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The Battle of Flamborough Head : An American revolutionary harassed British commercial shipping off the Yorkshire coast, with mixed results.
The Battle of Flamborough Head

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.

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Picture: © Paul Allison, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-A 2.0. View original
Pebbles and cliffs on the beach below Sewerby, near Bridlington in North Yorkshire. It was here that Jones’s fighting force of five secretly gathered, with their intended victims - more than fifty trading vessels - massed at Filey on the other side of Flamborough Head, visible in the distance. Jones’s ships and their captains were all French; their crews were a mixture of French seamen, captured British sailors forced to fight against their will, and mercenaries.

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