The time was sunset on Sept. 23, 1779.A full moon was rising. The place was the bloody deck of John Paul Jones’ ship the Bon Homme Richard. There a young Spotsylvanian named Laurence Brooke would show the stuff of which heroes are made. At age 21, he was the lone surgeon on the Bon Homme Richard as it engaged the 50-gun HMS Serapis in the North Sea off Scarborough, England. The burning Serapis surrendered after a 3 1/2-hour battle during which John Paul Jones proclaimed: “I have not yet begun to fight!”
It is said that the blood ran ankle-deep as Laurence Brooke tended to more than 100 wounded and dying. And an excellent job he did, according to Nathaniel Fanning, midshipman on the Bon Homme Richard:
“He was the only surgeon in the fleet who really knew his duty: ...this man was as bloody as a butcher from the commencement of the battle until towards night of the day after. The greater part of the wounded had their legs or arms shot away, or the bones so badly fractured that they were obliged to suffer under the operation of amputation. Some of these poor fellows having once gone through this severe trial by the unskilled surgeons, were obliged to suffer another amputation in one, two, or three days thereafter by doctor Brooks; and they being put on board the different vessels composing the squadron, made it difficult for doctor Brooks to pay that attention to them which their cases required: besides, the gale of wind which succeeded the action, and which I have made mention of, made it altogether impracticable for him to visit the wounded, he being all this time on board the Serapis, excepting such of them as were on board of this ship. (From Fanning's Narrative)
This article was first printed in the November 1988 issue of the Fredericksburg Times magazine and appears here with the author's permission.
This article first appeared in the Fredericksburg Times magazine. It was later rebound with a collection of other articles on archaelogy by Mr. Butler and others as the book, Fredericksburg Underground. It is reprinted here with Mrs. Elizabeth Butler's permission.
Today, Fredericksburg ponders the building of a single downtown hotel, but during the 19th century, Fredericksburg was known as a town of hotels.
Some were large and elegant. Some catered to specific clienteles. All left their mark on Fredericksburg’s history.
Most people traveling from Washington to points south stopped over in Fredericksburg. So did those who were on their way to the Virginia springs.