Research Collections Team

Battle of Flamborough Head 1779

In 1779, the American War of Independence was at its height, and Spain and France had joined forces with the American against Britain. Britain had to rely even more heavilyon its trade with the Baltic states to maintain vital naval supplies of timber and hemp.

On the 23rd September 1779, a large Baltic convoy of forty-one ships, escorted by the frigate HMS Serapis and the sloop HMS Countess of Scarborough, were sailing along the Yorkshire coast. They were intercepted off Flamborough Head by an American and French squadron led by John Paul Jones, who was attacking British coastal trade. He had sailed from Lorient on 14th August with the frigates Bonhomme Richard, Alliance, Pallas and two smaller ships, and cruised along the Irish and Scottish coasts taking several prizes, before he met the convoy off Flamborough Head.

Th action began at 7.20pm, watched by crowds on the shore. HMS Countess of Scarborough was soon captured by the Pallas, but the major event of the action was the battle between the Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, which lasted over three hours until 10.20pm. Jones succeeded in forcing the Serapis to surrender, and in doing so, he had overcome a more powerful adversary. However, the next morning, the Bonhomme Richard sank since it had been badly damaged by the action. Jones did succeed in getting his prizes back to the Texel and finally to France.

The Battle of Flamborough Head was the first major success of the new American navy.

İRoyal Naval Museum Library, 2000
The information contained in this fact sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.

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Created on the 19 March 2003
Last modified on the 19 November 2003