Vice Admiral Edwin B. Hooper, US Navy (retired) wrote a most effective introduction to The War at Sea: France and the American Revolution, A Bibliography, Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, Washington DC (US Government Printing Office, 1976). Part of this introduction [pp. v -vi] is quoted below:
"On 20 October 1781, General Washington wrote to French Admiral François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, expressing appreciation 'in the name of America for the glorious event for which she is indebted to you.' Washington's expression of gratitude was in recognition of the French fleet's victory off the Virginia Capes which made possible the entrapment and capitulation of Lord Cornwallis with more than seven thousand troops at Yorktown.
Washington's words after the Yorktown victory apply equally well to America's indebtedness for a broad spectrum of French support and assistance which was decisive in realizing the ultimate "glorious event"-Independence.
From the opening months of the Revolutionary War, a sympathetic French government sought means to provide the Americans with munitions and other critical supplies. Secretly at first, and openly as the war progressed, French ports became havens where American privateers and Continental Navy vessels outfitted, took on supplies, and at times recruited seamen. Continental Navy Captains Conyngham, Wickes, and others sailed from French ports to strike at shipping in Britain's home waters. King Louis XVI provided the ship Bon Homme Richard in which John Paul Jones achieved immortality.
The French West Indies played an equally important role in sustaining the American cause. West Indian islands were not only entrepôt areas for European goods enroute to the rebellious colonists and American goods going to the continent, but they also provided protected harbors for American ships-naval, merchant, or privateer.
The Alliance of 1778 brought France into full partnership in the conflict, and made available to the United States the naval strength which Washington termed 'the pivot upon which everything turned'. French fleets appearing on the American coast restricted British mobility and affected overall strategy.
Decisions made by the enemy to evacuate Rhode Island and Philadelphia and fall back on New York were in no small measure shaped by the presence of formidable French naval power. The impact of French naval participation came to full fruition on 5 September 1781 at the Virginia Capes where the success achieved by Admiral de Grasse gained the initiative for the Franco-American allies, and doomed the British army of Lord Cornwallis."

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