promise you have given me of transmitting the determination of the Court Martial, I shall look for the fulfillment of with impatience, but under full persuasion that the enquiry will throw additional lustre on your character—‘It was not in your power to command success (on the 12th of Apl 1782) but you did more—you deserv’d it.’

“I thank you for the memorials you have had the goodness to send me—It is unhappy for me however, that I am not sufficiently Master of the French language, to read them without assistance—this, when fully obtained, will, I have no doubt enable my judgment to decide favourably as my wishes & expectations have already done; & these are such as might be expected from your warmest friend & greatest Admirer, G: Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

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