George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Auguste de Grasse, 24 August 1793

From Auguste de Grasse

Charleston [S.C.] 24 August 1793

My General

Without doubt the french Inhabitants, who have been driven from the unhappy Island of St Domingo, & who have taken refuge on this Continent, have informed you of the great distress which they have experienced.1 As to myself, after having lost a commodious dwelling & 200 Negroes; after having discharged with Zeal & activity, the duties of my military Command, & daily exposing myself in the service of my Country, & fellow Citizens to the dangers & fatigues of a War, equally novel & cruel; I have been compell’d, with many others to fly from the dangers of Assissination; happy in obtaining a Passport by the Sacrifice of my Commission, & being immediately thereon able to embark in an american Brig for the port of Charleston, accompanied by a Wife scarce recovered from the Agonies of Child-birth, with her Mother & her father, who was formerly a member of the supreme Council at the Cape.2 On our passage we were boarded by a privateer from providence, who to compleate our misfortunes, plundered us, of almost all the remnant, of the little, we had escaped with.3

I ardently wished to have gone immediately to Philadelphia, but our departure was so precipitate, as to deprive us of the liberty of choosing. had I been able to have visited Philadelphia, it would have satisfied a Wish I have long had, to form & cultivate a more particular acquaintance with you; but am prevented at present from indulging this inclination, on account of the advanced season of the Year, & the indisposition of Mrs De Grasse and her mother.

If ought can alleviate my regret at my situation it is the humane, polite & generous reception, we have met with from the Inhabitants of this City: Our hearts are penetrated with the most lively gratitude.

I flatter myself, that during my stay here, you will permit me to correspond with you, and that I shall be honored with your Answer.4

Permit me to speak with you, with that degree of freedom, which is due to the misfortunes of myself and family. The miserable disaster of St Domingo has compleated our ruin. The situation of france also renders me ignorant of my affairs in that Country; not having heard lately either from my family, or the manager of my interests there. I cannot deceive myself, by supposing, the Civilities we have experienced from the Inhabitants of this City can last for ever. it would be an abuse of their goodness to expect it.

Thus circumstanced, I address myself to you, wishing it possible, to obtain from the united states, what woud be deemed a competent maintainance for myself and family. I will endeavour to secure the repayment by a mortgage of all my property, either in france or St Domingo, if alas! I possess any in the latter. It is absolutely necessary for me to be explicit: I offer my all, as a security; but without having a knowledge, what that all is, in my distressed situation.

Feeling as I do; I cannot but doubt the propriety of the step, I am this moment taking. should there appear the least impropiety in this application for relief, I pray you, let it rest, where it, should be, in your Bosom only.

The esteem you had for my father, added to my distressd situation, I trust, will sufficiently apologize for my requesting your salutary advice.5

I reside with the family of Mr Holmes, whose reception, merits on our part, the warmest acknowledgment.6 I have the honor to be, with profound respect Yr Excellencys My General, Obd. Hbe Servt

Auguste De Grasse

LS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1Alexandre-François-Auguste de Grasse-Rouville, comte de Grasse, marquis de Tilly, was one of the many French refugees who arrived in the United States in 1793. On these refugees and the civil war in the French colony of Saint Domingue which precipitated this mass exodus, see Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum to GW, 26 July, and note 9, and GW to Jefferson, 4 Aug. 1793, and note 4, and Thomas Millet to GW, 20 Aug. 1793, and note 8.

2De Grasse arrived at Charleston on 14 Aug. 1793 after seventeen days at sea in the American brig Thomas, commanded by Capt. Peyrinaut and “belonging to Edenton, North Carolina” (City Gazette & The Daily Advertiser [Charleston], 15 Aug. 1793). With him was his wife, Anne-Sophie de la Hogue, and their infant daughter, Caroline Adelaide Silvie, who was born on 7 July 1793 on Saint Domingue (Simmons, Charleston, S.C., A Haven description begins Agatha Aimar Simmons. Charleston, S.C., A Haven for the Children of Admiral de Grasse. Charleston, 1940. description ends [Charleston, 1940], 7). His mother-in-law was Marie-Angélique Toutin de la Couroyer. His father-in-law, Jean-Baptiste-Marie de la Hogue, who had been on the Supreme Council of a Masonic lodge at Cap Français, continued his Masonic activities in Charleston, where he was a founder of La Candeur Lodge No. 12 in 1796 (Mackey, History of Freemasonry in South Carolina description begins Albert G. Mackey. The History of Freemasonry in South Carolina: From Its Origin in the Year 1736 to the Present Time. 1861. Reprint. Charleston, S.C., 1936. description ends , 551).

3On 30 July, the British sloop Susannah, commanded by Capt. Francis Tucker of the Bahamian island of New Providence, intercepted the Thomas and robbed its passengers of “upwards of 60,000 crowns in cash and plate, with 35 prime slaves” (City Gazette & The Daily Advertiser, 15 Aug. 1793).

4No answer from GW to this letter has been found. De Grasse, however, wrote GW again on 28 Dec. 1793.

5François-Joseph-Paul, comte de Grasse, marquis de Tilly (1722–1788) was the commander of the French fleet at the siege of Yorktown in 1781. On GW’s esteem, see Admiral de Grasse to GW, 15 Mar. 1784, and notes 1, 3.

6The de Grasse family lived with attorney John Bee Holmes (1760–1827) at 15 Meeting Street in Charleston (Simmons, Charleston, S.C., A Haven description begins Agatha Aimar Simmons. Charleston, S.C., A Haven for the Children of Admiral de Grasse. Charleston, 1940. description ends , 3). Holmes served several terms in the South Carolina General Assembly, 1791–97, 1799–1801, and was mayor of Charleston in 1794. De Grasse and his family settled into Charleston society, and in 1794 he received an appointment in the U.S. Army, where he served as an engineer in the construction of coastal fortifications in South Carolina and Georgia. He became a member of the Georgia Society of the Cincinnati in 1796. In 1800 de Grasse placed an advertisement in the local newspaper announcing his school on Federal Street for “DESIGNING, as well as Plans of Fortifications, as Architecture and Landscapes. … He proposes to teach, by the most simple theory, the Principles of ARTILLERY, and FORTIFICATIONS of the Field and Strong places, after modes followed by the best authors.” He also intended to take students for instruction in the “ART of FENCING” (City Gazette & The Daily Advertiser, 9 June 1800). By 1802 he had returned to France, where he remained until his death.

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