On 23 September 1779, off the east coast of England, a four-ship Continental Navy squadron, comprising a 40-gun ship, a 36- and a 32-gun frigate, and a 12-gun brig, encountered forty-one British merchant ships arriving from the Baltic laden with precious commodities, convoyed by two British warships, of 44 and 20 guns. At the conclusion of the ensuing battle, the two British warships had struck their colors. Although the American flagship to which the British 44 was closely grappled was in a sinking condition, the heavily damaged British ship struck because it still faced the undamaged American 36-gun frigate.
The American squadron lost the 40-gun ship, which sank owing to battle damage, and failed to capture a single one of the merchant ships. Richard Pearson, the commander of the British convoy, was knighted for his gallant and successful defense of the convoy. Because of his stubborn refusal to accept defeat, and despite his shortcomings as a squadron commander and the appalling loss of life on board his flagship, the American commander, John Paul Jones, is honored for having given “our Navy its earliest traditions of heroism and victory.”