John Paul Jones

Revolutionary War Hero

In 1777, Jones was given command of the Ranger, fresh from the Portsmouth shipyard. He sailed to France, then daringly took the war to the very shores of the British Isles on raids. In 1778, he captured the Drake, a British warship.

It was, however, only after long delay that he was given another ship, an old French merchantman, which he rebuilt and named the Bon Homme Richard ("Poor Richard"), to honor Benjamin Franklin. He set out with a small fleet but was disappointed in the hope of meeting a British fleet returning from the Baltic until the projected cruise was nearly finished. On Sept. 23, 1779, he did encounter the British merchantmen, convoyed by the frigate Serapis and a smaller warship. Despite the superiority of the Serapis, Jones did not hesitate.

The battle, which began at sunset and ended more than three and a half hours later by moonlight, was one of the most memorable in naval history. Jones sailed close in, to cut the advantage of the Serapis, and finally in the battle lashed the Bon Homme Richard to the British ship. Both ships were heavily damaged. The Serapis was afire in at least 12 different places. The hull of the Bon Homme Richard was pierced, her decks were ripped, her hold was filling with water, and fires were destroying her, unchecked; yet when the British captain asked if Jones was ready to surrender, the answer came proudly, "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight." When the Serapis surrendered, Jones and his men boarded her while his own vessel sank. He was much honored in France for the victory but received little recognition in the United States.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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