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)
Francis Brooke, later of St. Julien in Spotsylvania County, was only sixteen when he became an officer in General Harrison's artillery regiment. This short memoir of his military service and his days afterward as an eminent jurist is peppered with the names of famous Virginians, many of whom were his friends and family members.
By Francis J. Brooke
Macfarlane & Fergusson Printers, Richmond, Va. 1849
Reprinted in The Magazine of History with Notes and Queries
Published by William Abbatt, 1921 Extra Number--No. 74
OUR first item is an unusual one—a family memoir, written by a father for his children and issued as a private publication, in a very small edition: so small that its existence is almost unknown, but one copy being recorded as sold, in many years.
The author was a distinguished lawyer and judge of Virginia, who had joined Washington's army at sixteen, and after the Revolution held various judicial offices, including that of judge of the Court of Appeals, which he held for forty years.