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A Picture from History: The Bonhomme Richard

Sailing aboard the Bonhomme Richard, American sailor John Paul Jones brought the fight for American freedom to the British on the sea.

    The date was September 23, 1779, and the British were terrified. The War for Independence raged ever since Britain invaded America, and now England faced the very real possibility of being attacked on her own soil. 

    The threat? 

    American sailor John Paul Jones.

    John Paul Jones
    John Paul Jones

    Sailing aboard his 42-gun Bonhomme Richard along with four other ships, Jones was headed to Ireland where he intended to lead the British astray as a sizable French and Spanish fleet attack. 

    Aware that something was afoot, however, the British sent ships throughout the region around Ireland only to come up empty-handed. 

    The Bonhomme Richard
    The Bonhomme Richard

    Jones escaped their grasp, sailing around the tip of Scotland. He was now in the North Sea. 

    England was in a state of horror. The Americans were coming. 

    A Fine Night for Battle

    On this particular day, Jones came across an English merchant fleet not far off from Yorkshire, being escorted by two British warships: the HMS Serapis and the HMS Countess of Scarborough. 

    The action between the Serapis, capt. Pearson, the Countess of Scarborough, and Paul Jones’s Squadron
    The action between the Serapis, capt. Pearson, the Countess of Scarborough, and Paul Jones’s Squadron

    The sea was exceptionally calm, and little to no wind blew. 

    The British knew that something was happening and sailed to attack the Bonhomme Richard.

    As the British opened fire, it soon became clear that board-for-board, the nimble Serapis was more than a match for the Richard. Its opening salvo caused extreme damage to the American ship, and a number of Richard’s guns were destroyed.  

    Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis
    Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis

    Yet the battle raged on. 

    Where the Wind Blows

    It soon appeared that all was lost for the Americans. They were getting obliterated by superior firepower. But then, something unexpected happened. 

    A sudden gust of wind materialized, allowing Jones to entangle the Bonhomme Richard in the rigging of the Serapis. The Serapis couldn’t utilize its superior speed and maneuverability.

    Now, it would come down to close-quarters combat.

    Frigates Bonhomme Richard and Alliance vs HMS Serapis
    Frigates Bonhomme Richard and Alliance vs HMS Serapis

    Time to Grapple

    The hand-to-hand fight on the deck of the Serapis
    The hand-to-hand fight on the deck of the Serapis

    Jones ordered his men to attempt to board the Serapis.

    Grappling hooks were tossed over, but it was several hours later that the Americans successfully boarded the Serapis, fighting with axes, pikes, pistols, and swords on deck as American sharpshooters in the top decks picked off all the British below. 

    Edward Stack's crew firing on Jones' from the rigging of the Bonhomme
    Edward Stack’s crew firing on Jones’ from the rigging of the Bonhomme

    The Americans tossed grenades at the British below them as well.

    When one grenade accidentally fell through the decks of the Serapis, it ignited a quantity of gunpowder below deck, causing a contained explosion that killed or injured 20. 

    As a result, the British begged for mercy and surrendered the Serapis

    A New Ride for a New Day

    Battle between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis
    Battle between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis

    Seeing that the Bonhomme Richard was sinking, Jones ordered all of his men aboard the Serapis, which he then sailed for the Netherlands.

    Not only had a ragtag collection of sailors just won a battle against the supreme naval force on the planet, but they’d also taken their ship. 

    And perhaps, for the British, this was the beginning of a realization. America was not to be trifled with. 

    This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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    8 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar

      America's first sailor. Jones is entombed at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis MD and it's open to the public. When asked to surrender to the HMS Serapis, he said "I have not yet begun to fight". Great story. Thank you.

      December 5, 2022 7:13 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Len C

      Absolutely never knew this happen. Awesome!

      December 5, 2022 5:21 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Chuck Cochran

      I have to chuckle, because at that point in time, my ancestors were still on the other side. They didn't immigrate to the US until the 1830's.
      Enjoyed the history Aden. Always a pleasure Sir.

      December 4, 2022 7:05 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Yes keep them coming!

      December 4, 2022 4:48 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Except for the part where he was born in Scotland making him Scotish, good story.
      John Paul Jones fought with the Americans and fought for the Americans but was not American himself.

      December 4, 2022 8:22 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Good article - could’ve included that the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard was recently located

      December 4, 2022 6:59 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Stories like this should be told in the classroom instead of CRT and Trans ideology.

      December 2, 2022 6:42 pm
      • Commenter Avatar


        December 3, 2022 5:53 am
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