A beautiful alternative version of “Stars and Stripes” or “Old Glory,” the names we Americans lovingly give to the more traditional version of our country’s flag, is known as the Serapis Flag. It is also sometimes called the John Paul Jones Flag, named after the naval commander whose sea battle necessitated its creation, or the Franklin Flag, named after a description by Benjamin Franklin of what the American flag looks like, on which the Serapis Flag was based.
While even many among the most ardent American patriots know nothing about this version of the flag, a quote from with the Battle of Flamborough Head, which resulted in its creation, is far more likely to strike a familiar chord: “I have not even begun to fight!”
Those were the words uttered by Captain Jones, from aboard his ship, the Bonhomme Richard, in response to British taunts while battling on the North Sea off the coast of Yorkshire against the British Fleet, led by a vessel called the Serapis, in 1779, in the midst of the American Revolutionary War.
Perfunctory American history lessons often neglect to point out that upon declaring their independence from the British Empire on July 4, 1776, the Colonies-turned-United States did not simply ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Years of war ensued, until the British finally decided that holding on to the Colonies was more trouble than it was worth, and officially gave up the fight in 1783. The Flamborough Battle also depicts that the fighting was not limited to Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. There were battles on the high seas, too.
After Captain Jones was able to prevail against the British, with his own main ship destroyed, he boarded the Serapis and took command of it. Planning to sail it safely to shore in Holland, a neutral nation that would accept it, Jones realized that he needed a flag, lest he be considered a pirate illegally commandeering a ship!
The American flag we commonly associate with those times, the one that looks like our current version except for the 13 stars in a circle in the upper left-hand- corner, had been officially adopted two years earlier. But in a world without the Internet or smart phones, Jones and other fighters in the field, or sea, of battle, thousands of miles from home, didn’t get the memo.
What did the American flag look like, Jones and his men wondered. Based on a description given by Franklin and John Adams, to the Ambassador of Naples (now a city in Italy, but which did not become reunited with that country until almost a century later, in 1861): “the flag of the United States of America consists of thirteen stripes, alternately red, white, and blue; a small square in the upper angle, next the flagstaff, is a blue field, with thirteen white stars, denoting a new constellation.”
And that’s exactly what the Jones crew created. In they sailed with the Serapis to Holland, with the “American Flag” denoting the ship was captured in battle and belonged to the United States.
It is a flag still created and distributed, symbolic of the American spirit of never giving up, epitomized by Jones’ words, when it appeared that he would lose the battle: “I have not even begun to fight!”