Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Dwight Hughes
The recent disastrous conflagration aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in San Diego harbor brings to mind the original warship by that name and its fiery fate, a tale excellently told in a previous post by Eric Sterner (“I Have not Yet Begun to Fight!” or Words to that Effect (September 23, 1779)). “Bonhomme Richard” means “good man Richard” in French. So, who is Richard? What was good about him? Why is his name on a man-of-war?
The United States Navy likes to carry forward the labels of famous vessels. This is one of the oldest and most revered monikers in navy history, originally assigned in 1779 by Captain John Paul Jones to a rather decrepit French merchantman armed with a motley collection of guns. The French government donated the former Duc De Duras to Jones to sail against their mutual enemies, the British.
Jones famously engaged the powerful frigate HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779 in English waters off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire. The ships grappled together and blasted away at point blank range. Both were battered and ablaze in sinking condition with many casualties when the British captain surrendered. With Bonhomme Richard going down fast, the Americans took over Serapis and managed to save her.
John Paul Jones became the “Father of the U. S. Navy” (or one of them). Bonhomme Richard entered legend as the warship that won and sank. She and her successors also represent those rare U. S. Navy vessels whose names are rendered in a foreign language.Continue reading “What’s So Bonhomme about Richard?”