"Hostivm Navibis"

(Enemy Ships)


On 23 September 1779 the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard, under the command of Captain John Paul Jones, led a combined Franco-American fleet of 5 ships against a large Baltic merchant fleet being escorted by the British ships H.M.S. Serapis and the smaller Countess of Scarborough. The fighting took place off the Yorkshire coast near Flamborough Head and the coastal town of Bridlington, when the experienced French Captain Landais of the Alliance engaged and drew away the Countess of Scarborough, leaving Serapis to battle against the 4 remaining American and French ships.

Initially the Serapis inflicted considerable damage to the hull and rigging of the Bonhomme Richard and the American flag fell, prompting Captain Richard Pearson of the Serapis to ask Jones if he had intentionally struck his colour in surrender. Jones defiantly replied: “I have not yet begun to fight!” and after a further three hours of bitter exchange it was indeed the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough which were forced to surrender. The Americans boarded and transferred across to the Serapis following a close, hard-fought victory, with the critically-damaged Bonhomme Richard sinking on the following day.

The victory made John Paul Jones a national hero and this piece from the Comitia Americana series holds the distinction of being the only naval medal authorized by the Continental Congress.