U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard defeats HMS Serapis and HMS Countess of Scarborough

1779 – During the American Revolution, the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard,defeat HMS Serapis and HMS Countess of Scarborough off the east coast of England. Originally built in 1765, a 900-ton merchant […]
September 23, 2015

1779 – During the American Revolution, the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard,defeat HMS Serapis and HMS Countess of Scarborough off the east coast of England.

Originally built in 1765, a 900-ton merchant vessel, DUC DE DURAS, was built in France for the East India Company for trading between France and the Orient. As the Revolutionary War raged on in the Colonies, the newly founded Continental Congress began gathering a small navy and immediately realized huge privateer successes at cutting down the English war efforts in North America. Those successes prompted the Continental Congress to send Benjamin Franklin as an Ambassador in 1777 to advise the French Court and garner more European support for the American war effort. The King of France obliged in 1779 by donating the Duc de Duras to the American cause.

On February 4, 1779, the Continental Congress placed this fleet under the command of the 33 year old, Captain John Paul Jones. Swiftly, Jones refitted the Duc de Duras increasing her firepower to 20 guns a side, and renamed her Bonhomme Richard. Jones sought an honorable ship’s name that would be equally important to America and France. Jones chose the Pen Name of Benjamin Franklin, the Ambassador to France, and author of “Poor Richard’s Almanack.” This early 18th century journal urged common men to seek out roles in the public sphere and shape their own destinies. Clearly, his journal helped forge the will that resulted in the American Revolution.

On the evening of September 23, 1779, they encountered the Baltic Fleet of 41 near the English shore of Flamborough Head. Sailing for England, the Fleet was under convoy of the newly built frigate HMS Serapis (50 guns) and the small sloop Countess of Scarborough (20 GUNS). Before the British fleet realized it, Bonhomme Richard struck the Serapis first, igniting a bitter struggle that would last the entire night. Early in the battle, the guns of Jones’ main battery exploded, temporarily disabling his ship. Under gunned, The Battle against HMS Serapis Jones’ relied on decisive naval strategies and the might of his crew to out-fight the more powerful Serapis. To offset the Serapis’ speed, Jones lashed his flagship alongside and continued the fight long after his subordinates regarded the situation as hopeless.

Burning, sinking, and littered with casualties, Bonhomme Richard lit up the darkness with a constant barrage. Jones struggled to keep his vessel afloat and, in one instance, an overwhelming number of prisoners in hold threatened to rush the deck to save from drowning. Jones defied all odds and continued the fight against Captain Pearson’s Serapis. Bonhomme Richard’s mast was hit above the top-sail. Along with her Colors, a large section of the mast came crashing to the deck near Jones, feet. In response to the downfallen colors, Serapis called out, “Have you struck your Colors?” Resoundingly, John Paul Jones exclaimed, “Struck Sir? I have not yet begun to fight!” And fight they did. With newfound will, his crew delivered decisive blows from all sides and aloft. Jones’ sent 40 Marines and Sailors into the rigging with grenades and muskets. Decimated, Serapis could not avoid defeat and at 2230 she struck her Colors. Victorious, John Paul Jones commandeered Seerapis and sailed her to Holland for repairs. Sadly, Bonhomme Richard sank at 1100 on September 24, 1779, never to rise from her watery grave.

This epic battle was the American Navy’s first-ever defeat of an English ship in English waters! Rallying colonial hope for freedom, Jones’ victory established him to many as “The Father of the American Navy.”

A number of unsuccessful efforts have been conducted to locate the wreck. The location is presumed to be in approximately 180 feet of water off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, a headland near where her final battle took place.

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