Fleet of D'Estaing

Expedition of D'Estaing: 1778-1779

This chart and webpage are under development,
and has been significantly revised on 7 April 2003

Some spelling and other corrections have been made to data shown in the earlier draft. Also the data has been re arranged in an attempt to better illustrate the dynamic shifts in the fleet's compostition over time of its deployment in North American waters.
On an interim basis, some of the data (as to personnel strengths and number of ships' guns) posted below is taken from page 230 of Rochambeau: A Commemoration by the Congress of the United States of America (Washington DC, 1907), prepared by DeB. Randolph Keim. The eventual goal of this page is to depict the naval forces as based upon recent research of French archives by the French naval historian professor Patrick Villiers, and by M. Jacques de Trentinian, of the French Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).
The fleet of D'Estaing [Charles Henri Theodat, comte de Estaing, admiral, lieutenant-general naval armies of France] sailed out of the Toulon harbor 13 April 1778. His fleet consisted of 12 'ships of the line' [vaisseaux] and 5 frigates [frégates] as follows:
DEPARTED TOULON, 13 April 1778
Ship (guns) Class Commander Officers Volunteers Crew Total
Le Languedoc (80)
(fleet flagship)
SoL Boulainvilliers,
under D'Estaing
38 ... 777 875
Le Tonnant (74) SoL Breugnon, chef;
Bruyères, commandant
22 ... 685 707
Le César (74)
SoL Broves, chief;
Raymondis, commandant
... ... 713 793
Le Zélé (64) (74?) SoL Barras 17 14 486 507
Le Hector (74) SoL Moriès ... ... ... ...
Le Guerrier (74) SoL Bougainville 22 ... 400 422
Le Marseillais (74)
SoL La Poype-Vertrieux 19 3 584 606
Le Protecteur (74) SoL Apchon 14 ... 391 405
Le Vaillant (64) SoL Chabert ... ... ... 542
Le Provence (64) SoL Champorcin 14 ... 408 422
Le Fantasque (64) SoL Suffren 13 ... 419 432
Le Sagittaire (64) SoL Rioms ... ... ... ...
La Chimère (26)
Frigate Saint-Cezaire 15 ... 225 240
L'Engageante (26)
Frigate Gras Preville ... ... ... ...
La Flore (26)
See note 1.
Frigate Castellane 11 ... 196 207
L'Alcmène (26) Frigate De Bonneval 11 ... 196 207
L'Aimable (26) Frigate Saint-Eulalie 9 ... 231 240

NOTES Referenced in numbers in the above table of this page.

1. La Flore was dispatched, when 80 miles off Gibraltar, back to Toulon on 20 May 1778. The purpose, as intended, was to confirm that the sealed orders had been opened at sea and that all was proceeding well.

As a general note: Professor Patrick Villiers has found the total number of combattants on d'Estaing's fleet at the departure from Toulon to total 10,542 sailors in addition to the 1,000 men from Hainaut and Foix regiments. This is twice the number of sailors than indicated on bronze plates erected at Yorktown and at Newport, and reflected in some other monument inscriptions or documents quoted on this website.

Altogether, on 1 July 1778, d'Estaing was in charge of 16 war ships as he entered into operations off the North American coast. From July to November 1778, he faced a much larger British naval squadron under Admiral Howe, and entered into various operations and maneuvers off New York and Newport, RI.

D'Estaing's fleet arrived in the West Indies 9 December 1778, too late to prepare an effective defense of St. Lucia, which was captured by the British (13 December 1778). However, d'Estaing's fleet was enlarged during the early part of 1779, and he was able to capture the British island of Grenada on 3 July 1779. His fleet was augmented as follows:

20 February 1779, De Grasse brought 4 vessels:
Le Robuste (74)
Le Magnifique (74)
Le Vengeur (64)
Le Dauphin Royal (70)

19 April 1779, Turpin broutght:

Le Fier (50), escorting a supply convoy for St Domingue.

21 April 1779, Vaudreuil, coming from Senegal's capture cutting the British from slave and other trade possibilities, brought:

Le Fendant (74)
Le Sphinx (64)
+ 2 frigates: La Résolue, La Nymphe
+ corvettes
+ cutters: La Lunette, L'Epervier, Le Lively.
The English corvette, Le Sénégal (24), was captured in 1778, and sent back to France at the end of April 1779 with messages from Bouillé and d'Estaing.

27 June 1779, La Motte Piquet brought 6 vessels:

Le Fier Rodrigue (50), belonging to Beaumarchais
L'Annibal (74)
L'Artésien (64)
Le Diadème (74)
Le Réfléchi (64)
L'Amphion (50)
+ 3 frigates: L'Amazone (32), La Blanche (32), and La Fortunée (32)
+ a 'flûte', La Ménagère (28)
+ 60 merchant ships.

Patrick VILLIERS is a professor at the University of Littoral-Côte d'Opale(Boulogne Calais Dunkerque), and a member of the Centre de Recherche sur la Littérature des Voyages (CRLV). His speciality is maritime history. The CRLV sponsors his website which can be reached by clicking on his name at the beginning of this paragraph.

GENERAL NOTES below relate to Keim's data [which only addresses operations in North America], and may be used later in this draft page.However, there is good reason to seriously question much of the specific numbers reported in Keim's work.

NOTE: at end of Keim's table on p.230 states:
"In addition to the navigation and gun complement were the land troops of the Agenois, D'Hainault, Dillon, Foix (sharpshooters), Gâtenais, and Walsh regiments, aggregating about 3,600 men, making a total strength of 15,377."

This list may not be complete. Alexander A. Lawrence's Storm Over Savannah (1979) lists the following: Armagnac, Dillon, Agénois, Gâtinais, Foix, Hainault, Auxerrois, and Cambrésis. It does not list: Walsh, Martinque, Le Cap (which are listed on the Yorktown bronze tablet! Note that Auxerrois, Le Cap and Cambrésis are not in Keim's list!)

NOTE: The following may be worked into a later narrative that summarizes D'Estaing's expedition to North America:

p.231 states:
Aboard was the first minister to the recognized independent United States: M. Conrad Alexander.

p.233 states:
Destination was for the Delaware.

p.234 states:
Anchored inside Cape May and Henlopen on 8 July 1778 -- en route 86 days from Toulon. Captured some ships on the way up the coast.

p.240 states:
D'Estaing and his American pilots did not want to force the bar off Sandy Hook to enter New York Harbor. Remained at anchor off New Jersey for a while and then sailed toward Rhode Island on 22 July at the request of George Washington. There to cooperate with General Sullivan.

p.241 states:
US Continental navy had 10 ships, mounting 252 guns.

p.243 states:
D'Estaing arrived off Newport 29 July 1778.

p.246 states:
Battle off Newport 9 August 1778. Disrupted by a storm.

p.249 states:
D'Estaing sailed for Boston, and abandoned the American land forces at Newport.

p.252 states:
"The forcing of the Narragansett channel by Bailli de Suffren resulted in the complete destruction of the British fleet of 6 frigates (Grand Duke, 40 guns, Orpheus, Lark, Juno, Flora, each 32 guns, and Cerberus, 28 guns), 3 corvettes, 220 guns and the corvette Sengal, and a bomb ketch taken after the ‘great storm'."

p.253 states:
D'Estaing sailed for West Indies 4 November 1778. Need to add description of his accompliahments there

p253 states:
British took Savannah 29 December 1778.

p.255 states:
Combined attack on Savannah:
D'Estaing appeared off Tybee Island 3 September1779.
By the 12th General Lincoln concentrated his troops.
French debarked their whole force at Beaulieu (Buley).
Forces described on pp.255-256.

p.256 states:
Siege began 23 September.
p.257 states:
Assault 9 October

An 'Annexe XI: Composition de l'escadre de d'Estaing au départ de Toulon le 13 avril 1778 (A.N. Marine Bo 144)' records as departing Toulon 13 April in this fleet the additional ships not listed in Keim's work: L'Hector (C.V. de Mories), Le Vaillant (C.V. de Chabert), Le Provence (C.V. de Champorcin), Le Sagittaire (C.V. de Rions), L'Engageante (C.V. de Gras Preville), and La Flore (C.V. de Castellane).
This annex shows 15 ships with 64 guns or over and 5 with 26 or less guns; a total of 17 'men of war' ships.
Keim's work (p.232) mentions that La Flore had been with the fleet up until orders were opened at sea, and then was dispatched back to France to confirm that the orders had been opened and that 'all is well'.
Archival material from the American general Sullivan's letters indicate that L'Engageante was off the North American shore with this fleet in the fall of 1778.

General note: French documents use the following abreviations for ship comanders' ranks: C.V. = capitaine de vaisseau; C.E. = capitaine de escardre.

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Expédition Particulière Commemorative Cantonment Society,

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Page significantly revised and re posted 8 April 2003, replacing a 2 May 2002 draft. The page remains a working draft for review and comment. Last revised 13 April 2003.