The Serapis Flag/John Paul Jones Flag

The “Serapis” or “John Paul Jones” (also known as the Franklin flag) refers to an unconventional, early United States ensign flown by Jones from a captured British frigateWhen U.S. Navy Captain John Paul Jones captured the British frigate Serapis, his own ship, the Bonhomme Richard, was sunk.  The ensign had been blown from the mast into the sea during the battle. Jones, now commanding the Serapis  without an ensign, sailed to the island port of Texel, which was run by the neutral United Provinces.

     British officials argued that Jones was a pirate, since he sailed a captured vessel flying no known national ensign.  Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, ambassadors to France, had written a description of United States flags:  “It is with pleasure that we acquaint your excellency that 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.”

     Based upon this description, a recognizable ensign was quickly made to fly aboard the Serapis.  Dutch records were edited to include a sketch of the ensign to make it official. The Dutch recognized the flag and avoided the legal controversy of Jones’ captured ship. The Dutch records survive and provide us with the original sketch of the ensign dated 5 October 1779. The Serapis flag is distinctive because of the four, irregularly placed blue stripes and 8-pointed stars. 

Tomorrow, An Era Ends    Rita Bay

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