Naval Journal of the Comte de Grasse

The Manuscripts Division has recently been able to acquire several important manuscripts and small collections on American history in the Revolutionary Era and Early National Period. This has been possible as a result of special funds made available to the Department of Rare Book and Special Collections for the purpose. These acquisitions are most welcome because the Manuscripts Division already has significant holdings for this time period. Faculty research interests in the Department of History have encouraged acquisitions in this area for more than a century. Most of these materials have come to the Library either as gifts of generous Princeton alumni collectors, such as Andre DeCoppet, Class of 1915, or by equally generous donors who have made acquisitions funding available to the Library. The Manuscripts Division’s extensive holdings of papers of the Livingston, Delafield, Blair-Lee, and other prominent political families help document American history through the Civil War.

The earliest of the recent acquisitions is Comte de Grasse (1723–88), Journeaux des Campagnes fait depuis 1756, 1757, 1759, 1760, 1761, 1762, 1763, 1764, 1765, 1767, 1768, 1772, 1776. [C0938, no. 723]. It is a densely written 178-page journal, which De Grasse kept in various places from February 1756 to November 1776. The journal is a detailed chronicle of his rise in the ranks of the French royal navy from lieutenant de vaisseau during the Seven Years’ War to ship’s captain by the end of this period. De Grasse was a native of southeastern France and entered naval service in 1741. He is best known as a French admiral during the Revolutionary War, when his fleet was active in American waters. His success at the 1781 Battle of Virginia Capes played a major role in the victory of General George Washington and the Continental Army at the Battle of Yorktown, and thus in securing American independence.

The journal helps document De Grasse’s earlier career. The volume begins on 26 February 1756 at Rochefort, an inland port in western France, aboard the 64-gun Infexible, built the previous year. Although not yet a captain, two tables within the journal list De Grasse (“M. de tilly”) in command of the Hardi-class ship of the line. During the campaign of 1757, he served in American waters near the islands of Martinique and Puerto Rico. On 2 July 1757, he reports on the arrival of the Berry’s regiment, en route to Quebec to reinforce General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, who would figure prominently in the 1758 defense of Fort Carillion (renamed Fort Ticonderoga). Of particular interest are De Grasse’s notes on the 1757 defense of Louisbourg. The journal ends in 1776, a year after the Revolutionary War began.

De Grasse kept his journal in a stationer’s blank book. The original binding was intact when the manuscript arrived at Princeton but needed conservation treatment in the Princeton University Library’s Preservation Office because the stiffened-paper wrapper had come apart. Book Conservator Mick LeTourneaux was able to repair the binding in such a way that the two eighteenth-century items used to stiffen the wrapper are revealed and readable. One is an uncut printed sheet of a dozen blank receipts from the French bookseller Pierre Faye, Rochefort. The other is a handwritten page of French accounting records that relate to the provisioning of an unidentified naval vessel and mention St. Vincent, most likely the West Indies island then claimed by both England and France. Although there is no bookseller’s ticket in the blank book, it is very likely that it had been purchased from Pierre Faye’s bookshop in Rochefort. The port was then home to a French naval base, arsenal, and school.

Future blog-posts will report on other acquisitions made possible by special funding. For information about other Franco-American historical manuscripts and archives, see “A Founding Father in Revolutionary Paris.” For general reference assistance, contact Public Services at rbsc@princeton.edu

De Grasse Journal

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