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The Search for the Bonhomme Richard

The Independent, a newspaper in London, England, is reporting today that the American Revolutionary warship Bonhomme Richard, which sank on September 25, 1779 off Flamborough Head, may soon be found.

Commanded by John Paul Jones, the Bonhomme Richard was presented to Jones by French monarch Louis XVI. From the service history of John Paul Jones, we can read this bare overview of the three day event, which Serapis theoretically should have won, except that Captain Jones, with his ship sinking beneath him, instead closed upon the Serapis and took the ship through hand-to-hand combat.

23 Sep. – Captured H.B.M.S. Serapis and Countess of Scarborough off Flamborough Head, England. After an engagement of nearly four hours, the Serapis, 44 guns, Captain Richard Pearson, R.N., surrendered to the Bonhomme Richard, Captain John Paul Jones. The Countess of Scarborough surrendered to the Pallas and Alliance. When asked by Captain Pearson if he had struck, Jones replied “in a most decided negative;” or, “I’ve not yet begun to fight.”

24 Sep. – Log of the Bonhomme Richard states that the Alliance raked the Bonhomme Richard fore and aft during the latter part of engagement of 23d. Jones transferred his crew to and hoisted his flag of Commodore on the captured Serapis. Note to log of Serapis says: “at half past 12 at night (23d) the Serapis colors were halled down and some of the Bonhomme Richard’s officers and men boarded her.”

25 Sep. – The Bonhomme Richard sank between 10 and 11 a.m., her flag flying as she went down. Nothing saved but the original flags. Jones’s loss “50,000 livres.”

Note that “her flag was flying as she went down.” That would the one mentioned here, which I wrote about on June 14. It is just visible on the far right of the painting shown below.

Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis

Engraving based on the painting “Action Between the Serapis and Bonhomme Richard” by Richard Paton, published 1780.

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