WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3, 1776.
INSTRUCTIONS to the COMMANDERS
of Private Ships or Vessels of War, which shall have Commissions
or Letters of Marque and Reprisal, authorising them to make
Captures of British Vessels and Cargoes.
I. YOU may, by Force of Arms,
attack, subdue, and take all Ships and other Vessels belonging
to the Inhabitants of Great Britain, on the High Seas, or
between high-water and low-water Marks, except Ships and
Vessels bringing Persons who intend to settle and reside
in the United Colonies, or bringing Arms, Ammunition or
Warlike Stores to the said Colonies, for the Use of such
Inhabitants thereof as are Friends to the American Cause,
which you shall suffer to pass unmolested, the Commanders
thereof permitting a peaceable Search, and giving satisfactory
Information of the Contents of the Ladings, and Destinations
of the Voyages.
By Order of CONGRESS. JOHN
The Delegates of the United Colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Counties of New-castle, Kent and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia,
TO ALL unto whom these Presents shall come, send greeting: KNOW YE
That we have granted, and by these Presents do grant Licence and Authority to Captain’s Name Mariner, Commander of the Vessel Type called Vessel’s Name of the Burthen of … Tons or thereabouts, belonging to Owner’s Name of Owner’s Abode in the Colony of …. Mounting … Carriage Guns, and navigated by ... Men, to fit out and set forth the said Vessel’s Name in a warlike Manner and by and with the said … and the crew thereof, by Force of Arms, to Attack, Seize, and take the Ships and other vessels belonging to the Inhabitants of Great Britain, or any of them, with their Tackle, Apparel, Furniture and Ladings, on the High Seas, or between high-water and low-water Marks, and to bring the same to some convenient Ports in the said Colonies, in order that the Courts, which are or shall be there appointed to hear and determine Causes civil and maritime, may proceed in due Form to condemn the said Captures, if they be judged lawful Prize; the said Commander’s Name having given Bond, with sufficient Sureties, that nothing be done by the said Commander’s Name or any of the Officers, Mariners, or Company thereof contrary to or inconsistent with the Usages and Customs of Nations, and the Instructions, a Copy of which is herewith delivered to him. And we will and require all our Officers whatsoever to give Succour and Assistance to the said Commander’s Name in the Premises. This Commission shall continue in Force until the Congress shall issue Orders to the Contrary.
By Order of the Congress
Dated at …
James Hancock President.
YORK COURANT (newspaper) 13th
January 1778 :
All able-bodied SEAMEN or LANDSMEN,
willing to serve his Majesty, King George, on-board His
Majestys ship, the Countess of Scarborough, a fine new
ship mounting 20 guns, and mannd with 120 men, Henry Francis
Evans Esq., Commander, now lying in Hull Roads, and to be
stationed at Hull for the protection of the Trade of that
port, and other ports adjacent, let them repair onboard
the said ship, or to the Old Whale, or the Cross Keys Rendezvous
in Hull, where they will enter into present pay, be entitled
to his Majestys Royal Bounty of FIVE POUNDS for every able
seaman, and FIFTY SHILLINGS for every Ordinary seaman or
Landsman, and two months in advance; also a Bounty of TWO
GUINEAS to every Able seaman, and ONE GUINEA to every Ordinary
seaman or Landsman from the Mayor and Corporation of Hull,
and the same Bounty from the Wardens and Corporation of
the Trinity House.
GOD SAVE THE KING
- Petty Officers wanted; also
Carpenters mate, Gunners mate, and others
With these three brief passages there begins a tangle of threads which fate decreed would lead to the fame of one, and the obscurity of the other, fates paradoxically later to be completely reversed by history. The Letter of Marque, as issued to captains such as John Paul Jones, of the newly emerging United States Navy; and the recruiting poster for men to join the hired armed vessel the CountessofScarborough. Their paths were to intersect a few short years after the issue of these papers in the cold waters of the North Sea, off the Yorkshire coast during the crepuscular hours of late afternoon and evening of the 23rd September 1779, in an engagement to be known as the Battle of Flamborough Head. This on the face of it would seem to be straightforward enough; however, Jones was not the run-of-the-mill sea captain. He had been given a special SECRET COMMISION by Congress as evidenced thus:
Letters of Delegates to Congress : Volume 7 May 1, 1777 - September 18, 1777
Secret Committee to John Paul Jones
Sir, Philadelphia May 9. 1777 On receipt of this letter you are to proceed to Portsmouth in New Hampshire where you will find the Amphitrite a French Ship of 20 Guns commanded by Monsr. N. Fautrel a Gentleman that has acquitted himself honorably of the charge he undertook, and we doubt not he will continue the Same good conduct for the remainder of the Voyage.
This Ship is to proceed from Portsmouth to Charles Town, South Carolina, to load with Rice &c, from thence She goes to France, and we have proposed that you Should go in her this Voyage taking your Commission and Appearing or Acting on Suitable Occasions as the Commander. We know not the number of men on board this Ship, but if Captain Fautrel accepts our propositions, you will examine the Ships force, both as to Guns and men and if the latter are insufficient you may recruit as many more to go with you as Shall be deemed Sufficient to enable you to take and man Such Prizes as may come in your way. ………
“We hope you may make many Prizes and thereby lodge Funds in Europe that will assist in executing the other part of our views. We are advised by our Commissioners at the Court of France that they can procure us some fine Frigates and as we have a desire to gratify you with the command of a fine Ship in firm dependance that you will make good use of her to serve and promote the Interest of America, we send you to France in the Alnphitrite for these two purposes, first, to avail of her Guns & men to make a Cruising voyage to France, and then to Obtain One of the Frigates mentioned. ……
"The Congress have thought proper to authorize the Secret Committee to employ you [on] a voyage in the Amphitrite from Portsmouth to Carolina and France where it is expected you will be provided with a fine frigate and as your present Commission is for the Command of a particular Ship we now Send you a new one whereby you are appointed a Captain in our Navy and of course may command any Ship in the service. You are to obey the orders of the Secret Committee ."
The above very clearly implies that Jones’s mission was anything but run-of-the-mill, indeed it was very covert in respect that the Prize Money he was to eventually accrue was to be sub-divided for the purpose of funding French co-operation in the supply of ships, men and equipment. It also goes some way to explain why there was such squabbling over the consequential Prize Money obtained by the capture of Serapis and the Countess among others. That the above plan was not initiated beyond this point is incidental, it is plain that Jones had an agenda sanctioned by Congress other than simple privateering. Not, as we used to say “A Simple Sailor!”
This narrative begins with the assembling together of the 70 plus merchant ships homeward bound towards England from various Baltic ports carrying the 1779 cargo of masts, yards, deals, and hemp meant for the Royal Navy’s Mast Houses & Mould Lofts such as those at Chatham dockyard. H.M.S. Serapis, a Two Deck 44 [more of which later – RGH], only recently commissioned into the Navy, captained by Richard Pearson was their escort in those perilous times when Congressional Privateers and Letters of Marque were cruising even the waters of the North Sea for British targets to plunder. As part of the Channel Fleet based at the anchorage off the Nore and off the Medway at Chatham in the county of Kent, Serapis had been performing convoy duties to and from the Skagerrak, the strait separating modern day Denmark from Norway and forming the entrance to the Baltic Sea. Serapis, in her task to escort the annual 1779 convoy homewards encountered the Armed Ship Countess of Scarborough, and being but single handed in his enterprise, and also having seniority over the Captain Thomas Piercy of the Countess, Pearson instructed Piercy to join forces with him, which he was fully justified in doing under then current Navy law, to boost the convoy’s defence should that become necessary; and to assist in keeping the convoy in some sort of order.
A precious document preserved at the Public Records office, London at Ref: PRO ADM 1/2305, is a dispatch written by Captain Pearson when he established contact with the authorities at Scarborough upon making his landfall on the morning of the 23 rd September is a most insightful document. It can be seen from this that Pearson was a confident, experienced, proficient (and perhaps a little stiff) commodore of convoys such as this. He was fully aware of the lack of respect his flag would be shown by the merchant captains, hence his seconding of the Countess of Scarborough, needed to help shepherd this wayward flock. It is not a long dispatch, and can therefore be presented here in full. An accompanying list of forty of the remaining merchant vessels of the Baltic convoy at their departure from Scarborough roads, their home ports, masters, tonnage, destinations, and cargoes can be ACCESSED HERE The text of the dispatch might seem rather stilted but it was the form of the time when addressing their Lordships of the Admiralty. It also shows some frustration with the disregard shown to his command by some of the convoy departing without warning on approaching the English coast. It seems strange to think that only hours after this was penned, Pearson’s, Piercy’s, and Jones’s fates would be forever linked, and, that history was about to be made!
Serapis At Scarbrough the 23 rd Sept. 1779
You will please to inform My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that on the 19 of August I arrived safe at Elsinore in His Majesty’s Ship Serapis under my command with the whole of the convoy I sailed with from the Nore, that on the 31 His Majesty’s Arm’d ships Beaver Prize and Countess of Scarbrough arrived there with a convoy from Hull, Whitby &c. I then being ready to sail with a large convoy, and being informed by the last ships down from Petersburg that these were a number more …….. expected and I thought it proper, and more for the good of His majesty’s Service to give Captain Drummond commanding the Beaver Prize orders to remain their [sic] till the 6 instant then to sail with such ships as might be come down unless any senior officer to him should arrive before that time, in that case to shew my orders to him, and to follow such orders for his further proceedings as the said Senior officer should find it necessary to give him for the good of the Service, at the same time I thought it necessary to give Captain Piercy commanding the Countess of Scarbrough order to put himself under my command, and to proceed in company with His Majesty’s Ship Serapis and the convoy, having found from experience that one ship was insufficient with every attention that could possibly be given to keep so large a convoy in any sort of order or regularity, and this wholly proceeding from the obstinacy and arrogance or the national disposition to disobedience of most masters of Merchant Ships in all convoys.
In the morning of the 1 Inst:, the wind shifted round to the east, I sail’d with seventy sail of Merchant ships under convoy, and on the – inst:, in the night we fell in with twenty six sail of ships from Newcastle and Sunderland & bound for Elsinore, under convoy of His Majesty’s ship the Queen …….. [sic] On the 6, 7, and 8 instant, we had a very hard gale of wind Westerly in crossing the Jutland Reef, when we with some difficulty weathered that shore, and reached over for the coast of Norway. The convoy being much dispersed, at 4 o’clock in the morning of the 8 made Flekery Island [Flekkerøy Island RGH] the place of rendezvous, we then made the signal for seing [sic] the land, and brought to for the convoy to come up: After collecting as many of them as I could, and the pilots came off, I made the signal to anchor, when the greatest parts of the convoy put into such ports along the coast as they could fetch, and many that were not able to carry sail enough to fetch the Norway coast, I am told bore up to run from Elsinore, to take the benefit of the next convoy. I anchor’d about noon in a small cove near Christiansand, and in two or three days heard that the Countess of Scarbrough and a number of the convoy had got into Meardow [sic] a small port about ten leagues to the eastward; on which I wrote to Captain Piercy directing him to join me off Fleckery Island [Flekkerøy Island RGH] with the first favourable wind, and appointed him a signal to make off the different ports as he came along the coast, by which signal I sent to all the masters of the ships in the different ports along the coast, by which means when I put to sea on the 15 which was the first easterly wind, I was joined by the Countess of Scarbrough and a great part of the convoy, which with those already with the Serapis amounting to fifty sail, which with at 8 o’clock in the evening I made sail to the westwards and in the morning of the 23 made land near Whitby with forty four sail in company. The ships for Scotland Newcastle &c having parted company two nights before without ever making known to me their intentions.
I am Sir
Your Most Obedient
And Most humble Servant
A full list of the merchant vessels that made up the 1779 Baltic Convoy then under the protection of HMS Serapis and HM Armed Sloop Countess of Scarborough can be seen HERE
[via Peter Reaveley collection]
www.yorkshirehistory.com makes no apology that there is a bias herein from the British perspective. There is a plethora of works dedicated to the American side of things, and it was thought necessary to counter-balance this ‘over indulgence’ from a different point of view. At the same time, it is hoped that some new points from the American side have been established that will add to the vast body of knowledge already available on the subject - if one knows where to look that is! Much is repeated elsewhere in different formats, some more reliable than others. The reader should therefore take such things into account, and not rely on any single interpretation. www.yorkshirehistory.com has tried hard to ensure that sources are valid and safe, but nonetheless, discrepancies do creep in. Where these have occurred and been discovered, it is hoped that sufficient rebuttal has similarly been included to explain or avoid serious historical error.
Having now set the scene, it becomes necessary to look closer at the main protagonists, the people, the ships, the events, and the consequences of their meeting.
A three-quarter-length portrait of traditional 'kit-cat' size (36 x 28 inches). Pearson sits to the to the left in captain's (over three years) full-dress uniform 1774-87 with a tie wig, and a sword visible on the right. As a lieutenant in the East Indies he did well during the Seven Years War, where he was severely wounded. He was subsequently unable to obtain a commission because his senior officers twice died before they could fulfil their promises. He finally obtained post rank as a captain in 1773. In 1779, in command of the 'Serapis', 44 guns, and escorting a large convoy from the Baltic, he was attacked off Flamborough Head by an American rebel squadron under John Paul Jones in the 'Bonhomme Richard', 42 guns. This famous action ended in Pearson surrendering the 'Serapis' to Jones but not before his spirited defence had covered the escape of the valuable convoy. For this reason he was considered a hero. He was knighted, received presents from the merchants and the freedoms of several towns. This portrait was painted soon after this famous action. In 1800 he became Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital.
Permission to reproduce this image has been sought from the National Maritime Museum, London, but while they ponder the issue, it has been decided to present it until such times as it might have to be removed. As some readers will know, this is a non-profit making site, and therefore holds no funds for expensive reproduction fees should any be incurred. The copyright of the image then, remains with the National Maritime Museum, London, and any use of it by any means must be sought from the Museum.
His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Serapis was built to an old pattern at Rotherhithe, Kent, and launched 4 th March, 1779, and rated to carry 44 guns, the lower battery of which were 18 pounders.
In order to present a fair and balanced account of the action under Flamborough Head on the night of the 23 rd September 1779, it is very necessary to compare with Jones’ account, that of his opponent, Captain Richard Pearson, of Serapis (44). In a letter to the British Admiralty Office, written as a prisoner of war on board the Pallas, frigate (32), he sets out his own account. This is not his official report, which if I could but locate it, would be considerably longer and more detailed. There is however sufficient content to understand the perspective from which Pearson viewed the engagement.
October 12, 1779
A letter from Capt. Richard Pearson of his Majesty’s ship Serapis, to Mr. Stephens, of which the following is a copy, was yesterday received at this office.
Pallas, French Frigate, in Congress service, Texel, October 6, 1779.
Sir, you will be pleased to inform the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that on the 23 rd ult., being in close with Scarborough about 4 o’clock, a boat came on board with a letter from the bailiffs of that corporation giving information of a flying squadron of the enemy’s ships being on the coast, and a part of the said squadron having been seen from thence the day before, standing to the southward. As soon as I received this intelligence I made the signal for the convoy to bear down under my lee, and repeated it with two guns; notwithstanding which the van of the convoy kept their wind, with all sail stretching out to the southward under Flamborough Head, till between twelve and one, when the headmost of them got sight of the enemy’s ships, which were then in chase of them, they then tacked and made the best of their way under the shore for Scarborough, &c letting fly their top-gallant sheets, and firing guns; upon which I made all sail I could to windward, to get between the enemy’s ships and the convoy, which I soon effected. At one o’clock we got sight of the enemy’s ships from the masthead, and about 4 we made them plain from the deck to be three large ships and a brig, upon which I made the Countess of Scarborough a signal to join me, she being inshore with the convoy. At the same time I made a signal for the convoy to make the best of their way, and repeated the signal with two guns: I then brought to, to let the Countess of Scarborough come up, and cleared ship for action. At half past five the Countess of Scarborough joined me, the enemy’s ships bearing down on us with a light breeze at S.S.W., at six tacked, in order to keep our ground the better between the enemy’s ships and the convoy: soon after which we perceived the ships bearing down upon us to be a two-decked ship and two frigates, but from their keeping end on, and bearing upon us, we could not discern what colours they were under; at about twenty minutes past 7 the largest ship of the three brought to on our larboard bow, within musket-shot. I hailed him, and asked what ship it was; they answered in English, ‘The Princess Royal’. I then asked where they belonged to, they answered evasively ; on which I told them if they did not answer directly I would fire into them.; they then answered with a shot which was instantly returned with a broadside ; and after exchanging two or three broadsides, he backed his topsails, and dropt upon our quarter within pistol shot, then filled again, put his helm a-weather, and run us onboard upon our weather quarter, and attempted to board us, but being repulsed, he sheered off; upon which I backed our topsails in order to get square with him again, which, as soon as he observed, he then filled, put his helm a-weather, and laid us athwart hause; his mizzen-shrouds took our jib-boom, which hung him for some time until at last it gave way, and we dropt alongside of each other, head and stern, when the fluke of our spare anchor hooking his quarter, we became so close fore and aft, that the muzzles of our guns touched each others sides. In this position we engaged from half past 8 till half past 10, during which time, from the great quantity and variety of combustible matters which they threw in upon our decks, chains, and, in short, into every part of the ship, we were on fire no less than ten or twelve times, in different parts of the ship, and it was with the greatest difficulty and exertion imaginable at times that we were able to get it extinguished. At the same time the largest of the two frigates kept sailing round us the whole action and raking us fore and aft, by which means she killed or wounded almost every man on the quarter and main decks. At about half past 9, either from a hand-grenade being thrown in at one of our lower-deck ports, or from some other accident, a cartridge of powder was set on fire, the flames of which running from cartridge to cartridge all the way aft, blew up the whole of the people and officers that were quartered abaft the main-mast; from which unfortunate circumstance all those guns were rendered useless for the remainder of the action, and, I fear, the greatest part of the people will lose their lives. At 10 o’clock they called for quarters from the ship alongside, and said they had struck; hearing this I called upon the captain to know if he had struck, or if he asked for quarters, but no answer being made after repeating my words two or three times, I called for the boarders and ordered them to board, which they did; but the moment they were on board her they discovered a superior number laying under cover with pikes in their hands, ready to receive them, on which our people retreated instantly to their guns again till past 10, when the frigate coming across our stern and pouring her broadside into us again, without our being able to bring a gun to bear on her, I found it in vain and indeed impracticable from the situation we were in, to stand out any longer with the least prospect of success. I therefore struck (our main-mast at the same time went by the board). The first lieutenant and myself were immediately escorted into the ship alongside, when we found her to be an American ship-of-war, called the Bon home Richard of 40 guns and 375 men, commanded by Capt. Paul Jones, the other frigate who engaged us to be the Alliance of 40 guns and 300 men, and the third frigate, which engaged and took the Countess of Scarborough after two hours’ action, to be the Pallas, a French frigate of 32 guns and 275 men, the Vengeance, an armed brig of 12 guns, and 70 men, all in Congress service under the command of Paul Jones. They fitted out and sailed from Port L’ Orient the latter end of July, and came north about; they have onboard 300 English prisoners which they have taken in different vessels in their way round since they left France, and have ransomed some others. On my going on board the Bon home Richard I found her to be in the greatest distress; her counters and quarter on the lower deck entirely drove in, and the whole of her lower deck guns dismounted; she was also on fire in two places, and six or seven feet of water in her hold, which kept increasing on them all night and the next day, till they were obliged to quit her, and she sank with a great number of her wounded people on board her. She had 306 men killed and wounded in the action; out loss in Serapis was also very great. My officers and people in general behaved well, and I should be very remiss in my attention to their merit, were I to omit recommending the remains of them to your Lordships’ favour.
“Herewith I enclose you the most exact list of the killed and wounded as I have yet been able to procure, from my people being dispersed among the different ships, and having been refused permission to muster them; they are, I find, many more both killed and wounded than appears in the enclosed list, but their names I find as yet impossible to ascertain; as soon as I possibly can, I shall give their Lordships a full account of the whole.
I am, Sir, &c.,
[The Life and Character of John Paul Jones, A Captain in the United States Navy During the Revolutionary War, by John Henry Sherburne, Second Edition, 1851 pp 123 – 126 at: http://books.google.co.uk/ ]
It is an interesting exercise to compare this account with those of the Americans then present, and to note the verbal exchanges as reported by Pearson, and witnesses from his opponents. Also of interest is the claim that it was Bonhomme Richard that fired the first shot, with, allegedly, no indication of the colours he was flying, or should have been flying at the commencement of a naval engagement, according to the precepts of naval engagements at that time. Jones, nor any of his officers as far as I am aware, made any allusion to the use of a ruse de guerre such as that mentioned by Pearson when he claims that Jones identified the Bonhomme Richard as the British ship of war, the ‘Princess Royal’, even if, as he alludes, he was not fooled by any of the charade, and had his own broadside well prepared for any eventuality.
List of Serapis Wounded – the infamous ‘Butcher’s Bill’
‘A more perfect idea of the dreadful havoc on board the Serapis may be obtained from the official list of the wounded prisoners taken in that ship; and it may gratify the curiosity of those readers who are desirous of learning more particularly the multiplied afflictions to which persons engaged in naval warfare are exposed.
List of wounded prisoners on board the Serapis
September 30 th, 1779
Wounded leg and scorched
|Wounded thigh and scorched
| Arm shot off and much scorched
| Wounded shoulder and scorched
| Wounded shoulder
|Wounded arm and side
|Both arms wounded
Mr. Bannatyne Surgeon
| Finger slightly scorched
Mr. McKnight Surgeon’s Mate
| Much scorched in face
Mr. Kitchen Surgeon’s Mate
| Much scorched in face
| Wounded wrist
|Shoulder much bruised
|Shot in the hand
|Shot in the back
Shot in the back
Arm and thigh wounded
Arm and thigh wounded
Arm and breast wounded
The Following Miserably Scorched:
Abraham Portsmouth; Mr. Mycock; Mr. Popplewell; Thomas Rivers; William Bennet; Joseph Springale; William Searcher; Thomas Sandwell, boy; Benjamin Pickersgill; Thomas Hyslop; Jeremy Murphy; Charles Metcalf; John Laurence; George Lever; James Caw; John Paul; Robert Ingram; James Hall; Richard Seaton; Alexander Hutchinson; William Crow; Thomas Weeks; John Ashby; Seven or eight lascars.
Dead of their Wounds
Mr. Brown, Master’s mate; Mr. Place, Boatswain; John Jones, Marine Private; Edward Vernon; Patrick Sulivan; John Ellison; John Appleby; Michael --, Captain’s servant.
Besides one or two others whose names could not be ascertained.
Wm. Bannatyne, English Surgeon.
[Life and Character of the Chevalier John Paul Jones; by John Henry Sherburne; published 1825, sold by Wilder & Campbell.]
A full verbatim transcription of the proceedings of the Court Martial convened to inquire into the loss of Serapis and Countess of Scarborough by Captains Pearson and Piercy respectively, can be seen HERE, or by clicking the appropriate sub-section on the navigation-bar.
Pallas and Countess of Scarborough
A much abbreviated account from Captain Piercy was reported in the London magazine in which it says: “Captain Piercy confirms this account [see Capt. Pearson’s letter], and adds, that at the beginning of the action he made sail to assist the Serapis; but finding her and the ships she was engaging with so close together and covered with smoke, so that he could not distinguish one from the other, he shortened sail and engaged the Pallas for near two hours, when, being so unfortunate as to have all his braces, great part of the running rigging, main and mizzen-topsail sheets shot away; 7 guns dismounted, 4 men killed and 20 wounded; and another frigate coming up, he saw it was in vain any longer to continue the contest and was obliged to strike to such a superior force.”
[The London Magazine January to June 1824, vol. IX, Taylor and Hessey, 93 Fleet Street, London, pp 498. http://books.google.co.uk]
For the full letter from Capt. Piercy to the Admiralty Office, refer to York Courant pages, see 19 th October 1779 edition.
The conduct of both Commodores after their arrival at the Texel, seemed to be from the following agreement, to have been conducted in good faith, and in the manner of ‘Gentlemen’, and in full accordance with the strictures contained within the Letter of Marque “consistent with the Usages and Customs of Nations.”
The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States , Volume 3
Agreement between John Paul Jones and Captain Pearson.*
[Note *: * MSS. Dep. of State; 5 Sparks' Dip. Rev. Corr., 268.]
It is hereby agreed between John Paul Jones, captain in the American navy, commander of the Continental squadron, now in the road of Texel, and Richard Pearson, captain in the British navy, late commodore of the British Baltic fleet, and now a prisoner of war to the United States of North America, as follows:
* First. Captain Jones freely consents, in behalf of the United States, to land on the island of Texel the dangerously wounded prisoners now in his hands, to be there supported and provided with good surgeons and medicine at the expense of the United States of America, and, agreeable to the permission which he has received from the States-General of Holland, to guard them with sentinel in the fort on the Texel, with liberty to remove them from thence at his free will and pleasure.
* Second. Captain Pearson engages, in behalf of the British Government, that all the British prisoners that may be landed as mentioned in the last article shall be considered afterwards as prisoners of war to the United States of America until they are exchanged, except only such as may in the mean time die of their wounds.
* Third. Captain Pearson further engages, in behalf of the British Government, that, should any of the British subjects now prisoners of war in the hands of Captain Jones desert or abscond, either from the fort on the Texel or otherwise, in consequence of the first article, an equal number of American prisoners shall be released and sent from England to France by the next cartel.
* Fourth. And Captain Jones engages, on the part of the United States, that if any of the prisoners who shall be landed should die while on shore in his custody in the fort, no exchange of them shall be claimed.
Done on board the American frigate the Pallas, at anchor in the Texel, this 3d day of October, 1779.
* R. Pearson.
* John Paul Jones.
The above photo-montage is needless to say a complete fake. I have unashamedly borrowed an image from www.civfanatics.net/ to whom go my sincere apologies not only for borrowing the image without permission, but also for changing the original so radically as to make it almost unrecognisable. However, I think it does go some way to illustrating just how the battle might have appeared during the late twilight of that September 23rd. I hope therefore that I will be forgiven by one and all for this incredible cheat. Because of the method of photographic manipulation, I have decided it best represents the battle between Pallas and Countess of Scarborough.
Captain Cotineau of the Pallas, engaged the enemy’s lesser ship, which struck after a severe engagement of two hours and a half. She proved to be the Countess of Scarborough. Her braces were all cut away, as well as her running-rigging and top-sail sheets. Seven of her guns were dismounted: four men killed and twenty wounded.
[A New American Biographical Dictionary; http://books.google.co.uk ]
Capt. Denis N. Cottineau State Historical Marker
Located along the west fence within Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah
CAPT. DENIS N. COTTINEAU
This grave links Savannah with one of history's greatest naval dramas -- the epic fight in 1779 between the "Bon Homme Richard" and "Serapis" in which John Paul Jones immortalized himself.
Denis Nicolas Cottineau de Kerloguen received a commission in the Continental navy during the American Revolution. Commanding the slow sailing "Pallas" during the famous naval engagement of Sept. 23, 1779, Capt. Cottineau, by skillful seamanship, forced H.M.S. "Countess of Scarborough" to strike her colors. He was subsequently wounded in a duel with another officer, Pierre Landais, against whom Commodore Jones made serious charges after the battle.
Cottineau later settled in the French West Indies. During the slave insurrection in San Domingo he fled to Pennsylvania where he joined several fellow French refugees in establishing a colony. Suffering from a "lingering illness," he came to Savannah early in 1808. Capt. Cottineau died here, Nov. 29 of that year, at the residence of the Abbe Carles. Cottineau's widow was the sister of the Marquis de Montalet who once owned the Hermitage plantation near Savannah.
In 1928 Ambassador Paul Claudel of France knelt in homage here at the grave of the gallant Frenchman who helped establish the prestige of the infant American navy.
025-55 GEORGIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION 1957
Meeting the BonHomme Richard off Leith, Scotland:
Sir John Anstruther who owned a mansion on the north shore of the Firth of Forth was worried the American pirate might attack. He had a cannon and shot to protect himself but no powder, so he sent his yacht out to borrow a barrel of gunpowder from HMS Romney, which was nearby. The yacht mistook the Bonhoome [sic] Richard for the Romney. In return for information on coastal defences innocently given by the boatmen, ironically, Jones gave him the gunpowder.
“They run nigh to the largest ship and when within hail of hir were desired to keep off, which they did, but upon their tacking from them were called back and no sooner alongside than Andrew Paton was ordered on board and carried down to the Caben where he continued about two hourse. Stevens while on the Gunnel observed that all the officers on the quarterdeck were drest in Blew turn'd up with white the same as in the British Navy. the ship had three boats & a Norway shaft belonging to her, one of which boats were out, and armed with four serwivels & Small Arms, two Officers a Cocksween & eight men. They think the boat is Spanish or Frensch build by having apron bow ... The lower deck ports being Eight of a side were all fast caught in. She had fifteen ports on Each Side on the upper deck with three guns on Each Side of the quarter deck ... The officer on the quarter deck ask't Patton what force was in Lieth Road & was answered two armed ships and two cutters soon after which they put into the boat a bagg containing 100 weight Gun Powder with a letter addressed to Sir John Anstruther with Captain Johnston of the Romley's compliments to Sir John and that he had retained Patton as a Pilot for Lieth Roads and sent him (Sir John) the powder for his own defence desiring the payment might be made to [blank] house in Edinburgh when demanded. The whole Crew were Clean drest and seemed all to be British that nothing but English was spoken while they were along side.”
Provided this account is reliable, and there should be little reason to doubt it, then the description of the Bon Homme Richard and her compliment is particularly interesting.
The following anecdote from the annals of the county of Northumberland is of interest simply because it indicates the palpable panic and paranoia imbued in British minds because of an enemy so close to British shores. That Jones would even have dreamt of making a landing in order to steal Alnwick Castle’s rents is of course ludicrous on many levels of logic. That the castle bailiff felt the need to reinforce the castle with a local detachment of militia tells of the raw fear felt at the arrival of Jones’ squadron off the northeast coast. It is a wonderful but brief insight into the mindset of the ‘public’ rather than that of the military.
1779 (Sept 23)
Paul Jones appeared off the coast of Northumberland, after having made a regular progress round Scotland. He had become so notorious, that his appearance on this coast, where he lingered a whole day and captured a sloop, caused a great consternation. It happened a few days before, that the Duke of Northumberland’s audit, had been held at the castle [Alnwick – RGH], and the whole of the rents, mostly paid in gold, were deposited there, these would have afforded a grand prize for the pirate, had he been aware of the circumstance. The bailiff of the castle was most firmly persuaded that Paul knew of the audit, and had come expressly for the purpose of carrying off the cash, as he had done at Lord Selkirk’s, in Scotland, a few weeks before. Under this impression, he prevailed upon the commander of the Huntingdonshire Militia to garrison the castle, and prepare some cannon for its defence during the night. Accordingly the gates were barricaded and every preparation made for the repelling of an assault, but, however, the castle was left unmolested as Paul had proceeded on his voyage, and on the above day, meeting with the Baltic fleet near Flamborough Head, on the coast of Yorkshire, convoyed by the Serapis frigate of 44 guns, commanded by Captain Pearson, and the Countess of Scarborough, armed ship of 20 guns, commanded by Captain Thomas Piercy, a very severe action took place, in which Jones was victorious, and the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough were taken, but the convoy escaped……..
Mr. Parker, of Newcastle, has painted and lithographed a portrait of old Taylor of Cullercoats, who lost his arm and an eye in the engagement with Paul Jones.
Local Records or Historical Register of Remarkable Events which have occurred in Northumberland and Durham, by John Sykes, 1833, pp. 376-7; http://books.google.co.uk
Subsequent to the battle, the fates of the main protagonists naturally diverged, but before their story is ended, there remain some matters to be considered, not least the awards presented to the two British captains for their gallantry in preserving the very valuable convoy.
One item of what is today referred to as ‘collateral damage’ occurred because Jones was in need of local intelligence concerning navigational hazards such as shallows and shoals [compare the two charts above RGH] off Bridlington and Holderness. Off Spurn Point, he was boarded by an English pilot named John Jackson, thinking the black hulled ship off shore was a King’s Ship needing pilotage towards Hull. Jackson was kept onboard the BonhommeRichard for his local knowledge, but it was his misfortune that the next day he was severely wounded with the loss of an arm during the ensuing battle. Wanting to put matters right with Jackson, Jones issued to Jackson a certificate as a sign of his apparently genuine remorse at Jackson’s loss. The certificate concludes “Deeply impressed with a sense of his (Jackson’s) misfortune and earnestly desiring to make this Poor Man and his family what recompense lays in my power, I have given him in hand this day an Hundred Ducats – and I do also promise on behalf of the United States that shall receive half pay as a pilot the remainder of his life, to commence from the date hereof, payable every six months by the American Ambassador at the Court of France….”
[Yorkshire Life Illustrated magazine, August, 1954, p. 16]
Peter Reaveley, when asked if the US government had either been asked to honour this certificate or not replied:
“John Jackson was one of the two pilots JPJ lured out from the pilot station at the end of Spurn Point a day or two previously, when he intended to sail up the Humber and ransom the port of Hull. Unfortunately for JPJ the wind and the tide both turned and he could not make it. JPJ later released one of the pilots, Samuel Standridge, in his pilot boat since pilots were regarded as non-combatants. However, he detained John Jackson to assist him with his knowledge of the local seas, and his pilot boat would make a useful little tender. JPJ intended to release Jackson later, and Jackson had liberty to walk the quarterdeck.
Jackson was assisting at the pump-brakes on the BHR's quarterdeck towards the end of the battle when he was wounded by one of the raking broadsides of canister and grapeshot fired by the American frigate Alliance into both BHR and Serapis.
Jackson was released with the other English prisoners at the Texel in February 1780. Jackson never received any of his half pay promised by JPJ, primarily because, having no Federal taxation system, the Americans did not have much money for the first ten years after winning their war for independenc e.”
So then, while the certificate proved valueless to Pilot Jackson, by its preservation however, it has become another intriguing item in this story. Sadly, searches for this item by the staff of Hull Maritime Museum where it was reportedly lodged, failed to locate it. www.yorkshirehistory.com hopes that if and when this certificate re-appears as it should do eventually, to be able to provide a representation of it.
One point further concerning local pilots is made in the appendices of John E. Walsh’s book, in which he says “He [Dale] has made a slip of memory, however, in saying that on coming topside he inquired of an English pilot (taken captive some days before) what fleet it was, receiving the reply that it was ‘the Baltic fleet under convoy of the Serapis of 44 guns, and the Countess of Scarborough of 20 guns.’ The pilot might have guessed that it was the Baltic convoy, but he could hardly have known who the escorts were.” Being as the Countess was a local ship locally built, which had served as trade protection vessel for the port of Hull and places nearby for some time, she was a well known and one suspects instantly recognisable ship, especially to a pilot, who’s job it was to know local shipping. Serapis too would have likely been recognisable to him and his divulging of their names and rates could have been an effort to thwart any intent to interfere with the convoy or its escorts.
[Night on Fire: The First Full Account of John Paul Jones’s Greatest Battle by John Evangelist Walsh, imprint New York, USA McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1978, p. 143]
Further to this is the tale of the Crow Isle. Peter Reaveley provided the following narrative “Jackson's pilot boat was used by the BHR's 2nd Lt. Henry Lunt to go into Bridlington Bay around mid-day on Thursday, 23 Sept., to cut out the small brig Crow Isle, which had anchored in Bridlington Bay because the harbour was jammed with ships and fishing boats sheltering from JPJ and his Squadron. The BHR had chased the Crow Isle ashore down at Withernsea a couple of days previously, and the bar shot is from one of BHR's quarterdeck 8-pounders [approx. 4 inch diameter] which the BHR had been firing at the Crow Isle.”
[Image courtesy of Hull Maritime Museum]
To illustrate this event yet further, a commemorative plate designed and manufactured in so called “Blue and White” transfer still survives, the plate depicts the Bonhomme Richard and the Crow Isle, but, their ensigns are on the wrong ships, one of those little errors that make provincial pottery such a delight. Part of the Hull Museum’s collection since 1900, when it was handed over to them from the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society, it bears on the back, a mark indicating it was made by the Belle Vue pottery, Humber Bank, Hull. This plate originally belonged to a full dinner service and, being the soul survivor of that service, the plate was donated to the museum by “the late Charles Hassell, grandson of the late Francis Hall of Hull, who was the owner of the Crow Isle, Baltic Trader” who it was presumably originally commissioned the service.
[Artists and craftsmen of Hull and East Yorkshire by Arthur G. Credland; with a chapter on Hull sculptors by Geraldine Mulcahy: Publisher; Kingston upon Hull Museums and Art Gallery, 2000, pp. 174]
Once again, my sincere thanks to Arthur Credland and Susan Capes of the Hull Maritime Museum for their assistance in allowing this to be shared.
A copy made from John Paul Jones’ original report to the US Congress via Dr. Benjamin Franklin describing the action off Flamborough Head is held by the United States Library of Congress. What follows is the initial introduction, followed thereafter by Jones’ description of the battle. The narrative concerning the earlier part of Jones’ cruise has been removed in order to make the entire report more pertinent to the battle. Spellings, punctuation, and capitalisation are where possible, original.
From contemporary copy in the Library of Congress
ON BOARD THE SHIP OF WAR SERAPIS, AT ANCHOR WITHOUT THE TEXAL, IN HOLLAND, Octr. 3, 1779.
HONORED & DEAR SIR, When I had the honor of writing to you on the 11 August, previous to my departure from the Road of Groa, I had before me the most flattering prospect of rendering essential Service to the Common Cause of France and America. I had a full confidence in the Voluntary inclination & Ability of every Captain under my Command, to assist & Support me in my duty With cheerful Emulation ; & I Was persuaded that Every one of them Would pursue Glory in preference to intrest.
Whether I Was, or Was not deceived, Will best appear by a relation of Circumstances.
The Little Squadron under my orders, Consisting of the B. H. R., [Bon Homme Richard RGH] of 40 guns ; the Alliance, of 36 guns ; the Pallas, of 32 guns ; the Cerf, of 18 guns ; and the Vengeance, of 12 guns ; joyned by two privateers, the Monsieur and the Granville, Sailed from the Road of Groa at Daybreak on the 14. of August ; the Same day We Spoke With a Large Convoy bound from the Southward to Brest…………………..
………………….. On the morning of that day, the 23, the brig from Holland not being in Sight, we chaced a brigantine that appeared Laying too to Winward. About noon We Saw and chaced a large ship that appeared Coming round Flamborough Head, from the Northward, and at the same time I manned and armed one of the pilot boats to send in pursuit of the brigantine, Which now appeared to be the Vessel that I had forced ashore. Soon after this a fleet of 41 Sail appeared of Flamborough Head, bearing N. N. E.; this induced me to abandon the Singl Ship Which had then anchored in Burlington Bay [Bridlington Bay RGH]; I also Called back the pilot boat and hoisted a Signal for a general chace. When the fleet discovered us bearing down, all the merchant ships Crowded Sail towards the Shore. The two Ships of War that protected the fleet, at the Same time Steered from the land, and made the disposition for the battle. In approaching the Enemy I crowded Every possible Sail, and made the Signal for the line of battle, to Which the Alliance Showed no attention. Earnest as I Was for the action, I Could not reach the Commodore's Ship until Seven in the evening, being then within pistol shot. When he hailed the B. H. R., we answered him by firing a Whole broadside.
The battle being thus begun, Was [sic] Continued With unremitting fury. Every method was practised on both Sides to gain an advantage, and rake Each other ; and I must Confess that the Enemie's Ship being much more manageable than the B. H. R., gained thereby several times an advantageous situation, in spite of my best endeavours to prevent it. As I had to deal With an Enemy of greatly Superior force, I was under the necessity of Closing with him, to prevent the advantage Which he had over me in point of manoeuvre.
It was my intention to lay the B. H. R. athwart the enemie's bow, but as that operation required great dexterity in the management of both Sails and helm, and Some of our braces being Shot away, it did not exactly succeed to my Wishes, the Enemie's bowsprit, however, came over the B. H. R.'s poop by the mizen mast, and I made both Ships fast together in that Situation, Which by the action of the Wind on the Enemie's Sails, forcer her Stern close to the B. H. R.'s bow, so that the Ships lay Square along side of each other, the yards being all entagled, and the cannon of Each Ship touching the opponent's Side. When this position took place it Was 8 o'clock, previous to which the B. H. R. had received sundry eighteen pounds Shot below the water, and Leaked Very much. My battery of 12 pounders, on Which I had placed my chief dependance, being Commanded by Lieut. Deal and Col. Weibert, and manned principally with American seamen, and French Volunteers, Were entirely silenced and abandoned. As to the six old eighteen pounders that formed the Battery of the Lower gun-deck, they did no Service Whatever: two out of three of them burst at the first fire, and killed almost all the men Who Were stationed to manage them. before this time too, Col. de Chamillard, Who Commanded a party of 20 soldiers on the poop had abandoned that Station, after having lost some of his men. I had now only two pieces of Cannon, nine pounders, on the Quarter deck that Were not silenced, and not one of the heavyer Cannon Was fired during the rest of the action. The purser, Mr. Mease, Who Commanded the guns on the Quarter deck, being dangerously Wounded in the head, I was obliged to fill his place, and With great difficulty rallied a few men, and Shifter over one of the Lee quarter-deck guns, So that We afterward played three pieces of 9 pounders upon the Enemy. The tops alone Seconded the fire of this little battery, and held out bravely during the Whole of the action; Especially the main top, Where Lieut. Stack commanded. I directed the fire of one of the three Cannon against the main-mast, With double-headed Shot, While the other two Were exceedingly Well Served With Grape and Cannister Shot to Silence the Enemie's musquetry, and clear her decks, Which Was at last Effected. The Enemy Were, as I have Since understood, on the instant of Calling for quarters, When the Cowardice or treachery of three of my under officers induced them to Call to the Enemy. The English Commodore asked me if I demanded quarters, and I having answered him in the most determined negative, they renewed the battle with Double fury ; they Were unable to Stand the deck, but the fire of their Cannon, especially the lower battery, Which Was Entirely formed of 18 pounders, Was incessant, both Ships Were Set on fire in Various places, and the Scene was dreadful beyond the reach of Language. To account for the timidity of my three under officers, I mean the gunner, the carpenter, and the master-at-arms, I must observe that the two first Were Slightly Wounded, and as the Ship had received Various Shots under Water, and on of the pumps being Shot away, the Carpenter Expressed his fear that she Should Sin, and the other two concluded that She Was Sinking; Which occasioned the gunner to run aft on the poop without my Knowledge, to Strike the Colours. fortunately for me, a Cannon ball had done that before, by carrying away the ensign staff: he was therefore reduced to the necessity of Sinking, as he Supposed, or of Calling for quarter, and he preferred the Latter.
All this time the B. H. R. has Sustained the action alone, and the Enemy, though much Superior in force, Would have been Very glad to have got clear, as appears by their own acknowledgements, and by their having let go an anchor the instant that I laid them on board, by Which means they Would have escaped had I not made them well fast to the B. H. R.
At last, at half past 9 o'clock, the Alliance appeared, and I now thought the battle was at an End; but, to my utter astonishment, he discharged a broadside full into the stern of the B. H. R. We called to him for God's Sake to forbear firing into the B. H. R.; yet he passed along the off Side of the Ship and continued firing. There was no possibility of his mistaking the Enemie's Ship for the B. H. R., there being the most essential difference in their appearance and Construction; besides, it Was then full moon Light, and the Sides of the B. H. R. Were all black, while the Sides of the prizes Were yellow. yet, for the greater Security, I Shewed the Signal of our reconnoissance, by putting out three Lanthorns, one at the head, (Bow,) another at the Stern, (Quarter,) and the third in the middle, in a horizontal line. Every tongue Cried that he Was firing into the Wrong Ship, but nothing availed; he passed round, firing into the B. H. R.'s head, stern, and broadside, and by one of his Vollies Killed several of my best men, and mortally wounded a good officer on the forecastle. My Situation Was really deplorable. The B. H. R. received various Shot under Water from the Alliance; the Leack gained on the pump, and the fire increased much on board both Ships. Some officers persuaded me to strike, of Whose Courage and good sense I entertain an high opinion. My treacherous master-at-arms let Loose all my prisoners Without my Knowledge, and my prospect became gloomy indeed. I Would not, however, give up the point. The Enemie's main-mast begain to shake, their firing decreased, our Rather increased, and the British colours Were Struck at half an hour past 10 o'clock.
This prize proved to be the British Ship of War the Serapis, a New Ship of 44 guns, built on their most approved Construction, With two compleat batteries, one of them of 18 pounders, and Commanded by the brave Commodore Richard Pearson. I had yet two enemies to encounter far more formidable than the britons; I mean fire and Water. The Serapis Was attacked only by the first, but the B. H. R. Was assailed by both: there Was five feet Water in the hould, and Tho it Was moderate from the Explosion of so much gunpowder, yet the three pumps that remained Could With difficulty only Keep the Water from gaining. The fire broke out in Various parts of the Ship, in spite of all the Water that could be thrown to quench it, and at length broke out as low as the powder magazine, and Within a few inches of the powder. in that dilema, I took out the powder upon the deck, ready to be thrown overboard at the Last Extremity, and it was 10 o'clock the next day, the 24, before the fire Was entirely Extinguished. With respect to the situation of the B. H. R., the rudder Was Cut entirely off, the stern frame, and the transoms Were almost Entirely Cut away, the timbers, by the lower Deck especially, from the mainmast to the Stern, being greatly decayed with age, Were mangled beyond my power of description, and a person must have been an Eye-Witness to form a just idea of the tremendous scene of Carnage, Wreck, and ruin, that Every Where appeared. Humanity Cannot but recoil from the prospect of Such finished horror, and Lament that War Should produce Such fatal consequences.
After the Carpenters, as well as Capt. de Cottineau, and other men of Sense, had Well Examined and Surveyed the Ship, (Which Was not finished before five in the Evening,) I found every person to be Convinced that it Was impossible to keep the B.H.R. afloat so as to reach a port if the Wind Should increase, it being then only a Very moderate breeze. I had but Little time to remove my Wounded, which now became unavoidable, and Which Was effected in the Course of the night and the next morning. I Was determined to Keep the B. H. R. afloat, and, if possible, to bring her into port. For that purpose, the first lieutenant of the Pallas continued on board, With a party of men to attend the pumps, With boats in Waiting ready to take them on board, in Case the Water Should gain on them too fast. The Wind augmented in the Night and the next day, on the 25, So that it Was impossible to prevent the good old Ship from Sinking. They did not abandon her till after 9 o'clock: the Water Was then up to the Lower deck; and a little after ten, I Saw With inexpressible grief the last glimpse of the B. H. R. No Lives were lost With the Ship, but it Was imppossible to save the stores of any sort Whatever, I Lost even the best part of my Cloaths, books, and papers; and Several of my officers lost all their Cloaths and Effects.
Having thus Endeavoured to give a Clear and Simple relation of the Circumstances and Events that have attended the little armament under my com, I Shall freely Submit my Conduct therein to the Censure of my Superiors and the impartial public. I beg leave, however, to observe, that the force that Was put under my command Was far from being Well composed, and as the great majority of the actors in it have appeared bent on the pursuit of intrest only, I am Exceedingly sorry that they and I have been at all concerned. I am in the highest degree Sensible of the Singular attentions Which I have Experienced from the Court of France, Which I Shall remember With perfect gratitude until the End of my Life ; and Will always Endeavour to merit, while I Can, Consistent With my honour, Continue in the public Service. I must speak plainly. As I have been always honored With the full Confidence of Congress, and as I also flattered myself With Enjoying in Some measure the Confidence of the Court of France, I Could not but be astonished at the Conduct of M. de Chaumont, When, in the moment of my departure from Groa, he produced a paper, a Concordat, for me to Sign, in Common with the officers Whom I had Commissioned but a few days before. Had that paper, or Even a less dishonorable one, been proposed to me at the beginning, I would have rejected it With Just Contempt ; and the Word deplacement among others should have been necessary. I Cannot, however, Even now Suppose that he Was authorized by the Court to make Such a Bargain With me; Nor Can I Suppose that the minister of the marine meant that M. de Chaumont should Consider me merely as a Colleague With teh Commanders of the other Ships, and Communicate to them not only all he Knew, but all he thought, respecting our destination and operations. M. de Chaumont has made me Various reproaches on account of the Expence of the B. H. R. wherewith I cannot think I have been justly chargeable. M. de Chamillard can attest that the B. H. R. Was at Last far from being well fitted or armed for War. If any person or persons Who have been charged With the Expense of that armament have acted Wrong, the fault must not be Laid to my charge. I had no authority to Superintend that armament, and the persons Who had authority Were So far from giving me What I thought necessary, that M. de Chaumont Even refused, among other things, to allow me Irons for securing the prisoners of War.
In Short, While my Life remains, if I have any Capacity to render good and acceptable Services to the Common Cause, no man Will Step Forth with greater cheerfulness and alacrity than myself, but I am not made to be dishonoured, nor can I accept of the half Confidence of any man living ; of Course I Cannot, Consistent With my honor and a prospect of Success, undertake future Expeditions, unless When the object and destination is communicated to me alone, and to no other person in the marine Line. In Cases Where troops are Embarked, a like confidence is due alone to their Commander in Chief. On no other Condition Will I ever undertake the Chief Command of a private Expedition; and when I do not Command in Chief, I have no desire to be in the secret.
Captain Cottineau Engaged the Countess of Scarborough and took her after an hour's action, while the B. H. R. Engaged the Serapis. The Countess of Scarborough is an armed ship of 20 six pounders, and Was Commanded by a King's officer. In the action, the Countess of Scarborough and the Serapis Were at a Considerable distance asunder ; and the Alliance, as I am informed, fired into the Pallas and Killed some men. If it Should be asked Why the Convoy Was Suffered to Escape, I must answer, that I Was myself in no condition to pursue, and that none of the rest Shewed any inclination, not even Mr. Ricot, who had held off at a distance to Windward during the Whole Action, and Witheld by force the pilot boat With my Lieutenant and 15 men. The Alliance too, Was in a State to pursue the fleet, not having had a Single man wounded, or a Single Shot fired at her from the Serapis, and only three that did execution from the Countess of Scarborough, at such a distance that one Stuck in the Side, and the other two just touched and then dropped into the Water. The Alliance killed one man only on board the Serapis. As Captain de Cottineau charged himself with manning and securing the prisoners of the Countess of Scarborough ; I think the escape of the Baltic fleet Cannot So Well be Charged to his account.
I should have mentioned, that the main-mast and mizen-top-mast of the Serapis fell overboard soon after the captain had come on board the B. H. R.
Upon the Whole, the captain of the Alliance has beheaved so Very Ill in Every respect, that I must complain loudly of his Conduct. He pretends that he is authorized to act independent of my command: I have been taught the Contrary ; but Supposing it to be so, his Conduct has been base and unpardonable. M. de Chamillard Will Explain the particulars. Either Captain Landais or myself is highly Criminal, and one or the other must be punished. I forbear to take any steps With him until I have the advice and approbation of your Excellency. I have been advised by all the officers of the Squadron to put M. Landais under arrest; but as I have postponed it So long, I Will bear With him a Little Longer until the return of my Express.
We this Day anchored here having, Since the action been tossed to and from by Contrary Winds. I Wished to have gained the Road of Dunkirk on account of our prisoners, but Was Overruled by the majority of my Colleagues. I Shall heasten up to Amsterdam, and there if I meet With no orders for my government, I Will take the advice of the French Ambassador. It is my present intention to have the Countess of Scarborough ready to transport the prisoners from hence to Dunkirk, unless it should be found more Expedient to deliver them to the English ambassador, taking his obligation to Send to Dunkirk, &c. immediately an Equal number of American prisoners. I am under Strong apprehensions that our object here will fail, and that thro' the imprudence of M. de Chaumont, who has Communicated Every thing he Knew or thought on the matter to persons Who Cannot help talking of it at a full table. This is the way he keeps State Secrets, tho' he never mentioned the affair to me.
I am ever, &c.
JNO. P. JONES.
His Excellency BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, ESQUIRE, &c. &c.
[This manuscript bears the coeval endorsement: "An exact copy."]
LC Control Number: 20020819 Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.) Personal Name: Jones, John Paul, 1747-1792. Main Title: Battle between the "Bon Homme Richard" and the "Serapis". Commodore Jones's Report to Congress, through Dr.Franklin. Published/Created: [Boston, Directors of the Old South Work, 1904] Description: 28 p. 20 cm. Subjects: Bon Homme Richard (Ship) Serapis (Ship) United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783—Naval operations. Series: Old South leaflets. [General series. v.7] no. 152 LC Classification: E173 .O44 vol. 7 Other System No.: (OCoLC)5856588 CALL NUMBER: E173 .O44 vol. 7 Copy 1 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ONLINE CATALOG Library of Congress 101 Independence Ave., SE Washington, DC 20540 http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-digital.html
What follows are the extracts of the ships log of the BonHomme Richard, it is clear to see from transcripts that these remarks were penned either during or shortly after the battle, and took little account of location or prevailing weather conditions, which are and were considered essential parts of the logbook’s purpose. Such omissions, in a British ship of war would have been considered negligent at the very least, and worthy by them selves of perhaps a court martial. Such logbooks would have contained by column, possibly noted daily, or at the end of each sea watch, that is to say every four hours while at sea; the date and time, the strength and direction of the wind, the vessel’s course and speed, the distance made good since the last reading, the latitude and longitude calculated by the best available method in prevailing conditions, a definitive position taken at noon by astronomical calculation or bearings depending on whether the vessel was in a coastal or deep-sea situation; and finally, the Remarks column, into which were entered anything of note and relevance that had occurred since the last entry including changes of the wind and sea state, and the set and change of set of the ship’s sails. Such a system was did not evolve overnight, yet by this time, the standards had been pretty much laid down, and were adhered to, to the extent that in some vessels, one officer, perhaps a senior midshipman, was told-off to maintain the logbook in its rough copy. My own time at sea
(1960’s to 1980’s), there were always two copies kept, one on the bridge by the watch officers, and the other by the captain, the fair copy, which was the one used for official purposes. [RGH]
Copies of the Remarks in the Log Book of the Bon Homme Richard, now in the possession of the Selkirk family.
Remarks on Wednesday, Sept the 22 1779
This 24 hourses Begins with a Litte Brieze of wind and Showry weather att 3 P M saw a Sail and att 4 P M Took him at ½ peast 4 took him in tow and att 6 P M saw a flet of 16 Sailes Larg and Small Singleled the prize and Cast him off and made a Signel and amde sail after them the peallice gave Chace to on that was to Leeward and the Veangence come with us att 7 P M Lost Sitte of them and att 8 got Sitte of on and gave Chace and att 9 tak Ship
att 11 P M Cam up with the chace so near as to give hire a gun and fired a number of gunes att hire But Sh Did not Bring too att wore Ship and spid a Sail ahead which was the Veangance att ½ peast 12 saw a Sail and att 1 a m Spok with him & She proved to Be a Bridg from otterdam we hoisted out the Small Boat and Sent an offsir and 2 hands to take Charge of here and 2 hands to fich the Boat and prissoners a Bord and mad Sail
att 8 a m Cald all hands to Quarters Saw a Ship in Shore hoisted a jack att the fore top galmast head for a poilot att 9 we saw 2 poilot Bots aComing att 10 one Borded us att ½peast 10 the other Borded the prise we mand first Boat and Sent to the Prise and Brought the Other aBord
Remarks on Thursday Sept the 23: 1779
This 24 Hourses Begins with a Litte Breze of wind and Raniey weather the wind Vearible Att 4 P M toek the Littel Sloop pulot in tow att healef peast to sent Shooneur pilot Boat to go a Bord of the prise Bridg to sink hir But seeing hir make Sail for the Land half the Boat to Come Beack att ½ Peast 5 the Boat got a Long Sid and we took hir in tow a Stairn of the other att 6 P M Spirean Littes Bor W N W Distance 6 Leagues att ½ peast 11 P M Saw two Sailes att 1 A M Cald all hands att 2 A M all to Quearters att ½ peast 2 hoistd 3 Littes 1 fowd 1 amid Shipes & 1 afte att ¾ peast 2 hoistd 2 more Leites att the mirzon peak Laid the m & mison top Sailes to the mast the Sailes Shod a Litte att 4 wore Ship att 5 A M hisde a Chuckerd flag att the mezin peak att ½ peast 5 found them to Be the Elliance and pealaice two of our Cone Sortes or two of our flete
Remarks on Friday 24th .. September 1779
The First part of this twenty four Hours clear and Pleasant Weather with Moderate Breeses of Wind __________ At 3 P M sent the small Schooner with Mr Lunt and A Number of Marines in her to Board a Brigg to the Windward of us at ½ past Do. The Alliance hove out a Signal and bore away we immediately fir’d a gun for the Schooner to give over Chase and kept away __________ at 4 sett Steering Sails fore and aft (in Chase of two Ships) At 6 P M Hoisted a Blue flag Pendant & a Blue & Yellow Flag At ½ past Do. Came up with the largest Ship and engaged her; the Alliance engag’d the small Ship which soon struck. Att 8 A M the Alliance came under our stern and Rak’d us fore & aft. She then shot just ahead of us and did the like again, we were all this time closely engag’d with our Antagonist lying so near each other that our Yard Arms was within her’s; at 10 P M She Struck her Colours and prov’d to be the Searuppus of 44 Guns soon after She Struck her Main Mast fell over her side. The People employed in putting fire out that had catch’d in several parts of the Ship & in Pomping for we were very near sinking; The Ship that the Alliance took prov’d to be the Scarborough of 20 Guns.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The foregoing are copies of the entries or Remarks in “A Log Book for the Ship Bon Homme Richard, the Honorible John Paul Jones Commander begun at L’Orient Saturday, 8th of May 1779,” of which a typewritten copy is in the Navy Department Library, and the original is supposed to be now in the possession of the Selkirk family at St Mary’s Isle.
Facsimiles of the three Remarks of the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th of September are also in the Navy Department Library. The entries of the 22nd and 23rd are in the same handwriting, and of similar orthography, as are the preceding Remarks in that log. The handwriting of the Remarks on Friday the 24th is that of Lieut. Henry Lunt, who also wrote the Remarks on the same day in the Serapis’ log book.
There are no entries in the column of Knots, F., Courses, Wind, for which the pages are ruled, for those days. [My emphasis RGH]
If this log was the regular Ship’s Journal, it is remarkable that it should have been kept by a man whose handwriting and orthography were so bad as to be decipherable with difficulty. That the record of the transactions on the eventful 24th day of September on the Richard and Serapis and the following days should have been delegated to Lieutenant Lunt and Midshipman Groube seems to have been thought desirable by some one in authority.
Remarks on Friday 24th Sepr 1779
The first part of this 24 Hours light Breese of Wind and clear Weather At 2 P M sent away the Pilot Boat with the 2d Lieutenant and a number of Marines Arm’d; after a Brigg to the Windward lying too under her Fore Topsail At 3 PM saw a Fleet to the leeward among them appear’d to be two Ship’s of War made a Signal for the Alliance to give Chase at ½ past 3 P M fir’d a Gun at the Boat for her to return to us; she Bore away for us & at Do. We made Sail gave Chase to the two Ships that were to the leeward of us that appeard to be Ships of War; The Pallas and Brigg Vengeance gave Chase likewise at 5 P M The Fleet stood in for the Land & the two Ships of War hove too ready for engaging of us we Bore away for to meet them & got the Ship ready for engageing (all Hands being at their Quarters) at 6 P M spoke the Pallas and Ordered her to Keep astern of us; at ½ past 6 P M hoisted a Signal for the rest of the Squadron to form a line at Do. One of the Ships hailed us; Answers of no great Consequence return’d. The Capt. Of the Ship; that appeard to be the largest said tell me Instantly from whence You came and who You be or i’ll fire a Broad side into You; finding her to be an enemy discharg’d a Broadside into her which She return’d after exchanging three or four Broadsides came to Yard Arm, & Yard Arm, in which posture both ships lay the rest of the engagement; lash’d the Enemies Ship to Ours; after we had engag’d about an Hour the Alliance came up and rak’d us twice; kill’d and wounded a Number of our Men; The engagement was so hot that both Ships got on fire several times; which was put out with as much expedition as possible by the Men belonging to each Ship; all this time the engagement was exceeding warm. Both ships keeping up a heavy fire with Cannon and small Arms; just before the engagement ended saw the Alliance coming down upon us hailed her and Orderd her to Board the Enemy immediately but she return’d no answer; shot ahead of us and raked Both Ships; the Enemy them crying for Quarters Capt. Jones said hau; your Colours down then; which was granted immediately & our People took possession of her; She afterwards fir’d three Guns & wounded several of Our Men while they were Boarding of her; She struck to us at ½ past 10 P M at Do. Cast the Ship off from us, and as soon as we got Clear of her; her Main Mast fell over her Side; She prov’d to be the Serapis of 46 Guns the latter part of the Night all employed in putting out the fire in different parts of the Ship and in Pomping she having not less than three foot of Water in her Hold; The Carpenters employed in stoping the leeks with the assistance of the Carpenters from the Other Ships; The leek still gaining on us; we were supply’d with Men from the other Ships; who assisted in heaving the Lower Deck Guns overboard & the Dead Men &c -------
25th. The first part of this 24 Hours Moderate Breeses & Clear Weather. The leak still increasing got assistance from the other Ships of Officers & Men some of whom assisted in Pomping The leak still gaining on us Notwithstanding all the Pomps were at work. The Carpenters crying out that it was impossible to stop the leak At 2 P M Capt Jones with the Capt & Lieutenant of the Prize; quitted the Ship & left Orders to keep the Pomps agoing & the Carpenters at Work; at 7 He return’d and found the leak increasing in Consequence of which He Order’d the wounded to be Carried on Board the different Vessels & things that was most Necessary to be taken out of the Ship; Boats from the rest of the Squadron were employed for that purpose. At ½ past 7 P M the Capt left the Ship with several more of the Officers repair’d on Board of the Prize; At 10 P M the Capt sent for the Master of the Ship; & Orders for the Officers then on Board that did not belong to her, to repair on Board their respective Ships with their Men, they immediately quitted the Pomps and Obeyed Orders; Boats were employed the latter part of the Night in Carrying the Men & things that were most Necessary from the Ship to the different Vessels in the Squadron; At 4 A M quitted the Pomps the water then being almost up to the lower Deck; At 10 Do every Man left the Ship At ½ Past 10 A M there was a Boat sent from the Commodore The Serapis to go on Board the Bon Homme Richard But before the Boat got along side She Sunk which was about 11 A M latter Part Fresh Breeses and a large sea - - - - - -
NOTE: This account, in the handwriting of Lieutenant Henry Lunt, was originally written in the Serapis’ log, from which it was torn, and now is in the John Paul Jones Papers, Peter Force Collection, Vol VI, No 29. These pages, in facsimile, have now been inserted in their proper place in the original logs.
Although, as the editor of the above states, these should be seen as official documents, it can plainly be seen that they do not carry the seal of officialdom, but of someone still traumatised by the sights and sounds of a real naval action rather than the simple taking of unarmed merchantmen. The horrors of naval warfare of that era are well documented, but this first-hand account is the more remarkable for all that. It lays out some of the bare-bones of the events, but soundly fails in some respects to report on other aspects. It fails for example to mention a sinking location of the BonHomme Richard, circumstances at hand did not recognise the need, some 200 years later, for an accurate position of the wreck. People were too involved in the exchange from one vessel to the other to take much notice of their location other than perhaps to verify their own safety. It would be of great interest if a comparison could be made between the log of the ‘Richard’, and the log of the Serapis before it was overtaken by events, just to see how the approach to such official documents differed between an old navy and a new. Likely too, the log of the Serapis was being constantly maintained during the battle, and might be more revealing on several matters. The Library of Congress, Washington D.C., has been contacted in this regard, and www.yorkshirehistory.com eagerly awaits developments!
Serapis, and Countess of Scarborough
were eventually auctioned off, Serapis at LOrient, the
Countess at Dunkirk. Captain Pearson had his sword and belongings
returned to him by Jones, and upon his return to England,
he was granted a knighthood, a silver service, and the freedom
of the towns that lay close to the site of the battle. This
shows the importance given to the saving of the convoy,
the loss of two ships being an acceptable cost.
The following has been extracted from the court minute books of the Russia Company (Guildhall Library Ms 11741/8):
5th November 1779: Resolved that Two hundred Guineas be presented to Captain Rich[ar]d Pearson of the Serapis, and one hundred Guineas to Captain Tho [ma] s Piercy of the Countess of Scarborough as a Testimony of the sense the Russia Company, entertain of the Bravery and good Conduct of those Gentlemen in the Protection of a numerous and Valuable Fleet under their convoy from the Baltic. Ordered that the Secretary do write to Captain Richard Pearson & Captain Thomas Piercy and inform them of the above Resolution, and send them copys [sic] thereof, and to inform them that he will pay the respective sums to them or their order.
25th February 1780: letters from Captains Pearson and Piercy acknowledging the receipt of the secretary's letter were read .
26th January 1781: a letter from Rich[ar]d Pearson dated 14th Jan[uar]y last to the sec[retar]y declaring his most respectful complim[en]ts & his warmest acknowledgements to this Company for their general approbation of his conduct & the present they presented him with, was now read.
9th March 1781: a letter from Captain Thomas Piercy dated Falmouth the 19th Feb[ruar]y last to the late secretary to acknowledge the very flattering testimony which the Russia Company had been pleased to give of their approbation of his conduct in his Majesty's Service and to assure the Company he should ever recollect this Mark of their Esteem with gratitude, was now read.
My sincere thanks to Stephen Freeth of the GUILDHALL LIBRARY MANUSCRIPTS SECTION, ALDERMANBURY, LONDON EC2P 2EJ
“The king was so well pleased with the behaviour of the two captains and their officers and men, that he conferred the honour of Knighthood onCaptain Pearson, and soon afterwards made Captain Piercy Post-Captain and promoted the other officers. The service they had performed deserved indeed every reward; and so sensible were the directors of the Royal Exchange Assurance Company of their obligations to these excellent officers for protecting the rich fleets under their care, that they voted their thanks to both, and as a further testimony of their approbation, requested Captain Pearson’s acceptance of a piece of plate worth 100 guineas and Captain Piercy of another valued at 50 guineas”.
[The London Magazine January to June 1824, vol. IX, Taylor and Hessey, 93 Fleet Street, London http://books.google.co.uk]
The award made by the Royal Exchange Assurance Company included a silver vase, the only representative image I have been able to discover is this from Country Life magazine, September 13 th, 1979, pp. 800.
A guinea was calculated as equalling 21 shillings rather than the 20 shillings that constituted one pound sterling.
200 pounds equates to about £20,000 today according to: http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk My thanks to them for being able to use their conversion engine. Therefore 200 guineas would have equalled £210, so the above award was worth £21,000 today.
Lawrence H. Officer, "Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to 2005."
“The two British Captains suffered Courts Martial, but were acquitted and became great heroes. Each had conferred upon him the Freedom of the Borough of Scarborough and also that of the City of Kingston upon Hull.
A silver casket lined with heart of Oak, which was presented to Captain Thomas Piercy of the ‘Countess of Scarborough’ by the Council of the Borough of Scarborough on 25 October 1779, to mark the ‘Freedom’ ceremony, has been in the possession of the Royal Navy for many years and has been displayed in the wardroom of a succession of HMS ‘Scarboroughs’ during that time.
The last ship of this name went out of commission in 1972. Captain W J Graham, her last Commander, handed this historic casket over to the Scarborough Borough Council with a request that they retain custody of it until such time as a new HMS ‘Scarborough’ is commissioned, when consideration could be given as to its future. The other casket, presented to Captain Pearson of ‘Serapis’ was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1978 and sold for £3780. ”
The casket presented to Capt. Piercy is currently lodged with Scarborough Museums; that of Capt. Pearson has been auctioned by Sotheby’s New York as recently as 2003. Images from the auction catalogue reveal the casket to be of engraved silver with a painted porcelain oval panel on the lid depicting a scene of the Serapis and Bon Homme Richard locked in combat; on the base is a depiction of Scarborough’s coat of arms engraved in a silver cartouche. Each face has a further roundel with Latin inscriptions extolling the bravery and application to duty shown by the captains engraved between swags of foliage. Permission to reproduce images from the catalogue has been sought from Sotheby’s New York,
and been granted in full, Sotheby’s New York have very generously provided photographic images of all aspects of this casket for www.yorkshirehistory.com for which I thank them most sincerely, Jane-Harper Hicklin of Sotheby's Silver Department in particular. They are splendid images and represent English Georgian silverware at its finest and trans-Atlantic co-operation at its very best
As previously mentioned, Kingston upon Hull also presented Freedoms to the two captains. That presented to Thomas Piercy is preserved within the Hull Maritime Museum collection. It is a silver box, the inscription upon which tells its own story “From the Corporation of Kingston-upon-Hull to Thomas Piercy, Esqur., Captain of His Majesty’s ship, the Countess of Scarborough, for his gallant Defence of the Baltic Fleet in the Engagement with Paul Jones. Septr. 23, 1779.” The casket lid is decorated in embossed relief with three crowns ‘in pale’ representing the Hull coat of arms, surrounded by a foliate cartouche within a military trophy of flags, pennants, sails, swords, cannon and spars. An identical box differentiated only by the dedication was presented to Captain
The photograph of the Freedom casket presented to Sir Richard Pearson by the Corporation of the Trinity House of Hull was very kindly forwarded by Hull Maritime Museum, my most sincere thanks to Arthur Credland and Susan Capes for their extremely generous cooperation and assistance. This casket is described as “a regular silver box the cover chased with the arms and motto “Spes Super Sydera” of the Corporation of the Trinity House Hull, flanked by naval trophies, the waisted sides engraved sides engraved with urns and foliate ovals suspending laurel festoons, with reeded borders, the base with presentation inscription 4½ inches (11.5 cm.) wide, by T. Phipps & E. Robinson, London, 1783.
The inscription on the base reads “The Corporation of the Trinity House of Hull to Sir Richard Pearson, captain of his Majesty’s Frigate the Serapis, for having judiciously protected the whole of the Baltic fleet, and gallantly engaging a Superior Force commanded by Paul Jones, 23d Sept. 1779.”
Jones too was not forgotten when it came to awards. The king of France for example presented Jones with a gold-hilted sword inscribed: MARIS LUDOVICUS XVI REMUNERATOR STRENUO VINDICATI – Louis XVI Recognises the Services of the Brave Maintainer of the Sea. The government of the USA not to be left out awarded Jones a gold medal, inscribed on the obverse JOANNI PAULO JONES CLASSIS PRAEFECTO – COMITIA AMERICANA surrounding a uniformed bust of Jones himself. The Reverse bears an engraved representation of the Serapis and Bonhomme Richard locked in combat and inscribed HOSTIUM NAVIBVS CAPTIS AVT FVGATIS with another in base giving the date of the battle.
The Archives of Hull contain some references to the awards made to the two captains and others together with letters by return, shown here as a full transcription:
Hull City Archives Bench Book Ref. BRB.7.501
26 th October 1779
Mr. Mayor, Alderman Bell, Ald. Pool, Ald. Booth., Ald. Melling, Sir H. Etherington, Ald. Porter, Ald. Mace, Ald. Darling, Ald. Bramston
Mr. Wm. Foster of Bridlington to be Admitted to his freedom
ORDERED that the Freedom of this Corporation be presented to Mr. William Foster of Bridlington for his activity in giving Information to ships on the coast of the appearance of Paul Jones’s squadron and his regular and early Intelligence to this Corporation of the said Paul Jones’s proceedings on this coast And that a copy of his Burgess Oath be delivered to him with the Thanks of this Corporation.
Thanks of the Corporation to be given Mr. John Travis of Scarborough
ORDERED That the Thanks of this Corporation be given to Mr. John Travis of Scarborough for his regular and early Intelligence of Paul Jones’s proceedings on this coast.
Capt. Pearson late of His Majesty’s Ship Serapis & Capt. Piercy of the Countess of Scarborough to be Admitted to their Freedoms
ORDERED That Capt. Richard Pearson late of his Majesty’s Ship Serapis and Capt n. Thomas Piercy late of his Majesty’s ship the Countess of Scarborough be presented with their Freedom of this Corporation and that a copy of their Burgess Oath be delivered in a Silver Box not exceeding the value of Twelve Guineas with a proper inscription for their gallant behaviour against Paul Jones’s squadron upon this coast.
Application to be made to the Lords of the Admiralty
ORDERED that application to be made to the Lords of the Admiralty for the Volunteers and imprest [sic] men in the Tender lying at this Port to be turned over to his Majesty’s Ship the Bellona under the Command of Capt. Tinsdale.
Hull City Archives Bench Book Ref. BRB.7.513
10 th March 1780
Mr. Mayor, Ald. Scott, Ald. Booth, Ald. Melling, Ald. Blaides, Ald. Mace, Ald. Darling, Ald. Bramston.
Silver Boxes to be presented Capt. Pearson and Piercy
The Bench having on the 26 th day of October last Ordered that the Freedom of this Corporation to be given to Richard Pearson Esquire late Captain of his Majesty’s Ship Serapis and Thomas Piercy Esquire late Captain of his Majesty’s Ship the Countess of Scarbro’. In Silver Boxes for their gallant defence of the Baltick [sic] Fleet in the engagement with Paul Jones Sep’ r. 23 1779. and their present attendance for that purpose being very inconvenient and the Boxes being already received by this Corporation
IT IS ORDERED that the said Boxes be sent to them and that the Bench will when opportunity offers admit them respectively to the Freedom of this Corporation and that a copy of this Resolution signed by the Town’s Clerk be sent to them enclosed in each of the said Boxes
Hull City Archives Ref. BRL.1386.32A
Letter from Richard Pearson to the Corporation of Hull:
Munday’s Coffee House Maiden Lane Covent Garden
2 nd Feb: 1780
Having been honoured with your letter of the 25 th of October last acquainting me with the unanimous resolution of the Corporation to present me with the Freedom of the Borough of Scarborough as a proof of the high sence [sic] you entertain of my conduct and behaviour on the 23 rd of Sept. last and as I am now arrived in England from the disagreeable situation in which I have so long been in at the Texel. I am to request you will with the body corporate, accept my most respectful compliments and thanks for the honour you have been pleased to confer on me. And at the same time extremely happy to find that my conduct and behaviour in the execution of my Duty only, as an Officer, have been such as to merit so Publick [sic] and so General a proof of the approbation of so Respectable a part of the Community, and have the Honour to be with the greatest respect Gentlemen
Your Most Obedient
And Most Humble Servant
Willm. Porret and Thos. Hagg Esq’s.
Please to direct for me at Mr. Parsonager Wine Merchant in Ibridge Street,
Covent Gardin [sic]
Hull City Archives Ref. BRL.1386.50
Letter from Thomas Piercy to the Corporation of Hull:
Little Chelsea March 30 th 1780
I had the favour of your letter on Tuesday evening accompanied with the silver box including a copy of the resolution made by the Corporation of Hull, by which they have done me the honour to invest me with the Freedom of that Town; which I accept with the highest satisfaction.
I beg you would make my warmest acknowledgments for this flattering testimony they have given my Publick [sic] Service, and am, Sirs, with many thanks to you for the trouble you have taken on this occasion
Your most obe[dient] and Y[our] Most
Hull City Archives Ref. BRL.1386.212A
A letter from Richard Pearson:
Greenwich 16 th April 1784
As so small a part of my services for my King and Country have merited your particular attention, And the approbation of the Public in General, I flatter my self with hopes, that on the Perusal of the enclosed copy of my Memorial to Mr. Pitt; you will not only think me entitled to some claim upon the Government, but that it will induce you to join me in the request, by an official letter signed by the whole or at least a majority, and to send to your representative requesting they will be pleased to sign the same and present it as address of which I shall ever esteem their greatest favour. My Memorial will be delivered in course next week, by the two Members for Dover, at the request of the Mayor and Corporation, with an official letter to Mr. Pitt signed by them And the two Members praying, the request of my memorial may be comply’d with. This same request I purpose making to the Corporation of Scarborough, Appleby and Lancaster, all which having presented me with my Freedom on the same occasion you did me that honour, your speedy compliance with my request will ever be esteemed the greatest favour and long lasting obligation on
Your Much Obliged
And most Obedient
To the Mayor and Corporation of Kingston Upon Hull
ALL rights reserved.
No part of this image/images,
May be reproduced, or transmitted
In any form or by any means
Graphic, Electronic or Mechanical
Including Photocopying or
Information Retrieval Systems,
Without the written Permission of:
HULL CITY COUNCIL,
HULL CITY ARCHIVES,
Copyright: 2006 HULL CITY COUNCIL
My sincere thanks to the Council, and to the Hull Museums, and the Archives in particular for their very kind permission to display and reproduce these items herein.
Richard Hayton ©2006
SO, WHO ACTUALLY DID WIN THIS BATTLE? To try and resolve this dichotomy it is necessary to view the results firstly from a NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE. What this means is that each country, Britain and the USA, each decided they had been victorious, and both had their own reasons to think so. Firstly, the British Royal Navy was depending upon the safe arrival of the 1779 Baltic convoy for the continued maintenance of the Fleet. Not only were the supplies it carried of vital importance to the Royal Navy, they were also very expensive and irreplaceable - for a further 12 months anyway. That the convoy was, by the actions of Pearson and Piercy, saved in its entirety is historic fact, and this, from the British perspective was a decisive victory. This reasoning is evidenced by the Courts Martial verdicts which exonerated and even praised the actions of both captains.
Seen from the American perspective, matters were much simpler. An American flagged warship had defeated a newer, larger and more powerful British one. At the time when the Revolution was at its height, this was incredibly good news. Even if the primary intent of the Jones’ attack was to fall upon the convoy, the victory over a larger enemy was perhaps equally significant. His squadron, as a disparate unit of French and US vessels, had in fact taken two British warships and was seen and primarily remains so, a naval victory between warships. But was it?
It must be remembered that Pearson and Piercy were out shipped, out numbered, and out-gunned if the Franco-American squadron is seen as a whole. There was Bonhomme Richard, Alliance, Pallas, and Vengeance, a total of four well armed and manned vessels against the British two. Even the simplest British Jolly Jack Tars would have recognised the implausible task being asked of them by Pearson. That the engagement is seen these days as a duel between BHR and Serapis is missing the point. The real point being that not only did Pearson and Piercy save their convoy, they sank Jones’ flagship; and only a matter of poor timing determined the eventual outcome between the two ships. Perhaps the Countess would still have been carried away so small was she, but one cannot help but think that had it been Jones who struck, his squadron would not have come quite so readily to his support, and Serapis, de-masted as she was, and open for capture by any one of the remaining squadron, would have stood her ground and seen them off unless a coordinated attack was mounted by two or more of the remaining squadron. The principal reason for the attack, that convoy, was safely under the protection of Scarborough castle, and as such, inaccessible. What then the need for further onslaught, the squadron would have withdrawn with the Countess as a prize, and made for safe waters where repairs could be made and wounds licked. Not only that, reports of the engagement were winging their ways to the Admiralty. The response was immediate. A squadron led by HMS Prudent (64) and several other warships was dispatched from the Channel Fleet at the Nore to intercept Jones’s squadron as evidenced by the York Courant newspaper [See appropriate sub-section. RGH].
One source says: “A more gallant action is not on record…. By destroying its capital ship [BHR]; they had entirely disconcerted the designs of this flying squadron of the enemy: and by their truly brave and well conducted defence, they had preserved a very valuable and important convoy, which otherwise must have been captured.”
Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, by Robert Beatson, in six volumes, vol. IV, London, pp.553 http://books.google.co.uk]
Another has it that “[both] the victor and the vanquished were British; and that their valour was such as we see on every occasion where a British tar is employed. It may be observed however, that the biographer [of Jones] does not mention correctly how the Alliance (36), and the Vengeance (12), were engaged during the contest. The Cerf, he says, had been altogether absent and the Alliance and Vengeance, though in sight of the action, refrained from taking any part in it until towards the close …” A rather un-PC comment by today’s standards perhaps, but pertinent at the time; this indicates the nostalgic, sentimental attitude shown towards British sailors that was very seldom shown to them in person, indeed, derision and scorn was their usual lot in life.
[The Monthly Review, 1826, Vol. 108, Hurst Robinson & Co., London http://books.google.co.uk]
The devastation wrought upon the Bonhomme Richard was such that some of her company decided it safer in the sea than aboard her. “After the action, eight or ten Englishmen in the Richard, stole a boat from the Serapis, and ran away with it, landing at Scarborough. Several of the men were so alarmed with the condition of their ship, as to jump overboard and swim to the other vessels ….” This manner of action was prompted by the wreck that had become the BonhommeRichard. “… when the [following] day dawned and examination was made into the condition if the Richard. Abaft, on a line with those guns of the Serapis that had not been disabled by the explosion, the timbers were found to be nearly all beaten in, or beaten out, for in this respect there was little difference between the two sides of the ship; and it was said that her poop and upper decks would have fallen into the gun-room but for a few futtocks ** that had been missed. Indeed so large was the vacuum, that most of the shot fired from this part of the Serapis, at the close of the action, must have gone through the Richard without touching anything. The rudder was cut from the stern-post, and the transoms were nearly driven out of her. All the after part of the ship, in particular, that was below the quarter-deck, was torn to pieces, and nothing had saved those stationed on the quarter-deck …”
** Futtock: The separate pieces of wood that together form a frame in a wooden vessel. Usually there were four or five futtocks to a rib; every single timber is called a futtock, and distinguished by lower or first, second, third, &c., except the floors, long and half-timbers, top-timbers, stern-timbers, &c.
[History of the Navy of the United States of America, by James Fenimore Cooper, Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia, 1840, vol. 1, p. 173; http://books.google.co.uk]
As stated, the Bonhomme Richard sank as a result of the engagement, and had Pearson held out for just a few more moments, then even that result would have been reversed. BUT, the fact remains however, that it was Serapis that struck her colours, and on this point, the tactical victory belonged to John Paul Jones and most of his crew. If the battle is seen purely as an engagement between the two ships, even though BonhommeRichard sank, it seems that this was more a contest of personalities; that of Jones never once seeing himself as being beaten. It was his determination together with equal amounts of good fortune that won through.
John Paul Jones is now held up as a founding father of the United States Navy, and perhaps rightly so, but it was to be over a hundred years after an obscure death in Paris (1792), that his accomplishments were eventually recognised by the expanding US Navy of the early 1900’s. His remains were returned to American soil from France, and re-interred at the Naval Academy, Annapolis, where he was honoured with a marble sarcophagus in the chapel there. Around his tomb are the words "He Gave Our Navy Its Earliest Traditions Of Heroism And Victory." The laurel-wreaths however went to Pearson and Piercy, who by sacrificing their own vessels, saved that all important convoy. This view was endorsed by the US Admiralty Office:
Admiralty Office June 16, 1780.
“The Board to whom was referred the letters and other papers relative to the Conduct of John Paul Jones Esq. beg leave to report,
That they have carefully perused said letters and papers wherein they find Honorable mention is made of his Abilities as an officer by the Duke de Vauguyon, Monsr De Sartine and Doctor Franklin, and is also corroborated by that Valour and Intrepedity with which he engaged his Britannic Majesty's Ship the Serapis of 44 Cannon 12 and 18 pounders, who after a severe contest for several Hours, surrendered to his superior valour, thereby acquiring Honor to himself and dignity to the American Flagg.
The Board therefore humbly conceive that an honorable Testimonial should be given to Captain John Paul Jones, Commander of the Bonhomme Richard his officers and crew, for their many singular services in annoying the enemy on the British Coasts, and particularly for their spirited behaviour in an engagement with his Britannic Majesty's Ship of war the Serapis on the 23d of September 1779 and obliging her to surrender to the American Flagg .”
It is the eventual fate of all human beings to die, but how history remembers them, if at all much depends upon where they are commemorated. In the case of Captain Piercy, he was buried in the highest church in England, Canterbury Cathedral, not only that, but his memorial is located within the holy place " called " The Martyrdom". I believe I'm right it's supposed to be the actual spot where Becket was murdered - it's certainly the place where the Pope knelt and prayed with the Archbishop of Canterbury when he visited. (1982, Pope John Paul II and Robert Runcie I think.) [Correct Anne!] The tablet itself is on the wall to the right of the picture, just to the left of a doorway.”
[My sincere thanks to Anne Beer for these amazing images, and for the description.]
At the very apex of the arch can be seen the memorial to Thomas Piercy’s wife, who it was had that to her husband's memorial erected and inscribed thus:
'Near/this Place are deposited/the Remains of / THOMAS PIERCY Esquire / A Captain in the Royal Navy / of distinguished Merit in his Profession / which on no occasion was more conspicuous / than on the 23rd Sept 1779 / when in conjunction with / Sir RICHARD PEARSON / He valiantly engaged a very superior / French Force under the Command of / PAUL JONES / The event of which unequal Combat was security to a/numerous Convoy under their Protection / tho' it was unfortunately attended with loss of Liberty to both the Commanders who had so gallantly stood forth/in their defence / On his return from Captivity his services were / gratefully acknowledged by the RUSSIA COMPANY / and the corporations of HULL and SCARBOROUGH / and were rewarded with advancement by his / SOVEREIGN / On the 22nd Sept 1795 / He departed this Life / in the 63rd Year of his age; / to the great sorrow and regret/of his numerous Friends / and acquaintance / Of none more than of his / affectionate Widow / who caused this Monument/to be erected in his/memory'
Quite why, or how Piercy’s widow was able to acquire this very special place to memorialise her husband remains unresolved, enough perhaps to say that he and his wife are in a very hallowed location within the confines of the cathedral church of Canterbury.
Memorial Details: oval shaped wall tablet of white marble located at The Martyrdom, North Transept, date of death 22/9/1795, cause of death unknown, erected by his wife, who’s memorial is now next to his, Thomas Piercy aged 62 years, a Captain in the Royal Navy.
An inquiry to the archives of Canterbury Cathedral was answered by Dr. Malcolm Mercer, Senior Research Archivist, Canterbury Cathedral Archives, who told www.yorkshirehistory.com “In essence, in order to secure a memorial it would have been necessary for the relevant parties to petition the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral which is the sovereign body. While the memorial to Thomas Piercy is mentioned in a number of antiquarian reference works, I have consulted with other colleagues and the likelihood of their being references in the Chapter Act Books is very remote. In fact, after speaking with them I had a look at the Act Books which would cover the period in question and the entries relate overwhelmingly to property matters.
It is also possible that payments made in connection to the erection of the memorial might appear in the accounts of the Receiver and Treasurer of Canterbury Cathedral (Treasurer’s Vouchers, for example, include payments for work carried out around the Cathedral although the entries are generally very mundane), and also the series of records known as the Fabric Collection which deal with complimentary issues like repair and restoration .”
Sir Richard Pearson however, whilst in life was granted a knighthood and other earthly rewards; “It does not appear that Sir Richard Pearson saw much active service after his conflict with the American squadron. He was afterwards made Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital, where he lived some years. He died and was buried in the vaults of the churchyard behind the Hospital, on the 5 th January 1805[sic]. There is no monument to his memory. Paul Jones, in his dispatch to Congress, pronounced upon him what may well be used by posterity as a fitting
Here lies the brave Commodore Richard Pearson ”
[The Worthies of Westmorland: Or, Notable Persons Born in that County Since the Reformation, by John Henry Sherborne]
Concerning the circumstances which differentiated the places of interment of the two captains, of Pearson, Peter Reaveley [Historian and life-long researcher into these events] has told me that “Captain Pearson was buried simply, because after his death Lady Margaret Pearson was "in straightened circumstances". Pearson had been unlucky in his date of promotion to Captain, and also had been unlucky in terms of prize money, so they had basically lived on his half-pay. After his death, she would lose the "grace and favour" house at Greenwich, and if I remember she also had two unmarried daughters to support. Her eldest son, Captain Richard Harrison Pearson, who had been a Midshipman on Serapis during the battle, was already married with his own family, and her youngest son, a Midshipman in the RN, was a prisoner of the French. She eventually wrote a delicate letter to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and was awarded Capt. Pearson's full half- pay salary from the date of his death, which, with a bit of help, enabled her to buy a small house on the Isle of Wight. Capt. Richard Harrison Pearson eventually became Rear Admiral.” My sincere thanks to Peter for sharing the results of his tireless searches into this subject, his knowledge is second to none worldwide.
Pearson is however in noble company, also buried at St Alfege's church, the only one in the vicinity that coincides with the description, is General James Wolfe, victor of the Battle for Quebec, he, on the other hand, does have a memorial.
Efforts continue to learn more about Pearson’s unprepossessing burial.