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.
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.
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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.