The Ships of the American Revolution

On 23 August 1775 the first armed vessel in the service of the of the United States, a small schooner named HANNAH, was hired and paid for, out of his own pocket, by George Washington.

This was the first step in creation of a navy that was to play an important part in the struggle for independance from Great Britain by the thirteen colonies in North America. Four years later, with assistance from France, the Continental Navy of the United States was taking the war into British waters, with John Paul Jones following up the exploits of Captain Lambert Wickes whose vessel REPRISAL had been the first to operate from a French port before foundering in September 1786.

The Bonhomme Richard

Three new gun-ports
below existing gundeck

She was an elderly, high pooped, French East Indiaman of 900 tons named LE DUC DU DURAS and, in 1779, she was lying at L`Orient on the French Atlantic coast.(Point A on map)
At the instigation of M. de Sartine, the French Minister of Marine, she was bought by King Louis XIV of France and put at the disposal of Captain John Paul Jones of the American Continental Navy.
She was originally armed for protection against pirates in far eastern waters and carried her guns on one deck, twenty-eight 12-pounders, with six lighter pieces, six-pounders, on the poop-deck and forecastle. Jones had ports cut in the gun room on the deck below where he mounted six 18-pounder guns (see picture on left) - making forty-two guns in all.
Jones renamed her BONHOMME RICHARD in honor of Dr Benjamin Franklin, the American representative in France, who had used Richard as a pen-name. Four other vessels, mainly crewed by Frenchmen, the PALLAS,32, VENGEANCE,12, an armed brig, a large cutter CERF and a warship ALLIANCE,32, were added to make a small squadron under the American flag, with Jones in command. The crew of the BONHOMME RICHARD included 150 American seamen, 100 of whom had recently been exchanged as prisoners of war for captured English sailors.

Click on drawing to find out more about the parts of a ship

18-Pounder Gun

Click on gun to find
out more about guns

Click on picture
for more about the battle

The little squadron sailed from the roads of the Isle de Groix off L`Orient on 14 August 1779 and captured a trading brig and a brigantine in the English Channel. These were sent into a French port with prize crews totalling sixteen officers and men.
On 23 August there was no wind. To stop the ship drifting sideways on to a reef, two rowing boats were put in the water to tow the bow of BONHOMME RICHARD so she was headed into the tide. The English prisoners in one boat overpowered their two American guards, cut the tow rope and made for the shore. Mr Cutting Lunt, with sailors and marines, set off in pursuit but the runways had too good a lead and Mr Lunt and his men were captured when they got close in shore. BONHOMME RICHARD`s complement had been reduced by a further 23 officers and men and two boats had been lost.
On 14 August Jones was off the West coast of the Hebrides (B on map) where he captured the British letter of marque, UNION. The valuable Goverment despatches she was carrying to Canada and New York were thrown overboard by her captain when ALLIANCE showed American colors.
A north-west gale prevented Jones making an attack on the port of Leith (C) in the Firth of Forth so he moved further south in the North Sea hoping to fall in with a convoy of merchant ships from the Baltic to England.
He was contemplating attacking a fleet of colliers anchored in the mouth of the River Humber (D)when VENGEANCE told him that the Baltic fleet was waiting in Bridlington Bay (E) on the English north-east coast for a shift in the wind. He signalled PALLAS and the two American ships beat up for the bay and, about midday on 23 September, discovered the fleet of merchantmen, with two escorting warships, coming towards them. All afternoon the American ships manoeuvred to get between the convoy and the land and eventually succeeded by sundown.
At seven o`clock, with a full moon, the BONHOMME RICHARD found herself facing a small two-decked warship - the SERAPIS,44, commanded by Captain Richard Pearson. The other British warship, the smaller COUNTESS OF SCARBOROUGH, with 20 guns and commanded by Captain Piercy, was tackled by the PALLAS. The British ships had succeed in their aim of getting between the Americans and the convoy.

The Freedom Company
In July 2001 Edinburgh saw the premiere of a new musical, John Paul Jones, with book, music and lyrics by Julian Wagstaff. An enteraining piece of musical drama which maintains the integrity of the historical record.
Visit the website of the The Freedom Company to learn about the production. A studio recording of all 18 songs is available as an audio CD to buy, or as a free MP3 download.

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