Feb 4

Navy Archaeologists Dive into the History of Bonhomme Richard

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:00 AM

 

A painting by William Gilkerson of the battle between the Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum.

A painting by William Gilkerson of the battle between the Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum.

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

When Capt. John Paul Jones accepted command of the frigate that would become Bonhomme Richard on Feb. 4, 1779, he had no idea a future battle aboard would both illustrate his career and be a rallying call to arms centuries later. And just like the man who commanded her, the wooden frigate continues to pique the interest of scientists and Sailors alike 236 years after her sinking.

Pirate, privateer, patriot, courageous, glory-hound are just a few of the words used to describe Jones. Contentious though his life might have been, he was a bantamweight courageously entering the ring to take on the heavyweight that was the British Royal Navy during the Revolutionary War.

Jones’ ship, originally named Duc de Duras, was a gift from France. In keeping with the ship’s French heritage, Jones renamed the ship Bonhomme Richard, which translated to “Goodman Richard,” a nod to the nom de plume “Poor Richard” used by Benjamin Franklin, America’s commissioner at Paris. His famous almanacs had been published in France under the title Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard.

On Sept. 23, 1779, a little less than eight months after Jones assumed command, Bonhomme Richard engaged the Royal Navy frigate HMS Seripis during the Battle of Flamborough Head, off the English coast. After an initial volley of fire, two of the American frigate’s guns were destroyed and many Sailors injured. Jones realized he was outgunned by a more powerful and faster opponent. When the captain of the British ship asked if Jones’ ship would strike her colors to surrender, Jones famously answered, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

As the chance of victory appeared to begin slipping through his fingers, Jones came up with a dangerous plan. He moved his ship closer to Serapis where he thought he could board her or have his sharpshooters pick off her men and officers. When Bonhomme Richard moved into position, Serapis’ anchor fouled in Bonhomme Richard‘s hull, holding the two ships together. Jones strengthened the bonds with grappling hooks. After a bloody and brutal four hour fight, Serapis surrendered at last.

Sadly, Bonhomme Richard was critically damaged, on fire and taking on water fast. Despite all efforts to save the ship, she sank into the North Sea two days later.

Capt. John Paul Jones bids goodbye to his victorious ship, Bonhomme Richard, from aboard his new prize, HMS Serapis. Painting by Percy Moran.

Capt. John Paul Jones bids goodbye to his victorious ship, Bonhomme Richard, from aboard his new prize, HMS Serapis. Painting by Percy Moran.

Before she went down, Jones transferred his crew to their newest prize, Serapis, and sailed to Texel Roads, Holland. Jones stayed busy for the remainder of the war and the 12 years of life he had left, so he may never have looked back to Bonhomme Richard.

More than 200 years later, the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archeology Branch actively seeks to piece together a more thorough picture of Bonhomme Richard to see what clues it might reveal about her historic master.

“It’s one of the Navy’s most important ships because of its role in Navy history,” said Robert Neyland, Ph.D., UA director. “The victory helped to raise American morale when the war was not going too well and helped confirm to the French that the Americans were a cause worth supporting.”

A deep water dive launch from USNS Grasp to asses possible targets as part of the search for Bonhomme Richard in July 2011. U.S. Navy Photo by Alexis Catsambis.

A deep water dive launch from USNS Grasp to asses possible targets as part of the search for Bonhomme Richard in July 2011. U.S. Navy Photo by Alexis Catsambis.

In an effort to find Jones’ lost vessel, Neyland and the rest of his tea at NHHC have been investigating sites and putting together pieces of information for the last eight years.

“Since 2006 there have been various expeditions,” Neyland said, explaining there have been many partners in the search, from governments, to companies and private entities. “It’s been on a basis of ships of opportunity. When some French minesweepers have been in the area they have donated a few days of survey time.”

Oceanographer Kevin Dial of the Naval Oceanographic Office rinses an autonomous underwater vehicle after recovering it from the North Sea onto USNS Henson during a Sept. 2010 expedition attempting to locate Bonhomme Richard. U.S. Navy photo by Rebecca Burke.

Oceanographer Kevin Dial of the Naval Oceanographic Office rinses an autonomous underwater vehicle after recovering it from the North Sea onto USNS Henson during a Sept. 2010 expedition attempting to locate Bonhomme Richard. U.S. Navy photo by Rebecca Burke.

It’s not an easy task. The passage of centuries can cause a significant amount of damage to wood, even below the surface of the ocean, and the ship was badly damaged by the combat already.

“It’s a large area to survey, the water depth ranges from 160-200 feet, 15-20 miles off shore and 500 square nautical miles,” he said. “The weather and seas are volatile out there and the ship may be partially or completely buried by sediment. Shipwrecks tend to break apart and bury themselves in sediment. They may be exposed at times and at other time buried.”

And the Bonhomme Richard would hardly be alone under the waves.

“Recently the French Navy and the Ocean Technology Foundation found a wooden-hulled ship wreck that probably dates between the late 18th century and early 19th century,” Neyland said. “It hasn’t been ruled out totally that it is not Bonhomme Richard. But, it definitely shows that older wooden ships can still be preserved under the North Sea sediments.”

The top scientist at UA isn’t daunted by the monumental task of finding an artifact under miles of ocean and sand. He and his team continue to utilize scientific research to find Bonhomme Richard and others of interest.

“There’s not a shipwreck out there that can’t be found,” he said.

For more information on the Naval History and Heritage Command and the NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch visit our website at http://www.history.navy.mil/research/underwater-archaeology.html

 
Sep 23

The Search for Bonhomme Richard: By NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch

Monday, September 23, 2013 8:32 AM

The hunt for the remains of Bonhomme Richard continues in the North Sea. On September 23rd, 1779, Bonhomme Richard engaged in fierce combat with HMS Seripis during the Battle of Flamborough Head off the English coast. Captained by the formidable John Paul Jones, who is often credited as the “father” of the U.S. Navy, Bonhomme Richard emerged victorious from the battle, but proved irreparably damaged. Despite all efforts to save the ship, Bonhomme Richard sank into the North Sea on September 25th, 1779.

Between 21 May and 9 June, 2012, the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), partnered with Ocean Technology Foundation and the U.S. Naval Academy, to continue the multiyear, multinational effort to locate the remains of the historic ship. The 2012 survey mission was accomplished with generous support from the French Navy (Marine Nationale) and the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO). The mission was conducted off of three vessels French vessels that provided remote sensing technology, utilizing Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) along with French Navy divers. During the three week mission, the teams covered 37 square nautical miles, identified over 80 targets, and conducted several remote-sensing and dive team operations on targets of particular interest. The 2012 survey provided an excellent opportunity for real-world operational cross-training with the French Navy. After data analysis, one target proved of significant interest for any future survey efforts.

In 2013, a documentary was released on the 2011 Bonhomme Richard expedition aboard USNS Grasp on the Discovery Channel show Mighty Ships. If you wish to read about past expeditions, including the 2011 survey mission, click on the “Bonhomme Richard” tag below. For more information on the Naval History and Heritage Command and the NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch visit our website at http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/nhcorg12.htm.

View NHHC’s photo presentation:
“23 Sept 1779: Continental Frigate Bonhomme Richard vs HMS Serapis”
on our Facebook fan page: http://goo.gl/o8VYDY

American and French teams on the 2012 search for Bonhomme Richard. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Neyland).

American and French teams on the 2012 search for Bonhomme Richard. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Neyland).

 
Jul 19

On the Hunt for Bonhomme Richard!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 3:39 PM

On July 17th, the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) along with partners from Ocean Technology Foundation, Naval Oceanographic Office, SUPSALV, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MSDU) 2 and the US Naval Academy, set out to continue the search for one of the Navy’s first fighting vessels, Bonhomme Richard. Captained by the father of our Navy, John Paul Jones, the ship was lost in 1779 after engaging in combat with HMS Serapis off the Yorkshire coast of England. Although Jones emerged victorious, Bonhomme Richard was irreparably damaged. After transferring all men and supplies safely to the captured Serapis, Jones set the beleaguered U.S. frigate adrift to sink into the North Sea. Its final resting place has remained unknown ever since.

USNS Grasp as seen from one of its tenders while conducting AUV operations over four neighboring targets. Photo courtesy of Alexis Catsambis.

Over the next three weeks, the expedition will be conducted aboard Safeguard-class USNS Grasp. The team on deck will use survey data collected from remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) equipped with side-scan sonar and multibeam echosounder equipment to investigate targets of interest gathered from previous surveys. The side-scan sonar and multibeam echosounder relay data to create an image of the sea floor using sound waves; if a particular target looks promising, archaeologists will investigate it more closely and, if possible, deploy divers to take an even closer look.

Officer-in-Charge Ray Miller and midshipman Joseph Walter discuss the Swordfish AUV that is being prepared for the first launch of the mission. Photo courtesy of Alexis Catsambis.

Stay tuned for more updates from the field!

 
Nov 3

DNU on the Search for Bonhomme Richard

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:22 AM

Image courtesy of http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/lhd6/Pages/history.aspx


NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch Head, Dr. Robert Neyland, spoke with DMA sailors about the search for Revolutionary War vessel Bonhomme Richard. The interview was featured in a Daily News Update flash and can be viewed using the following link: DMA BHR AHU
 
Sep 27

2010 Bonhomme Richard Survey Completed!

Monday, September 27, 2010 4:01 PM

USNS Henson at work searching for Bonhomme Richard. Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Neyland.

 The second survey this year for Bonhomme Richard has been successfully completed. Dr. Robert Neyland, NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch Director, together with the Ocean Technology Foundation , Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command Naval Oceanographic Office, Office of Naval Research , and U.S. Naval Academy worked aboard the USNS Henson to survey a 70 sq nautical mile area and analyze several high priority targets. Hopefully, one of which may uncover the elusive wreck. 

Dr. Robert Neyland, Underwater Archaeology Branch Head, on the deck of USNS Henson. Photo courtesy of Robert Neyland.

The 25-knot winds and ten-to-twelve-foot waves in the North Sea paused operations for merely a day, leaving the USNS Henson adequate time to undergo a repair to its winch. The challenges created by the stormy seas are a sobering reminder of Bonhomme Richard’s final struggles as Captain John Paul Jones worked in similar conditions to transfer three hundred and fifty men from the ship to HMS Serapis shortly before Bonhomme Richard sank into the North Sea. 

HMS Victory, a ship contemporary with Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis. Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Neyland.

 The survey continued despite persistent rough seas, and the crew is pleased to report that over 60 sq nautical miles were covered. USNS Henson scientists and midshipmen worked diligently processing the sonar data, categorizing targets, and selecting those for further investigation. A number of interesting targets have been identified and several have been tagged to be further investigated in future surveys. Overall the survey was very successful and put us one step closer to discovering the final resting place of Bonhomme Richard! 

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) on the deck of USNS Henson. Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Neyland.

 
Sep 15

Update from the Field: Advanced Technology Combs North Sea for Bonhomme Richard!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:07 PM

 NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch Head, Dr. Robert Neyland, reports from USNS Henson that the survey for Bonhomme Richard is going smoothly. Dr. Neyland, along with partners from Ocean Technology Foundation, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Naval Oceanographic Office, Office of Naval Research, and U.S. Naval Academy, is on schedule and has already completed about 45% of the survey using a towed side scan sonar and two Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV). The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) is utilizing an Office of Naval Research Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (ONR AUV) to help the researchers interpret likely shipwreck targets through the gathering of site specific remote sensing data through the combined collection of sonar, magnetic variations, and photography. The surveyors reported having found a number of shipwreck-like targets on the ocean floor that will have to undergo further future investigation. Bonhomme Richard, after 230 years on the sea bottom, is expected to have the appearance on sonar of a debris field of ballast, cannon, and other objects. It may appear as a sediment-covered mound rather than an easily recognizable sailing ship. Hence many of the sites found will have to undergo further investigation by divers and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Weather permitting, the survey will be completed over the next few days.

 

Stay tuned for more updates from the field as the search for Bonhomme Richard continues!

The Bonhomme Richard strafing decks with HMS Serapis. Courtesy of The Serapis Project.

 
Sep 7

The 2010 Search for Bonhomme Richard Continues!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010 3:53 PM

 

The NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB), Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Naval Oceanographic Office, Office of Naval Research, and U.S. Naval Academy along with partners from Ocean Technology Foundation began the 2010 search and survey for Bonhomme Richard.

A SAAB Double Eagle MKII ROV being launched off the deck of CMT Cassiopée during the May 2010 search for Bonhomme Richard. Photo courtesy of Alexis Catsambis.

On September 23, 1779, Bonhomme Richard, the flagship of the Continental Navy and commanded by Captain John Paul Jones, participated in one of the fiercest battles of the Revolutionary War against HMS Serapis off the coast of Flamborough Head, England. Although Jones emerged victorious from the battle, Bonhomme Richard was badly damaged and, after drifting for thirty-six hours, sank into the North Sea. If found, the final resting place of Bonhomme Richard could shed new light on US maritime history and would increase public awareness and appreciation for America’s maritime patrimony.

Photo of the USNS Henson, which will serve as the search vessel for the 2010 Bonhomme Richard survey. Photo courtesy of msc.navy.mil.

The survey area was determined using a computer program, developed by the U.S. Naval Academy, which integrates the weather and tidal data, crew actions and the vessel’s last known positions to establish where it might have gone down. The Bonhomme Richard Project teams will use an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with side scan and multibeam sonar, and a separate high-quality side scan sonar that will be towed behind the search vessel to create an image of the sea floor. NHHC will also be joined by a French Navy minehunter equipped with a robotic underwater video camera and teams of divers to further examine any targets warranting closer investigation. Dr. Robert Neyland, Head of UAB, will act as chief archaeologist and lead the investigation in authenticating and identifying any remains of the ship and its artifacts.

 Stay tuned for more updates as the search for Bonhomme Richard continues!

 
Apr 11

Naval Battles of the American Revolutionary War

Saturday, April 11, 2015 3:21 PM
On April 24, 1778, during the American Revolution, Continental Navy sloop-of-war Ranger, commanded by John Paul Jones, captured British HMS Drake, off Carrickfergus, Ireland. This painting is by Arthur N. Disney, Sr. NHHC image NH 48548-KN.

On April 24, 1778, during the American Revolution, Continental Navy sloop-of-war Ranger, commanded by John Paul Jones, captured British HMS Drake, off Carrickfergus, Ireland. This painting is by Arthur N. Disney, Sr. NHHC image NH 48548-KN.

By Joshua L. Wick, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Despite the success of the fledgling Continental Navy during the American Revolution the ending of the war actually brought an end to our nation’s first navy. A few months after the British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown Oct. 19, 1781, the British Parliament made its first overtures to the United States to begin peace talks the following spring.

Nearly a year later, the Confederation Congress issued a proclamation on this date (April 11) in 1783, “declaring the cessation of arms” against Great Britain, which had passed a similar proclamation Feb. 4, 1783. It was an incredible victory for an upstart nation with no navy against the power of Great Britain and the fleet of the Royal Navy.

From the littorals, lakes, and the sea, to coastal towns from north to the south, the young republic’s hastily pieced-together and inexperienced Continental Navy was mostly made up of private vessels carrying their “Letter of Marque,” which granted privateers the authority to attack foreign ships. Though most of their actions aren’t well known, they played a pivotal role in naval operations and showed the importance and need for vessels to challenge the British and their ships of the line.

On May 14, 1775 in the waters of Buzzard Bay, off the coast of Fairhaven, Mass., one of the first naval battles was fought just 25 days after the Battle of Lexington and Concord. It began what is often considered today a lost chapter of the navy’s history. Aboard sloop Success, commanded by Capt. Nathaniel Pope and Capt. Daniels Egery, a small force of men from the town of Fairhaven captured two British sloops and their crews.

In mid-June moving north we come to the port of Machias, Maine, then part of northern Massachusetts. Local towns were experiencing first hand harassment by the British, so, like in Fairhaven, they took matters into their own hands. Local Capt. Jeremiah O’Brian and an armed crew aboard sloop Unity joined by other ships attacked and captured schooner HMS Margaretta. O’Brian went on to actively engage enemy ships that posed threats to the Massachusetts coast during the war.

That was followed in August when the townspeople of Gloucester, Mass., called upon their militia to capture British seamen attempting to seize a grounded American merchant and then recaptured another merchant schooner.

These first battles sparked a level of confidence among the townspeople and seafaring communities that they could challenge and overcome the British as they seized American merchant ships of commerce and harassed local communities up and down the Eastern seaboard. And it finally convinced the leaders of our developing nation they needed to combat the vulnerability of the coastal seafaring communities to British waterborne assault.

Commodore Esek Hopkins

Commodore Esek Hopkins

It was Oct. 1775 when the Continental Congress authorized the building our Nation’s first Navy. They selected a commander for the Continental Navy, Esek Hopkins, and commissioned 18 naval officers, established two Marine battalions; even established pay and subsistence standards; authorized prize moneys for the capture and sale of enemy warships; adopted a naval code of discipline drafted by John Adams; and formed an administrative body, the Marine Committee, to give guidance and direction to our new navy.

It was a bold signal by America’s early leaders they were willing to challenge Great Britain on the high seas.

Commodore Hopkins was responsible for one of the early American naval victories when his squadron traveled south to the Bahamas in February 1776. Along with a battalion of Marines, the Hopkins-led squadron launched an amphibious landing on March 3 and raided the British colony of Nassau for military supplies that would benefit the Continental Army.

The brig Nancy flying the flag of the United States, first hoisted at the island of St. Thomas upon the news the United States was declaring its independence from Great Britain. Before that declaration could be signed, however, the brig was destroyed after her supplies were off loaded by Lexington and Wasp crew commanded by Capt. John Barry. Drawn and engraved by John Sartain.

The brig Nancy flying the flag of the United States, first hoisted at the island of St. Thomas upon the news the United States was declaring its independence from Great Britain. Before that declaration could be signed, however, the brig was destroyed after her supplies were off loaded by Lexington and Wasp crew commanded by Capt. John Barry. Drawn and engraved by John Sartain.

 

Another American naval legend, Capt. John Barry, was doing his part protecting merchant ships as they brought supplies into the port cities of Philadelphia and Delaware Bay. In June 1776, as the American brig Nancy, loaded with her cargo of weapons and supplies intended for the Continental Army, moved closer to Cape May, N.J., two British ships were seen in pursuit of the brig.

Barry, aboard his frigate Lexington and his companion schooner Wasp, were called to engage the two ships. Heavy fog caused Nancy to sail into the delightfully-named Turtle Gut Inlet. Barry and his men boarded and successfully unloaded her cargo while manning and engaging the British who had heavily damaged the ship.

In a daunting gamble, Barry abandoned the Nancy, lowered her flag but not before leaving 50 pounds of gunpowder wrapped in the mainsail leading to the powder hold below deck. As British closed in, the fuse reached the hold … the explosion could be heard for miles. Barry, his ships and crew safely eluded the British and claimed both the victory and much-needed supplies.

While those battles were mostly in American waters, another legendary Continental Navy captain was making a name for himself a bit closer to the motherland. Capt. John Paul Jones, as the commanding officer of the sloop of war Ranger, battled the HMS Drake for an hour before claiming victory on April 24, 1778 in the North Channel off Ireland.

Battle between Continental ship Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, Sept. 23, 1779. Oil on canvas, by Thomas Mitchell (1735-1790), signed and dated by the artist, 1780. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Battle between Continental ship Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, Sept. 23, 1779. Oil on canvas, by Thomas Mitchell (1735-1790), signed and dated by the artist, 1780. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

 

Then more than a year later on Sept. 23, 1779, as commanding officer of the 42-gun former merchant ship Bonhomme Richard, Jones uttered his famous cry: “I have not yet begun to fight” as his crippled ship fought the larger 50-gun HMS Serapis in the waters off Flamborough Head.

Despite his sinking and burning ship, Jones refused to strike his colors. A well-timed grenade landed near ammunition on Serapis, and its ensuing explosion allowed Jones to get the upper hand and board the British ship upon their surrender. The captain who struck his colors that day was British. The Bonhomme Richard, however, sank the following day.

So what Revolutionary naval battle was the most important? The records and many historians might say it was the Battle of Nassau, the first victory of the newly-formed Continental Navy. That mission brought much-needed ammunition and gunpowder to the American army.

Treaty of Paris, signed Sept. 3, 1783.

Treaty of Paris, signed Sept. 3, 1783.

However your examination of history answers that question, it was on this date 232 years ago that, after eight years of skirmishes, smaller battles and outright war – on land and sea, Congress declared hostilities against its former motherland over. A few months later, on Sept. 3, 1783, the signing of the Treaty of Paris by members of the negotiating team brought an end to the American War of Independence. That treaty was ratified by Congress on Jan. 14, 1784.

What the British could not accomplish in war, peace did — the U.S. Navy which was disbanded after the war, leaving the new nation without a Navy until March 27, 1794, when President George Washington signed the Naval Act of 1794 authorizing the construction of six frigates. But that’s a whole ‘nother story… or two… or three.