Ternay, Charles Louis d'Arsac, Chevalier de

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Ternay, Charles Louis d'Arsac, Chevalier de

TERNAY, CHARLES LOUIS D'ARSAC, CHEVALIER DE. (1722–1780). French admiral. Of an old Breton family with a naval tradition, he entered the French naval school in 1738. After taking part in the unsuccessful defense of Louisburg in 1757, he commanded a division of gunboats on the St. Lawrence. Promoted to captain, he participated in a raid that captured Saint John, New Brunswick, on 2 June 1762. After the peace of 1763 he served on the Leeward Islands station and later was promoted to brigadier general of the naval forces. In 1772 he retired as chef d'escadre and was appointed governor general of the island of Bourbon. He left this post in 1779 to reenter the active service.

Early in 1780 he organized the fleet that was to escort the expeditionary force of the comte de Rochambeau to America. With eight ships of the line, two frigates, and two bomb-galliots, he arrived off Newport on 10 July 1780, just three days before a British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves arrived off Sandy Hook to give the British an advantage of thirteen more powerful ships of the line against Ternay's eight. (One of Ternay's ships was being used as a transport.) Lafayette as Washington's representative met with Ternay and Rochambeau on 30 July. While Ternay expressed a willingness to take naval action when there was naval superiority, he and Rochambeau agreed that without it, no action would occur. That was in line with their instructions. As a senior officer, however, Ternay took a quick dislike to the opinions of the young Lafayette. The British eventually bottled up Ternay's fleet in Newport. The Americans, on the other hand, were bitterly disappointed to find that they had to spend an inactive season because the French could not achieve the all-important naval superiority. Ternay died on 15 December 1780 in Newport of a fever. Upon reflection after Ternay's death, Lafayette wrote that "he was ill-tempered and stubborn, but firm, clear-sighted, and intelligent, and all things considered, his death is a loss to us." Following Ternay's death, the French fleet was commanded by Destouches until the arrival of Barras in May 1781.

SEE ALSO Graves, Thomas; Lafayette, Marquis de; Rochambeau, Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de.


Donoil, Jean Henri. Histoire de la participation de la France à l'établissement des Etats-Unis d'Amérique. 5 vols. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1884–1899.

Kennett, Lee. The French Forces in America, 1780–1783. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977.

Lafayette, Gilbert du Motier de. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Documents, 1776–1790. Edited by Stanley J. Idzerda, et al. 5 vols. to date. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977–.

Linyer de la Barbée, Maurice. Le Chevalier de Ternay: Vie de Charles Henry Louis d'Arsac de Ternay, chef d'escadre des armées navales, 1723–1780. 2 vols. Grenoble, France: Editions des Quatre Seigneurs, 1972.

                              revised by Robert Rhodes Crout