John Kilby went to sea as a privateer in the early days of the American Revolution. But it was his misfortune to be captured by the British and remain a prisoner of war for nearly two miserable years until released as part of a prisoner exchange arranged in 1779. Thirsty for revenge, he sought service in an American naval vessel and soon found one fitting out in L'Orient, France. She was less than impressive but convenient. Her name was Bonhomme Richard and her captain was the already notorious John Paul Jones.
Kilby is one of the few early sailors to have left behind a written account of his service, including a description of the famous battle between his ship and the more powerful frigate HMS Serapis—which he calls "Sea-Raper" in his memoir.