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Estaing, Charles Hector Théodat, Comte D'

Estaing, Charles Hector Théodat, Comte D'

ESTAING, CHARLES HECTOR THÉODAT, COMTE D'. (1729–1794). French admiral. Estaing's given names on his birth certificate were Charles-Henri, those on his marriage certificate were Jean-Baptiste Charles, those recorded by the French navy were Charles-Henri Théodat, and those of the French National Library were Charles-Hector. Born in the château of Ruvel in Auvergne, he entered the second company of the king's Musketeers of the royal household. In that capacity he served in the Flanders campaign of 1744–1745 in the War of Austrian Succession. In 1746 he married the daughter of the Maréchal de Chateaurenault. Later that year upon his father's death, he succeeded to the title of compte and the family fortune. In 1748 he was commissioned a colonel by the king and fought at the siege of Maastricht. He was sent to England in 1755 to assist French ambassador de Mirepoix. In that capacity he prepared memoranda promoting the causes of a strong navy and colonial defense.

In 1755 Estaing's request for service with Montcalm in Canada was denied. Instead, he was promoted the following year to brigadier. In 1757 he was awarded the Croix de Saint-Louis and left for India. At the siege of Madras in 1758, he was captured and later paroled. He conceived several operations against the English in southeast Asia that brought him to the king's attention, and he was promoted to maréchal de Camp in February 1761. On his return to France he was captured by the English, who considered him as having violated his parole. Estaing was taken to Plymouth, badly treated, and released in 1762 with a letter from Lord Egremont, the English secretary of state for the Southern Department, to the duc de Choiseul complaining of his conduct. He was promoted to lieutenant general of the army after his return to France and appointed to head a squadron against Brazil three months later. However, the signing of peace preliminaries halted the project. Estaing's career now turned to colonial administration.

In late 1763 Estaing was appointed governor of the French Leeward Islands. There he found the colonial rule lax and incurred the hostility of locals when he sought to reestablish royal control. He wrote, "I would rather fight some enemy a hundred years than these contemptible people for a quarter of an hour." In 1766 he requested his recall on the grounds of ill health and left Saint Domingue. In 1767, having reached the minimum required age, the king conferred on Estaing the Order of the Holy Spirit. He was appointed naval commandant at the important port of Brest in 1772 and vice admiral of French naval operations in Asia and America in February 1777. Estaing sailed from Toulon with a squadron on 13 April 1778, arriving in American waters by July.

Following Howe's fleet near New York from 11-22 July, he was forced to break off pursuit for lack of water. A landing at Newport was stymied first by delays of American forces and later by the bad state of French vessels. Estaing's offer to debark troops at Boston was rebuffed by Congress, though it passed a motion on 18 October endorsing his actions.

On 4 November he sailed for the West Indies after abandoning plans for an amphibious Franco-American expedition against Halifax and Newfoundland. Admiral Barrington frustrated Estaing's attempt to retake Santa Lucia, but the French admiral succeeded in capturing St. Vincent and Grenada. He also forced Admiral Byron to withdraw from an effort to relieve Grenada. On 6 July 1779 Estaing and Byron fought a drawn battle, but when the latter retired to St. Christopher, the Frenchman would not use his superior forces to attack him in the roadstead. Estaing was not sure whether to attack Jamaica or sail for North America. Unsure of English strength on the island and with Spain now in the war, Estaing received a series of appeals from South Carolinians fearing an assault from the British General Prevost in Savannah. He decided to attack the latter and set sail on 16 August. The squadron dropped anchor off the Georgia coast on 1 September, encountering a violent and damaging storm

At Savannah on 9 October 1779, Estaing attempted a surprise assault on the western fortifications, but deserters had alerted the English, who repelled the combined American-French force with heavy casualties. Estaing was wounded in an arm and leg. The French vessels divided up, and d'Estaing sailed to France. He arrived there in December just in time to enjoy the celebrations for his victory at Grenada. In July 1780 Estaing was sent to Cadiz to command a joint French-Spanish amphibious expedition. Its object was set in October 1782 as Jamaica, but the signing of the Peace Preliminaries on 20 January 1783 ended the project for him and his second-in-command, Lafayette.

Estaing suffered from the ill will of the new naval minister, Castries, who denied him further rewards. Yet he was rewarded by the state of Georgia in 1785 with citizenship and twenty thousand acres near the Oconee River and granted special privileges by the king of Spain. In 1784 he was named president of the French section of the Society of the Cincinnati. In 1785 he became governor of the province of Touraine, and in 1787 was appointed to the Assembly of Notables. In September 1789 the officers elected him commandant of the Versailles National Guard, which post he held until his resignation in favor of Lafayette in October. In May 1792 the National Assembly issued a decree naming Estaing admiral. Although in favor of national reforms, he remained loyal to the royal family. Estaing was arrested by the Committee of General Safety of the French Convention on 22 November 1793, interrogated on 29 March 1794, and condemned and executed on 28 April 1794.

Estaing, a sometime poet and litterateur, wrote in 1790 an "Apercu hasardé sur les colonies." He followed it in 1791 by a play he styled a tragedy of circumstances titled Les Thermopyles, which prophetically contained the line: "Go tell Sparta that we are dead here for obeying his laws."

SEE ALSO New York; Savannah, Georgia (9 October 1779).

                              revised by Robert Rhodes Crout

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