Le Cerf was launched in the evening of March 7, 1779 by M. de Sartine, Minister of Marine (1774-1780) entrusted to the command of one of his proteges, Ensign Varages. She had a short but eventful career that cruised for English privateers in the English Channel. During one of these cruises, she fought with two British cutters of 14 and 16 guns to a draw in which 17 men were injured.
On July 11, Le Cerf joined a small French squadron to cruise for privateers around Belle-Ille and the Island of Yew. During this cruise, her mast was struck with lightning during a squall (July 17 at 3:30 AM). The lightning struck the head rigging of the topgallant pole, ran down the topmast, split it into four pieces lengthwise, knocked down a seaman standing watch at the head of the lower mast, wounded another man, shocked a third stationed at the topmast crosstrees, and cut some strands of the main stay and of the starboard shrouds. The lightening continued its course, passed through the lubbers hole, penetrated among the mast fishes and split them from the mast in splinters, damaged the lower mast, and went down into the hold. It wounded three men with electric shocks. The bolt continued through one of the scuttles of the main hatchway, knocked down and wounded seamen standing to starboard, and finally passing through the waistcloth set on the gunwale, dashing three stacks of slops into the sea after having them set on fire. According to the commander's report, "This unfortunate incident put the crew into sad consternation which did not die down until they had been harangued at length".
Once repaired, she sailed (August 14, 1779) with the division under John Paul Jones, Captain of the United States in Bonhomme Richard. On this cruise, Le Cerf was ordered to pick up and find deserters from Bonhomme Richard. She found a number of deserters on fishing boats, but during the night, heavy seas damaged her mast and she began to founder. Her armaments were cast overboard to right the ship and they put into port for repairs.
On August 27, off the Blaskets, Le Cerf came upon a British cutter of 20 6-pounder cannon. The joined battle but the British broke contact and sailed away, giving way to Le Cerf's heavier armaments. Le Cerf gave chase but gave this up when several larger British sail were spotted. The next major action Le Cerf was involved was with a large British privateer on February 8, 1780 just off the Azores. The Privateer pretended to be an American ally, running up a Boston pennant and when the ships closed to exchange information, a British pennant was run up and was ordered to surrender. A battle ensued in which the crew of Le Cerf tried to board the British ship at least two times. The privateer broke off battle and sped off, but Le Cerf could not follow given the damage she took from the privateer's guns.
Little is known of Le Cerf after this battle except that on the night of February 18-19, Le Cerf was in the Azores and hit by a huge gust of wind damaging the battle damaged mast again. Le logs or any records of Le Cerf simply state that in 1780 she was at Martinique, and that is it.