Home pageGETTING TO KNOW LAPÉROUSE - THE MAN AND THE MARINER The Naval OfficerThe Antilles and East Coast North America
The Antilles and East Coast North America

After a short rest on his return from Île de France, Lapérouse-still in Ternay’s wake- comes into contact the court and the naval ministry at Versailles. He spends some time with Éléonore, who has come back to Nantes, her city of origin.

In 1778, the Navy gives Lapérouse command of the Amazone. a 26-cannon frigate with which he carries out two transatlantic campaigns. This is the period when the reconstructed French fleet is able to measure its strength against the British fleet, in the Antilles and on the east coast of North America, where the British colonies are exhibiting a desire for independence; France openly supports the colonists, following La Fayette’s personal involvement in their efforts. Lapérouse’s first voyage is to the Antilles, where he joins the squadron commnded by d’Estaing, who is not a navy man and who has very poor eyesight . Despite their taking of Grenada, which had no long-term benefits or real utility compared with Jamaica, the English remain threatening, even though the French would occasionally be able to easily capture several of their ships.

D’Estaing decides, at the request of American emissaries, to intervene in Georgia, a colony that symbolizes the English occupation. He judges poorly the maritime constraints and suffers a relative loss. One of his successes remains the capture, by Lapérouse, of the English frigate Ariel, commanded by a privateer-the son of an English admiral-who is feared along the coast. Lapérouse then makes a second voyage to America, to Boston, on the orders of Ternay’s squadron chief, whom he is happy to serve once again.

Combat naval de Louisbourg
Huile sur toile d’Auguste-Louis de Rossel de Cercy (1736 - 1824)

[Photo “Combat naval du Louisbourg,” oil on canvas by Auguste-Louis de Rossel de Cercy (1736-1824): Naval battle above Louisbourg (Cape Breton Island, Canada), waged by the main ship’s captain Lapérouse at the helm of the frigate Astrée, and by Captain/Count de LaTouche- Treville, at the command of the frigate Hermione, against six English warships.]

When Lapérouse returns to Brest, he is given command of the new copper-clad frigate Astrée, with which he will rejoin the squadron commanded by de Grasse. Beforehand, Lapérouse goes to Boston and achieves new personal military success, at Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, by capturing-with the help of the Hermione, which had been placed under his command-several English ships.

Lapérouse is named Commodore in May 1781, as he approaches the age of 40. After the decisive success at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, de Grasse suffers a serious setback at a battle in the Îles des Saintes. Lapérouse is lucky to have had as a mission, before this battle, to take the ship Zélé into sheltered waters at Basse Terre (Guadeloupe) at a time when the confrontation was going badly. He will therefore be cleared of any responsibility when de Grasse tries his officers-the most compromised of them being Bougainville-for not following his orders.

La Baie d’Hudson

Hudson Bay

Lapérouse will finish his American campaign by carrying out a mission ordered by de Vaudreuil, new chief of the French squadron. This campaign consists of proceeding secretly, with troops onboard, to destroy the forts in Hudson Bay that the British have established to protect the fur trade. Lapérouse commands the Sceptre and has control of two frigates, one of which is commanded by de Langle, his future associate on the voyage of exploration in the Pacific. This will be a successful but painful mission-being especially costly in terms of French lives lost-during which Lapérouse will prove his compassion toward his British enemies, which will not be forgotten and which will attract the attention of King Louis XVI.

After having considered leaving Éléonore, which is what his parents wanted him to do, he ends up marrying her, secretly in Paris. He is pardoned by the Minister of the Navy and by his parents and goes back to Albi before returning to his maritime activities.