Boys' Book of Sea Fights - Chelsea Fraser

Commodore John Paul Jones

Serapis vs. Bonhomme Richard

The Stars shall glitter o'er the brave,

When death, careering on the gale,

Flag of the seas, on ocean's wave,

Sweeps darkly round the bellied sail,

And frightened waves rush wildly back

Before the broadside's reeling rack;

The dying wanderer of the sea

Shall look at once to Heaven and thee,

And smile to see thy splendors fly

In triumph o'er his closing eye.


From Toy Ships to Big Ships

John Paul Jones was a man of no country, a "citizen of the world," a fighter on the side of humanity, the bitter enemy of the brutal oppressor. Likewise was he a Scottish trader, an American commodore, a French chevalier, a Russian admiral, the father of the United States Navy, the winner of the greatest sea battle of the Revolutionary War.

Fittingly has it been said of this striking sea man, "He was the Drake of the New World." Like Drake, he was a man of strong individuality and stunning contrasts, a dashing adventurer, a gracious courtier, a brilliant commander, a strict disciplinarian, a tender-hearted and loyal friend, a ferocious avenger, an invincible fighter. Unlike Drake, he held his spirit of plunder and flaming ambition under a tempering check that made him the more admirable.

Again like Drake, his name has been woven with the warp and woof of a romantic tradition and fanciful popular legendary which has clouded and distorted actual truth and the records of history. And, like Drake, he has been as much hated in Great Britain as was L'Draque  in Spain.

John Paul was born on the 6th of July, 1747, at Arbigland, on the southern shores of Scotland. His father was a Lowlander, head gardener and game-keeper to a country squire, while his mother was a Highlander and a descendant of one of the fierce clans that had their homes among the heathered hills.

The boy had three sisters and three brothers, he being the younger. His oldest brother, William, was early adopted by a distant relative, William Jones, who had emigrated to the American colonies and lived on his plantation in Virginia. The adopted lad at once assumed the name of Jones. Little John Paul himself had never seen this brother, as he had been born three years after William departed.

John Paul Jones


John Paul's childhood sped quickly; he soon grew into a hardy, active, self-reliant lad of twelve, at which time his scanty instruction in the parish school of Kirkbean ceased. In the meanwhile he had mastered other lessons that had set his adventure-loving young soul into a wild flame of restless yearning. These lessons came from his frequent trips to Carsethorn Creek, a nearby stream where fishermen were wont to seek shelter from storm and tide and unload their cargoes of tobacco for Dumfries. In these magic waters he had sailed his mimic boats; on the weather worn wharves he had listened with wide open eyes to the stirring tales of the old Scottish tars, and often watched with eager interest and keen intelligence the coming and going smacks of the fishermen as they steered their way through the narrow lanes of shipping. On these waters he had already learned to handle a yawl, and to brave the northeast squalls that so often tried the courage and skill of many an older seaman.

Young John Paul now began to beg his father to let him go to sea. His passionate longing was gratified. The father, before his son had yet reached his thirteenth year, sent him across the Solway and apprenticed him to James Younger, a prosperous merchant in the American trade. As master's-apprentice, John Paul was now a full-fledged sailor on board the Friendship. How proud he was! A month later, after a stormy voyage, this vessel dropped anchor in the Rappahannock River, not far from the plantation of William Jones—the relative who had adopted his eldest brother.

The meeting between the two brothers, neither of whom had ever seen the other, was a most touching one. John Paul found William Paul Jones a successful married man, and overseer upon his adopted father's plantation. While the Friendship  lay at anchor the young boy spent much time on land with his brother, and it was then that he was for the first time attracted to the novel and independent life of the American colonists—a life that had a peculiarly strong appeal for his own rugged spirit. William Jones took a fancy to the lad, and offered to adopt him. But while his lively interest had been awakened in the half civilized new country, John Paul's real love was for the sea. He therefore declined, and soon sailed away for home.

For the next six years John Paul sailed on trading voyages in the ships of Mr. Younger. In this time he advanced rapidly in sea knowledge and skill. He had a keen, open mind, and a retentive memory, and never thought he "knew it, all." With these characteristics he was sure to gain the utmost information and to thereby pave the way for success in his future undertakings. In 1764 he was serving as secone-mate on West Indian traders; a year later he was promoted to first-mate. Then Mr. Younger retired from business, released him from his indentures, and rewarded his faithfulness with a sixth interest in a packet engaged in West Indian trade.

This packet was the King George. With the vessel John Paul made two voyages to the west coast of Africa after slaves. The best men of those days thought nothing wrong in such transactions, not having their minds awakened to the full horrors of the practice as have the men of to-day. So, if the conscience of John Paul pricked him a bit during these financially profitable trips, he kept the fact pretty much to himself and history never knew it.

At the end of his second voyage after slaves, our hero sold his share in the vessel to Captain Benbigh. At Kingston, Jamaica, he boarded the John O'Gaunt  as a passenger, bound for Whitehaven.

Little did the young sailor know, or the crew, that when the trader sailed out of the Antilles and into the Atlantic Ocean she carried with her the dreadful germs of the yellow fever. Barely had she cleared the Windward Islands before the ravages of the scourge began to spread among the crew. Within a week the captain, his officers, and most of the deckhands had succumbed and their remains were consigned to the deep. Only six human beings were left on the ill-fated ship. One was John Paul, the passenger.

The young man's sea experience and sea study were now to stand him in good stead. There being none left who were competent to handle the ship, John Paul took command. With neatness and dispatch he guided the fever-stricken brig across the dangerous waters of the Atlantic, and brought her safely into the harbor at Whitehaven. So pleased were her owners, Currie, Beck & Company, that they gave him a generous monetary reward, in addition to which they appointed him captain and supercargo of a new ship—the John—which was engaged in making trips to the West Indies.

In command of this vessel, John Paul made three voyages. During the course of these he again visited his brother on the Rappahannock, and the bonds of affection for America were drawn still closer.

When William Jones died in 1760 he left his entire property of three thousand acres, buildings, slaves, cattle, and a sloop, to his adopted son. The will provided that, should the adopted son die without children, the property was to go to his youngest brother, our John Paul. When the latter sailed away for England after his last visit to William, he had no thought that he was soon to return, the owner of this fine American plantation.

The ensuing two years were passed by John Paul in making voyages to the Indian Ocean as a convoy to transport ships of the East India Company. His last merchant trip was undertaken late in 1772 on the vessel Two Friends. Sailing by way of Lisbon, the Madeira Islands, and Tobago, he dropped anchor in the Rappahannock in April of the following year. Expecting a hearty welcome from his brother, he was grief stricken to find him lying at the point of death, quite unconscious.

At William's death John Paul became master of the large estate in Virginia. He decided to assume the name of Jones, to fit more gracefully into the title of his new possessions, and sent the Two Friends  on her homeward voyage under the command of her first-mate, with word to her owners that he intended to become a Colonial planter.

For upwards of two years he really enjoyed the quiet and independence of the new life that had opened up to him as from the tip of a fairy's wand. During this period he left the active management of the estate to his brother's faithful overseer, and devoted the greater share of his own time to study and society. He mastered French and Spanish, naval history and tactics, diplomacy and politics. He entertained the neighboring families with lavish hospitality. He traveled extensively.

Thus the poor Scottish gardener's son, educated largely by his own exertions, became a scholarly and educated American of the day. Moreover, he was soon, very soon, to make valuable use of his learning and skill in the cause of his new country.

The Drake and the Ranger

In the spring of 1775—that eventful spring when the war of the Revolution embroiled America and England in its toils—John Paul Jones was leisurely making his way in his sloop along the coast of New Jersey on a pleasure sail to Boston.

Upon reaching New York he encountered William Livingston. The face of the latter looked very serious. His friend saw at once that something had gone wrong, and Livingston's first words proved the correctness of his surmise.

"John, have you heard the ill news?" asked Livingston.

"I have not been favored," replied Jones. "I trust it is nothing serious concerning your own family?"

"I fear it is  serious, but in concerns my family no more than all families in the Colonies. John, my friend, word has just come that the British have beaten us at Lexington!"

Instantly John Paul Jones was as concerned as his friend. He plied him with many questions. After a long discussion they parted. Jones immediately gave up his plans for going to Boston; he turned the bow of his sloop back homeward, and three days later, from his plantation, was writing Hewes and other members of the Continental Congress an offer of his services.

Bonhomme vs. Sarapis


In June the new marine committee invited him to lay before them any information and advice he could on the selection of suitable naval officers and ships for the beginning of a navy with which to defend the American seaboard from the craft of England.

John Paul Jones's suggestions met with favor. As a consequence steps were at once taken for carrying them out with speed and dispatch.

The first squadron of our navy consisted of four ships—the frigates Alfred  and Columbus,  and the brigantines Andrea Doria  and Cabot. The first list of officers embraced five captains, five first-lieutenants, and eight junior-lieutenants. In this list John Paul Jones stood at the head of the first-lieutenants. Favoritism among some of the powerful members of the marine committee kept him out of the list of captains, a position to which his high attainments surely qualified him.

Of course Jones felt the injustice of it all. But in his disinterestedness of self and broad love of service for service's sake, he made no allusion to the slight except in a letter sent about that time to Joseph Hewes. In this he says: "I am here to serve the cause of human rights, not to promote the fortunes of John Paul Jones. . . . I will cheerfully enter upon the duties of first-lieutenant of the Alfred  under Captain Saltonstall. Time will make all things even." And time did "make all things even," as we shall see.

Not until the 17th of February was the little American squadron ready for sea. On that day the light, sleek ships sailed out of Delaware Bay and headed for the Bahama Islands. Almost two months later the squadron returned to home shores after a cruise that was productive of little more than a showing of disgraceful incompetence on the part of many of the officers. As a result, captains appointed through influence and favoritism were dismissed, while Jones was honorably retained and given an independent command.

The Providence, his new ship, was a small sloop of fourteen guns. After using her to transport troops and stores between New London and New York, and convoying American ships along the coast, he went out for six weeks to harass British commerce. With a crew of seventy men he sped through waters swarming with British frigates, from the Bermudas to Nova Scotia. He destroyed the enemy's fisheries at Canso, and made two daring descents on the island of Madame. In all sixteen prizes fell into his daring hands, besides a large number of fishing smacks. Eight were manned, the remainder destroyed for want of sailors with which to sail them home.

Near the Bermudas he encountered the British ship Solebay  of twenty-eight nine-pounders. For six hours he was chased by the more powerful enemy, part of the time within range and once almost within the Solebay's  clutches. But, by a very clever maneuver that surprised and caught the Britisher at a disadvantage, the American frigate succeeded in showing her a clean pair of heels.

Believing that he could be of much more service to the American cause in foreign waters than at home, he began to appeal for permission to sail to the English and Irish channels. Final recognition came from General Washington himself who said, "Captain Jones, you have conceived the right project, and you are the right man to execute it." The result was an appointment to command the new sloop-of-war Ranger, which carried twenty six-pounders. The Scotch commodore was told to hold himself in readiness for a swift sail to France to carry dispatches of the highest importance. The Ranger  stood out to sea on November 1st, 1777. The news she carried was the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga.

Spreading every inch of canvas that he could, Jones forced his ship through the Atlantic at top-most speed. By day the stanch little Ranger  staggered on in the teeth of heavy northeast winds and blinding snow squalls; by night, beating her way through darkness and blanket fog, she continued just as bravely but with necessarily diminished speed. The second-lieutenant states that the Commodore declared he would "spread, this news in France in thirty days." The way the sloop bounded along surely looked as if he would keep his promise.

On the last day of the run the Ranger  captured two prizes. December and she sailed into the Loire and dropped anchor at Nantes. Commodore Jones hurried to Paris with his packet of news, only to find that he had been outstripped. Mr. Austin, who had sailed from Boston two days earlier with duplicate messages, had arrived just twenty-four hours before. But this was not the only disappointment to greet Jones in Europe. He had been promised a large new frigate, built at a neutral Dutch dockyard for the United States. On reaching Paris he discovered that the vessel, for political reasons, had been sold to France.

So, instead of starting on his long-cherished cruise in British waters on the deck of a forty-six gun frigate, he was forced to content himself with his little sloop of less than half that armament. It was a dark outlook. Nobody but a dauntless commander and an equally dauntless crew would ever have thought of bearding the lion in his den with such an insignificant craft. In fact, most captains would have turned back home, disgruntled and timorous. Not so John Paul Jones. With what he had he would do the best he could.

The Scotchman gave his ship a thorough refitting, and early in February he sailed into the harbor of Brest. A dense mass of ships rigging filled the roadstead. Jones saw that it was the great French fleet under Count d'Orvilliers. Bent upon upholding the honor of the new American flag, which was gayly flying from his masthead, the Scotch Commodore asked, as a condition of his entering the port, that a salute be given his colors. His request was granted. As the national emblem passed with dignity through the lanes of heavy battleships, the French guns roared out the first salute ever given by a foreign navy to the standard of the United States of America.

Just one week earlier the Treaty of Alliance between the two countries, which first recognized American independence, had been signed at Versailles. The salute to the flag was a temperamental seal to the treaty. To Jones it was a matter of strong personal feeling. Not long before, when the same resolution of Congress that had appointed him to the command of the Ranger had also decreed that the national flag should be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, and thirteen stars in a blue field, he had said, "The flag and I are twins." This association was now strong upon him.

On the morning of April 24th the Ranger  was off Carrickfergus, on the north coast of Ireland. Inside the harbor, and just on the point of coming out, was the Drake, a British sloop-of-war of twenty guns. Contrary winds and an incoming tide had delayed her. Now, as she saw the stranger in the offing, she sent out one of her boats to reconnoiter him. Lured on by the innocent looking stern of the Ranger, the British scout came a little too near. The first thing her crew knew they were pounced on and made prisoners.

Apparently the Drake  resolved to see why her men failed to come back. Out she came just before sunset, approaching within hail in mid channel. The British flag went fluttering up to her masthead. At the same time the Stars-and-Stripes was flung out to the breezes by the Ranger.

"Ahoy! what ship is that?" bawled the British captain. It was an unnecessary inquiry—one fraught with the confusion of the moment. The answer was perhaps as equally unnecessary. But it came:

"The American Continental ship Ranger!  Come on; we are waiting for you!"

Scarcely had the last word of the reply died away when there came a raking broadside from the American at close range. The Drake  bore up, and poured back her own shot.

Then for more than an hour the firing was continued, deluge after deluge of lead being thrown from one ship at the other. But the aim of the British gunners was not as good as that of the Americans. Most of the enemy fire passed harmlessly overhead or fell short, while that of the men on the Ranger  as a rule found some telling mark.

After a while the Drake  was in a sad plight. Her spars and rigging were hanging in shot cut dilapidation and uselessness; her sails were fluttering and flapping remnants of riven canvas; her hull was polka-dotted with further evidence of the good marksmanship of her adversary. Her commander fell, killed by a ball. Here and there on her deck lay many of her crew, wounded and dead. At last, when she had become "an unmanageable log on the water" she struck her colors, and was boarded by the victors.

The capture of the Drake  was the first brilliant naval success of the war. The ships themselves were small and unimportant, it is true, but the results were large in comparison, and a great moral victory had been accomplished. This 'triumphant cruise of the little hornet in waters far from home, her seizure of numbers of prizes, her bold fire-brandery in the harbor at Whitehaven, and her even bolder capture of His Majesty's ship Drake  right under the noses of the British nation, not only formed a grand and dramatic début of the new-born navy of the United States, but it aroused and alarmed the enemy coast, filling all Englishmen with stunned surprise, indignation and humility.

In addition, it gratified and won the admiration of France, the foe of Britain and friend of America. And most important of all, it brought to the bitterly-tried hearts of the Colonists in the distant new republic new courage, new confidence, new strength and new visions.

The Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis

When he reached Brest with his prize, which was the first trophy of the war to reach France, John Paul Jones found his own vessel in such a deplorable condition that he saw it would take long weeks to put it once more in condition for service against the enemy.

During this time he was thrown upon his own resources through the poverty of the Continental government and the dishonoring of his draft by the commissioners. In order to provide food for his crew and supplies for his ship, he was forced to sell his prize. This act so displeased his government that he was asked to hand over the command of the Ranger  to her first-lieutenant. So when the ship finally sailed for home that fall, Jones was left in a foreign land with no prospect of a ship to rest his feet upon.

It was truly a cheerless outlook. Furthermore, his treatment by Congress had much hurt the brave man's heart. But he was not the kind either to grow bitter against his country or to grow hopeless.

John Paul Jones had two powerful friends in France. These were the Duke de Chartres, eldest son of the Duke d'Orleans, and his wife, the Duchess de Chartres. Through them he was able to interest the King into providing him with a ship, the L'Duras, of forty guns. She was a very old craft. After spending three months in overhauling her, she was still not much better than a makeshift war-ship, for her batteries were mounted with the refuse guns of the French government—old rusty, loose-jointed relics that had served their real usefulness and were liable to blow to pieces when fired with a heavy charge.

His crew, too, was a motley and ill-assorted bunch. Of the three hundred and seventy-five men whom he was able to collect, only fifty were Americans; the rest were French, Portuguese, and British. Fortunately, before the final date of sailing, the exchange of British and American prisoners of war gave him the opportunity of replacing some of his alien seamen with one hundred and fourteen Americans. As he stood and viewed the muscular bodies and keen eyes of these fellows he breathed easier.

All arrangements were completed in August, 1779. By that time the L'Duras—whose name Jones had changed to Bon Homme Richard, out of compliment to Benjamin Franklin—had been converted into a fairly efficient looking man-of-war. Besides the Bon Homme Richard, the squadron consisted of several smaller vessels, all commanded and crewed by Frenchmen. There was the Alliance, Captain Landais, a frigate of thirty-six guns; the Pallas, a frigate of twenty-eight guns, and the Vengeance, a brig of twelve guns. All excepting the Alliance  belonged to the King, and French money paid the expenses of the expedition. Yet the ships sailed and the men fought under the American flag, and the French officers were for the time being commissioned officers of the United States.

Commodore Jones himself was looked upon as an irresponsible adventurer by most of the French officers, who were very jealous of the praise he had won from their countrymen for taking the British frigate Drake. It cannot be wondered at, therefore, that there was a good deal of discontent.

The squadron finally set sail from L'Orient at daybreak, on the 14th of the month. The projected cruise was to cover a circle around the British Islands and end at the Texel. Through calms and gales and shifting winds John Paul Jones worked his way to the west coast of Scotland, and then beat down the east coast as far as the Firth of Forth. Finally they reached Spurn Head. In the meantime a number of seamen had deserted, most of the captains had shown a rebellious disposition, and Captain Landais had revolted to the extent of separating, with his ship, the Alliance, from the rest of the squadron. In spite of these drawbacks a number of prizes had been taken and sent to friendly ports with prize crews.

On September 22nd news was brought to Jones by a passing friendly vessel that a large Baltic fleet of British vessels, laden with naval stores bound for England, had arrived in Bridlington Bay under convoy and was waiting for favorable winds to proceed on to the Downs.

Commodore Jones felt a great leap of his heart. The moment he had passionately longed for had come at last. This was the finest kind of a chance to hit England a staggering blow. Signaling his consorts to follow, he headed northward for Flamborough Head. The following morning found his squadron twelve miles at sea, just north of Bridlington Bay.

With his glass he scanned the harbor. He saw moving craft, headed outward. If his heart had leaped before it now fairly jumped out of his broad chest. Still watching, he observed the Baltic fleet sail out of the bay, and hugging close to land, scamper for the shelter of Scarborough.

Instantly up to the masthead of the Bon Homme Richard  went the signal for the chase. Then, noting their enemy after them, the merchant ships of Britain crowded sail, and their two escort ships moved out menacingly, like mother hens, to protect their retreat.

Commodore Jones was nothing loth. In fact he was far more eager for a fight than they. At once he accepted the challenge, changed his course slightly, and bore down upon the British warships. The Alliance, which had for a long time been keeping at a distance, surly as a spoiled child, paid no attention to Jones's signal to form a battle line. On the contrary she stubbornly kept her place, and even had the audacity to signal the little Vengeance, "Lie to as you are; you are not big enough to bear a hand in this." The Vengeance  obeyed the order of the rebellious Captain Landais, thus leaving only the Pallas  loyally to follow after the Bon Homme Richard.

The British escort ships were the Serapis, a new forty-four gun frigate, and the sloop-of-war Countess of Scarborough. Captain Cottineau, of the Pallas, gave chase to the sloop, which was running out to leeward, and during the coming fight he was so fully occupied in capturing her that he could render no assistance to his commander-in-chief. Thus Commodore Jones was left single-handed to face the formidable Britisher Serapis—left to fight it out on an old rotten hulk that should have been made into firewood long before it ever came into his hands. To make matters worse, his crew was foreign and unskilled and uncoöperative, while Captain Pearson of the Serapis  possessed men of the highest degree of training, perfectly organized. That this fight resulted in a victory for Jones is one of the most remarkable tributes to the generalship and fighting qualities of the man that could ever be paid him. Let us see how it all came about.

It was seven o'clock. in the evening before the two vessels came within striking distance. As the Bon Homme Richard  came up, Captain Pearson sent a shot whistling toward her. There was no answer. After scanning her in the fast dimming light with his night glasses, he said to his first-lieutenant: "It is probably John Paul Jones. If so there is work ahead for us!" Then he hailed again—with another whistling shot.

This time there was an answer. The darkness about the stranger was split with fiery forks of flame; there was a terrible roar—and a broadside sent its iron pellets toward the Serapis, several of them striking their mark. Captain Pearson was now quite positive of the identity of the stranger's commander.

By this time the ships were within six hundred feet of one another. A light but steady wind was blowing from the southwest. The sea was smooth and comparatively peaceful. Soon both ships were engaged in the hottest kind of firing. Broadside sent its challenge, was accepted and answered by broadside. The surroundings were almost constantly bathed in the pale, livid light of flashing gunpowder, the contesting ships standing out like grim, black specters of the deep. The night air was split and shattered by the crash of cannon, the roar of mortar, the rattle of musketry, the crash of mast, the splintering of hull, the wild and triumphant cries of men, and the hoarse shouts of alarm and death shrieks of other men.

In the midst of it all there came a rending roar, more portentous, more dreadful of inflection that all other sounds, from the direction of the Bon Homme Richard. The inevitable had transpired. Riven with rust pits, weakened from long usage, two of the Richard's  old eighteen-pounders had burst. They had formed a part of the steerage battery, just under the main deck, aft. The explosion killed or wounded most of the gun crews, and demoralized the crews of the four remaining eighteen-pounders, who refused to risk their lives longer in firing them. Thus at the very beginning Jones found himself greatly handicapped anew.

A quiet word to his pilot, and the Bon Homme Richard  now began to drift closer in upon her antagonist. As the distance between them decreased, the deadliness of fire of both vessels increased. Now pistols could be used; and the din of their rattle was added to the other fulmination of sounds. The rotten timbers of the American ship was a veritable pin cushion for the projectiles of the British gunners. They stuck in the old hull everywhere, and in places great gaping holes appeared. But the Serapis  was far from escaping her share of the damage. Her hull, too, showed many marks of well-aimed shot; her decks were littered with dead and wounded.

The ships drifted slowly apart, still fighting madly. Lead rained down upon both crews as if the heavens themselves had turned storm wrath into bullets. Nine of the Richard's twelve-pounders had been abandoned; eighty men of the main battery had been struck down. The condition of her deck was terrible to behold. The wreckage of rigging and cabin was scattered everywhere; stark, red stained bodies lay here and there; wounded, with agonized countenance and moaning lips, propped themselves against every conceivable support; the living and unhurt, with shirt stripped bodies as black from powder mark as a negro's, sprang wildly from point to point, loading and firing their pieces like mad men.

Matters below decks were even more alarming. The hull had been pierced by several heavy cannon ball, and the water was pouring in very fast. Already four feet deep in the hold, it was steadily increasing.

Noting this situation Commodore Jones hurried up to his first-lieutenant, Richard Dale. "Dick," he said, "his metal is too heavy for us at this business. He is hammering our old wood hull all to pieces. We must attempt to get hold of him again!"

It was really his last chance, his only hope. By a skillful maneuver he rounded the bow of the Serapis  and suddenly came in upon her a little from the quarter. The enemy ship's jib-boom ran over the Bon Homme Richard's  poop-deck. Before it could get away two of the American sailors had seized it, and Jones himself jumped up and lashed it fast to his ship's mizzenmast. This brought both ships together, side by side. Their cannon all but touched. The starboard anchor of the Serapis  was hooked in the Richard's  mizzen chains. It was a secure lock. The rest of that furious fight must from now on be still more furious—a hand-to-hand struggle to the very death.

At this juncture some of his officers came up to John Paul Jones, and attempted to persuade him to strike his colors. As he was about vehemently to reply, an under-officer, crazed with fear, shouted loudly to the British frigate: "Serapis  ahoy! Will your commander grant us quarter?"

The indomitable Scotchman's face turned red with anger at this flagrant breach of discipline and show of weakness. Only the hail of Captain Pearson saved the cowardly officer from being knocked to the deck.

"Does your commander himself call for quarter?" asked the British captain.

Glancing up to his masthead, Jones was surprised to note for the first time that his ensign had been shot away. Stepping forward on the poop-deck he called back: "Quarter nothing! We have just begun to fight!"

Captain Pearson was stunned. Coming from any other man, he might have thought this defiant reply mere bravado. But he had heard enough about John Paul Jones to know he meant every word of it. In the beginning he could not understand why the call for quarter had come; only the absent ensign had impelled him to answer the under-officer's appeal.

Commodore Jones now sprang on the quarter-deck, and became at once the life and center of the defense. He rallied his men at the battery, shifted over one of the guns himself, and directed the fire. Then he dashed among the French marines, cheered and exhorted them in their own tongue with his great voice, and even took the muskets from some of them to set them an example in good firing.

The sole chance of victory plainly lay in clearing the enemy's decks. To do this everything depended upon the unswerving aim of the sailors in the tops and the marines on the decks. If the crew of the Serapis  should succeed in casting off the lashings that held the two ships together, the fate of the Bon Homme Richard  would be sealed. Himself directing all his energies to the defense of the grapples for a time, until the men understood the work, Jones next turned his attention to clearing the enemy's decks.

In a short time the foe could no longer stand to his wheel or handle his sail. It was instant death to any British sailor who tried to touch a brace, sheet, or halliard. Their forecastle was soon abandoned by officers and men alike.

At this stage—about half-past nine—Commodore Jones made out the Alliance  coming up. He was filled with joy. With the aid of his sulking consort, who had probably repented, he could soon gain the mastery.

But it was a false hope. To his surprise and indignation, Captain Landais drew up and calmly discharged a full broadside into the stern of the Bon Homme Richard!  Believing his rebellious officer must have mistaken him in the darkness for the enemy, the Commodore now displayed three lanterns in a horizontal line—a signal of his identity.

The Alliance  moved around a bit, there was another flash of flame along her hull, a roar, and once more came the thud of crunching wood in the Richard's  hull, and several of her crew fell in their tracks. Another swing, and another broadside came hurtling into the sister ship. More men fell, a shot pierced the old hull below the waterline, and another leak was added to her too-plentiful troubles.

John Paul Jones stood aghast. He could hardly bring himself to credit the Frenchman's treachery. He probably pinched himself to see if he were not asleep and dreaming. Slowly the terrible truth dawned on him—the Alliance had really turned traitor! Instead of a friend, she too was an enemy!

The commander of the Bon Homme Richard  smiled. But it was a grim smile, a smile that boded ill for somebody in short order. The more enemies the better he could fight. Now let them watch out!

By this time the condition of the Richard  was indeed desperate. Fire had broken out in the lower deck, and the flames, eating their way hungrily through the splinters that were everywhere to feed them, licked their way toward the powder-magazine. Five feet of water were in the hold; the ship was slowly sinking.

And still Jones's resources were not exhausted. Although the enemy's upper decks had been cleared, the lower tier, being covered, were untouched. The Commodore now suggested dropping hand-grenades through the Serapis's  main hatch into this lower tier. For the purpose Midshipman Fanning; acting gunner, and two sea men were ordered aloft into the maintop. Armed with two buckets of grenades and a slow-match, these four men lay out on the yard-arm.

The hatch was only partly open, leaving a hole not more than two feet wide. But the main yard-arm of the Bon Homme Richard  overhung it. Fanning, who was known as a good thrower, was to do the casting. His first two grenades missed, but the third one went fairly into the opening.

A terrible explosion followed. The hatch of the British frigate was blown high into the air, more than fifty men were killed or maimed, and the after part of the lower tier silenced.

Just as the crew on the Bon Homme Richard  were wildly cheering this exploit, the Alliance  bore down for the second time upon her sister ship. Coming up within musket shot she again raked the shattered and sorely distressed vessel that was flying her own colors. Fired at alike by friend and foe it seemed the height of folly for Jones to persist, but he did. It was the fighting-strain in his Scotch blood, inherited from his Highland mother's male ancestors, that made him fight on and on, knowing no defeat, till death might claim him.

Directing one of his gunners to aim for the mainmast of the Serapis, Jones soon had the satisfaction of seeing splinters fly and the mast waver. Another shot, and it sloughed, crashing into the sea, carrying with it rigging, and throwing up a geyser of spray far above the deck.

Already the Commodore stood by with a picked party of boarders. Armed with pistols and cutlasses every man was ready for the last act. Jones now gave the signal, and the men, shouting loudly, and under the command of Acting Lieutenant John Mayrant, plunged over the hammock netting and down into the fore-hold of the Serapis. Meeting with little opposition, they were soon in full possession, and rushed toward the quarter-deck.

Seeing the hopelessness of resistance, Captain Pearson struck his colors. Not knowing this, his first-lieutenant rushed up a moment later, and asked, "Has the enemy struck, sir?"

"No, sir; I  have struck," replied Pearson with tears in his eyes.

It was the first time the British flag on a man-of-war was ever struck to the Stars-and-Stripes!

Although the enemy had surrendered there was still much work to do for the crew of the Bon Homme Richard. Victorious as she was, she was rapidly sinking, her old wounds having grown larger. Seven feet of water filled her hold. The pumps, still manned by the British prisoners, were beginning to choke. Of her former crew only a hundred men were left unwounded, nearly every gun had been dismounted, her starboard side was completely stove in, and the flames were breaking out afresh, threatening to consume her or cause her magazine to blow her into a thousand bits. One alleviating circumstance was that the profligate Alliance, having observed that the crew she so cravenly hated had won the fight, had slunk away in the darkness and no longer contributed to the distress of the Richard.

As may be surmised the crew of the latter ship had very little sleep the remainder of that night. When another day dawned, all of the wounded were removed to the Serapis, also the prisoners. Before any of the stores could be saved, she had begun to list badly, and it was deemed dangerous to remain any longer on her.

All that night, however, the old shot-torn craft kept proudly afloat. Too much glory surrounded her for her to perish when eyes could not see. The first golden rays of next morning's sun still found her afloat. They caressed her pitiful ragged hulk into a brightness of unusual nobility and charm, and bathed the faces of the dead, lying in long tiers on her deck, in a holy radiance.

Suddenly she seemed to shudder. Then her head was seen to slowly bend. Lower and lower it sank, till the waves were lapping close to her jib-boom. There was a momentary pause, as if she were halting to take a last look at the scene of her sacrifice, when, with a rare dignity, she went down. As she plunged into the great depths awaiting her, her taffrail momentarily rose in the air. And the very last vestige mortal eye ever saw of the Bon Homme Richard  was her waving, tattered flag, still unstruck!