Sympathetic to the American cause for independence, Jacques Donatien Le Ray used his powerful position to act as intermediary between the King and the American representatives. But, Le Ray did much more than broker talks and exert influence. In addition to swaying the King and the powerful administrators of the French government, Le Ray provided a fully staffed mansion for Franklin and his family in the wealthy commune of Passy, then outside of Paris.
In December of 1776, Benjamin Franklin was sent to Paris with the primary goal of obtaining French aid for the United States. He quickly developed a close relationship with Le Ray and his family and lived at Le Ray's estate in Passy for several years. Franklin however did not visit Le Ray's luxurious Chateau at Chaumont in the Loire Valley but his grandson Temple did. As a result of their friendship, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray helped obtain French support for the American cause with both money and French armed forces.
Along with Benjamin Franklin, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray worked with John Adams, Silas Deane, the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Vergennes to help with the American Revolution. For an aristocrat in that day and age, what Le Ray did for ordinary Americans was astonishing. At heart, he believed in the equality of all men and backed up his beliefs by providing massive amounts of his own money to purchase weapons, supplies and clothing for the fledgling American armed forces. Le Ray was asked by the American government to take charge of the equipment and management of the combined French and American naval fleet. Working closely with Admiral Charles-Hector Estaing, the Commander of the French Fleet, Le Ray's support for the American cause involved having his shipyards refit a merchant vessel into a warship that he then gifted to America under the name USS Bonhomme Richard for use by Captain John Paul Jones.
When the War ended with the treaty of 1783 signed in Paris, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray had a portrait medallion made of Benjamin Franklin by Jean-Baptiste Nini. Today, it is Franklin's most recognized profile. And, when Franklin was recalled to America in 1785, Le Ray honored him with a commissioned portrait painted by Joseph Siffred Duplessis that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Jacques-Donatien Le Ray's son of the same name (1760-1840) went to America in 1785. There, he acquired a property in Otsego county, New York where he built the first saw-mill. Known in America as James, the English translation for Jacques, Le Ray Jr. also made large land purchases in the State and, in 1790, he married a girl from New Jersey and became an American citizen. The towns of Le Ray, New York and Chaumont, New York are named after him.
Without the help of Jacques-Donatien Le Ray and France, the United States of America would almost certainly not have won their independence. When the British invaded American in 1812, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray Jr. and the government of France also worked to help America during the War of 1812.