Sunday, March 3, 2019

John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard

The American War of Independence had been going on for years when Scottish sailor John Paul Jones reached the edge of the Yorkshire Coast on 23rd September 1779. The Declaration of Independence had been signed three years before but America would not get rid of the British until 1783 and until then the war was going to rage on with the help of the French who had taken the sides of the colonials against the Brits.

 Jones had been going to sea since he had first made a voyage at the age of 13 sailing out of Whitehaven in Cumbria. Over the years he rose to the rank of captain and had several disputes with his crew which left several injured and in some cases dead. He made the journey over to the American colonies and joined forces with them against the British, being given command of several vessels including the Ranger.

It was in 1778 that his name was on the lips of his own countrymen when he raided the town of Whitehaven, the very port that saw his own career begin at such a young age, and from that moment on his name was one that was to be looked out for, with the Royal Navy putting Jones at the top of their hit list.

As he was given a new warship, a converted merchant vessel, named Bonhomme Richard, he began to devise a plot to continue his attacks on the British. Now as he patrolled the waters off Flamborough Head he found the perfect target - a convoy.

The British warships Serapis and Countess of Scarborough were escorting a fleet of ships and were soon getting their guns ready when the American fleet was sighted. The convoy hastily retreated while the Serapis and Countess took on the Bonhomme Richard, Pallas, Alliance and Vengeance. Incredibly the two ships managed to fend them off for a long time until the Serapis and Bonhomme Richard became locked together.

There they drifted over the night blasting each other constantly until it became obvious that drastic action had to be taken. Jones boarded the Serapis and took over the ship, moving all available items over from his own ship before setting it adrift where she sank up to two days later.

Serapis was taken to Holland as a prize where she would later sink after catching fire off the island of Madagascar, the wreck being discovered in 1999.
The Battle of Flamborough Head went down in history. It has always gone down as an American victory but in actual fact was it really? The British mission was to protect the convoy - which escaped without harm. The American mission was to attack the convoy which they failed to do. The battle was ended after the British surrendered not realising that the Bonhomme Richard was in a worse state than they expected.

There are monuments to both Jones and the battle that you can visit, on the top of Flamborough Head itself is the Toposcope (above) commemorating this historic battle, a statue in Washington DC (Below) and his birthplace in Kirkbean has a museum full of interesting artifacts from his life. Near the town of Filey in East Yorkshire is the John Paul Jones public house (top photograph).

There have been many expeditions to search for the wreck of Jones's ship including four by famous author Clive Cussler. More recently the Ocean Technology Foundation have scoured the seabed using some of the most high-tech equipment available with assistance from the United States Navy. Although several interesting points have been discovered there is to date nothing concrete to link any discovery with that of the missing Bonhomme Richard. This includes the countless claims of a discovery that have produced no evidence to date of anything even remotely linked to this wreck.

John Paul Jones died in 1792 in Paris, his grave remaining a mystery until 1905 when a US-led search team finally announced that a six year search had located the "Father of the American Navy." His body was exhumed and brought to his final resting place as the US Naval Academy in Maryland where he lies in his magnificent tomb to this day.

A trip to Paris in 2018 gave me the opportunity to see the house where John Paul Jones died where a plaque now hangs (above).

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