Following the Declaration of Independence in 1776, American resentment towards King George III’s dastardly oppression was at fever pitch. So much so, indeed, that they made common cause with that model of republicanism and champion of civil liberties, King Louis XVI of France.
IN September 1779, John Paul Jones, an officer in the American Continental Navy, led a makeshift flotilla of French ships around Scotland and down into the North Sea, harassing commercial shipping as far as Bridlington.
There, on September 23rd, Jones spied a convoy of over fifty trading vessels bound for the Baltic, with only HMS Serapis and a smaller escort for bodyguards. His own five ships burst out expectantly from behind Flamborough Head, but suffered the worst of it until a grenade scored a lucky hit on Serapis’s gunpowder store. Seeing the convoy already safe in harbour, Serapis’s captain, Richard Pearson, surrendered to save further bloodshed.
Given Jones’s advantage in numbers and surprise, his failure to trouble the convoy, and the fact that his own ship sank, any victory he might claim was of the Pyrrhic kind.* Nevertheless, news that his adversary had received a knighthood rankled. “I’d like to meet him on the high seas again” growled the American. “I’ll make him a lord!”
* See the story A Pyrrhic Victory.