1778 & 1779 France Agrees to an Alliance and
Sends a Fleet under Adm. D'Estaing 

Latest Changes: 2016-05-18 add treaty of Aranjuez /

Color Codes for the French Naval Commanders

D'Orvilliers, du Chauffault de Grasse, Vaudreuil
de Guichen, Monteil Spanish: Gálvez
d'Estaing d'Estienne-d'Orves, Suffren
Ternay, Des Touches, Barras< /td> other events


A 1975 article from Cols Bleus [McJoynt] translated into English by Ulane Bonnel provides a brief (16-page) description of the role of the French navy in the American Revolution.
Print Ref.: The French Navy and American Independence, by Jonathan Dull, provides a more detailed (473-page) study of French arms and diplomacy.

The battles listed below are based on
Timeline of French involvement in the American Revolution 1775-1783 [McJoynt]. Additional information is in other EPS pages linked below. All have maps to help students locate the sites.

Bibliography; Movements of French fleets during the War for American Independence [McJoynt]. The bibliography includes books by authors from several nations in English and in French.

Events in 1778 

1778 Feb 06: In Paris the representatives of France and the U.S. signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce and a secret Treaty of [Military] Alliance These provided the first diplomatic recognition of the United States by another nation and made it France's explicit policy to provide military support for the United States's struggle for independence.

1778 Apr: John Adams (of MA) arrived in Paris to serve as a commissioner with Deane and Franklin. He remained in Paris for 17 months.

1778 May 04: The French-U.S. treaties of alliance were ratified by the U.S. Congress.
[*] Discussion of the context and consequences [Expédition Particuliére] of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, by Dr. Robert Selig, contains many interesting insights on how war can ensnare a nation in alliances that were never anticipated or agreed to.

1778 April 15: Vice-amiral des mers d'Estaing sailed from France's Mediterranean naval base at Toulon with twelve ships-of-the-line and four frigates (a total of 958 cannon). The fleet was manned by 7,500 sailors and carried 1,000 infantry (half Haynault and half Foiux) and somewhat less than its full compliment of 700 marine riflemen. Their mission was to help dislodge the armed forces of Great Britain from U.S.ports.
Map and events for this cruise

d'Estaing's Fleet

Languedoc80de Croy
Tonnant80Comte de Breugnon, chef d'escadre Comte de Bruyeres
Cesar74Comte de Broves, chef d'escadre de Raimondis
Zele74Barras de St. Laurent
Hector74de Mories-Castellet
Marseillois74la Pope-Vertrieux
Guerrier74de Bougainville
Vaillant64Chabert Cogolin
Provence64Desmichels Champorcin
Fantasque64de Suffren
Sagittaire50d'Albert de Rions
12 s-o-t-line846sub-total cannon
4 frigates112subtotal cannon
1778 Jun 27: A French fleet under Lieutenant général des armées navales d'Orvielliers (La Manche) engaged in an indecisive battle with a British fleet off Ile d'Ouessant. [The Anglicized version of the island's name is Ushant]. This was the first naval engagement of the war between French and British.
1778 Jun 18: The British forces in Philadelphia evacuated the city after hearing that the French fleet led by d'Estaing was on its way to the U.S. and might blockade the Delaware River, cutting the main British supply line. On June 28 as the British were marching back to New York the U.S. Continentals attacked the rear guard of the British column near Monmouth NJ, causing many casualties.

1778 Jul 06: After nearly three months at sea d'Estaing's fleet reached the mouth of the Delaware Bay and restocked his ships with food and water. Since the British were no longer in Philadelphia he sailed on to New York City, where Adm. Richard Howe's British fleet consisted of only nine ships-of-the-line.

1778 Jul 11 - 27:   The pilots for d'Estaing's fleet recommended against attempting to enter the New York harbor area because sand banks around the harbor did not provide a reliable channel with the depth required by the large French ships of the line, which required deeper water than the British ships-of-the-line. The French fleet sailed on toward Newport RI.

1778 Jul 29 - Aug 31:  The Battle for Newport (RI) -- Vice-amiral des mers d'Estaing arrived off Newport with a French fleet consisting of twelve ships-of-the-line (846 cannon), four frigates, and several transports. The fleet was manned by 7,500 sailors and carried 2,500 marine riflemen, and 1,500 soldiers. Already in place around Newport was a combined force of 10,000 men from the New England militia and U.S. Continentals (including two regiments led by General Lafayette). The allied forces' objective was to dislodge the 3,000-man British garrison from the island of Aquidneck, where Newport RI is situated. This island had been occupied and fortified by the British since 1776. The area includes a large sheltered bay, so ti was ideal for threatening both Boston and the Connecticut coast.

August 8 - The French fleet forced its way past British defenses at the harbor for Newport RI.
August 9 - The American army moved onto Aquidneck Island.
August 10 - The British fleet lured the French fleet with troop transports away from Newport.
August 28 - The American army began a retreat north on the island.
August 29 - British troops pursued the Americans north and advanced to Quaker Hill.
      Hessian troops marched north on West Road in pursuit of the Americans.
      Hessians attacked, but were repulsed by the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.
August 30 - The U.S. land forces withdrew to the mainland.
      Casualties: U.S. 30 killed, 137 wounded; British 38 killed, 210 wounded
      This does not include casualties of the naval engagement.

Poor coordination of forces, the arrival of a re-inforced British fleet, and bad weather that caused major damage to both fleets prevented d'Estaing from supporting or participating in an allied attack on the British garrison at Newport.

Ref. [*] the Battle of Rhode Island [Wikipedia]

The French fleet sailed to Boston for repairs, while the British fleet delivered reinforcements to the British garrison in Newport, allowing them to re-take the island. To view a zoom-able map of French ships in Boston harbor go to Rochambeau Map Collection [Library of Congress] and search for "Boston 1778".

1778 Nov 04: d'Estaing's fleet departed from Boston for Martinique (in the West Indies), arriving there on Dec 09.
1778 Sep 7: The French captured Dominica (West Indies).
West Indies Score Card (1776-1783) [McJoynt] This site covers many of the following battles in this theater.

The map below shows part of D'Estaing's cruise in 1778-79. It illustrates the vast scope of allied operations in what some consider to be the first world-wide war.

Student Project: For one of the French admirals use GoogleEarth(TM) to make a similar map, then summarize the events that took place during the cruise and the percent of British ships and soldiers that were thus occupied and unavailable to be deployed in the U.S. theater of operations.

1778 Sep 14: The British captured St. Pierre-et-Miquelon Isles (North Atlantic).

1778 Oct 1: The British captured Pondichery (India).

1778 Dec 13: The British captured St. Lucia (West Indies).

1778 Dec 28: The French captured St. Louis (Senegal, Africa).

Events in 1779 

1779 Jan: Lafayette returned to France to help France plan the invasion of England (which did not materialize). He was assigned to facilitate the arrangements for a French Expeditionary Force to the U.S. to be led by Gen. Rochambeau. See 1780 April.

1779 Jan 19: British Adm. George Rodney's squadron with 18 ships-of-the-line engages Spanish Adm. Juan de Langera's squadron with 11 ships-of-the-line off Cape Vincent (on the southwestern coast of Portugal). This is called the "Moonlight Battle" because, rather than breaking off sunset (as was usual) the combatants continued until 2 AM. The Spanish lost seven of their ships-of-the-line.
1779 Jan: The British occupied St. Martin (West Indies), which had been jointly governed by the Dutch and French. The British also occupied St. Barthélémy.

1779 Feb 24: d'Estaing's forces re-captured St. Martin (West Indies) from the British.
1779 Feb 28: d'Estaing's forces re-captured St. Barthélémy (West Indies) from the British.
1779 April 12: Spain and France signed the Treaty of Aranjuez, in which Spain agreed to join France in fighting Great Britain (a war started when Great Britain refused to grant independence to the United States). Under this treaty Spain's battles would aid the cause of U.S. independence.
French Lt-Gen. de Broglie had some years previously developed a plan for an invasion of England. Now France and Spain agreed to implement it with a combined fleet of 66 ships-of-the-line.

1779 May 1: The French staged an unsuccessful raid on the Jersey Isles (Great Britain). The French fleet set out from Brest to meet the Spanish fleet off the north coast of Spain. The Spanish fleet was late in getting to the assembly area, and during this time an epidemic of dysentery incapacitated the French sailors. After several months the invasion plan was abandoned, and the French forces returned to Brest on Sep 19.
1779 Jun 18: vice-amiral des mers d'Estaing's forces captured St. Vincent (Virgin Islands).
1779 Jul 4: d'Estaing's forces captured Grenada (West Indies). On Jul 25 d'Estaing departed for Savannah GA.
1779 Sept 21:   Spanish forces under Gen. Bernardo Gálvez captured British forts at Manchac (east of present-day Gonzalez), Baton Rouge, and Natchez (now in Mississippi) along the Mississippi River.
Ref: Washington's Second Front, by Ralph N. Cramer, Sr. [Florida Society SAR] describes the entire campaign.
1779 Aug: John Adams returned to the U.S. with the first French Ambassador to the U.S., Conrad Alexandre Gèrard. Two months later Adams was sent back to Europe (in Nov) to negotiate for peace with Great Britain, but this mission was vetoed by the French Foreign minister.
1779 Sep 23: Both U.S. and French ships participated in the famous naval battle of Flamborough Head (Great Britain) -- (USS Bonhomme Richard vs HMS Serapis).
1779 Sep 23 - Oct: 20  Repulse from Savannah (GA) Vice-amrial des mers d'Estaing's fleet returned to the U.S. from the West Indies to participate in an allied US.-French siege and attack on the British-held city of Savannah. Some 3,200 British troops under Gen. Prevost repulsed the allied attack.

The French squadron included 33 warships under vice-amiral des mers d'Estaing and 6,000 French troops -- including the 700-man Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue Regiment, comprised of free blacks from the island colony of Saint Dominigue). The U.S. forces consisted of 1,500 U.S. Continental troops under Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

Some 2,000 French naval cannon bombarded the town for five days, during which 175 sailors died of scurvy. The British fortifications held up well, while the badly coordinated allied infantry assault failed, with many casualties.
Dead: Est 50 U.S. troops, 150 French, 40 British
Wounded: 200 U.S. troops, 640 French, 100 British

On 2007 Oct 08 the Haitian American Historical Society hosted a dedication for a monument commemorating the participation of the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue Regiment in the 1779 battle of Savannah.

Siege of Savannah GA [Wikipedia]
The Battle for Savannah [about North Georgia]
The Siege of Savannah [Georgia Society SAR]
Significance of Haitian participation [www.haitianhistory.org]

1779 Nov.: D'Estaing's fleet sailed for France, arriving in December.