Battle of Flamborough Head (September 23, 1779)

June 13th, 2015

Flamborough HeadMost of our work as Team Yorkshire this month has been in Filey Bay on the northeastern coast of England. When we look south, as above, we see the northern extent of the famous Cretaceous chalk cliffs that extend far into the south of the country along the Channel coast. This point of chalk that we see jutting into the North Sea is Flamborough Head. If we were here on September 23, 1779, we would have seen here a dramatic naval battle between the Royal Navy and the earliest ships of the Revolutionary United States.

Flamborough Google MapFor orientation, you see Scarborough at the top of this Google map, and then Filey down the coast (with Filey Brigg visible as a thin finger of rock diving into the sea). The top image was taken on the coast at Reighton Gap looking south.

Gilkerson 1In these waters on that September day, Commodore John Paul Jones in the USS Bonhomme Richard (on the right) met Captain Richard Pearson of the HMS Serapis. The painting is by William Gilkerson and is displayed in the US Naval Academy Museum. The battle was a complicated bit of seamanship on both sides, and both sides could claim victory. Overall, though, it was an astounding feat of American arms to have engaged the world’s largest and effective navy in its home waters. The story of the battle is best told by J. Scott Harmon on this website.

Battle map FlamboroughThe initial engagement of the HMS Serapis and USS Bonhomme Richard north of Flamborough Head. (From the US Naval Academy. Go there for a nice set of map animations.)

Richard Willis paintingThis part of the world has seen much dramatic military history, from the Romans to the Germans. We find this battle particularly moving because of the role of the new United States asserting its independence. (Painting by Richard Willis.)

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