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1778

John Paul Jones burns Whitehaven, England

At 8 a.m. on this day in 1778, John Paul Jones, with 30 volunteers from his ship, the USS Ranger, launches a surprise attack on the two harbor forts at Whitehaven, England. Jones’ boat successfully took the southern fort, but a second boat, assigned to attack to the northern fort, returned to the Ranger without having done so, claiming to have been scared off by a strange noise. To compensate, Jones decided to burn the southern fort; the blaze ultimately consumed the entire town. It was the only American raid on English shores during the American Revolution.

Later the same day, Jones continued from Whitehaven, where he began his sailing career, to his home territory of Kirkcudbright Bay, Scotland. There he intended to abduct the earl of Selkirk, and then exchange him for American sailors held captive by Britain. Although he did not find the earl at home, Jones’ crew was able to steal all his silver, including his wife’s teapot, still containing her breakfast tea. From Scotland, Jones sailed across the Irish Sea to Carrickfergus, where the Ranger captured the HMS Drake after delivering fatal wounds to the British ship’s captain and lieutenant.

In September 1779, Jones fought one of the fiercest battles in naval history when he led the USS Bonhomme Richard frigate, named for Benjamin Franklin, in an engagement with the 50-gun British warship HMS Serapis. The USS Bonhomme Richard was struck; it began taking on water and caught fire. When the British captain of the Serapis ordered Jones to surrender, Jones famously replied, “I have not yet begun to fight!” A few hours later, the British captain and crew of the Serapis admitted defeat and Jones took command of their ship.

Jones went on to establish himself as one of the greatest naval commanders in history; he is remembered, along with John Barry, as a Father of the American Navy. He is buried in a crypt in the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland, where a Marine honor guard stands at attention in his honor whenever the crypt is open to the public.

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