Famous Sayings: #45 — ‘I Have Not Yet…’

January 20, 2017

I have not yet begun to fight!

HMS Serapis, I have not yet, begun to fight, John Paul Jones

If you are familiar with the history of the American Revolution, there is a chance you’re heard of John Paul Jones. Many sources will credit him with saying, “I have no yet begun to fight!” during his most famous battle, but did he actually say those words verbatim?

Who Was John Paul Jones?

John Paul Jones is known as one of the greatest naval heroes in American history. While he was a sharply dressed, cordial person in regular society, he was somewhat of a “harsh military master” (Naval).

Early Life

Jones was born John Paul (after his father) in Arbigland, Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland on July 6, 1747. The older John Paul was a gardener and his wife was a small farmer. The younger John Paul was the fourth of seven children (Navy).

After the younger John Paul finished school at age 12, he took an apprenticeship with a local merchant. At 13 years of age, he set sail for the first time as a cabin boy aboard the merchant ship Friendship, which was headed for Fredricksburg, Virginia.

John Paul would make multiple trips to Virginia. A brother had moved their years earlier.

The young sailor made multiple trips to Virginia. There, he visited a brother who had moved there years before.

After John Paul finished his apprenticeship, he became a midshipman for the British Navy.

John Paul Later served as a third mate and then chief mate on a slave ship called Two Friends. He left in disgust because he didn’t like the conditions on the ship nor the way the slaves were treated. But he would have to return the ship back safely after the captain and the ship mate of the ship died of fever.

Paul would later be given command of a cargo ship by the ship’s owners when he was 21 years old (Davis).

The ship Paul commanded in Tobago in the British West Indies was called the Betsy. He stabbed one of his crewmen with a sword when that crewman tried to lead a mutiny. John Paul professed he acted in self-defense, but came to Virginia in 1773 in order to escape a military tribunal (Schellhammer).

Once in Virginia, John Paul added the surname Jones.

As Part of the Continental Army

Jones was commissioned the Alfred due to his friendship with a delegate to the Continental Congress, Joseph Hewes (History.com). Jones was the first person ever to raise the flag, Grand Union Flag, the first national flag the young nation had, as First Lieutenant on the Alfred.

Jones commanded the Providence in May 1777. Before November 1777, he commanded the Alfred.

In November 1777, Jones sailed to Nantes, France as commander of the Ranger. On the way, he captured two British ships. When he reached the British Isles sometime afterward, he won a battle against the British warship called the Drake.

Jones not only attacked the British coast to wreak havoc, but also to serve a tactical purpose. Jones wanted the British to know they would have to defend their own shores. Also, the fighting there opened up supply lines for General George Washington.

Aboard the Ranger in April 1778, Jones sailed from the Brest for the Irish Sea and then to Whitehaven. During that voyage, Jones failed to capture the Earl of Selkirk. He wanted the use the ship as leverage to free Americans who were being held by the British (Davis).

By May 8, Jones had captured the Drake, he had seven prizes, and took many prisoners. The British press angrily covered his exploits (History.com).

Preparing for Battle

The fleet the French gave Jones in August 1779 had five naval vessels and two privateers. However, the Ranger was ordered to return to the colonies and the promises of a larger ship and crew fell through. Jones had to settle for an old East Indiaman frigate and a hastily put-together crew. Jones’ crew was made up of American, English, French, Maltese, Portuguese, and Malay members (EyeWitness).

On September 22, 1779, Jones assembled a raiding squadron off Flamborough Head on England’s East coast. The vessels he oversaw included:

  • The frigate Bon Homme Richard (the frigate which was formerly named Duc de Duras; it carried 40 guns)
  • The corvette Alliance (36 guns)
  • The French frigate Pallas (32 guns)
  • The brigantine Vengeance (12 guns)

What Was Jones’ Most Famous Battle?

Serapis and Bonhomme Richard

Jones’ most famous battle was called Flamborough Head.

On September 23, one of Jones’ lookouts spotted a 41-ship British convoy that was being escorted by the H.M.S. Serapis (which had 44 guns) and the Countess of Scarborough (which had 22 guns). Jones ordered his crew to intercept the convoy.

The latter two ships would be in close proximity to each other and by the end of the night, both were on fire. The Richard took the brunt of it. The frigate was sinking, most of the guns on the ship were destroyed, and over half of the 322-man crew on the ship either died or was injured.

At one point, gunner’s mate on the frigate, Henry Gardner, yelled out, “Quarters! Quarters!” when he could not locate Jones and feared the captain may have died. What Gardner yelled out was a term of surrender.

Royal Navy Captain Richard Pearson, who was commanding the H.M.S. Serapis yelled out, “Do you ask for quarter?” At this point, Pearson responded that he received no answer and called for his boarders. But this may have been the point when Jones uttered a battle cry signifying that he refused to surrender.

Jones and his crew were at a disadvantage, but he helped to repel the boarders. And finally, a Scotsman in his crew lobbed a grenade into the main hatch of the Serapis. That ignited gunpowder bags and set the British ship ablaze. By 10:30 pm, the British ship surrendered; the Countess of Scarborough also surrendered to the Pallas.

On September 24, Jones and his remaining crew took over the Serapis. The Richard sank on September 25. While aboard the Serapis, Jones arrived in Holland (neutral territory) on October 3.

Did Jones Really Say, “I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight”?

Now, the famous words of Jones may not have actually been uttered by him, but here is how the accounts of that battle and Jones’ defiance evolved (via Schellhammer).

From the London Evening Post, on September 30, 1779

A group of British soldiers who had been captured said that Jones, in response to Pearson’s question about surrender, replied with:

… That he might if he could; for whenever the devil was read to take him, he would obey his summons, than to strike to anyone.

In the Edinburgh Advertiser in early October 1779

Jones was said to tell Pearson:

I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike.

From the London Observer, on October 12, 1779

A writer in Amsterdam wrote a letter, which the newspaper printed. In the letter, the write said Jones’ reply to Pearson was:

I have no as yet thought of it, but am determined to make you strike.

In 1785

In a memoire drafted to impress the French King Louis XVI (in hopes of winning a French naval commission), Jones wrote that Pearson asked, “Do you ask for quarter?” Jones said he replied with:

I haven’t as yet thought of surrendering, but I am determined to make you ask for quarter.

From an 1806 Account of the Battle

Nathaniel Fanning, a midshipman on the Bon Homme Richard, said he was stationed on the frigate’s main top and heard the ship’s gunner, carpenter, and master yell for surrender. According to Fanning, when called to surrender, Jones yelled:

Ay, ay, we’ll do that when we can fight not longer, but we shall see yours come down first; for you must know, Yankees do not haul down their colors till they are fairly beaten.

From an 1825 Biography of Jones by Henry Sherburne

Richard Dale, the first lieutenant on the Richard said, “the English now hailed the Bon Homme, to know whether they had struck. Jones himself answered, ‘that he had no yet begun to fight.’” Dale was 65 years old when he gave his account. The second edition of the biography, in 1851, would contain the phrase, “I have not begun to fight.” That might have been inspired by the 1848 work by author Edward Hamilton.

From Life of Paul Jones by Hamilton in 1848

This work has the quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Mr. History (Schellhammer) said Jones may have said something along the lines of, “I’ll be damned if I strike and I’m getting ready to send you to the briny deep.”

Why Did I Choose This Quote for This Date?

For all intents and purposes, Jones was being defiant. He was in what appeared to be a losing battle. Over half of his crew was dead or injured and the ship he commanded was sinking. And everyone aboard the Bon Homme Richard felt the Serapis vessel and crew were superior, but Jones’ crew prevailed.

Sometimes, I have heard people utter the made-up quote in an act of defiance. I think there are movies in which characters say this when their lives are on the line. On TV shows, some characters might face bullies and refused to back down.

In real life, we might see the line be applied to politics.

On a blog post entitled “‘I have not yet begun to fight!’ – John Paul Jones” (via the TeaParty07 website), Trevor Lyman (A.K.A. General), writes a letter to fellow admirers of Republican Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2008. Lyman talks about the allegations of racism Mr. Paul faced and Lyman likens the uphill battle Paul faced to John Paul Jones’ most famous battle.

Do you think this famous saying applies to our political climate now?

Before I end this post, I would like to leave you with a quote that encapsulates Jones’ philosophy:

If fear is cultivated it will become stronger, if faith is cultivated it will achieve mastery.

Works Cited

Davis, Thomas. “John Paul Jones: Biography, Facts & Quotes.” Study.com. Web. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/john-paul-jones-biography-facts-quotes.html>.

History.com Staff. “John Paul Jones.” History.com. A+E Networks; 2009. Web. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017. <http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/john-paul-jones>.

“‘I have no yet begun to fight’: The Story of John Paul Jones.” Naval History and Heritage Command. 6 Jan 2015. Web. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017. Web. <https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/people/john-paul-jones/i-have-not-yet-begun-to-fight-the-story-of-john-paul-jones.html>.

“John Paul Jones in Battle, 1779.” EyeWitness to History. 2011. Web. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017. <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/johnpauljones.htm>.

Lyman, Trevor (A.K.A. General). “‘I have not yet begun to fight!’ – John Paul Jones.” TeaParty07.com. 11 Jan 2008. Web. <https://teaparty07.wordpress.com/…/i-have-not-yet-begun-to-fight-john-paul-jones/>.

Schellhammer, Michael. “The Real Immortal Words of John Paul Jones.” Journal of the American Revolution. 19 Jan 2015. Web. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017. <https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/01/the-real-immortal-words-of-john-paul-jones/>.

U.S. Navy. “John Paul Jones.” Navy.mil. Last Reviewed 20 Aug 2009. Web. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017. <http://www.navy.mil/navydata/traditions/html/jpjones.html>.


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