"I'LL SINK, BUT I'LL BE DAMNED IF I STRIKE!": DRAMATIC AND VIBRANTLY HAND-COLORED CONTEMPORARY BROADSIDE ENGRAVING OF JOHN PAUL JONES, FATHER OF THE AMERICAN NAVY, SHOOTING ONE OF HIS OWN MEN FOR ATTEMPTING TO STRIKE THE AMERICAN COLORS DURING HIS FAMOUS BATTLE WITH THE H.M.S. SERAPIS—A BRITISH PORTRAYAL OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR NAVAL COMMANDER THEY FEARED AND HATED AS A PIRATE
BOWLES, Carington, engraver and publisher. COLLETT, John, artist. Paul Jones Shooting a Sailor who had attempted to strike his Colours in an Engagement. London: Carington Bowles, circa 1779. Broadside, image measures 13 by 18 inches, trimmed close to image; entire sheet measures 13 by 19 inches. $16,000.
Stirring large hand-colored engraved print of the great American naval commander in action during his famous and heated engagement with the HMS Serapis, firing a pistol point-blank at a sailor attempting to strike the American flag, with two wounded men nearby; Jones is stepping on the body of a dead man, with his cutlass under his left arm and four pistols stuck in his belt. Engraved by Carington Bowles after a painting by John Collett.
This image depicts, albeit exaggeratedly and falsely, an incident during the encounter of Jones' ship, the 42-gun Bonhomme Richard, with the British 50-gun HMS Serapis, when a shell-shocked gunner shouted for quarter till Jones knocked him down with the butt of a pistol, saying "I may sink, but I'll be damned if I strike." The British public feared Jones and saw him as little more than a pirate, thus this rather negative portrayal of the man known in the United States as the "Father of the American Navy," trampling his own dead and wounded in order to shoot his chief gunner, Henry Gardner, in the face. This only happened in the propagandistic fantasies of the British, who hated Jones. This was also the encounter during which Jones (may have) famously declared "I have not yet begun to fight!" in reply to a British officer's taunt as the outgunned Bonhomme Richard circled and attempted to engage the Serapis at close quarters. "Meanwhile, the surviving seamen of the 42-gun Bonhomme Richard must have thought their commander, Capt. John Paul Jones, had gone insane. Separated by two feet, the double deck HMS Serapis, a well-made and brand new British escort ship, was shooting 18-pound cannon balls into the 14-year-old single deck Bonhomme Richard; cannon balls that from 200 yards could shoot through four feet of oak. Near the battle's end, half the crewmates on each ship were dead, there were three or four inches of blood and guts on the high deck of Bonhomme Richard and both ships were on fire. Capt. Pearson, commander of Serapis assumed Bonhomme Richard would be the first to surrender. He asked Jones, 'Do you strike?' According to battle expert Peter Reaveley, Jones screamed out, 'No! I'll sink, but I'm damned if I'll strike!' The following quotation is more famously noted as Jones' retort: 'I have not yet begun to fight!' The battle established the Continental Navy as a powerful force and Capt. John Paul Jones as a hero" (Joanna Romansic, "NHC Joins Search for John Paul Jones' Ship," Oct. 20, 2005, dcmilitary.com.). This image first appeared as a "color mezzotint" measuring approximately 10 by 14 inches; the present copy is a somewhat later and larger copperplate engraving, boldly colored in light blue, dark blue, brown, beige, pale yellow and red.
Trimmed to the edge of the image and legend. A few minor wormholes, some repairs and expert restoration to versos and margins. A very good copy of this sensational print.