Lot 225

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Rev War French Eyewitness Naval Battle Accounts by Comte d'Estaing's Flagship Squadron Commander: "I got not a Scratch, but I Had Many killed and Wounded by my side"

A small yet riveting French language archive comprised of three autograph letters signed by Henri-Louis de Boulainvilliers de Croy (1721-1797), a career French naval officer who fought in the Revolutionary War under Vice Admiral Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, Comte d'Estaing. Boulainvilliers de Croy participated in the Battles of Rhode Island (1778), St. Lucia (1778), and Grenada (1779), as well as the Siege of Savannah (1779) before being promoted to Chef d'Escadre, or squadron commander, in May 1780 just days before his retirement from the service. He was later elected to the Society of Cincinnati.

The archive provides us with a graphic eyewitness account of multiple Revolutionary War naval engagements, unspecified by name but having occurred in either the American or Caribbean theatres. In the letters, Boulainvilliers de Croy discusses at length his superior, Comte d'Estaing. He also refers to British Navy Admiral George Rodney, and commander of the May 1780 Expédition Particulière, Charles-Henri-Louis d'Arsac de Ternay. Boulainvilliers de Croy mentions the participants of a recent naval battle, the Action of February 24, 1780, in which several French vessels escorting a convoy encountered Rodney's forces off Madeira, just a few days after it had happened on the high seas. Between his own firsthand accounts, and the contemporary secondhand reports he delivers from Brest, a major French port city, Boulainvilliers de Croy serves as an extremely significant primary source. The archive contains tremendously interesting military content!

The letters are addressed to Boulainvilliers de Croy's cousin, Monsieur Nicolas Gueroult de Boisroger, Captain of the Paris Regiment at Le Havre, and were written in Brest, France on March 8, 1780, May 14, 1780, and January 2, 1786. There is a total of 6pp of beautifully and neatly written script, showing a delightful degree of ingenuity in phonetic spelling. Inscribed on watermarked laid bifold paper. The second letter has an integral address leaf bearing handwritten and stamped philatelic markings while the third letter has the partial remnants of a red wax stamp embossed with Boulainvilliers de Croy's heraldic shield. A former collector or genealogist has either docketed or annotated each piece, and photocopied them. The average size of the letters in this correspondence is 6.25" x 8." Expected wear including flattened paper folds; occasional pinholes; scattered discoloration and foxing, mostly confined to the letter bottoms; and isolated closed tears and chipped edges. Else very good, clearly written and legible. Please refer to additional photos for more notes on condition.

The lot includes:

1. A 3pp autograph letter signed by Henri-Louis de Boulainvilliers de Croy as "Boulainvilliers De Croÿ" at the bottom of the third page. Written in Brest, France on March 8, 1780. 6.25" x 8."

Boulainvilliers de Croy had joined the Garde-Marine, or the French naval officer training school, in 1735. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1751 and received the prestigious rank of captaine de vaisseau, or ship's captain, in 1757. Boulainvilliers de Croy commanded the "Languedoc," an 80-90-gun French warship that served as d'Estaing's flagship in a fleet of 12 warships and four frigates departing Toulon, France in mid-April 1778 to assist their new American allies in the ongoing Revolutionary War. Boulainvilliers de Croy was promoted to the rank of Chef d'Escadre on May 5, 1780. He retired from the French Navy on May 13, 1780.

Under d'Estaing, Boulainvilliers de Croy saw action in the August 29, 1778 Battle of Rhode Island, in which the Continentals besieged the British at Newport; the Battle of Saint Lucia on December 15, 1778; the Battle of Grenada on July 6, 1779, pitting the French Navy against the British Navy; and during the month-long Siege of Savannah in the fall of 1779. The "Languedoc" lost its anchors and skiffs during the Siege and returned to Brest in early December 1779 for repairs.

Boulainvilliers de Croy used his home-coming as an opportunity to reflect on his Revolutionary War experience in "La Merique" [America] over the last two years, ca. April 1778 - December 1780.

Punctuation has been silently added for clarity, and paragraph breaks have been inserted. Boulainvilliers de Croy wrote, translated in part:

"It is true, Dear Cousin, that I [held up under?] Many fatigues and Dangers. We were not always in the presence of the enemy... [we] had six clashes against him without counterattack. The ships [surveilled by] the land Batteries are exposed to Risks, but Thanks to God I was pulled out of it. I got not a Scratch, but I Had Many killed and Wounded by my side…a young officer named Clonard, Whose father is in Paris, was killed very close to me and my clothing was covered with his blood. Another officer that I was following, to show him a vessel that was harassing us, had the fatty parts of his legs taken off by a Cannon Ball.

I was very happy to have not caught Anything and any good derived from all that doesn't lead me to anything Important. I don't see the Favors that one Should have bestowed on M. Le Cte D'Estaing appear; I think that they have Stayed Bogged down and that they will not reach us. What is certain is that I am very tranquil about my situation: I don't [unclear--"matant?"] to be Chef d'Escadre. It has been a While since I Should have been it, in recognition of my Good and numerous services, and none in the Corps merits the Grade with more justice than me. I can even say that the Glory of M. le Comte D'Estaing and that of the minister is in all I read more interested than mine…"

The issue of Boulainvilliers de Croy's promotion was a sensitive one, mostly because his superiors were reluctant to award it the captain despite his seniority. Elsewhere, d'Estaing wrote in an official report that Boulainvilliers de Croy was only a competent officer: "If he hasn't done a lot, it is because he could not do more, he conducted himself like a brave man and he did his best…"

Boulainvilliers de Croy continues by mentioning participants of a recent naval engagement, the Action of February 24, 1780, notably Captain Mangaud de La Haye, commander of the 32-gun frigate "Charmante." In this naval skirmish off Madeira, four French vessels tasked with protecting an India-bound French convoy, "Charmante," "Éléphant," "Ajax," and "Protée," were surprised by the fleet of Admiral George Rodney (1718-1792). Captain Duchilleau de La Roche (1738-1825), commander of the "Protée," sacrificed his ship in order to create a diversion, allowing the other French vessels to escape. Just as Boulainvilliers de Croy reports, "Charmante" had indeed arrived at Lorient, Brittany, France on March 3, 1780, just five days earlier.

Translated in part:

"There is just arrived at Lorient a frigate named 'La Charmante' commanded by M. de Maingo [phonetic spelling of Captain Mangaud de La Haye], which left M. Duchilleau and his convoy in very Good order at 150 Leagues From here en Route for his mission with a Good wind. While Returning, this frigate took an English privateer, double-hulled in copper, with 24 9-calibre canons and around 200 crewmen. She was also Long chased by M. de Rodenay's [Admiral George Rodney] squadron, that she met the day after her separation with our north-bound convoy, at a count of 26 sails, among which they believed to have discerned 22 or 23 warships en route…"

2. A 2pp autograph letter signed by Henri-Louis de Boulainvilliers de Croy as "Boulainvilliers De Croÿ" at the bottom of the second page. Written in Brest, France on May 14, 1780. 6.25" x 8."

In this letter, Boulainvilliers de Croy mentions an unknown friend whom he refers to as "Mon Chevalier" who is being kept as a prisoner in "La Merique." He continues: "A large part of Our Grande Armée is at Harbor. M. de Brugnon has just received the commission of the 'Royal Louis.' They say that The Spanish Division bringing troops to America left from Cadiz. A frigate Returned many days ago Reported to have left M. de Ternay [Charles-Henri-Louis d'Arsac de Ternay (1723-1780)] and his convoy In Good order the 5 instant at 50 Leagues to the west of Belleyote [?] en route with a favorable wind…"

D'Arsac de Ternay commanded the so-called Expédition Particulière, a mission to transport approximately 6,000 men under the Comte de Rochambeau to the colonies in May 1780. De Ternay headed a force of 26 transport ships accompanied by two frigates and eight warships. The Expédition departed from Brest on May 2, 1780, arriving in Boston five weeks later. Sadly, de Ternay died of typhus in Newport six months after his arrival.

3. A 1p autograph letter signed by Henri-Louis de Boulainvilliers de Croy as "Boulainvilliers De Croÿ" near the bottom of the first page. Written in Brest, France on January 2, 1786. 6.625" x 8.5." Boulainvilliers de Croy writes a courtly letter expressing his love and friendship for his cousin.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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