September 23, 1779

Battle Of Flamboro Head

The most remarkable single ship duel of the American Revolution was between the Bonne Homme Richard commanded by John Paul Jones and the HMS Serapis. The duel took place on September 23, 1779. The Serapis was a 50 gun ship of the line, that outgunned the Bonne Homme Richard which was barely sea worthy. When the captain of the Serapis hailed the Bonne Homme Richard and demanded surrender, John Paul Jones answered:" Surrender be dammed, I have not yet begun to fight." The Bon Homme Richard went on the vanquish the Serapis.

John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones (1747-1792),
American Revolutionary War naval hero,
often called the
"Father of the American Navy".
He was born in Kirkbean,
Kirkcudbright county,
Scotland, on July 6, 1747.

As the strains of "The Star Spangles Banner" died, Secretary of the Navy Charles J. Bonaparte rose, walked to the lecturn, and began to speak. "We have met to honor the memory of that man who gave our Navy its earliest traditions of heroism and victory." With these words, the Secretary began his introduction of the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, at commemorative ceremonies and entombment exercises held in honor of John Paul Jones at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.

Before the podium stood a star-draped casket containing the body of Jones, recently returned to the United States after lying for over a century in an unmarked grave in France. Upon the casket lay a wreath of laurel, a spray of palm, and the sword presented to Jones by Louis the XVI of France in honor of his victory over the Serapis. The ceremony's date had been selected by President Roosevelt -- 24 April 1906, the 128th anniversary of Jones' capture capture of the Drake -- and the observance in Annapolis capped a series of activities that included a White House reception and an official visit by a French naval squadron.

 ~ John Paul Jones Commemoration - United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland - April 24, 1906 ~

Named John Paul, he inherited from his parents, John Paul, Sr., and Jean McDuff, the independence of the Scottish Lowlander and the fighting instincts of the Highlander. When only 12 years old, he sailed as a shipboy on a merchantman to Virginia, where his older brother William was in business. “America,” he was to declare, “has been my favorite country from the age of thirteen when I first saw it.”

He served at an early age in merchant vessels, armed ships, perhaps ships of war, and slavers. In practice of his own maxim, “A warrior is always ready,” his resourcefulness and skill won him the position as master of a merchantman, the John, at the age of 21.

In command of this vessel in Tobago in the West Indies in 1770, he punished with the cat-o'-nine-tails a negligent carpenter, Mungo Maxwell, who later died from malaria aboard another ship. Jones proved his innocence of the death of Maxwell, but suffered widespread criticism. Several years later, on a different ship, when a mutineer swung a bludgeon at him, Jones killed him. As an admiralty court was not in session at the time in Tobago, he left the island at the close of 1773, intending to return for trial. He took, temporarily, an assumed name.

John Paul Jones  Jones passed 20 months in obscurity in America,
chiefly in Fredericksburg, Va. A tradition assumes
he changed his name during this period from John Paul
to Paul Jones and John Paul Jones in gratitude
to two brothers, Willie and Allen Jones of North Carolina.
There is no authentic record proving that he ever met
either of them or that they served him in any way.
What is known with certainty is that Joseph Hewes,
shipowner and signer of the Declaration of Independence,
was his greatest early benefactor.

Jones was among the foremost in service at the founding of the Continental Navy. He was commissioned in December 1775 as the first lieutenant on the frigate Alfred, on which he hoisted the Continental flag, the old Grand Union.

As captain of the sloop of war Providence and as commander of both the Alfred and the Providence, he captured valuable British merchantmen and destroyed important fisheries and many vessels. His skill in harrying the enemy was widely noted, and in February 1777, the Marine Committee directed its secretary, Robert Morris, to place the Continental fleet in his hands. But the jealousy of others thwarted these orders.

Superseded by many officers, he became, unfairly, the 18th captain in naval rank. But John Hancock, president of Congress, as well as Robert Morris recognized his abilities. Accordingly, on June 14, 1777, he received the command of the new sloop of war Ranger, one of the first naval vessels to fly the Stars and Stripes, and sailed to France.

Jones sailed the Ranger to the very shores of England, and tried to burn the shipping at Whitehaven. At Saint Mary's Isle he attempted, unsuccessfully, to take the earl of Selkirk as a hostage for the exchange of prisoners. On April 24, 1778, he captured the Drake, the first victory of a Continental vessel over a British warship.

Upon his return to the French port of Brest, Jones was eager to undertake more ambitious enterprises in larger ships. At every turn, however, he found political and naval intrigues, both French and American. The ship he eventually received (a merchantman renamed the Bonhomme Richard in honor of Benjamin Franklin), was old and slow, armed with 42 guns, and ill suited to fight or escape.

Off Flamborough Head, however, the Richard pursued and challenged to battle two British ships of war—the Serapis, carrying 50 guns, and the Countess of Scarborough, with 22 guns. In the grim struggle on Sept. 23, 1779, Jones had to fight not only against the superior crew, armament, speed, and maneuvering ability of the Serapis, as well as the Countess of Scarborough, but also against a grave and almost fatal accident. Two of the six old 18-pounders of the Richard burst at their first broadside and killed or wounded many men. It became imperative for Jones to outwit Capt. Richard Pearson RN, the captain of the Serapis.

An initial attempt to board the British frigate and win by sheer desperate fighting failed. In a second effort he managed to lock the two ships together. The Serapis was beating in one of the Richard's sides and blowing out the other. Most of the guns of the American ship were broken and silenced. The Richard with its dry old timbers was afire again and again, and the water in the hold rose ominously. A gunner, crediting a report that Jones had been killed, called to offer surrender of the Richard, and Pearson loudly responded, “Do you ask for quarter?” Jones then made his memorable reply, emphasizing it by hurling his two pistols at the head of the gunner:

“I have not yet begun to fight!”

A grenade thrown from the Richard caused a disastrous explosion of ammunition on board the Serapis. After three and one-half hours of heroic battle in full moonlight, the Serapis struck its flag. Then Jones and his crew boarded the British ship and saw the Bonhomme Richard sink, stern uppermost and with its colors flying.

"I have not yet begun to fight."  

John Paul Jones

Jones escaped in the Serapis to Holland, accompanied by the captured Countess of Scarborough. He later went to Paris, where he was acclaimed by the populace, honored by the king, and feted and lionized by society. His dalliance in the French capital, his verse writing, and several romantic attachments made an unusual interlude in Jones's career.

Jones returned to America in February 1781 in the Ariel. Congress passed resolutions in his honor, recommended the award of a gold medal, and gave him command of the ship of the line America, which, in essence, conferred the rank of rear admiral. The war ending soon, he urged, “In time of peace … prepare … for war.”

The prospect of service in the Russian Navy as a rear admiral now arose. Jones asserted that he would never renounce the glorious title of citizen of the United States. But men no less astute than Thomas Jefferson and George Washington seemed to think that employment in Russia, in the absence of any at home, would qualify him, in case of need, for still higher professional duties.
Arriving in Russia in April 1788, Jones was given command of a squadron in the Black Sea for a campaign against the Turks. Jones's grim dedication to his professional duties resulted in victories scarcely less daring and strategic than those in the American Revolution. It was primarily his operations that saved Kherson and the Crimea and decided the successful outcome of the war.

While he won the battles, however, his colleagues usurped the honors. “The first duty of a gentleman is to respect his own character,” he wrote in explanation of his aloofness from the deceit that surrounded him. “I saw that I must conquer or die,” he stated on his early recognition of the ineptitude as well as the villainy to which he was exposed. The intrigue against him grew, both professional and personal, including a baseless charge of moral turpitude, and Jones left Russia for France. Becoming progressively ill in Paris, Jones died there on July 18, 1792.

Moral courage inspired by reverence for his country, physical boldness derived from a nature inured from youth to hardship and danger, and zeal for perfection in his profession were the qualities that combined to raise Jones from obscurity to international eminence. He was outstanding among his fellow officers for never losing a ship. He was unequaled by any of them for vision and resourcefulness, and his urgent recommendations for an unmatched American Navy showed remarkable foresight and devotion. After lying for a hundred years in an unmarked Paris grave, his remains were moved in 1906 to the chapel of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Jones' life paralleled that of the Continental Navy. Both rose from humble origins, appeared briefly on the world scene, and then passed with few mourners. Jones gave to it some of its brightest moments, including the capture of the two largest Royal Navy ships to strike their flags to Americans during the Revolution. He always made the most of the limited resources available to him. In the battle against Serapis, he left a legacy of dauntless courage and unconquerable persistence in the most desperate of circumstances. Every fighting service needs a tradition of refusal to surrender in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. "It was [John Paul Jones] who... created the spirit of my country's infant Navy." wrote a mid-nineteenth-century naval officer.

John Paul Jones This was the dominant image of Jones
during a century when naval officers, in particular,
shared his great sense of personal honor.
The era of Jacksonian Democracy found
much to admire in the rise of a Scot's gardener's son
to glory in the Continental Navy and
to flag rank in the Imperial Russian Navy. 

At the start of the twentieth century when the U.S. Navy took its place among leaders of the world, the image of Jones held by the general public and by naval officers began to change. The Navy's rising professionalism led it to value Jones not simply as a courageous leader in time of battle but as a complete naval officer. Jones understood the basics of his vocation. His grasp of naval architecture was demonstrated by his supervision of the construction of the Ranger and the America, the virtual reconstruction of the Bonhomme Richard, and alterations to the masts and rigging of almost every ship he commanded.

His victories were not won by courage and superior tactics alone, but were the result of careful preparation. His letters and actions show the respect he had for his subordinates, though he often failed to give enough credit to the officers who served under him.

His desire to establish boards to evaluate officers for promotion were visionary for his time. His proposals for a fleet of evolution and naval academies predated the establishment of such institutions in the United States by over a half a century. Consequently, quotations from his writings, sometimes imaginary, appeared on the fitness report forms of the Navy's Bureau of Personnel and on examination books at the U.S. Naval Academy in the early twentieth century.

Jones' strategic ideals were equally sound. As clearly as anyone, he understood the limitation of the Continental Navy and advocated operations congruent with its capabilities. The need for French assistance in ejecting the British army from America was apparent to Jones. It is not sjurprising that Admiral DeGrasse's biographer credits Jones with suggesting the strategy that ultimately brought victory at Yorktown.

That he was a man of talent cannot be denied, nor can his patriotism. His disappointments in terms of recognition and command rivaled those of Benedict Arnold, but their reactions differed sharply. Jones' reputation rests on his exploits of 1778 and 1779, when he took the war to the British people and stengthened American morale at times when it was sinking. Sadly, he was never destined to test his talents on a broad scale. With the end of the war, America thought it no longer needed a navy and thus had no use for Jones as a naval officer.

But Jones never fully adapted to peace. His success as a diplomat was no compensation for his disappointment when his plans for an American navy were rejected. Throughout the Revolution, he had remained optimistic, convinced that the Continental Navy, no matter how low its fortunes, could win respect from Europe for the new United States. That he sought personal fame at the same time is not surprising. His pursuit of glory as a reward for self-sacrifice and service to the nation was fully in keeping with the spirit of the time.

John Paul Jones' Crypt
Beneath The Chapel At The U.S.Naval Academy

In the end, John Paul Jones's legacy rests not so much on what he accomplished as on how he did it.

As the inscription on his tomb reads:

"He Gave to Our Navy Its Earliest Traditions of Heroism and Victory."

His remains are entombed beneath the United States Naval Academy Chapel's Rotunda, Annapolis, Maryland,
where United States Marines guard his crypt 24 hours a day.

Gardener's Cottage-1905

Gardener's Cottage-Today

Birthplace of John Paul Jones - Gardener's Cottage
Arbigland House, Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland - 1998
Photo - Ronald W. McGranahan, VAdm. USN Retired