In order to best understand the impact and threat felt by coastal communities and the trade as affected by the presence of John Paul Jones and his squadron off the Yorkshire coast in the late summer of 1779, it is best arguably to view it from the pages of the newspapers of the time. These, understandably, are not now as readily available as they were at the time with collections now only housed at very specific libraries. They were, even then available to only those who could afford to purchase copies or those able to read them. There are cases where specific coffee houses, reading rooms or clubs were established for newspapers to be viewed and their content discussed. While newspapers were not as widespread as they are today, access to them should always be sought in circumstances such as these where the Public opinion and perception of events require examination. One of the more readily available newspapers in Yorkshire at this time, the York Courant, which, like its contemporaries was published weekly, of which copies for this period are preserved by York Library are as representative as any in this particular regard. The correspondence contained within would have been circulated to many other newspapers by way of Express mail coach, and would therefore have read nearly the same wherever these matters were reported. Indeed, included in the sub-banner of this broadsheet are some of the London venues to which this newspaper was forwarded of which St. Paul’s Coffee House, the Guildhall Coffee House and the Sun Tavern, Ludgate Hill are but representative.
Because of the stringencies under which these unwieldy broadsheet documents have to be preserved or because perhaps they have deteriorated over time, small sections of text have become obscured. It is tempting to try to fill these gaps by interpretation, but this should be resisted. It is a dangerous folly to insert words thought fitting, this can, if misapplied, become misleading and even incorrect. In this regard, it is necessary to present these transcripts exactly as they were written in the newspaper with the spellings, syntax and grammar of the time. The only thing brought up to date has been the elimination of the propensity of the time to use a lower case ‘f’ in place of the lower case ‘s’, and this only for convenience sake. Similarly it has been felt necessary to eliminate some usage of capital letters in the middle of sentences where this is today unnecessary without at the same time not altering the meaning or emphasis of the original.
I want to thank specifically Frances Postlethwaite, Librarian, York Library, City of York Council, for the extracts below, whose co-operation and forbearance has been exceptional.
YORK COURANT; 28 TH SEPTEMBER, 1779 EDITION (Some words obscured by the centrefold of the newspaper)
The following particulars are from the … the master of the Speedwell Sloop of Hull … was taken and ransomed by the said squadron … who made oath to the Fact thereof before the … of Newcastle on Wednesday last.
“On Sunday last, about four leagues off T.. Bar, the Speedwell Sloop of Hull, and the Un… of Chatham, were taken by the Pallas, an American Frigate or Barque, of 34 Nine pounders in company with a two decked Ship of 44 18 pounders (Name known) commanded by Paul Jones, and a S… … Nine pounders, called Vengeance, (Master not known): after taking them, Jones and the master of the Pallas disagreed concerning the capture, proposed to turn the Brig into a Fire ship, and … her into Shields Harbour, to which the master of the Pallas would not consent: The Master of the Pallas proposed to ransom the Sloop, as she had a Woman and child on board, to which Jones would not consent …ever, the next day about 12 leagues off th… between Scarbrough
[sic] and Filey-bay, the Brig w.. … dered and sunk, and the Sloop ransomed for 3… … Mate taken hostage – Jones had one or two, … Pallas three or four English Masters, and a number of other Prisoners on board, belonging to ships that had been taken and destroyed – The Master of th.. ..said, he was informed that Jones had 200 M.. on board. Jones declared that his Orders were to … none, but to burn, sink, or destroy all. The Master of the Pallas, in the Ransom Bill, stiles [sic] himself “Denis Nicholas Cotineau, of Kelogen, Captain … Man of War in the Service of the United States of America, and Commander of the American Frigate Pallas..” – They hoisted English colours; but the … of the Sloop saw that they had also American and …dish Colours..”
A letter from Bridlington, dated Sept. 24, says “.. doubt not but you have heard of the alarming … we have been in since Tuesday night; but thank.. as yet we have been only terrified by this Paul Jones. An engagement too place at Seven last night and continued till Two this morning, between the Serapis Frigate of 44 guns, assisted by the Countess of Scarbrough arm’d ship of 20 guns, and Paul Jones … Bon Homme, of 44 guns, with some … vessels off Flamborough Head; and I am sorry to … this Rascal Jones hath now with him our two ships and their commanders, who distinguished themselves in a most gallant Manner, tho’ obliged at last to surrender to Superior force, after having made almost … of Jones’s own ship. The Serapis had her main mast away. Several sailors made their escape, and have been examined this Afternoon at the Key, but th.. … are different as to Jones’s loss; some of them [say] he had 140 men killed, and his ship quite a … They say, that Jones’s plan was to destroy Scarborough, Bridlington, and Hull, with some other places … that he intended landing at Flamborough Yesterday morning, but the sea ran too high.”
A letter from Scarbrough [sic], dated Sept. 24 … “On Monday last Paul Jones with his fleet approached about three Leagues off this place, and, as supposed, having had Information that the East Country Fleet was to pass this way, kept cruising about till Tuesday morning, when the Baltic Fleet a0ppeared, convoyed by Serapis Frigate of 44 guns and Countess of Scarbrough [sic] arm’s ship of 20 guns, the Enemy then in sight; but about half past six in the Evening they made their appearance, consisting of the … mentioned in the annexed affidavit. At Seven a … desperate Engagement began, which continued until Eleven. It was observed by many that they fired … times in three minutes. The Serapis and Jones’s ship were so close in most part of the action that they … have boarded each other.
The Examination of Thomas Berry, born at … Shields, taken upon Oath before H. Osbaldeston, one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the East Riding of this County, Sept. 24, 1779.
This Deponent saith, That he was taken about … months ago in the Hawke Letter of Marque, and carried into Port L’Orient: that in hopes of getting … Liberty, he entered six months since on board Jones’s ship, the Bon Homme Richard, of 40 guns and about 350 men: That they sailed from L’Orient about two months ago, their force consisting of the Bon Homme Richard, the Alliance, an American Frigate of 36 guns; the Pallas Frigate of 36 guns; the Vengeance Brig of 12 guns, the Granville of 12 guns; also a cutter of 18 guns … which last is supposed to have been taken on the coast of Ireland: That they sailed from L’Orient to the Western Coast of Ireland from thence to the … of Scotland, where they took a valuable Prize … to Quebec, laden with Military stores, and another prize, a letter of Marque from Liverpool, also other prizes and several colliers, which were sunk …
Whitby: That Jones’s squadron had been six … between Berwick and the Humber, and his declared intentions were to make a Descent somewhere … the coast: That on Tuesday last he ordered all his … to be … and his boats ready to be hoisted … : That on Wednesday Morning the Alliance and Pallas rejoined Jones off Flamborough Head, and on Friday evening, about seven, they met with the Country Fleet, convoyed by a 40 gun ship and an armed ship.: That the 40 gun ship engaged Jones for about four hours, till Jones’s Fire ceased, having … times on fire, and very near sinking: That Jones called to the Alliance for assistance, who came and gave the 40 gun ship a Broadside, which being badly disabled, struck: That Jones’s Officers called for the Alliance to hoist out their boats, as their ship [was] sinking, in one of which deponent and six other … made their escape to Filay [sic].”
Letter from Hull dated Sept. 26, which may de… on, says, “A little past five this afternoon an … arrived from Mr. Foster of Bridlington, to the [May]or of this place, which relates, that between Eight and nine this morning Paul Jones, with his fleet, was off Flamborough Head, steering northward; he was scarcely out of sight, when three Frigates, … large arm’d ships, and two Sloops appeared there, … by the Admiralty) who immediately pursued the … Course after him, and we are in the most sanguine situation of hearing an Account of this vile fellow and his squadron being taken. The York Regiment of Militia, quartered here, are in High Spirits.”__
Another letter from Hull, dated Sept. 26, says, that Jones appeared a little to the northward of the … with English Colours flying, and made signals … … , when two boats immediately put off, expecting a good job. One of the Pilots went on board … ship; the other was put into a light Collier belonging to Sunderland, just taken, with 8 French, American, and English, of Jones’s squadron, to take Care … Morning, when they intended to plunder and … as they had done 30 vessels taken since they …; but the Pilot and some others being tired … Service, made the Remainder drunk, sent them ashore by their own desire, brought the ship into the Humber, and she is now in our Dock. We are … (Sunday) at Work in mounting 28 pieces of … viz. 20 Eighteen-pounders, the rest of a smaller … the Marquis of Rockingham has been here for some time and has had several meetings with the Gentlemen of the Town, respecting its defenceless state. – A man escap’d from Jones’s ship has made oath before the mayor, that Jones stood on the quarter deck with a brace of pistols, and shot three of his own during the Action, in which he had 70 Men kill’d. … Fleet pass’d Whitby on Friday, and it was … would get into Shields that Night. The first … wind will, ‘tis hop’d, bring them into Hull.”
… Ships gone in pursuit of Jones’s squadron are … Frigates of 36 guns, one of 28, three of 20, and arm’d ships, one of which mounts 28 guns and another of 20.
A Letter from Beverley, dated Sept. 26, says, “The Companies of Northumberland Militia, which … from hence to Bridlington on Wednesday Afternoon, returned hither early on Friday morning.”
Application has been made to Government, by the … of Kingston upon Hull, for 2000 Stand of … for the use of the inhabitants, to act as volunteer …pendent Companies for their defence, in case of the enemy’s landing upon their coast. The town of Liverpool has made a like application.
YORK COURANT; 5 TH OCTOBER, 1779 EDITION
The Baltic Fleet, bound for London and other ports to the southward, under convoy of the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough armed ship, after being dispersed by Jones’s squadron off Scarborough, got into Shields on Sunday Se’night.
Besides the ships mentioned in our last to be gone in pursuit of Paul Jones’s squadron, on Tuesday Morning last another fleet appeared off Scarborough, consisting of the Prudent of 64 guns, Capt. Burnet; Amphitrite of 28, Capt. Bryne; Pegasus of 28, Capt. Bazeley; Medea of 28, Capt. Montague; and the Champion of 28, Capt. Hamilton: Capt. Bazeley went ashore at Scarborough, and staid some time, in order to obtain information concerning Jones. A third squadron is also coming round by the Insh Channel, supposing he may have steered back to France by that Course.
In a letter from Hull, inserted into our last, it was said “That the mayor had received an Express from Mr. Foster of Bridlington, which informed him that Paul Jones was scarcely out of sight, between eight and nine on Sunday Morning, Sept. 26, when a squadron of his majesty’s ships appeared, and went in pursuit of him;” but we are now informed that the Substance of the said Express was “That Nine Sail of his Majesty’s Ships appeared off Bridlington on Sunday Morning, Sept. 26, that Paul Jones disappeared the Friday Evening before, and it was supposed the British ships were gone in Pursuit of Jones.”
Although reports have been circulated in various Places that Jones’s Squadron is taken, yet none of them are so authenticated as to gain Credit; and we are sorry to observe that he left this Coast so long before his Pursuers appeared on it, that it must have given him an opportunity of reaching some neutral port before he could be possibly come up with.
YORK COURANT; 12 TH OCTOBER, 1779 EDITION
YORK, October 12
Fresh Advices reflecting Paul Jones.
The Deposition of Thomas Pearson master of the ship Sincere Friends, belonging to Scarborough, Oct. 9, 1779.
“This Deponent saith; That he was with his said ship in the river Texel on Monday and Tuesday the 4 th and 5 th Days of October inst. That on the Monday afternoon, about four o’clock, two ships of war, one about 40 guns, the other of about 14 guns with an arm’d ship, came into the Texel, and that on Tuesday Afternoon, about three o’clock, two other frigates, of about 40 guns each also came into the Texel: That this Deponent hoisted out his boat, and went under the Stern of the arm’d ship, when this Deponent was informed by some English prisoners, that the arm’d ship was the Countess of Scarborough, and one of the Frigates the Serapis, both Prizes to the two other Frigates and the Snow belonging to Paul Jones: That the English ships had lost upwards of 100 men in the Action, and Jones’s ship upwards of 200, and that Serapis lost her Mainmast in the Engagement; That Paul Jones’s ship sunk soon after the Engagement; and that the people on the Island of Texel informed this Deponent, that another Frigate of Jones’s squadron, of 36 guns, went on shore on Vile Island, and was lost.” This Deponent left the Texel on Wednesday, leaving the Frigates and Prizes there, and arrived at Scarborough on Saturday Morning.
The following Particulars relative to the late Engagement between Paul Jones and the Serapis Man of War, may be depended on as authentic: When Jones first attacked the Serapis, he was a head of his little fleet several leagues; notwithstanding this, he engaged with all the Fury of a man determined to conquer or die. The Engagement soon grew desperate, and Jones, besides having a great part of his crew shot around him, had his rigging on fire for about seven minutes. In this interval the Captain of the Serapis, who was so near to him as to be audible, called out to him to strike, or he must infallibly go to the Bottom. Jones replied, with an oath, “I may sink, but I’ll be d----d if I strike”. At this instant one of his men attempted to strike the Colours, when Jones, turning round short, shot him dead on the spot. Two more attempted the same thing, and met with the same fate; a Mutiny then … … take Place, as the ship was apparently sinking, when, fortunately for Jones, another of his Squadron immediately came up to his Assistance, which turned the tables on the Serapis, and she was obliged to strike, after exerting a Degree of Courage which, in all Probability, would have made her successful with any other enemy.
On Monday the 4 th Inst. Three arm’d ships, part of the fleet that sailed from Flamborough Head on Sunday the 26 th past, in Pursuit of Paul Jones, came back to Scarbrough [sic] Road, having been off the naze of Norway, but could get no intelligence of him.
Subsequent to the Courant publishing Capt. Pearson’s letter to the Admiralty Office – see main text – the newspaper then included a similar from Capt. Piercy, of which an abbreviated form as contained in the London Magazine some years later – again, see main text. RGH.
YORK COURANT; 19 TH OCTOBER, 1779 EDITION
Pallas, a French Frigate in Congress Service,
Texel, October 4, 1779
I Beg leave to acquaint you, that about two minutes after you begun to engage with the largest ships of the enemy’s Squadron, I received a Broadside from one of the Frigates, which I instantly returned, and continued engaging her for about 20 minutes, when she dropped astern. I then made sail up to the Serapis, to see if I could give you any Assistance; but upon coming near you, I found you and the Enemy so close together, and covered in smoke, that I could not distinguish one ship from the other; and for Fear I might fire into Serapis instead of the Enemy, I backed the main topsail in order to engage the Attention of one of the Frigates that was then coming up. When she got on my Starboard quarter, she gave me a Broadside, which, as soon as I could get my guns to bear, (which was very soon done) I returned, and continued engaging her for near two hours, when I was so unfortunate as to have all my Braces, great part of the running rigging, Main and Mizen Topsail sheets shot away, 7 of the guns dismounted, 4 men killed, and 20 wounded, and another Frigate coming up on my Larboard Quarter. In that situation, I saw it was in vain to contend any longer, with any Prospect of Success, against such superior force, I struck to the Pallas, a French Frigate of 32 Guns and 275 men, but in the Service of the Congress. I likewise beg leave to acquaint you, that my Officers and Ship’s Company behaved remarkably well the whole time I was engaged.
I am, &c.
Admiralty office, October 12 .
LONDON October 12.
As soon as the Account of Paul Jones being in Holland, which came by Messenger in the Prince of Wales Packet Boat to Harwich, from Helveotsluys, and was sent to our Minister at the Hague, reached the Secretary of State, it was carried to the King, and a Cabinet Council held; at the break up of which Lord Sandwich came immediately by Post to Town, and in less than two Hours Time Expresses were dispatched to Portsmouth and the Downs, to the Admirals commanding there. The Purport of these Expresses we are informed, is to send some ships with all Speed to cruise off the Texel for Jones’s squadron.
Sir Joseph Yorke will demand of the States of Holland the Deilivery up of the Serapis and the Countess of Scarbrough; and as the States [of Holland RGH] have not allowed the Sovereignty of the Colonies, they consequently cannot deny the Request.
A Letter from Harwich, dated Oct. 7, says “We have received Advice that his Majesty’s Ship Prudent of 64 Guns, Cerberus, Diana, Levant, and Unicorn Frigates, with several armed Ships and Cutters, were lying-to at nine Leagues from the Coast of Holland Yesterday.
This concludes the extracts from the newspaper the York Courant concerning the events and immediate aftermath of the Battle of Flamborough Head, September, 1779. RGH
The general usage of a reduced spelling of the name of towns such as Scarborough was common in Newspapers of this period.
Ransom Bill here indicates the note demanding ransom
Key here indicated Quay, or Bridlington Quay, that part of modern-day Bridlington located by the harbour.
League – a distance of 3 miles, therefore, 3 Leagues equals 9 miles.
Letter of Marque : The papers a government issues to privateers granting permission to attack, take by force and return the goods from enemy merchant ships.
Arm’d Ship or Armed Ship, a vessel privately built for local defensive purposes chartered into the Royal Navy.
The Dock, in this case means the enclosed dock at Hull, then only recently built, having opened for trade in August 1778. Preserved today as gardens, known as Queens Gardens.
A Stand of (Muskets) means the full equipment of a musket to arm one man.
Insh Channel, west coast of Scotland, covering the north/westerly route, as taken by the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Not to be confused with either Richard Pearson or Thomas Piercy.
Newspaper censorship – most likely should read – “damned if I strike” – this is possibly the source of those “immortal words”.
Naze, a word predominantly of the East coast of England meaning a headland or jutting promontory.
The quarter of any vessel is the aspect of approach indicating the port (larboard) or starboard rearward looking sections from either beam to right astern.
Running rigging is the term for the rigging of a sailing vessel that is used for raising, lowering and controlling the sails - as opposed to the standing rigging, which supports the mast and other spars. The running rigging includes halyards and sheets. A sailing vessel cannot be manoeuvred without her running rigging.
Main and Mizen (Mizzen) in this case meaning those two masts behind the Fore(mast).
A curiosity here, other than Prudent, none of the named vessels appear to have been extant at this date, so then, a conundrum; either the secondary sources are in error, or the Newspaper of the actual date, virtually primary evidence has them wrong. I prefer to believe the former; that secondary sources are in error.