Eye-witness Report "I Have Not Yet Begun To Fight"

"I Have Not Yet Begun To Fight"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: John Paul Jones, a Scottish-born American naval officer famed for his exploits in the Revolution, has become a legend in history. Commanding the Bon Homme Richard (named for Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard), Jones was encountered by a large fleet of merchantmen convoyed by the heavily armed Serapis. The desperate battle which ensued, one of the most famous sea engagements in history, took place by moonlight and lasted three and a half hours. In the end, although the Richard was so badly shattered that she sank the next day, Jones was victorious and sailed the Serapis back to France. Exactly what Jones said during the battle is a matter of dispute. Dr. Benjamin Rush, privately recording a dinner conversation, reports that Jones, "Towards the close of the battle, while his deck was swimming in blood," replied to his adversary's call to strike: "'No sir, I will not–we have had but a small fight as yet.'" Perhaps more reliable is the report of Richard Dale, a fellow officer who was present at the fight, written for J. H. Sherburne's biography published in 1825. According to him, Jones's statement occurred early in the battle when the Serapis attempted to cross Richard's bow to rake her but lacked sufficient headway. The ringing words familiar to every schoolboy, who is unconcerned with the refinements of scholarship, are:

I have not yet begun to fight.