American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

SERAPIS. In 1779 a large new frigate named the H.M.S. Serapis boasted the copper sheathing introduced by the British in their navy at the beginning of the American Revolution. Rated at forty-four guns, the Serapis actually carried fifty: a main battery of twenty eighteen-pounders on a lower deck, twenty nine-pounders on an upper gundeck, and ten six-pounders on the quarterdeck. Commanded by Captain Richard Pearson, the Serapis was convoying a fleet of forty-four sail off Flamborough Head on the east coast of England when she was attacked by the smaller Bonhomme Richard* of forty- four guns under the command of John Paul Jones.*

In the historic sea battle that followed on 23 September, Captain Pearson was forced to surrender. He later claimed in his court-martial that he had been attacked by two American frigates. Acquitted and complimented on his actions, Pearson was knighted by King George III, while Jones got nothing for his victory. Jones turned the Serapis over to the French, who refitted her and sent her to the Indian Ocean, where she was destroyed by fire when a sailor dropped a flaming torch into a tub of brandy.

Kay Seymour House