Today I saw the lights of Flamborough lighthouse illuminating the North Sea. With America’s Thanksgiving on the horizon, it made me think of the famous sea battle fought just off Flamborough Head.
As a Brit I should be appalled that some American dared to take on the King’s Navy and win. Actually, I have a sneaking admiration for the man known as the Father of the American Navy. He’s my kind of hero—one with brains as well as balls.
Curious, I looked into his background. Guess what? He’s a Brit. Born on the North West Coast of Scotland in July 1747, he learned the ropes—pun intended—on Britain’s sailing ships.
When Jones served as third mate on the Brig, John, the captain and the first mate both died of yellow fever. Jones took command and brought the ship safely back to port.
When Jones fell foul of the British aristocracy, he decamped to America. Again he forged a naval career, but yet again he fell out with his superiors. He believed Commodore Hopkins deliberately stopped his advancement. Thanks to the commodore, Jones was assigned a smaller boat than he’d been promised. He took command of The Ranger, on the same day America adopted the Stars and Stripes.
Jones sailed to France with orders to assist America's cause. There he met up with Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee. While he was there, the French formally recognized America as an independent nation. The Ranger was the first American formally saluted by the French.
The French might have accepted America as a nation, but the English hadn’t. Jones sailed from France to Britain and harried shipping in the Irish Sea.
When Jones tried to capture the Earl of Selkirk so he could exchange him for American sailors impressed into the British Navy, he wasn’t home. Instead, his wife entertained the Captain and crew.
The crew wanted to pillage the Earl’s silver. Jones limited their take, and later when it was sold, he bought it and returned it to the Earl. Eventually, in 1779, Jones made his way to Yorkshire Coast. By now he commanded a bigger ship, USS Bonhomme Richard.
Just off Flamborough Head, a few miles from my home, Jones harried a convoy of British merchant ships. They had naval protection, HMS Serapis and the hired ship Countess of Scarborough. They placed themselves between Jones and the merchant ships. When the Bonhomme Richard took damage, the navy asked Jones if he wanted to surrender. His answer echoes down the years. “I haven’t started to fight yet.”
The battle turned, and master seaman that Jones was, he sailed off in the captured Serapis.
His efforts around British waters were more than an inconvenience. They tied up naval ships that could have sailed to America and aided the British forces.
Jones was a true swashbuckling hero who fought for his country, but was honorable enough to return stolen goods. I don’t care if I’m pulling for the wrong side here, but I really like this man.
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