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Aged fifteen, he joined the navy as a midshipman and served in Morocco, the Baltic Sea, the Caribbean Islands and in India. Noted for his strategic skills, he was called to Paris in 1775 to help the Secretary of State prepare the order to reorganise the Navy. In 1778, as a Squadron Commander, he took part in the Battle of Ouessant on the Saint-Esprit, and then cruised the English seas. During one month, he captured thirteen ships.
On 18 December 1779, he attacked a British squadron under the command of Admiral Hyde Parker that was attempting to blockade a French convoy; such was the success of his "Combat de la Martinique", that Hyde Parker sent him a letter of congratulation:
|“||The conduct of your Excellency in the affair of the 18th of this month fully justifies the reputation which you enjoy among us, and I assure you that I could not witness without envy the skill you showed on that occasion. Our enmity is transient, depending upon our masters; but your merit has stamped upon my heart the greatest admiration for yourself. ||”|
In 1781, as commander of a nine-vessel squadron that included three frigates, Picquet de la Motte intercepted the fleet of Admiral Rodney en route from St. Eustatius which the British had captured in February 1781. Picquet de la Motte captured 26 British ships, along with Rodney's plunder in the amount of 5 million sterling. Soon afterwards he was promoted to Lieutenant General of the Naval Armies.
Picquet de la Motte died in 1791, after fifty-two years of service. Four vessels of the French Navy have been named in his honour, the most recent being the first-rank frigate Lamotte-Picquet. The Paris Métro station La Motte-Picquet – Grenelle in the 15th arrondissement of Paris was also named after him. Lastly, there is a street in the 7th arrondissement of Paris named after him, l'Avenue de la Motte-Picquet.