USS BON HOMME RICHARD
CAPT. JOHN PAUL JONES
USS BONHOMME RICHARD
THE BATTLE OF FLAMBROUGH HEAD
September 23, 1779
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
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,
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
|"FATHER OF THE AMERICAN NAVY"
John Paul Jones (1747-1792),
American Revolutionary War
often called the
"Father of the American Navy".
He was born in Kirkbean,
Scotland, on July 6, 1747.
~ John Paul Jones Commemoration
- United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland - April 24,
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.
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 warthe 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:
Jones passed 20 months in obscurity in America,
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
to flag rank in the Imperial Russian Navy.
As the inscription on his tomb reads:
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.
"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.
Birthplace of John Paul Jones
- Gardener's Cottage
Arbigland House, Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland - 1998
Photo - Ronald W. McGranahan, VAdm. USN Retired