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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

September 23

Victory of the “Bonhomme Richard” over the “Serapis”

By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)

  • One of the greatest naval engagements in history. The American man-of-war Bonhomme Richard, under Paul Jones, engaged the Serapis, under Capt. Pearson, off Flamborough Head and fought, on Sept. 23, 1779, in the presence of thousands of spectators, until the Serapis surrendered.

  • O’ER the rough main with flowing sheet

    The guardian of a numerous fleet,

    Serapis from the Baltic came;

    A ship of less tremendous force

    Sailed by her side the self-same course,

    Countess of Scarb’ro, was her name.


    Full forty guns Serapis bore,

    And Scarb’ro’s Countess twenty-four,

    Manned with old England’s boldest tars—

    What flag that rides the Gallic seas

    Shall dare attack such piles as these,

    Designed for tumults and for wars!


    ’Twas Jones, brave Jones, to battle led

    As bold a crew as ever bled

    Upon the sky-surrounded main;

    The standards of the Western World

    Were to the willing winds unfurled,

    Denying Britain’s tyrant reign.

    The Good Man Richard led the line;

    The Alliance next; with these combine

    The Gallic ship they Pallas call;

    The Vengeance, armed with sword and flame,

    These to attack the Britons came—

    But two accomplished all.


    Go on, great man, to daunt the foe,

    And bid the haughty Britons know

    They to our Thirteen Stars shall bend;

    Those Stars that, veiled in dark attire,

    Long glimmered with a feeble fire,

    But radiant now ascend.

    Bend to the Stars that flaming rise

    In western, not in eastern, skies,

    Fair Freedom’s reign restored—

    So when the Magi, come from far

    Beheld the God-attending Star,

    They trembled and adored.