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!

 
Jan 24

John Paul Jones Comes Home

Friday, January 24, 2014 1:00 PM
Annapolis, Md. (May 27, 2005) - Father of the U.S. Navy, John Paul Jones, is entombed at the U.S. Naval Academy and is guarded by Midshipman 24-hours a day, three hundred sixty five days a year. Jones is forever immortalized by uttering the words, "I have not yet begun to fight", during the battle between USS Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, off the coast of England in 1779. Jones was buried in a pauper's grave in Paris. More than a century later, his remains were returned to the United States and placed at the academy as a national shrine. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Kevin H. Tierney (RELEASED)

Annapolis, Md. (May 27, 2005) – Father of the U.S. Navy, John Paul Jones, is entombed at the U.S. Naval Academy and is guarded by Midshipman 24-hours a day, three hundred sixty five days a year. Jones is forever immortalized by uttering the words, “I have not yet begun to fight”, during the battle between USS Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, off the coast of England in 1779. Jones was buried in a pauper’s grave in Paris. More than a century later, his remains were returned to the United States and placed at the academy as a national shrine. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Kevin H. Tierney (RELEASED)

It is possible that the axiom “all good things come to those who wait” could not be more applicable to any historic Navy figure than John Paul Jones, a Scotland-born Sailor who rose to fame as a captain in the Continental Navy of the United States, widely considered one of the founders of the U.S. Navy.

After languishing for 113 years in a virtually unmarked grave paved over by a Paris laundry, this legendary naval leader was found, reclaimed by the U.S., and now lays in an ornate sarcophagus styled after French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

C’est la vie!

Jones’ crypt is not as large as the famed French emperor, but they share the same center-placed sarcophagus surrounded on the perimeter by marble columns.

Designed by Beaux Arts architect Whitney Warren, the French sculptor Sylvain Salieres crafted the sarcophagus and columns out of black and white Great Pyrenees marble. The top is garnished with garlands of bronze sea plants, while the sarcophagus itself is held aloft on the backs of four bronze dolphins.

Surrounding the sarcophagus, etched in the marble floor and then inset in brass, are the names of the Continental Navy ships commanded by Jones during the American Revolution: Providence, Alfred, Ranger, Bonhomme Richard, Serapis, Alliance and Ariel.

In between the eight columns that form the perimeter of the crypt are American national ensigns (flags) and Union Jacks.

In the periphery of the circular space surrounding the sarcophagus are niches displaying historic objects related to Jones’ life and naval career, which include an original marble copy of the Houdon portrait bust, a gold medal awarded to Jones by Congress in 1787, the gold-hilted presentation sword given to Jones by Louis XVI of France, and Jones’ commission as captain, Continental (U.S.) Navy, signed by John Hancock.

And also inlaid in brass is this inscription:

 

JOHN PAUL JONES, 1747-1792; U.S. NAVY, 1775-1783.

HE GAVE OUR NAVY ITS EARLIEST TRADITIONS OF HEROISM AND VICTORY.

ERECTED BY THE CONGRESS, A.D. 1912.

 John Paul Jones Tomb Courtesy United States Naval Academy flickr

Perhaps Congress giving itself credit for the sarcophagus might have been a bit overreaching. But there is a plaque that does give nod to the man who brought John Paul Jones home: Brevet Gen. Horace Porter, a United States Military Academy at West Point graduate and close friend of Ulysses Grant. When work on Grant’s Tomb stopped due to lack of money, it was Porter who kept the project rolling with his fundraising efforts. A large audience was in attendance when the monument on Riverside Drive in New York was dedicated April 27, 1897.

And so with work finished on Grant’s Tomb, Porter jumped into a similar mission when he was appointed as ambassador to France in 1897: Find and bring back the body of naval hero John Paul Jones.

Porter spent the next six years researching and funding the investigation to determine where Jones had been buried. Records revealed Jones was likely buried in the Saint Louis Cemetery for Foreign Protestants, but it had been paved over.

Congress agreed to pay $35,000 for the excavation, but rather than waiting for the funds to be released, Porter paid for the work himself. The body was found almost perfectly preserved in an alcohol-filled lead coffin within a wooden coffin. That was done because when he died in 1792 Jones’ friends believed the U.S. would eventually bring the body back to America.

By the time Porter was convinced through autopsy and other records that he had found John Paul Jones, it was 1905. Naval enthusiast President Theodore Roosevelt used repatriating Jones’ remains as an opportunity to show off his growing naval power.

On July 6, 1905, to commemorate the 158th year of Jones’ birth, his remains were led by military escort through the streets of Paris and taken by torpedo boat to USS Brooklyn which, along with a squadron of warships, brought Jones’ body back to America, 113 years after his death.

Roosevelt deemed Jones’ final resting place to be the U.S. Naval Academy’s chapel which was being built on its Annapolis, Md., campus. Jones’ body was placed in a temporary vault until his final crypt was finished.

April 24, 1906 was chosen for the formal commemorative exercises of John Paul Jones’ re-internment because it was the anniversary of Jones’ famous 1778 capture of the British warship Drake.

Held at the Naval Academy, Roosevelt presided over the ceremony, using it as an opportunity to not only recognize the “memory of the dead hero” whose “indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death” should be emulated by future naval officers, but also to push his agenda on the need to build ships in time of peace to prepare for future need.

He evoked the image of the British burning Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812 as he thundered: “The sin of the invaders in burning the buildings is trivial compared with the sin of our own people in failing to make ready an adequate force to defeat the attempt.”

In case that message didn’t get through, he added “Let us remember our own shortcomings and see to it that the men in public life today are not permitted to bring about a state of things by which we should in effect invite a repetition of such a humiliation.”

After this ceremony, Jones was placed back into the vault to await the designing and sculpting of his final resting place. During this period of time, Roosevelt completed building his Great White Fleet, launched it on its 2-year circumnavigation of the world, and oversaw the building and completion of the Panama Canal and left office.

Finally, on Jan. 26, 1913, John Paul Jones was entombed within the 21-ton ornate marble and bronze sarcophagus. Considered a pirate by the British, a rogue by the Russians, and nearly forgotten by America, John Paul Jones had risen yet again from obscurity to lay in splendor for eternity as the Sailor who gave the modern U.S. Navy many of its traditions.

John Paul Jones Courtesy United States Naval Academy