Race to find flagship of first US naval hero - in North Sea

Teams from both sides of the Atlantic to search for wreck of John Paul Jones's frigate off Yorkshire coast

Every US schoolchild knows that John Paul Jones, their country's first naval hero, rejected a call to surrender with the immortal words: "I have not yet begun to fight." What is less well known is that he was within sight of the Yorkshire coast when he uttered them.

Whether Jones ever said what was attributed to him is not certain. But it is true that one of the bloodiest naval battles of the American Revolution was fought in the North Sea on 23 September 1779, and that the American commander, despite having to abandon his sinking flagship, won the day. He captured the British warship attacking him and sailed off into legend.

This summer, 227 years after that encounter, British and American crews will again contend with each other off the coast of Yorkshire. This time they are in a race to discover the final resting place of the Bonhomme Richard, the 42-gun frigate commanded by the "Father of the American Navy". Jones's heirs in the US military are planning an underwater search, but they face competition from two other teams.

The adventure novelist Clive Cussler is backing a separate expedition by the National Underwater and Marine Agency (Numa), and a third team of local divers from Yorkshire will investigate a wreck in Filey Bay.

The Bonhomme Richard has long been a holy grail of marine archaeology, thanks to its association with Jones, said the naval historian Peter Reavely. "Britain has Nelson, and John Paul Jones plays the same role in the US. He is the greatest naval hero of the American Revolutionary War."

Despite repeated searches, the location of the wreck has remained a mystery. British divers believe the wreck of a wooden ship found in Filey Bay is that of the Bonhomme Richard, said team member Tony Green. "We think the wreck in Filey Bay is the most likely candidate - but we're still some way off proving it. There are three teams looking, so someone's got to find something."

Recent research by marine historians has cast doubt on the British divers' theory, and the US teams will focus their efforts further offshore.

The race to find the vessel will start in earnest this July, with the arrival of a joint team from the Naval Historical Centre in Washington and the Connecticut-based Ocean Technology Foundation. Later this year, Mr Cussler, who has already led unsuccessful expeditions in search of the wreck, is expected to launch a third mission.

Using hi-tech underwater scanning systems, the US naval team plans to survey large swathes of seabed off Flamborough Head. "We're going to have to survey at least 20 square miles of seabed to stand any chance of finding her," said Robert Neyland of the US Naval Historical Centre.

Originally named the Duc de Duras, the ship was built in 1765, then bought by the French government, which refitted her as a warship and lent her to the fledgling US Navy. John Paul Jones re-named her the Bonhomme Richard - after a magazine published by the US ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin.

A Scotsman who started his seafaring career at the tender age of 13, Jones was considered a pirate by the British, but a hero by America's rebellious colonists. In 1779 he took the Richard and three other vessels on a raiding expedition around the British coast, hoping to draw the Royal Navy away from its blockade of American ports.

The squadron captured 13 ships before attacking a Royal Navy warship, the Serapis, which was escorting 41 British merchant vessels en route from the Baltic. After a savage four-hour battle, Jones captured the Serapis, but his ship was so badly damaged that it was abandoned. Safely aboard the British flagship, his crew escaped to Holland and eventually returned to America.

The rediscovery of Jones's flagship would be more significant than that of the Titanic in 1985, said Melissa Ryan, project manager at the Ocean Technology Foundation. "The Bonhomme Richard was lost in a battle of national importance: the first naval victory for America during the Revolutionary War."

The battle provided an early victory for the Americans, and convinced France to bankroll the rebel army, she said. "It was a turning point in our history."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Arts and Entertainment
film
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee