The John Paul Jones Letters
In order to present the correspondence between Captain/Commodore John Paul Jones, and his apparent Agent in Chief, Dr. Benjamin Franklin it is first necessary to thank the various academic institutions from which this correspondence has been gathered. It will be noticed that the spellings of those times somewhat differs not only from Standard English, but also from the derived standard American. I would point out but one example of these differences, the word ‘honour’ in English has the letter U, in the American spelling of the same word, the U is omitted. Quite why these differences occurred so early in the nationhood of the USA, I am not able to explain, nor perhaps is it within the purview of this exercise. However, within the following correspondence, yet more varied spellings occur. It has to be remembered that while these were for the most part educated men, as today perhaps, spelling was not a strong point within that education. Nor it has to be said did they have the luxury of a keyboard and spell-check, everything was hand written, and mistakes were made, they still are!
This correspondence also shows when read in its entirety what appears to be considerable sense of uncertainty from Jones as to what his powers were, how far he could go in some aspects of carrying the war to the British, and how to deal with certain points within his own command – his Rules of Engagement if you will. While it is true to say that Jones was not the only American Privateer on the high seas, he was most certainly one of the very first. Consequently, as with all new endeavours, the Rules of Engagement to be established just as there was also the novelty of ‘Independent Command’. By establishing what seems on the surface, some means of protecting his own reputation, there are also to be gleaned perhaps the first glimmerings of an overall command structure for the nascent United States Navy of the late 1770’s.
Conversely, the protectors of the homeward bound convoy of merchant-ships Jones attempted to capture were under strict instruction with their actions often dictated by Royal Naval tradition, or, the ‘Tradition of the Service’. The priority of commanders Pearson (Serapis, 44 guns) and Percy (CountessofScarborough, 22 guns) was not their own protection but that of the convoy in their collective charge. It might seem strange to some that Pearson was so well feted after he had apparently lost a battle. That both escorts were lost, sacrificed if you will, was irrelevant. What was important was that the entire convoy reached home waters completely intact. In other words, Pearson and Percy had done their jobs in the very best Traditions of the Service, as the Courts Martial established. It was normal custom for any Royal Naval Commander to suffer a Court Martial after the loss of his ship under any and all circumstances, so nothing should be read into that other than again, the Tradition of the Service.
History is a fickle thing, said to be dictated by the victors. In this case however, other factors were in play. It has to be remembered that by Royal Naval standards, the engagement off Flamborough Head was little more than a skirmish. With almost constant war with the French, the Royal Navy was more used to major fleet engagements comprising up to and perhaps more than fifty First Rate Line of Battle ships. It has to be said that their record, especially during the American Revolutionary Wars, was not one of great success. A further few years however would see this trend reversed, and a mere quarter of a century later, the Royal Navy was the virtual ruler of the world’s seas. This dichotomy of purpose and duty between Pearson, Percy, and Jones has for the most part been subsumed by reason of the fact that the action was in the US at the time seen as, if not an outright victory of arms over the Royal Navy, then at least a pyrrhic victory for the Royal Navy because the convoy was saved. What the action provided was a massive propaganda victory, it proved, for the time being anyway, that the Royal Navy could be beaten, even if they were out-shipped, out-gunned and out-manned right on their very own doorstep, which was not considered a very pleasant prospect.
The letters can also be read with a view to understanding what can only be called, dilapidated state of the BonHomme Richard. As a seaworthy vessel of war, she was almost a floating wreck it would seem. Whether or not Jones was preparing the ground for future reverses can only be guessed at, but his concern does appear to be sincere, and one must therefore assume that the vessel was not well founded, and that any serious naval engagement, had Jones foreseen one, be considered unwise. It can therefore be said that his willingness to engage Serapis and her consort was either an act of confidence arising from his squadron out-numbering the escort, or, an act of sheer courage to place his ship alongside a British warship that was undoubtedly in far better shape than is own vessel.
As to why it is deemed necessary to provide these letters for all to view, and their relevance to the events of the night of the 23 rd September, 1779, this will become apparent as they progress. What is more, the aftermath of the action from an American perspective is highly relevant due to the fact that were was some acrimony between a few of the squadron commanders, which became quite malicious, and reflects perhaps also some insecurity about the reliability of some officers. In order therefore to present the evidence for this and other aspects of the time, it has been necessary to lay some background as provided by this correspondence. It is also plain to see that there was also some form of coded correspondence between Johns and Franklin, made necessary by the secrecy of some exchanges needed in time of war. Franklin was after all what today might be called a ‘Spy-master’ and for certain there is more to be told of this aspect of the two men’s working relationship.
There is a considerable time lapse between letters from Jones and to him from Congress and their replies, caused by the necessity for any and all mails to traverse the Atlantic Ocean by means of a fast packet –boats, such oceanic crossings could take weeks depending on prevailing weather conditions. It has however to be said that for most of these missive exchanges, Dr. Franklin was not in America nor at Congress, but was serving in France as a “Member of the Continental Congress 1775-1776; signed the Declaration of Independence; president of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1776; sent as a diplomatic commissioner to France by the Continental Congress and, later, Minister to France 1776-1785…….” Hence the place name Passy which occurs on most of Franklin’s letters.
The first of these letters to be quoted from might read to some non-Americans rather chauvinistic, but to any American readers, they will I am sure recognise the then newly discovered patriotism displayed in Jones’ words. It needs to be remembered that the US Declaration of Independence had only been signed three years before, and the fervour and fire of this new state of States was not only exciting to be part of, but was in the process of changing the world from a political and international point of view. The date of this particular letter might be a clue to Jones’ display of national fervour however.
“From John Paul Jones
I am ever with Sentiments of grateful Esteem & Real Affection Dear Sir Your very obliged Friend and most humble Servant
Jno P Jones
To John Paul Jones
From John Paul Jones
I should have acknowledged sooner the receipt of Your Orders dated the 30th. Ulto. which I recd. the 7th. Curr. but waited for the letter which yours alludes to from M. de Chaumont which has but this moment appeared and except the Name of a Merchant contains nothing New.
I have had another Proof this day of the communicative disposition of M de ——. He has written to an Officer under my command a whole Sheet on the Subject of your letter and has even introduced more than perhaps was necessary to a person commanding in chief.— I have also strong reasons to think that this Officer is not the Only improper person here to whom he has written to the same effect.— This is surely a strange infatuation; and it is much to be lamented that one of the best of Hearts in the World should be connected with a mistaken Head whose errors can afford him neither pleasure nor profit; but may effect the Ruin and Dishonor of a Man whom he esteems and Loves. Believe me, my worthy Sir, I dread the thoughts of Seeing this Subject too soon in Print, as I have done Several Others of greater importance with which he was acquainted, and which I am certain he communicated too early to improper Persons; whereby very important Services have been impeded and Set aside.
Had I received your Orders two days sooner I should not have Suffered the Alliance to be Hove Down—but, notwithstanding the very bad weather which we have had here, that work is now too far Advanced to save above two or three days by giving up the design.— Besides the Kings Mast Maker has this morning reported that the Bon homme Richards Bowsprit is Sprung.— This has occasioned a work which I did not till now expect, and the Bowsprit will be Landed this Night to be well examined.— I hope it is not much hurt; but should it be found Unfit for Service, I am told that there is an Old Bowsprit now in the Yard that may be conveniently Substituted— And either way the little Squadron will not I think be detained so as to interfere with the execution of your Orders.
When we meet with the Enemies property of no great value or that cannot be conveniently sent into Port, would it not be proper to “Sink, Burn, or otherwise destroy” Such property?— I have Always had such a charge in my instructions from Congress and it is therefore that I Mention it now.— I would also beg leave to ask whether I may or may not Attempt to avail myself of every opportunity that may seem to present itself to distress the Enemy. [My emphasis – RGH]
The reason why I have not yet Ordered a Court of inquiry is because the Officer principally concerned has been Sick ever since my Arrival— As I am told he is now better the Court will be held and the events transmitted to you without loss of time.— I hope very soon to have the Satisfaction of informing you that I am ready to proceed with a good prospect of executing your Orders; and in the meantime it gives me pleasure to find that your Ideas on that Plan correspond exactly with mine.
In proportion as I am detained here I may be expected to arrive later at the port of my destination; unless ample Success or your Orders to attend to the letter of the Instructions which I have already received should Impel me to Steer for that Port Sooner.
I am ever with Sentiments of real Affection and Esteem Dear Sir Your very Obliged Friend and most humble Servant.
Jno P Jones
n.b. M de Chaumont has written to one of my Captains that it might be expedient for the Pallas & Vengeance to go out for a few days to Cruise after privateers until the Bon homme Richard & Alliance are ready for Service. I have consulted M. de Thevenard the Commandant at L’Orient on the Subject, who is as well as myself of a contrary Opinion—because they would in all probability either return without having had Success, or else after being disabled either by the Seas or the Enemy which would occasion a further loss of time, as our whole force is not more than Sufficient.
From John Paul Jones
The Bowsprit of the Bon homme Richard, having been landed and examined is found not only Sprung in 2 places but in several others much decayed and Rotten:— It is therefore condemned as being Unfit for future Service.— The Old Bowsprit mentioned in my last is now Undergoing a Survey and is generally expected to answer as a good Substitute for the one Condemned.— M. De Thevenard has shewed me a letter from M. De Sartine expressing a desire that the Pallas, the Cerf, and the Vengeance should go out and Cruise for a few days in the Bay Until the Bon homme Richard and Alliance are again ready for Service and I have given them my orders to depart in Consequence— They are not yet out of Sight.— We are to Rendezvous at Groa about the 20th. or 22d. and I think we shall then be ready to proceed on real Service.
I have inspected very particularly into the Situation of the Bon homme Richard and am sorry to find that it is the constructor’s opinion that the Ship is too Old to admit of the necessary alteration. Thus circumstanced I wish to have an Opportunity of attempting an essential Service to render myself worthy of a better and faster Sailing Ship .— My destination from hence as there is a fair prospect of taking many Prizes makes the greater number of Men necessary; And M. de Gourlade writes this day a proposal to M. de Chaumont to Apply at Versailles for liberty to Embark an hundred to an hundred and Thirty Portuguise and other Seamen that have Arrived here in the Epervier and another Small Vessel from the Southward.— This would be a desirable thing if it could be obtained, because I could afterwards proceed with more confidence and they would be necessary towards Manning the Indien, if that Ship can at last be Obtained.— The Leveller Wherry is now nearly ready for the Sea and would be very Useful if Joined to our little force to take the Merchant Ships while we attack their Convoy.—
I am ever with greatful and Sincere Affection Dear Sir Your very Obliged Friend and most humble Servant
Jno P Jones
To John Paul Jones
I have before me your Letters of the 5th. 9th. & 12th of this Month. I received all the Papers relating to Capt. Landais Prize. That Matter is now under Consideration. I am sorry for the Communication of Plans that you mention, but hope no ill Consequences will attend it.
I think the Instruction of Congress which you mention should be observed; and also that every Opportunity of Distressing the Enemy should be embraced, that is not inconsistent with the Execution of your general Orders.
The Delay of your Cruise occasioned by Accidents makes it necessary to give a longer Time for your finishing it at the Orcades, before you quit it to go to the Port of your Destination. I do therefore at the Request of M. De Sartine, lengthen it to the End of September.
With great Esteem, I have the honour to be, Dear Sir, Your most obedt. humble Servant.
Honble Capt. Jones.
From John Paul Jones
I have had the pleasure to receive your esteemed Letters down to the 19th. and you may be sure that I will pay due Attention to your Orders.— It gives me pleasure to find my Authority enlarged because it will enable me to attempt whatever enterprise may present itself and afford a prospect of Success.— And because I shall endeavour to make my Cruise a busy one rather than a long One.— Before I depart I will send you a Cypher for a private Correspondence, and in the meantime I would wish it may be convenient that your further Orders may be at the Port of my destination before the Middle of September.
I beg you to read the inclosed.— I expect the Answer will find me ready in the Road of Groa. I am ever Dear Sir Your Obliged and Affectionate Friend & Servant,
Jno P Jones
To John Paul Jones
I have just received yours of the 25th. I was Yesterday with M. De Sartine at Versailles who appear’d uneasy at some Accts. he had received of a mutinous Disposition in your Crew. He desired me to acquaint M. De Chaumont that he wished to see him that Evening. This Morning M. De Chaumont sent me a Note, of which I enclose a Copy: I understand he goes down with a View to provide you a better set of Hands. You must have heard that 119 American Prisoners are arrived in a Cartel at Nantes: Perhaps out of them you may pick some very good Seamen. But if this Affair should be likely to take Time, the Alliance will have my Orders to make a Cruise alone, agreable to the Ministers Desire. But I hope the Reports of your Crew are not founded, & that your joint Cruise will still take Place, and be successful.
I have the honour to be, with sincere Esteem, Dear Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant
From John Paul Jones
Since I wrote to you last night I have received advice that the Jamaica Fleet will sail homewards escorted by a Fifty Gun Ship and two Strong Frigates.— Should we fall in with that Force we will certainly Engage and I hope Overcome it; but in all probability our Ships will be so much cut to pieces in the Action that we shall be unable to prevent the Escape of the Convoy.— As it was proposed, when I was last at Paris, to put the Frigate the Monsieur under my Command, and as that Ship is now newly Careened and ready to Sail, If it could be convenient to add that force to my present Command, it would give us a Superiority over the Enemies Convoy, and might perhaps enable us to Take and Destroy their Jamaica Fleet— Or if we failed in that we might turn our Arms against other Objects which might I hope do them equal mischief.— If this reaches you before the Departure of the Express, I submit the Idea to your Superiour Wisdom. I thought it my Duty to mention it, and am with sincere and Grateful Affection Dear Sir Your Obliged Friend and very humble Servant
Jno P Jones
To Pierre Landais
In case the Circumstances of the Bonhomme Richard, should make a Delay of her Sailing necessary of which Mr. De Chaumont will inform you, I do hereby direct that you proceed to the North Seas by Such Route as you Shall judge most proper, and cruise there till the end of September in such Parts as are most convenient for intercepting the Northern Trade to England; after which you are to go in to the Texel, and there wait farther Orders. With great Esteem and great Confidence in your Abilities, zeal and activity, I have the honour to be. &c.
From John Paul Jones
The Court Martial that has been held on board here for the last two Days past has not yet come to a determination respecting the Bon homme Richard and Alliance being run foul of one another—and as the health of Lieutenant Robinson, who commanded the Bon homme Richard Deck, did not permit him to attend this day, the Court has gone into the consideration of other matters; particularly respecting Mutiny and Desertion.— Two Quarter Masters Named Robert Towers & John Woulton have been before the Court charged with a conspiracy at Sea, and I am informed by the Court that the Evidence is Strong against them, particularly Against the former.— I have made report of this proceeding to M. de Thevenard—and Should any person be condemned to Death I will suspend the execution of the Sentence Until I have your Orders on the Subject.— In the meantime as I wish to give no Offence in a foreign Port—I submit to you whither it would not be proper to make this proceeding known at Versailles.— Should I depart from hence before I receive your Orders, if there be any Sentence of Death, I will leave the condemned in Prison on Shore—and you may be assured that the Court will proceed with due circumspection, and lenity as far as may be consonant with the Rules of the Service.— I have sent an Officer to Nantes in hopes that he will be able to Enlist a number of the Americans who are arrived there in the Cartel, and I expect his return within four Days.— I have the honor to be with great and sincere Affection and Esteem Dear Sir Your very Obliged Friend and very humble Servant
Jno P Jones
From John Paul Jones
Since my last the Irish Brigantine the Three Friends from Bordeaux taken by the Alliance has sunk at her Anchors in this Road. This unfortunate Accident happened about Eleven in the fore noon the Day before yesterday, and the Prize Master and People declare that the Vessel made no Water and that the Pump sucked at Nine in the Morning.— Neither Captain Landais nor myself were made acquainted with the matter till about a quarter before Eleven, and the assistance of several Boats which were immediatly sent could not then prevent the Vessel from Sinking.— The Admiralty have taken off the Seals and part of the Cargo is Landed.— The remainder will be landed as circumstances will admit, and I will endeavour to have the Leak found and stopped as soon as possible.— It is thought that the Prize has sunk by getting upon an Anchor: But should it be found to have been the Effect of carlessness, a Court Martial shall determin what Punishment to inflict.
I mentioned in my last that if the Court Martial should Sentance any Person to Death, and if I should Sail before I received your Orders respecting the matter I would leave the condemned ashore here in Prison.— But I have since on reflection concluded to carry the Condemned with me that the Sentance may be executed at Sea.— The Bon homme Richard is ready for the Sea— except only that the 100 Men that I have been ordered to Land must be previously replaced.
I am ever with Sentiments of the heighest Esteem & Affection Dear Sir Your very obliged Friend and very Obedient humble Servant
Jno P Jones
From John Paul Jones
It is but this moment that the Court martial has finished the affairs of the Bonhomme Richard and the Alliance being run foul of Each other. I inclose you the Whole proceedings of that Court, Which being the only one of Consequence, it is unnecessary to trouble you With bundles of papers Where the Conclusions have only Amounted to Whipping Which has been Executed.
The Within paper respecting the prise money of this Little Squadron is Submitted to your regulation, and from the Inclosed paper addressed to me by the Captain and officers of the Vengeance I am persuaded that you Will think it unreasonable that he (the Captain) Should Share Equally With the Captain Landais or the Captain of the Pallace and Rather that Each Ship and Vessel Should first Share in proportion to the Number and Calibre of her Guns and the number of her Men; and that they Should afterwards divide their respective Shares by the Law of their flag, or otherwise to their mutual Satisfaction. The Within State of the force of Each Ship and Vessel Will be useful in forming your decision.
Mr. De Chaumont has made an useless Journey here as I had taken all the necessary measures to Engage the Men that Were Wanting before his appearance even at Nantes. I am however much obliged to him and to the Minister for that attention as well as all former favors.
I Shall Certainly Sail to morrow at Day break and I hope Shortly to find opportunities to testify my gratitude to our great and good Ally for the honor Which he has Confered on the American flag and on my Self.
The inclosed dictionary will be useful When I Write to you on particulars Subjects.
This Little Squadron appears to be unanimous; and if that good understanding Continues, We are able to perform Essential Service.
I Look forwards With pleasing Expectation and an ardent desire to merit your friendship and that of America.
Being ever With the heigest Esteem and Respect Dear Sir the most obliged of your obedient Servants
I could not answer your favour of the 28 July before, having had no occasion for an express, & not being willing to trust the Letter to the post: and I could not comply with your orders to go out upon a cruise, not being ready before this time, by reason of our Prize Brigg’s sinking, which happen’d the 27th. Instant; having employ’d our crew to save her Cargo. The said prize, according to the direction of Capt. Jones & Mr. de Chaumont, I leave in the hands of Messrs. Gourlade & Moylan, with a midshipman & a seaman to take care of her.
Having heard that Capt. Gust Berg of the Sweedish ship Victoria, has presented a request to the admiralty at Morlaix, to have extraordinary charges paid to him, & he having asserted that he had not time allow’d him to shew his papers when I met him at Sea; I have sent to Mr. Pitot a Certificate from Mr. Blodget, (a copy of which is inclosed,) that he had time enough to take his papers & to have produced them all at first, had he been inclined; they were all demanded & he shewed only a part, for he never produced the Register ’till he got to Morlaix. The Charges he has made for the maintenance of himself & crew are also very unjust, his people lived on board this Ship in Brest, & himself lived on board as long as he pleased; neither did it cost him any thing for boat hire, another considerable charge he has made, for my boats were used to transport himself & Crew.
This is favour’d by M. de Chaumont, who will inform you, we are all under the Isle of Groa & ready for Sea. I am with the greatest respect, Your Excellencies most obedient & most humble Servt.
From John Paul Jones
When I had the honour of writing to you on the 11th. 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 & America. I had a full confidence in the Voluntary inclination & ability of every Captain under my Command to assist and support me in my duty with Cheerful Unremitting Emulation—and I was persuaded that every one of them would persue Glory in preference to Interest. Whether I was or was not deceived will best appear by a simple relation of circumstances.— The little Squadron under my command consisting of the Bon home Richard of 40 Guns the Alliance of 36 Guns the Pallas of 32 Guns the Serf of 18 Guns & the Vengeance of 12 Guns Join’d by two Privateers the Monsieur & the Grandvelle Sailed from the Isle of Groa at Day Break on the 14th. of August the same day we spoke with a large Convoy bound from the Southward to Brest on the 18th. we took a large Ship belonging to Holland laden chiefly with Brandy and Wine that had been destined from Barcelona for Dunkirk and taken eight days before by an English Privateer— The Captain of the Privateer Monsieur took out of this Prize such Articles as he pleased in the Night and the next day being astern of the Squadron & to windward he actually wrote Orders in his proper Name and sent away the Prize under one of his own Officers— This however I superceeded by sending her for L’Orient under my Orders in the character of Commander in Chief— The evening of the Day following the Monsieur Seperated from the Squadron— On the 20th. we saw and Chased a large Ship but could not come up with her She being to Windward— On the 21st we saw and Chased another Ship that was also to Windward and thereby Eluded our pursuit the Same afternoon we took a Brigantine Called the May Flower laden with Butter & Salt Provision bound from Limerick in Ireland for London; this Vessel I Immediately expedited for L’Orient. On the 23 we saw Cape Clear and the S. West Part of Ireland that Afternoon it being Calm I sent some Armed Boats to take a Brigantine that appeared in the N.W. Quarter—soon after in the evening it became necessary to have a Boat a Head of the Ship to Tow as the Helm could not prevent her from laying across the Tide of Flood which would have driven us into a deep and dangerous Bay Situated between the Rocks on the south called the Skillicks [Skelligs] and on the North called the Blaskets— The Ships Boats being absent I sent my own Barge a head to tow the Ship— The Boats took the Brigantine She being called the Fortune and Bound with a Cargo of Oil Blubber & Staves from Newfoundland for Bristol— This Vessel I Ordered to proceed immediately for Nants or St. Malo.— Soon after Sunset the Villains who Towed the Ship cut the tow Rope and Decamped with my Barge.— Sundry Shot were fir’d to bring them too without effect— In the mean time the Master of the Bon homme Richard without Orders Manned one of the Ships Boats & with 4 Soldiers pursued the Barge in Order to stop the deserters— The Evening was then Clear & Serene—but the Zeal of that Officer Mr. Cutting Lunt induc’d him to pursue too far, and a Fog which came on soon afterwards Prevented the Boat from Rejoyning the Ship altho I caused Signal Guns to be frequently fired— the Fog & Calm continued the next day till towards the Evening— In the Afternoon Captain Landais came on board the Bonhomme Richard and behaved towards me with great disrespect Affirming in the most indelicate language and manner that I had lost my Boats and People thro’ imprudence in sending Boats to take a Prize— He persisted in his reproaches tho’ he was assured by Messieurs De Wybert & Chamillard that the Barge was actually Towing the Ship at the time of the Elopement and had not been sent in pursuit of the Prize— He was affronted because I would not the Day before Suffer him to Chase without my Orders and to approach the dangerous Shore I have already mentioned, where he was an entire Stranger and where there was not a Sufficient wind to govern a Ship— He told me that he was the only American in the Squadron and was determined to follow his own Opinion in Chasing when and where he thought proper and in every other matter that concerned the Service— and that if I continued in that Situation three days longer the Squadron would be Taken &c, By the advice of Captain Cottineau and with the free consent and Approbation of M. De Verage I sent the Serf in to Reconnoitre the Coast and endeavour to take up the Boats and People the next day while the Squadron stood off and on in the S.W. Quarter in the best Possible Situation to intercept the Enemies Merchant Ships whether outward or Homeward Bound.— The Cerf had on board a Pilot well acquainted with the Coast and was Ordered to Join me again before Night,— I approached the Shore in the Afternoon but the Serf did not appear— This induced me to stand off again in the Night in order to return and be rejoyned by the Serf the Next Day—but to my great concern and disappointment tho’ I ranged the Coast along and hoisted our private Signal neither the Boats nor the Serf Joined me— The evening of that day the 26th. brought with it Stormy Weather with an appearance of a Severe Gale from the South West Yet I must declare I did not follow my own Judgment but was led by the assertion which had fallen from Captain Landais when I in the evening made a Signal for to steer to the Northward and leave that Station, which I wished to have Occupied at least a Week longer— The Gale increased in the Night with the thick Weather— To prevent seperation I carried a Toplight and fired a Gun every Quarter of an hour; I carried also a Very moderate Sail and the Course had been clearly Pointed out by a Signal before Night. Yet with all this precaution I found myself accompanied only by the Brigantine Vengeance in the Morning—the Grand Velle having remained astern with a Prize as I have since understood the Tiller of the Pallas broke after MidNight in which disenabled her from keeping up— but no apology has yet been made in behalf of the Alliance.— On the 31st we saw the Flannin Islands Situated near the Lewises on the N.W. Coast of Scotland and the next morning off Cape Wrath we gave Chase to a Ship to Windward at the same time two Ships appearing in the N.W. Quarter which proved to be the Alliance and a Prize Ship which She had taken bound as I Understood from Liverpool for Jamaica.— The Ship which I chased brought too at Noon— She proved to be the Union Letter of Mark bound from London for Quebec with a Cargo of Naval Stores on Account of Government, Adapted for the Service of the British Armed Vessels on the Lakes. The Public dispatches were lost as the Alliance very imprudently hoisted American Colours tho’ English Colours were then Flying on board the Bon homme Richard.— Captain Landais sent a small Boat to ask whither I would Man the Ship or he should—as in the latter Case he would suffer no Boat nor Person from the Bon homme Richard to go near the Prize.— Ridiculous as this appeared to me I yielded to it for the sake of Peace and received the Prisoners on board the Bon homme Richard while the Prize was manned from the Alliance.— In the Afternoon another Sail appeared and I immediately made the Signal for the Alliance to Chase—but instead of Obeying He wore and laid the Ships Head the other way; The next morning I made a Signal to speak with the Alliance to which no attention was shewn— I then made Sail with the Ships in Company for the second Rendezvous which was not far distant and where I fully expected to be Join’d by the Pallas and the Serf— The 2d. of Sepr. we saw a Sail at Day break and gave Chase— That Ship proved to be the Pallas and had met with no Success while seperated from the Bon homme Richard— On the 3d. the Vengeance brought too a small Irish Brigantine bound homewards from Norway.
The same evening I sent the Vengeance in the N.E. Quarter to bring up the two Prize Ships that appeared to me to bee too near the Islands of Schetland— while with the Alliance & Pallas I endeavoured to Weather Fair Isle and to get into my second Rendezvous where I directed the Vengeance to Join me with the three Prizes. The Next Morning having weathered Fair Isle and not seeing the Vengeance nor the Prizes—I spoke the Alliance and ordered her to Steer to the Northward and bring them up to the Rendezvous. On the morning the 5th the Alliance appeared again and had brought too 2 very Small Coasting Sloops in Ballast but without having Attended properly to My Orders of Yesterday.— The Vengeance Joined me soon after And informed me that in consequence of Captain Landais Orders to the Commanders of the two Prize Ships they had refused to follow him to the Rendezvous. I am to this moment Ignorant what Orders these Men received from Capt. Landais— nor Know I by Virture of what Authority he ventured to give his Orders to Prizes in my Presence and without either my Knowledge or Approbation. Captain Ricot further informed me that he had Burnt the Prize Brigantine because that Vessel Proved leaky and I was sorry to understand afterwards that the Vessel was Irish Property the Cargo was the Property of the Subjects of Norway—
In the evening I sent for all the Captains to come on board the Bon homme Richard to consult on future Plans of Opperation. Captains Cottineau & Ricot Obeyed me, but Captain Landais Obstinately refused and after sending me Various uncivil Messages wrote me a very extraordinary letter in Answer to a written Order which I had sent him on finding that he had trifled with my Verbal Orders—
The next day a Pilot Boat came on board from Shetland by which Means I received such advices as induced me to change a Plan which I otherwise meant to have Pursued, And as the Serf did not appear at my second Rendezvous I determined to steer towards the 3d. in hopes of meeting her there— In the Afternoon a Gale of Wind came on which continued four Days without intermission. In the 2d. Night of that Gale the Alliance with her 2 little Prizes Again seperated from the Bon homme Richard—
I had now with me only the Pallas and Vengeance Yet I did not abandon the hopes of performing some Essential service— The Winds continued contrary so that we did not see the Land ’till the Evening of the 13th when the Hills of Chevot [Cheviot] in the S.E. of Scotland appeared— The Next day We Chased Sundry Vessels and took a Ship & a Brigantine both from the Firth of Edinborough laden with Coal Knowing that there lay at Anchor in leith Roads an Armed Ship of 20 Guns with two or three fine Cutters— I formed an Expedition against Leith which I purposed to lay under a large Contribution or otherwise to reduce it to Ashes— Had I been alone the Wind being favourable I would have proceeded directly up the Firth and must have Succeeded as they lay there in a State of perfect indolence and security which would have Prov’d their Ruin. Unfortunately for me the Pallas and Vengeance were both at a considerable Distance in the Offing they having Chased to the Southward— This Obliged me to Steer out of the Firth again to meet them— The Captains of the Pallas and Vengeance being come on board the Bon homme Richard I communicated to them my Project—to which many difficulties and Objections were made by them— at last however they appeared to think better of the design after I had assured them that I hoped to raise a Contribution of 200,000 Pounds Sterling on Leith, and that there was no Battery of Cannon there to oppose our landing.— So much time however was unavoidably spent in Pointed Remarks and Sage Deliberation that Night that the Wind became contrary in the Morning— We continued Working to windward up the Firth without being able to reach the Road of Leith till on the Morning of the 17th. when being almost within Cannon Shot of the Town having every thing in readiness for a Descent; a very severe Gale of Wind came on and being directly contrary Obliged us to bear away after having in Vain endeavoured for some time to withstand Its Violence the Gale was so severe that one of the Prizes that had been taken the 14th. sunk to the Bottom the Crew being with difficulty saved— As the alarm had by this time reached Leith by means of a Cutter that had watched our motions that Morning,— & as the Wind continued contrary (tho’ more moderate in the evening) I thought it impossible to pursue the Enterprize with a good prospect of success especially as Edinborough where there is always a Number of Troops is only a Mile distant from Leith; therefore I gave up the Project— on the 19th. having taken a Sloop and a Brigantine in Ballast with a Sloop laden with Building Timber— I Proposed another Project to Mr. Cottineau which would have been highly Honorable tho’ not Profitable many difficulties were made and our Situation was represented as being the most Perulous the Enemy he said would send against us a superiour Force and that if I Obstinately continued on the Coast of England two days longer we should all be Taken.
The Vengeance having Chased Along Shore to the Southward Capt. Cottineau said he would follow her with the Prizes as I was unable to make much Sail having that day been Obliged to strike the Main Topmast to repair its damages and as I afterwards Understood he told M. De Chamillard that unless I Joined them the next Day both the Pallas & the Vengeance would leave that Coast.— I had thoughts of attempting the Enterprize alone after the Pallas had made Sail to Join the Vengeance— I am persuaded even now that I should have succeeded And to the honour of my Young Officers I found them as ardently disposed to the Business as I could desire. Nothing prevented me from pursuing my design but the reproach that would have been cast upon my Character as a Man of prudence had the Enterprize miscarried— It would have been said was he not forewarned by Captain Cottineau & Others—
I made Sail along Shore to the Southward and next Morning took a Coasting Sloop in Ballast which with another that I had taken the Night before I Ordered to be sunk.— In the Evening I again met with the Pallas and the Vengeance off Whitby— Captain Cottineau told me he had sunk the Brigantine and ransomed the Sloop Laden with Building Timber that had been Taken the Day before— I had told Captain Cottineau the day before that I had no Authority to Ransom Prizes— On the 21st. We saw and Chased Two Sail off Flambrough Head— The Pallas Chased in the N E Quarter while the Bon home Richard followed by the Vengeance Chased in the S.W.— The one I Chased a Brigantine Collier in Ballast belonging to Scarborough was soon Taken and sunk immediately Afterwards— As a Fleet then appeared to the Southward this was so late in the Day that I could not come up with the Fleet before night at length however I got so near one of them as to force her to run ashore between Flamborough Head and the Spurn— soon after I Took another a Brigantine from Holland belonging to Sunderland and at Day light the Next Morning seeing a Fleet Steering towards me from the Spurn I immagined them to be a Convoy bound from London for Leith which had been for some time expected—one of them had a Pendant Hoisted and appeared to be a Ship of Force— They had not however Courage to come on but kept back all except the one which seemed to be Armed and that one Also kept to Windward very near the Land and on the Edge of Dangerous Shoals where I could not with safety Approach— This induced me to make a Signal for a Pilot and soon afterwards two Pilot Boats came off— They informed me that the Ship that wore a Pendant was an Armed Merchantman And that a Kings Frigate lay there in sight at Anchor within the Humber waiting to take under Convoy a number of Merchant Ships bound to the Northward. The Pilots imagined the Bon homme Richard to be an English Ship of War and consequently communicated to me the Private Signal which they had been required to make— I endeavoured by this means to decoy the Ships out of the Port, but the wind then changing and with the Tide becoming Unfavourable for them; the deception had not the desired Effect; and they wisely put back.— The entrance of the Humber is exceedingly difficult and Dangerous— And as the Pallas was not in sight I thought it imprudent to remain off the Entrance—therefore Steered out again to Join the Pallas off Flamborough Head. In the Night We saw and Chased two Ships untill 3 OClock in the Morning When being at a very small distance from them I made the Private Signal of Reconnoisance which I had given to each Captain before I Sailed from Groa— One half of the Answer only was returned— In this Position both sides lay too till day light When the Ships proved to be the Alliance & the Pallas— On the Morning of that day the 23d. the Brig from Holland not being in sight We Chased a Brigantine that appeared Laying too to Windward— About Noon We saw and Chased a large Ship that appeared coming round Flamborough head from the Northward and at the same time I Manned and Armed one of the Pilots 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 off Flamborough Head bearing NNE. This induced me to Abandon the Single Ship which had then Anchored in Burlington Bay; I also called back the Pilot Boat and hoisted a Signal for a general Chase.
[Here commences John Paul Jones’ report of the Battle of Flamborough Head – RGH]
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 Battle— In approaching the Enemy I crowded every Possible Sail and made the Signal for the line of Battle to which the Alliance shewed no Attention. Earnest as I was for the Action I could not reach the Commodores Ship untill Seven in the Evening being then within Pistol Shot when He hailed the Bon homme Richard. We answered him by Firing a Whole Broadside— The Battle being thus begun was continued with Unremitting Fury— Every method was Practiced on both sides to gain an Advantage and Rake each other— And I must confess that the Enemies Ship being much more Manageable than the Bon homme Richard gained thereby several times an advantagious Situation in spite of my best endeavours to prevent it— As I had to deal with an Enemy of greatly Superiour 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 Bon homme Richard athwart the Enemies Bow but as that Opperation 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 wish.
The Enemies Bowsprit however came over the Bon homme Richards Poop by— the Mizen Mast and I made both Ships fast together in that Situation which by the Action the Wind on the Enemies Sails forced her Stern close to the Bon homme Richards Bow so that the Ships lay square alongside of each Other the Yards being all entangled and the Cannon of each Ship touching the Opponents Side when this Position took Place it was Eight OClock Previous to which the Bonhomme Richard had received sundry Eighteen Pound 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. Dale and Col. Wybert and Manned Principally with American Seamen & French Volunteers; was entirely Silenced and Abandoned—as to the Six old 18 Pounders that formed the Battery of the lower Gun Deck they did no service whatever except firing Eight Shot in all— Two out of them Burst at the first Fire and Killed almost all the Men who were stationed to Manage them.
Before this time too Col. 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 (9 Pounders) on the Quarter Deck that were not Silenced and not one of the heavier Cannon was fired during the remainder 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 & with great difficulty Rallied a few Men and shifted to get over one of the lee Quarter Deck Guns so that We afterwards played three Pieces of Nine pounders upon the Enemy The Tops alone seconded the Fire of this little Battery and held out Bravely during the Whole Action especially the Main Top where Lieutenant 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 & Canister Shot to Silence the Enemies Musquetry and Clear her Decks which was at last effected the Enemy were as I have since Understood on the Instant of Calling out 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 redoubled Fury— They were unable to stand the Deck but the Fire of their Cannon especially the lower Battery which was entirely form’d 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 Shot under Water And one of the Pumps being shot away the Carpenter expressed his Fears that she would Sink 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 Quarters and he prefered the Latter— All this time the Bon homme Richard had sustained the Action alone And the Enemy tho’ much Superior in Force would have been very glad to have got Clear as Appears by their own Acknowledgments 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 Bonhomme Richard; at last, at half past Nine O’Clock the Alliance appeared & I now thought the Battle at an End but to my Utter Astonishment he discharged a Broadside full into the Stern of the Bon homme Richard— We Called to him for Gods sake to forbear Firing into the Bon homme Richard— Yet he passed along the Off Side of the Ship and Continued Firing— There was no Possibility of his Mistaking the Enemy’s Ship for the Bon homme Richard there being the most essential difference in their appearance & construction—besides it was then full Moon light, And the Sides of the Bon homme Richard were all Black while the Side of the Prize were Yellow— Yet for the greater security I shewed the Signal of our Reconnoissance by putting out Three Lanthorns, One at the head Another at the Stern and the third in the Middle in a Horrizontal line— Every Tongue cried that He was Firing into the wrong Ship but nothing availed. He passed round firing into the Bon homme Richard’s Head, Stern, & Broadside and by one of his Vollies Killed Agreeable to Report several of my best Men and Mortally Wounded an Officer on The Fore Castle only. My Situation was really deplorable the Bon homme Richard received Various Shots under Water from the Alliance the leak gained on the Pumps 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 Enemy’s Main Mast began to shake, Their Firing decreased Fast Our’s rather increased And the British Colours were Struck at half an hour Past Ten 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 with far more formidable than the Britons I mean fire and Water. The Serapis was attacked only by the first but the Bon homme Richard was Assailed by both— There was five Feet of Water in the Hold and tho’ it was Moderate from the Explosition of so Much Gun Powder Yet 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 in 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 Deck ready to be thrown overboard at the last extremity and it was Ten O’Clock the next Day the 24th before the Fire was entirely Extinguished. With respect to the Situation of the Bonhomme Richard The Rudder was cut almost entirely off; the Stern Frame & Transoms Were almost entirely Cut away And the Timbers by the lower Deck especially from the Main Mast towards 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 Scenes of Carnage Wreck and Ruin which every where appeared— Humanity cannot but recoil from the Prospect of such finished Horror and lament that War should be capable of producing Such fatal Consequences.
After the Carpenters as well as Captain Cottineau and other Men of sense had well examined & Surveyed the Ship which was not Finished before five in Evening I found every Person to be convinced that it was Impossible to Keep the Bon homme Richard 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 Next Morning— I was determined to Keep the Bon homme Richard 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 25th. So that it was impossible to prevent the Good Old Ship from Sinking— They did not abandon her ’till after Nine OClock— The Water was then up to the lower Deck and a little after Ten I saw with inexpressible Grief the last Glimpse of the Bonhomme Richard— No lives were lost with the Ship—but it was impossible 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 Command I shall freely submit My Conduct therein to the Cencure of my Superiours 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 Interest only; I am exceedingly Sorry that they and I have at all been 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 Untill the end of my Life— And will always endeavour to Merit while I can consistent with my Honor continue in the Public Service.— I must speak plainly; as I have always been honored with the full confidence of Congress, And as I had 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 Officers Whom I had Commissioned but a few days before.— Had that Paper or even a less dishonourable one been proposed to me at the begining I would have rejected it with Just Contempt, and the Word “Deplacement” Among Others should have been Unnecessary— I cannot however even now suppose that he was Authorized by the Court to make such a bargin 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 the Commanders of the other Ships And communicated to them not only all he Knew but all he thought respecting our desination and opperations— M. De Chaumont has made me Various Reproaches on account of the Expence of the Bon homme Richard wherewith I cannot think I have been Justly chargeable— M. De Chamillard can attest that the Bon homme Richard was at last far from being well fitted or Armed for War— If any Person or Persons who have been charged with the Expence of that Armament have Acted Wrong the fault must not be laid to my Charge.
I had not the 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 to secure Prisoners of War.
In short while my Life remains If I have any Capacity to render good & Acceptible 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 Honour and a Prospect of success Undertake Future Expeditions Unless when the Object and distination 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 even under take the Chief Command of a Private Expedition and where 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 Hours Action While the Bon homme Richard 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 & 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 M. Ricot who had held off at a distance to Windward during the whole Action; and withheld by Force the Pilot Boat with my Lieutenant and Fifteen 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 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 Over Board soon after the Captain had come onboard the Bonhomme Richard.
Uppon the whole the Captain of the Alliance has behaved so very ill in every respect that I must Complain loudly of his Conduct— He pretends that he is authorized to act independant 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 Untill I have the advice and Approbation of your Excellency. I have been advised by all the Officers of the Squadron to put Landais under Arest but as I have postponed it so long I will bear with him a little longer Untill the return of my Express.
We this Day Anchored here having since the Action been tossed to and fro by contrary Winds— I wished to have gained the Road of Dunkirk on account of our Prisoners but was over Ruled by the Majority of my Colleagues.
I shall hasten up to Amsterdam and there If I meet with no Orders for my Goverment 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 Americans. 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 with the Highest Sentiments of grateful Esteem and Respect. Honoured and dear Sir Your very Obliged Friend & very Humble Servant
To the Eastern Navy Board
I received the Letters you did me the honour of writing to me the 30th of July and 18th. of August last, by the Mercury Packet Boat and by a french Cutter, the other Dispatches Capt. Samson was entrusted with, came all Safe to hand; and I Should have dipatch’d him sooner, if I had not found it necessary to detain him in order to Send by him to Congress some Advices of Importance which could not be Sooner obtained.
The Cruise of our Little American Squadron under Commodore Jones, intended partly to intercept the Baltic Trade, has had some success tho’ not all that was hoped for. The Coasts of Britain and Ireland have been greatly alarmed, apprehending Descents, it being Supposed that he had land forces with him. This has put the Enemy to much Expence in marching Troops from place to Place. Several valuable Prizes have been made of Merchant ships, particularly two one from London 300 Tons and 84 men, with 22 Guns laden with naval Stores for Quebec; the other from Liverpool bound to New York and Jamaica of 22 Guns and 87 men, laden with provisions and Bale Goods. These two are safely arrived at Bergen in Norway; two Smaller Prizes are arrived in france, and a Number of Colliers have been burnt or ransomed. The Baltic fleet was met with and the two men of War who convoyed them viz. the serapis a new ship of 44 Guns and the Countess of Scarborough of 20. Guns are taken, after a long and bloody engagement, and are brought into the Texel. But the merchant Ships escaped during the conflict for which the alliance and one of the other Ships are blamed whether Justly or not may be enquired into. Our Commodore’s Ship was so shatter’d that she could not be kept afloat, and the People being all taken out of her she Sunk the Second Day after the Engagement.— The rest of the Squadron are refitting in the Texel from which neutral Place they will be obliged soon to depart with their prizes and Prisoners near 400. I wish they may arrive safe in france for I suppose the English will endeavour to intercept them. Jones’s Bravery and conduct in the Action has gain’d him great honour.
I condole with you on the Loss of your Armament against Penobscot; but I Suppose the Sugar ships Since taken and brought into your Port have more than compensated the Expence tho’ not the disappointment of the well intended Expedition. The Congress write for Naval Stores. I have acquainted them that I have Lately been informed, that stores for fitting out two 36 Gun frigates, which we brought here and sent out two Years ago are still lying in the Warehouses of Mr. Carrabas, at Cape françois, having been forgotten there or never sent for. Perhaps you may obtain them. The Quebec Ship if we can get her safe home will afford a large Supply.
I am much oblig’d to you for the Newspapers. I Shall direct Mr. Schweighauser to send you an account of the advances made to the officiers of the alliance, if he has not already done it. With great Respect, I have the honour to be Gentlemen &c.
From John Paul Jones
With respect to the reception which I meet with here I beg leave to refer you to the Accounts which I know you will receive from Mr ——— by whose hands I had the honour to receive your esteemed favor of the 7th. of September.— His Excellency ——— I understand makes propositions respecting certain Commissions.— Whatever you may find Consonant with the good of the Common Cause and with the high Respect which I shall ever entertain for Freedoms Flag, will always meet with my earnest and full attention— And especially while in pursuit of the Object for which the Congress thought proper to Send me to France; but I can accept of no honor that can call in question my Ardent Attachement to the American Cause and to the dignity of its Flag, or that can give the least offence to America.— I have not here a Sufficient number of Officers to form a Court Martal. Unless Captain Virage of the Cerf is returned to France it will be difficult for me to get through the Enquiry into Captain Landais’ conduct.— I hold myself Always ready to Observe your Orders, and therefore will wait the return of M. De Chamillard before I take any measures with Landais.— In case of his deplacement, it will be necessary to put the Alliance in the meantime Under the Command of a Lieutenant, Unless some Continental Captain of Merit should be at this time in France— And if there should be at this time any deserving Lieutenant in France Whose Seniority may entitle him to a preference, I presume that you will give him directions to Repair here.— I have besides Occasion for Sundry other Officers as Some of my late Compliment have been Sent away in Prizes and others have been killed— We are beginning to refit the Serapis.— The Countess of Scarborough & Vengeance are Also preparing Agreeable to my letter of the 3d.— Yet with respect to the Prisoners I am afraid I shall not be Able to Settle that matter before the return of the Express.— I am far from desiring to Quarrel with M. De Chaumont. I wish to know him long as a Friend tho not as a Master,— for it is not his Heart but his Head that has made me Unhappy.
As I left the Texel immediatly After the Ships were Moored,— And from the dispersed Situation of my Crew and Prisoners Not having previously Obtained a return of killed and Wounded, I am Sorry that I have it not yet in my Power to Satisfy you in that respect.— I will forward the list as soon as possible; Meantime I have the honor to be with Sentiments of the Highest Esteem and Respect Honored & dear Sir Your most Obliged & faithful Servant
The captain of the Alliance, from this missive, it seems, had little idea of what was about to befall:
I had the honour to write & transmitt some extracts of my Journal to you the 4th. Instant, & now inclose a plan of the engagement with the Serapis & Countess of Scarborough in the night of the 23 September.
With respect to the present condition of this Ship, I am to inform your excellency that we have occasion for many Articles for Rigging & Stores, an Indent of which is making out to be sent to Messrs. Jean de Neufville et fils at Amsterdam, that we have but 182 Officers & men belonging to her, out of which number 15 of my best men are on board the Serapis. I order’d my prize masters, who consist of all my masters mates & Midshipmen, excepting one of the latter & two of the former, to give your excellency the earliest information, when they should arrive, and you will please to order them with their men to repair on board the Alliance.
If your Excellency can obtain to have french deserters inlisted at Amsterdam, it might facillitate the manning this Ship, since fifty men more would be no great Complement for her.
This Ship did not sail well this last Cruize, her bottom was foul before she left L’Orient, and she was out of trim. If your Excellency would ship some Copper on board, to be put upon her at the place we are going to, it would be of great Service.
I have seen in a Recueil de Traites, Arrets, Ordonnances et Reglemens concernant la présente Guerre, Reglement concernant la Navigation des batimens Neutres en temps de guerre du 26 Juillet 1778. Articles 3d & 11th. will condemn the Swede I took last february, as a prize, for not producing all her papers; or at least will prevent her being paid damages, of which she makes such exorbitant demand, and the 6th. Article of the same, will Condemn the brig laden with wines. This I should have noted before, had I seen them in Season.
I have the Satisfaction to inform you that my Crew in general behaved well last Cruize & in the engagement of the 23d Ulto. and that I have two American Gentlemen of family Volunteers, one a Mr Spencer from So Carolina, who came over Captain of Marines & was carried into England sometime agoe; the other Mr. Ingraham, a young gentleman from Boston, who having a mind to make a Cruize, came on board at L’Orient & behaved so well as to demand my warmest recommendation to your Excellency, & should any oppertunity offer it would give me the greatest pleasure to see their Merit rewarded. I remain with the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient huml Servant
From John Paul Jones
I had the honor to write your Excellency a line from the Hague on the 8th.— His Excellency the French Ambassador and the Agent have no doubt marked the situation of Affairs with respect to the Squadron, as concerned with this Government and with the Enemy.— I am doing every thing in my Power towards fulfiling the Advice which I have received from His Excellency, and as I am informed that Captain Cunningham is threatned with Unfair play by the British Government— I am determined to keep in my hands the Captain of the Serapis as an Hostage for Cunninghams release as a prisoner of War.— With respect to the other prisoners now in my hands, If the English Ambassador Sir J.Y. will give us Security in his public Character that an Equal number and denomination of Americans shall be Sent immediatly to France, I believe it will be good Policy to Let them at liberty here; and I shall endeavour indirectly to inform myself immediatly how that matter can be managed.— Landais is come up here and purposes after gadding about in this City to figure away at the Hague:— He continues to Affect an entire Independence of my Controul—And has given in here an Extraordinary demand for Supplies of every kind.— This famous demand however I have ventured to disaprove and to reduce to I believe a Tenth part of its first extent.— I hope to account to your Satisfaction for my reasons—among which is his having been so plentifully and so lately furnished.— I wish heartily that poor Cunningham (whom I am taught to regard as a Continental Officer) were exchanged; as with his assistance I could form a Court Martial, which I beleive you will see Unavoidable.— I go down to the Texel to Night and will from thence forward the Return of Killed & Wounded with the Prisoners.— I think the Prisoners will not fall much Short of 400— And I hope my loss in Killed and Wounded will be less than I at first imagined.— I believe also that the Enemies loss will considerably exceed ours.
I am ever with Sentiments of the heighest Esteem and Respect Your Excellencies very Obliged & faithful Sert.
To John Paul Jones
I received the Account of your Cruize & Engagement with the Serapis, which you did me the honour to send me from the Texel. I have since received your Favour of the 8th from Amsterdam. For some Days after the Arrival of your Express scarce any thing was talked of at Paris and Versailles but your cool Conduct and persevering Bravery during that terrible Conflict. You may believe that the Impression on my Mind was not less strong than that on others, but I do not chuse to say in a Letter to yourself all I think on such an Occasion.
The Ministry are much dissatisfied with Captain Landais, and M. De Sartine has signified to me in writing that it is expected I should send for him to Paris and call him to Account for his Conduct, particularly for deferring so long the coming to your Assistance, by which means, it is supposed the States lost more of their valuable Citizens, and the King lost many of his Subjects Volunteers in your Ship, together with the Ship itself. I have accordingly written to him this Day acquainting him that he is charged with Disobedience of Orders in the Cruise and Neglect of his Duty in the Engagement; that a Court Martial being at this time inconvenient if not impracticable, I would give him an earlier Opportunity of offering what he has to say in his Justification, and for that purpose direct him to render himself immediately here, bringing with him such Papers or Testimonies as he may think useful in his Defence. I know not whether he will obey my Orders, nor what the Ministry will do with him if he comes; but I suspect that they may by some of their concise Operations save the Trouble of a Court martial. It will be well however for you to furnish me with what you may judge proper to support the Charges against him, that I may be able to give a just and clear Account of the Affair to Congress. In the meantime, it will be necessary, if he should refuse to come, that you should put him under an Arrest, and in that Case as well as if he comes, that you should either appoint some Person to command his Ship or take it upon yourself; for I know of no Person to recommend to you as fit for that Station.
I am uneasy about your Prisoners. I wish they were safe in France. You will then have compleated the glorious Work of giving Liberty to all the Americans that have so long languished for it in the British Prisons: for there are not so many there as you have now taken.
I have the Pleasure to inform you that the two Prizes sent to Norway are safely arrived at Berghen.
With the highest Esteem, I am Dear Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant
I receivd the Letter you did me the honour of writing to me the 4th. inst. with an Abstract of your Journal; I thank you for your care in sending it so early, & I congratulate you on the success of your cruize.
But I am sorry to find, there are charges against you for disobedience of Orders, & also that the Ministry here think the great loss among the King’s subjects viz. the french Volunteers on board the Bon-homme Richard, was owing to your not coming up sooner to her assistance, as it is supposed you might have done. M. De Sartine has in consequence written to me, that it is expected I shoud cause an immediate enquiry to be made into your conduct. A Court martial is the regular way if you choose it. But as that may occasion a long discussion, & be in many respects at this time inconvenient to the Service, I have (with the advice too of your friend M. de Chaumont) thought it better to give you an opportunity of justifying yourself, both to the Ministry & to me, by coming directly to Paris which I do hereby accordingly desire (or to use a stronger expression as you may think such necessary to justify your leaving your ship, I do require) that you render yourself here as soon as possible. I need not advise you to bring with you, such Papers & Testimonies as you may think proper for your justification. And will only add that you may be sure of finding in me every disposition to do that justice of your character which it shall appear to merit. I have the honor, &c
signed B Franklin
From Officers of the American Squadron: Affidavit
The officers Who are Knowing to the following facts, Will please to mention them in full unequivocal terms in their Certificates. 1.The Captain of the alliance did not take the Steps in his power to prevent his Ship from getting foul of the Bonhomme Richard in the Bay of Biscay; for instead of putting his helm a Weather, and bearing up to make Way for his Commanding officer (Which Was his Duty) he left the deck for to load his pistols. 2.When in Chace of a Ship (Supposed an English East India man) on the Day of August 1779. Captn: Landais did not do his utmost to overtake that ship, Which he might easily have done before night; but put his helm a Weather and bore away Sundry times in the day after Alliance had gained the Wake of the chace and was overtaking her Very fast.— 3.Captain Landais beheaved With Disrespect and Impertinence towards the Commander in Chief of the Squadron on frequent occasions— 4.He disobeyed his Signals— 5.He Very Seldom answered any of them— 6.He Expressed his fears and apprehensions of being taken on the Coast of Ireland, and insisted on Leaving Sight of it immediatly When We had Cruised there only two days— 7.His Separation from the Squadron the first time must have happened Either thro’ ignorance or design, because tho’ he distinctly Saw the Signal for the Course before night. Yet he altered it first two and then four points of the Compass before morning— 8.His Separation from the Squadron the Second time must also have happened thro’ ignorance or design, because the Wind being at N.W. and the other Ships to his Knowledge laying too and being a Stern of the Alliance— What less than Separation Could be the Consequence of his obstinacy in ordering the Weather main brace to be hauled in and the Ship to be Steered S.W. and S.W.B.S. in the trough of the Sea, Which Was done from ten at night till morning: and he Would not then permit the Ship to be tacked in order to rejoin the Squadron as was proposed to him by the officers.— 9.On the morning of the 23. of September When the B. h. R. after being off the Spurn Came in Sight of the Alliance and Pallas off flamborough head, Captn. Landais distinctly told Captn. Cottineau, that if it Was, as it appeared, a fifty guns Ship; they must run away: altho’ he must have been Sure that the Pallas from her heavy Sailing must have fallen a Sacrifice. 10.In the afternoon of the Same day, Captn. Landais paid no attention to Signals, particularly the Signal of preparation and for the Line Which Was made With great Care and Very distinctly on board the B. h. R.— 11.Altho’ the Alliance was a Long Way a head of the B. h. R., When bearing down on the Baltic fleet, yet Captn. Landais lay out of gun Shot to Windward, and until the B. h. R. had passed by and Closely engaged the Serapis, and then instead of Comming to close action with the Countess of Scarborough the Alliance fired at Very Long Shot— 12.He continued to Windward and a Considerable time after the action began, fell a Stern and Spoke the Pallas; Leaving the Countess of Scarborough in the Wake of the Ships engaged, and at free Liberty to rake the B. h. R.— 13.After the B. h. R. and Serapis Were made fast along Side of Each other, as in the margin (Which Was not done till an hour after the Engagement began) Captn. Landais, out of musquet Shot Raked the B. h. R. With Cross bar and grape Shot &ca. Which Killed a number of men, dismounted Sundry guns, put out the side Lights and Silenced all the 12. pounders— 14.The alliance then Ran down towards the Pallas and Countess of Scarborough that Were at the time Engaged at a Considerable distance to Leeward of the B. h. R. and Serapis, and Captn. Landais hovered about there out of gun Shot and Without firing till Some time after the Countess of Scarborough had Struck, and then bore down under his top Sails and Spoke first the prise, and then the Pallas asking a number of questions— 15.At Last Captn. Landais made Sail under his top’s Sails to Work up to Windward, but made tacks before he (Being Within the Range of grape Shot, and at the Longuest three quarters of an hour before the Serapis struck) fired a Second broadside into the B. h. R.’s Larboard quarter, the Latter part Whereof Was fired When the Alliance was not more than three points abaft the B. h. R.’s beam, altho’ many tongues had Cryed from the B. h. R. that Captn. Landais Was firing into the Wrong Ship, and prayed him to Lay the Enemy along Side; three Large Signal Lanthorns With proper Signal Wax Candles in them, and Well Lighted had also previously to his firing been hung over the bow quarter and Wraist of the B. h. R. in a horisontal Line, which Was the Signal of reconnaissance, and the Ships, the one having a heigh poop and being all black, the other having a low Stern With yellow Sides, Were Easily distinguishable it being full moon— 16.The alliance then passed at a Very Considerable distance along the larboard or off Side of the B. h. R. and having tacked and gained the Wind ran down again to Leeward, and in Crossing the B. h. R.’s bow Captn. Landais Racked her With a third broad Side after being Constantly Called to from the B. h. R. not to fire, but to Lay the Enemy along Side. 17.Sundry men Were Killed and Wounded by the broadsides mentioned in the two Last articles— 18.Captain Landais never passed on the off Side of the Serapis, nor Could that Ship Ever bring a gun to bear on the Alliance at any time during the Engagement— 19.The Leakes of the B. h. R. Increased much after being fired upon by the Alliance; and as the most dangerous Shot Which the B. h. R. received under Water Were under the Larboard bow and quarter, they must have come from the Alliance, for the Serapis Was on the other Side. 20.Several people on board the Alliance told Captn. Landais at different times, that he fired upon the Wrong Ship, others refused to fire.— 21.The alliance only fired three Vollies, while Within gun Shot of the B. h. R. and Serapis— 22.The morning after the Engagement Captn. Landais acknowledged on board the Serapis that he Raked Each time With grape Shot, which he Knew Would Scatter— 23.Captain Landais has acknowledged Since the action that he Would have thought it no harm if the B. h. R. had struck for it Would have given him an opportunity to retake her and to take the Serapis— 24.He has frequently declared that he Was the only American in the Squadron, and that he was not under the Orders of Captn. Jones. 25.In Comming into the texel, he declared that if Captn. Jones Should hoist a broad pendant, he Would to Vex him hoist another— I attest the Articles Number 2. 4. 5. 10. 11. 15. 16. and 22. to be matters of fact, and I believe all the rest.
I attest the articles number, 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 10. 11. 13. 15. 16. 17. 19. 21. 22. to be matters of fact, and I belive all the rest.
I attest the articles Number, 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 10. 11. 13. 15. 16. 17. 19. 21. 22. to be matters of fact, and I believe all the rest.
I attest the Articles Number, 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 10. 13. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 22. 23. & 24. to be matters of fact, and I believe all the rest.
I attest the Articles Number, 2. 3. 11. to be matters of Fact, & I believe all the rest.
I attest the Articles Number, 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 10. 11. 13. 15. 16. & 17. to be Matters of Fact & I believe all the Rest.
I attest the Articles Number, 2. 3. 4. 5. 10. 11. 13. 15. & 19. to be Matters of Fact & I believe all the Rest.
I attest the Articles, 3. 4. 5. 10. 11. 13. 15. 16. 17. 19. & 21 to be Matters of fact & I believe all the Rest.
I attest the Articles Number, 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 10. 11. 13. 15. 16. & 17. to be Matters of Fact and I believe all the Rest.
We attest the Articles Number, 2. 3. 4. 5. 7. 8. 11. 12. 18. 20. & 21. to be matters of Fact.
I attest the Articles 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 10. 11. 13. 15. 19. 23. 24. to be matters of fact
I atestt Les Articles 11. 12. 14. & 24. quant à l’article 4. j’ai connoissance quil à refusé d’obeir aux Signaux de se rendre à bord du bonhomme Richard, et relativement à l’article 9. je me rappelle quil me dit Si c’est un vaissau au dessus de 50 Canons nous n’avons que le parti de la fuitte.
I attest the Articles 2. 5. 11. 12. 20. 22. to be matters of fact.
I attest the Articles 2. 3. 4. 5. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 21. to be matters of fact
I Attest the Articles 2. 3. 4. 5. 11. 14. 22. to be matters of fact.
I Attest the Articles 2. 3. 4. 5. 10. 11. 13. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 21. to be matters of fact
Notation: Articles respecting the behavior of Captain Landais since we left l’orient. October 30th. 1779.
It would seem from the next that JPJ’s report, or at least some of it found its way into the pages of the Gazette, at which discovery Jones sent the following :
“On board the Bon homme Richard's
It gives me great Pain to see that the translation which has appeared in your Gazette of the extract of my Journal is preceeded by an Observation which leaves room to suppose that it has been my intention to augment the merits of my Own Services by diminishing those of others.—Whereas it never was my intention or wish to publish any Complaint whatsoever against any Officer or other Person who have Served under my Command—Captain Landais not excepted.—
+Captain Ricot has my best thanks for his constant Attention to the motions of the Bon Homme Richard and to his first Lieutenant and the party of Men who came to my Assistance the morning after the Battle, and did their utmost to Save the Bon Homme Richard.——
According to Thomas J. Schaeper's *John Paul Jones and the Battle off Flamborough Head: A Reconsideration* (New York: P. Lang, 1989) the letter was published in the *Gazette de Leyde* which was printed in Holland.
The letter itself was a follow-up to a published letter of 9 November 1779 which described the Battle off Flamborough Head. The follow-up letter was published in the *Gazette* on 19 November.
An almost apologetic response from the officers and men of the Alliance was also made by way of an affidavit which reads:
From the Crew of the Alliance: Affidavit
To bear the humble representation and petition of the Mariners and Marines on board the Continental ship Alliance.
We have been surprised with the information that our honored commander, Peter Landais, Esq; has been impeached of cowardice to your Excellency, relative to his conduct on the 23d day of September last.— We would beg your Excellency’s indulgeance while we humbly represent, that we conceive it don’t become us to enter into the particulars of his conduct, yet we would wish to say, the said Peter Landais, Esq; behaved through the whole of that day, and especially in the time of the action with his Britanic Majesty’s ships the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough, with the utmost magnanimity, prudence, and vigilence of a wise and resolute commander, and that he took all the possible methods in so calm a time, and in the night, to distress the enemy, and to help our friend.
Therefore we flatter ourselves and trust, that upon an impartial investigation of his conduct, these things will appear so plain to your Excellency as to remove all the dishonourable aspersions of the malignant.
We would further beg your Excellency’s clemency while we say we humbly conceive almost all of us have long since fulfilled our obligations to the said ship Alliance, and we look upon it a great hardship that we are detained in a foreign country on board the said ship, and should think it an addition to our present uneasiness to have a new commander appointed over us.— We would humbly pray your Excellency to consider our long absence from our distressed country and families, many of us by a tedious confinement in a British prison; and if it should appear consistent with your Excellency’s duty, and the interest of our country, that you should order us home, where, we humbly conceive, our suffering country may receive much greater service from your Excellency’s and our country’s devoted humble servants.
We, whose names
Richard Hayton 2009