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. In nearly ten years, that ship would play a historic role in America's fight for independence.
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.
He chose the Pen Name of Benjamin Franklin, the Ambassador to France, and author of "Poor Richard's Almanak." This early 18th century journal urged common men to seek out roles in the public sphere and shape their own destines. Clearly, his journal helped forge the will that resulted in the American Revolution.
On June 19, 1779, Jones sailed BONHOMME RICHARD from L' Orient, France accompanied by ALLIANCE, PALLAS, VEGEANCE, and CERF. Their mission: to escort troop transports and merchant vessels under convoy to Bordeaux, France and cruise against the British in the Bay of Biscay.
Forced to return to port for repairs, Jones' squadron sailed again August 14, 1779. Going northwest around the British Isles into the North Sea and down the eastern seaboard of Great Britain, the squadron swiftly took 16 merchant vessels as prizes.
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 could respond, BONHOMME RICHARD lashed out at SERAPIS 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, 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 scattered with the dead and wounded, 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. In the final hour, 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, SEPARIS could not avoid defeat and at 2230 she struck her Colors.
Victorious, John Paul Jones commandeered SERAPIS 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."
The Second Bon Homme Richard
In 1864, Congress authorized the 3,700-ton AMMONOOSUC class screw frigate to take the renowned name BONHOMME RICHARD, but the vessel was never built.
On September 26, 1942, while still under construction, the name of CV 10 was changed from BONHOMME RICHARD to YORKTOWN (the previous YORKTOWN was lost three months earlier at the Battle of Midway).
CV 31 / CVA 31
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|