When Captain Richard Pearson of the Serapis asked Jones, "Have you struck? Do you call for Quarter?" or, in other words, was Jones prepared to give up the fight and surrender his ship, Jones, according to most accounts, replied, "I have not yet begun to fight." There is, however, some question whether those were Jones' actual words. Richard Dale, Jones' first lieutenant during the battle, first credited him with that immortal phrase. Dale would normally be considered an excellent source but his recollection of Jones' words came forty-six years after the battle when the then retired sixty-five-year-old commodore recounted them to John H. Sherburne, an early biographer of Jones'. Most accounts written immediately after the battle record Jones' words as, "I may sink, but I'm damned if I'll strike" or a very similar phrase. Such words according to one student of the battle are a "simple direct answer, to a simple direct question." Another eyewitness, Ensign Nathaniel Fanning, later recalled Jones' words to be, "Ay, ay, we'll do that [that is, haul down the pendant of Bonhomme Richard] when we can fight no longer, but we shall see yours come down first; for you must know, that Yankees do not haul down their colours till they are fairly beaten."
While observers do not agree on Jones' exact words, all recall Jones determination to continue the struggle and the iron will he demonstrated at this crisis in the battle.
Source: "Did Jones Actually Say 'I have not yet begun to fight'?" in E. Gordon Bowen-Hassell, Dennis M. Conrad, and Mark L. Hayes. Sea Raiders of the American Revolution: The Continental Navy in European Waters. (Washington, DC: NHHC, 2003): 47.