The Bonhomme Richard was not a treasure ship but the frigate had one of the most impressive combat records of the American fight for independence. The ship sent sail from France in 1779 under Captain John Paul Jones on loan to the United States by the French shipping magnate, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray. It was accompanied by the USS Alliance, Pallas, Vengeance and Cerf as well as troop transports and merchant vessels.
The fate of the Bonhomme Richard came at the Battle of Flamborough Head. On September 23rd, 1779 the squadron came upon the convoy of the HMS Serapis and the HM Countess of Scarborough which was a hired armed vessel. The HMS Serapis engaged the Bonhomme Richard at around 6:00 that night. Over the next four hours both ships lost nearly half of their crew during the fighting but the British ship was better armed and victory seemed inevitable. The Serapis used its firepower to rake the Bonhomme Richard which devastated the intrepid ship. The commander of the Serapis called for John Paul Jones to surrender to which he famously replied “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!” Jones managed to get the ships close enough to tie them together and the Serapis lost the advantage of maneuverability. Both crews tried and failed to board the other ship but Jones had the strength of numbers with a much larger crew. Eventually another ship in Jones’ squadron joined the fight and the commander of the Serapis surrendered.
There was no saving the Bonhomme Richard even though Jones and his crew tried for 36 hours to keep her afloat. They were forced to abandon her and instead sail the Serapis to the Dutch United Provinces for repairs. Several attempts have been made to find the ship since but the area that the Bonhomme Richard sunk is littered with ships which makes finding the famous ship difficult. The U.S. Navy attempted to find the ship and their efforts were filmed for Discovery Channel’s Mighty Ships series but their attempts were unsuccessful.