“I have not yet begun to fight!”

Bonhomme Richard Engaging The Serapis In Battle by Paul Walsh (Used with permission by the artist)

On this day 240 years ago: The famous battle of the North Sea opens between Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard under the command of Capt. John Paul Jones, and Royal Navy frigate HMS Serapis.

During the height of the fighting, Serapis’ Captain Richard Pearson issues an appeal to Jones that the American ship surrender. Jones refuses.

According to the story, the British captain – aware that Bonhomme Richard is badly damaged and sinking – shouts across the water between the two dueling ships, inquiring as to whether or not Jones has lowered or struck his colors. Jones shouts back, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

It has since been widely reported that Jones reply was, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike!”

In fact, Bonhomme Richard does sink: But not before Pearson himself surrenders (believed to be “the first time in naval history that colors are surrendered to a sinking ship”), and Jones transfers his flag to his newly captured prize, Serapis.

Bonhomme Richard (the first of five American warships named after Benjamin Franklin’s pen name) is the former French frigate, Duc de Duras.

Jones is destined to become “the Father of the American Navy,” though — in some circles — it is argued that title belongs to Commodore John Barry.

Originally buried in Paris, Jones’ remains were later returned to the United States and placed at the Naval Academy where his sarcophagus is guarded around the clock by a midshipman. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Kevin H. Tierney)

Featured image: Bonhomme Richard Engaging The Serapis In Battle, oil painting by Paul Walsh

Author: Chris Carter

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