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Jean Baptiste Prevost de Sansac.

Jean Baptiste Prevost de Sansac, marquis de Traversay (July 24, 1754 – May 19, 1831) was a French creole seaman who distinguished himself in the ranks of Royal French Navy during American Revolutionary War. In 1791, fleeing from hostilities of the French Revolution, Traversay joined Imperial Russian Navy, rising to commander-in-chief of Black Sea Fleet in 1802. In 1809 he was appointed Minister of the Navy, and held this position for 18 years. His name was frequently russified to Ivan Ivanovich de Traversay (Russian: Иван Иванович де Траверсе).[1]

Traversay is commemorated internationally in the name of Traversay Islands and in the ironic Russian name for the shallow Neva Bay - Marquis Puddle (Russian: Маркизова лужа).[2]


Early years

Jean-Baptiste Prevost de Sansac de Traversay was born in the French Caribbean island of Martinique, the first of nine children of Jean-Francois and Claire de Traversay. His mother owned sizable sugar cane plantations; father, Jean-Francois chevallieu de Traversay (1725–1776) was a French Navy lieutenant stationed in Martinique who later became a military governor of this island. Jean-Francois's mother belonged to an old naval family of Duquesne; her direct ancestry included captain-armator Abraham Duquesne (1570–1635) and admiral Abraham Duquesne-Guitton (1651–1724). The title of Prevost de Sansac de Traversay was traced to chevallier Hugh Prevost (d. 1086).

Jean-Baptiste, five years old, arrived in France in 1759; his father placed him in a Benedictine boarding school in Sorèze. In 1766 the boy joined the Navy college in Rochefort; when this college was closed, his class resumed training in Brest. Traversay was commissioned an enseigne de vaisseau in 1773 and spent three years sailing on transport ships to and from the Caribbean islands. After a brief stay in Rochefort, where he joined the Free Masons and temporarily commanded a company of marines protecting the coast from British incursions, Traversay was assigned to the fleet of admiral d'Orvilliers.

American Revolutionary War

In May 1778, when France and the United States signed the Treaty of Alliance, war with Britain became imminent. June 15, 1778, Traversay joined the crew of Vengeur, a 64-gun ship of the line under command of captain Guy de Kersaint. July 8, the French fleet sailed into Atlantic Ocean with orders to engage and destroy the British Navy and cooperate with American insurgents. Soon Traversay saw his first actual combat in the Battle of Ushant, a minor victory for the French. Vengeur managed to capture a British privateer, St. Peter, and Traversay delivered the prize back to Rochefort. Two weeks later, he sailed to the Antilles again, this time as first officer of frigate Iphigénie, under command of Armand de Kersaint, which joined the fleet of admiral d'Estaing. December 14, 1778, Iphigénie captured HMS Ceres, a new 18-gun British corvette; Ceres became Traversay's first own command. In the next year Ceres became a lucky bounty hunter, seizing numerous British transports. In September 1779, Ceres was in action in an abortive Savannah landing, in April and May 1780 - in the Battle of Martinique and two subsequent clashes between the fleets of d'Estaing and Rodney. In March 1781 Traversay assumed command of Héron, a fast 26-gun frigate assigned to the fleet of admiral de Grasse. Héron's tasks in this campaign ranged from screening Rodney's movements to running shipments of gold from Havana (French campaign in West Indies was subsidized by Spain). August 30, 1781, the French fleet arrived at Chesapeake Bay. French troops disembarked, encircling British force of general Corwallis; Héron, placed across Cape Henry, seized two sloops, a brig and a 20-gun corvette. In the morning of September 5, Héron was the first French ship to detect approaching fleet of admiral Graves; subsequent Battle of the Chesapeake became a strategic failure for the British. Soon after the battle, Héron seized HMS Iris, a 34-gun frigate (originally USS Hancock, captured by the British in 1777). Traversay assumed command of Iris, leaving Héron in the hands of first mate. In the last months of the war Iris took part in the Battle of St. Kitts. On the eve of Battle of the Saintes de Grasse detached Iris to convoy unarmed troop transports; Iris completed her mission while the main French force suffered a humiliating defeat. In the late stages of war Iris continued reconnaissance, bounty hunting, and finally performed a diplomatic mission, bringing an offer of ceasefire to British-occupied New York.

Traversay was honored with the French Order of Saint Louis (awarded before the defeat at the Saintes) and a membership in the American Society of the Cincinnati. He became captain of the first rank in 1786, at the age of only 32.

Russian Baltic Fleet

At the outbreak of French Revolution Traversay was stationed in his home Martinique. When news of the fall of Bastille reached the island, local French troops revolted and were sent home - on a ship led by Traversay. Back in France, the French Navy was falling apart too; Traversay took a long leave, sending his family to a safe place in Switzerland. In 1791 he received an invitation to join Russian service, signed by an émigré Frenchman - admiral Nassau-Siegen;[3] king Louis XVI approved the move, and in spring of 1791 Traversay arrived in Saint Petersburg. He was created major general and rear admiral of Russian Empire, and placed in command of a galley flotilla, subordinate to Nassau-Siegen. This commission did not last long, due to strong anti-French opposition among Russian statesmen who were strictly following the model of British Navy. In 1790 empress Catherine, fearing a Swedish-British alliance, transferred officers of English descent to the Black Sea fleet, creating a void in the Baltic Fleet. By summer 1791 Britain was not seen as an imminent enemy anymore, the Englishmen returned to Saint Petersburg. Nassau-Siegen and Traversay became unwanted guests; in August 1791, Traversay left Russia for Coblenz, acting as a liaison between Catherine and the Army of Condé. After two years with the emigrant forces, in July 1793, he returned to Russia with his family. In 1795 Traversay was appointed commander of a flotilla based in Rochensalm (present-day Kotka in Finland); since 1797, he was also the military governor of Rochensalm, responsible for building and managing this naval fortress, recently annexed from Sweden. His service was highly regarded by emperor Paul I, and, unlike many contemporary soldiers, Traversay enjoyed Paul's good disposition throughout his short reign, and was well received by Paul's successor, Alexander I.

Black Sea Fleet

In 1802, Alexander created Traversay a full admiral and appointed him commander-in-chief of the Black Sea Fleet and the governor of Kherson Oblast; eventually, Traversay got rid of the civil assignment, retaining civil authority over naval bases of Nikolaev and Sebastopol. The combat core of Black Sea fleet, under admirals Ushakov and Senyavin, was based in Mediterranean island of Corfu, and role of Traversay was restricted to administration of emerging naval bases and supplying the Corfu fleet. These two functions conflicted with each other: funds allocated to homeland bases were consumed by active Corfu fleet and the bills of the fledgling Septinsular Republic.

Traversay's only combat operation of this period, the last in his life — siege and destruction of Anapa — occurred in April 1807 (see Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812)). A force of four ships-of-the-line (all that was left in home waters), under command of admiral Pustoshkin, with Traversay on board, suppressed the rebel fortress at point-blank range; rebels abandoned Anapa without fighting, Russian infantry razed the fortress to ground. A second similar operation, against Trabzon, was detected early by the Turks and was cancelled before the first shots could be fired.

In July 1809 Traversay received orders to leave command of Black Sea fleet to Duc de Richelieu and admiral Yazykov and return to Saint Petersburg as soon as possible to replace Minister of the Navy, admiral Pavel Chichagov.

Minister of Russian Navy

Between 1809 and 1812, the Minister's main tasks were improving shipbuilding and coastal defences in the Baltic Sea. He reorganized the Baltic fleet structure (over 32 000 men), creating the system of permanent regiment-sized units (fleet crews, [флотские экипажи] Error: {{Lang-xx}}: text has italic markup (help)) that supplied manpower to ship crews and ground forces; this system proved itself in War of 1812 and subsequent campaigns against Napoleon and persisted until the fall of House of Romanov.

At the end of Napoleonic Wars Russian economy was ruined and Alexander had to cut the Navy budget to the point where the Baltic fleet could not afford continuous exercises in open seas. Traversay had to limit fleet exercises to the shallow and narrow eastern extremity of the Gulf of Finland, ironically called Marquis Puddle. By 1817, Navy budget recovered and the Admiralty Shipyard managed to complete seven new frigates, two ships of the line, and resumed long-range operations, however, Marquis Puddle persists for nearly two centuries.

In 1815-1821 Traversay sponsored long-range expeditions into the Arctic and Antarctic waters. The first (1815–1818), led by Otto von Kotzebue, explored Pacific Ocean from Kamchatka to Sandwich Islands. The second (1819–1821), led by Lazarev and Bellingshausen, circumnavigated the Antarctic coast, discovering Traversay Islands on the way. The third, also launched in 1819, led by Anjou, Shishmaryov and Wrangel, passed the Bering Strait and explored Arctic coastline of Alaska and Russia, reaching 76° 15′N. Traversay was offered a share in the Russian-American Company which benefited from these expeditions, but refused, citing conflict of interest. He also declined the title of a prince (knyaz) of Russian Empire, believing that the rare title of marquis will be better for his offspring.

In 1821, after the death of his second wife, aging Traversay tried to resign for the first time. Tsar Alexander did not let him go; instead, he honored Traversay with Order of St. Andrew, allowed him to move from the city to his country home in Romanshchina (near Luga, 120 kilometers from Saint Petersburg), and run the Navy operations from there. For the next 7 years, Minister of the Navy office operated far away from any naval base. The tsar himself regularly visited Traversay in his country office; the last meeting in Romanshchina occurred in September 1825, four weeks before Alexander's death in Taganrog. At about the same time Traversay suffered the first ischemia seizures. During the first three years of Nicholas I he continued rebuilding the Baltic fleet after the disastrous flood of 1824, gradually passing his duties to younger officers. In 1828, Traversay finally retired, with an honorary award of Order of St. George, 4-th class; he died in Romanschina in 1831.

Private life

Traversay married his first wife, Marie Madeleine, daughter of admiral Jean-Joseph de Riouffe, in Rochefort in 1783. Two of their children born in France and Switzerland, Claire (1785–1842) and Jean-Francois (future Alexander Ivanovich de Traversay, Sr.), lived long enough to join the Russian citizenship. Marie Madeleine died at childbirth in 1796. The newborn boy, Alexander, survived; his godmother in orthodox baptism, empress Catherine, generously awarded the baby with a navy officer's patent. Traversay, however, feared that the newborn would perish, too, and asked the empress to pass her favors to Jean-Francois. Jean-Francois became Alexander and retained the precious patent. Baby Alexander survived as well, so there were two Alexanders in the family: Alexander Sr. (1791–1850) and Alexander Jr. (1796–1866). Both eventually joined Russian Navy.

Four years later, Traversay married Louise Ulrica de Bruine (Loviisa Ulriikka Bruun), daughter of Elisabeth Fabritius and her husband burgher Kaarle Bruun, owner of Oravala manor of Valkeala, a rich merchant and businessman in Hamina, Old Finland, the nearest chartered town of Traversay's fortification command in the rivermouth of Kymi River, herself 27 years his younger. This marriage produced two children - Fyodor = Frederic (b. 1803, a civil servant in the Navy) and Marie (1807–1871). Louise Ulrica died in 1821. Louise Ulrica's nephew Theodor Bruun became later the Minister State Secretary of Finland and was created a baron.

Traversay turned into Russian citizenship completely in 1811, when he registered as a resident landlord of Voronezh governorate. He, however, remained a Roman Catholic and spoke Russian language poorly until his death. His children were baptised and raised in Orthodox faith and fully assimilated into Russian society of their period. Traversay's descendants live in France, Kiev and Orsha (Belarus).


  1. His tomb in Romanshchina is marked Admiral marquis Ivan Ivanovich de Traversay (Russian: Адмиралъ маркизъ Иванъ Ивановичъ де Траверсе)
  2. Encyclopedia of Saint Petersburg
  3. Karl Heinrich Otto, prince Nassau-Siegen, was a Frenchman by blood and a French subject. He belonged to the Dutch branch of Nassau that adhered to Catholic faith.



  • (French) Madeleine Du Chatenet. L'amiral Jean-Baptiste de Traversay, un Français, Ministre de la marine des tsars. Tallandier, 1 novembre 1996. ISBN 978-2-235-02159-3
  • (Russian) Мадлен дю Шатне. Жан Батист де Траверсе министр флота Российского. - М., Наука, 2003. ISBN 5-02-008874-9


  • (Russian) Олег Траверсе, Мадлен дю Шатне. Адмирал де Траверсе - главный командир Черноморского флота // Зеркало недели, № 25 (500) 26 июня — 2 июля 2004. [1]
  • (English) Blazon and bookplate of Marquis de Traversay [2]
  • (French) Genealogy of Prevost de Sansac family [3]

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