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They Were There:

December 2018

“I have not yet begun to fight”


Midshipman Nathaniel Fanning, Continental Navy:

I shall now proceed to give a circumstantial account of this famous BATTLE … between the GOOD MAN RICHARD … and the SERAPIS . …

… The two ships were nearly ‘within hail of each other, when Captain Jones ordered the yards slung with chains, and our courses hauled up. By this time the Serapis had tacked ship, and bore down to engage us; and at quarter past 8, just as the moon was rising with majestic appearance, the weather being clear, the surface of the great deep perfectly smooth, even as in a mill pond, the enemy hailed this: ‘What ship is that?’ (in true bombastic English stile , it being hoarse and hardly intelligible). The answer from our ship was, ‘Come a little nearer, and I will tell you.’ The next question was, by the enemy, in a contemptuous manner, ‘What are you laden with?’ The answer returned was … ‘Round, grape, and double-headed shot.’ And instantly, the Serapis poured her range of upper and quarter-deck guns into us. … We returned the enemies fire, and thus the battle began. At this first fire, three of our starboard lower-deck guns burst, and killed most of the men stationed at them. As soon as captain Jones heard of this circumstance, he gave orders not to fire the other three eighteen pounders mounted upon that deck. … Soon after this we perceived the enemy, by their lanthorns, busy in running out their guns between decks, which convinced us the Serapis was a two decker, and more than our match. She had by this time got under our stern, which we could not prevent. And now she raked us with whole broadsides, and showers of musketry. Several of her eighteen pound shot having gone through and through our ship, on board of which, she made a dreadful havock among our crew. … All this time our tops kept up an incessant and well-directed fire into the enemies’ tops which did great execution. The Serapis continued to take a position, either under our stern, or athwart our bow; gauled us in such a manner that our men fell in all parts of the ship by scores .

Captain Richard Pearson, Royal Navy:

Has your ship struck?

Captain John Paul Jones, ,Continental Navy:

I have not yet begun to fight.

Midshipman Nathaniel Fanning:

… Captain Jones ordered the sailing master … to lay the enemies’ ship on board; and as the Serapis soon after passed across our fore foot, our helm was put hard aweather … and she ran her jib boom between the enemies star-board mizzen shrouds and mizzen vang. Jones at the same time cried out, ‘Well done, my brave lads, we have got her now; throw on board the grappling-irons and stand by for boarding.” … The action had now lasted about forty minutes, and the fire from our tops having been kept up without intermission, with musketry, blunderbusses, cowhorns, swivels, and pistols, directed into their tops, that these last at this time, became silent. … The enemy’s tops being entirely silenced, the men in ours had nothing to do but to direct their whole fire down upon the enemy’s decks and forecastle; this we did, and with so much success that in about twenty-five minutes more we had cleared her decks. … However, they still kept up a constant fire, with four of their foremost bow guns … and did our ship considerable damage. … By this time, the topmen in our tops had taken possession of the enemy’s tops, which was done by reason of the Serapis’s yards being locked together with ours, that we could with ease go from our main top into the enemy’s fore top. … Having knowledge of this, we transported from our own into the enemy’s tops, stink pots, flasks, hand grenadoes, & which we threw in among the enemy whenever they made their appearance. … At three quarters past 11 P.M. the Alliance frigate hove in sight, approached within pistol shot of our stern, and began a heavy and well-directed fire into us. … And at thirty-five minutes past 12 at night, a single hand grenado having been thrown by one of our men out of the main top of the enemy … struck on one side of the combings of her upper hatchway … and between their decks, where it communicated to a quantity of loose powder scattered about the enemy’s cannon; and the hand grenado bursting at the same time, made a dreadful explosion, and blew up about twenty of the enemy. This closed the scene, and the enemy now … bawled ‘Quarters, quarters, quarters, for God’s sake!’ It was, however, some time before the enemy’s colours were struck. The captain of the Serapis gave repeated orders for one of his crew to ascend the quarter-deck and haul down the English flag, but no one would stir to do it. They told the Captain they were afraid of our rifle-men. … The captain of the Serapis therefore ascended the quarter-deck, and hauled down the very flag which he had nailed to the flag-staff a little before the commencement of the battle; and which flag he had at that time, in the presence of his principal officers, swore he never would strike to that infamous pirate J. P. Jones.