One of the most famous battles in the US Navy’s history occurred 233 years ago today on September 23, 1779. Captain John Paul Jones and his converted East Indiaman USS Bonhomme Richard along with USS Alliance attacked a British convoy protected by HMS Serapis and Countess of Scarborough. In what became known as the Battle of Flamborough Head, Jones and his crew engaged the Serapis in a ship-to-ship duel. Captain Pearson of the Serapis demanded Jones’ surrender and in reply he uttered the now famous words, “I have not yet begun to fight.”
Though outgunned, Jones’ superior fighting skills carried the day and the Serapis eventually struck its colors. Despite having defeated the British forces (Countess of Scarborough struck her colors as well), the Bonhomme Richard sank the next morning and Jones transferred his flag to the Serapis. Jones’ victory was not the last in which an American naval force engaged British forces while penning a famous phrase.
The wreck of the Bonhomme Richard is considered one of the crown jewels of shipwrecks and has been the subject of several discovery expeditions. Unfortunately none have been able to locate the wreck and its final resting place off Flamborough Head remains a mystery. John Paul Jones is considered the father of the American Navy and his words “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way” are just as famous in naval circles as “I have not yet begun to fight.” Sadly, Jones never held a significant sea command in the US Navy after the Battle of Flamborough Head and died an Admiral in the Russian Navy.