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John Paul Jones

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Born among the peasantry of Scotland, John Paul, the son of an humble gardener, without encouragement and lacking in the advantage of even a meager education, but possessed of an indomitable spirit and a constant and passionate desire for fame, advanced, entirely through his own exertions, to an eminence among the naval heroes of the world which will forever keep his memory glorious among Americans; while the greatness of his achievements compels the admiration and respect of every nation. To his imperturbable bravery, surpassing skill and unquestioned daring was added a singularly acute and conceptive mind, which possessed the power to frame great projects and forcefully convey the inspiration to others. His was a calm enthusiasm. The apparent recklessness which marked the execution of even his most hazardous exploits had no part in the workings of his creative mind during the time he evolved these desperate plans. With cool deliberations he estimated every chance for success or failure and having once concluded to act he entered upon the undertaking with a dash and persistence which death alone could have dismayed.

The life of this brilliant man naturally had its blemishes. Much of his earlier nautical experience had been gained as a smuggler and in the slave trade. He deserted from service in the British navy, into which he had been impressed, and to which his spirit of independence could not submit. All of this was during his early youth and came about as a natural sequence of the influences which had up to that time surrounded him and practically made this restless soul a willing victim to circumstances. It was his advent in America at the time when the colonies were struggling to throw off the yoke of despotism that opened a new sphere for his ambitions and transformed him from a purposeless adventurer into a determined warrior in the cause of freedom against oppression. He entered upon this new career with earnestness and ardor and his devoted and illustrious services in behalf of his adopted country and the cause he espoused, stands out in untarnished splendor which totally obscures the misguided passions and erring judgment of his early life. Among the heroes of the world and among the great benefactors of the American Nation his name must continue to stand for all time in undiminished glory.

John Paul was born July 6, 1747, on the estate of Arbigland in the parish of Kirkbean and Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His father was employed as gardener on this estate, which occupies a jutting promontory on the sea shore. Both the mansion of Arbigland and the cottage in which John Paul was born, stand to this day and are pointed out by the passing mariner. Between the only two conditions which presented themselves to the lad, the sea with its enchanting view and the great ships passing by, and the irksome monotony of the peasant's life, it was but natural that his inclination should lean toward the former. His desires in this direction strengthened as he grew until, at the age of twelve, after persistent importunity, his father took him across the Firth to Whitehaven, where he was apprenticed to a merchant in the American trade. His first voyage was on the Friendship. He had already formed studious habits and applied himself zealously to everything that regarded navigation. While in the American port he remained under the roof of an elder brother, William, who had come to America some years 'previously and settled at Fredericksburg, Virginia. After several voyages his skill became such that he was offered the place of third mate on thé King George, slaver of Whitehaven.

In 1766, though but 19 years of age, young Paul, who had already sustained a considerable reputation as a navigator, became chief mate of a Jamaica slaver, a berth which in those days required not only a sailor of no mean ability, but a man of firm and decided character. Two years later he gave up his position in connection with this nefarious business, having become disgusted with it, and sailed as a passenger from Jamaica for Scotland on the brigantine John, of Kirkcudbright. During the voyage both the master and the mate died of fever and Paul assumed command and brought the vessel safely home. The owners rewarded his skill by making him master and supercargo, and as such he made two voyages to the West Indies. During the second voyage he caused a sailor named Mungo Maxwell to be flogged for a breach of discipline. Shortly afterward, the sailor, having embarked on another vessel, died of fever. Claims were made, but later substantially refuted, that Maxwell died as a result of the punishment inflicted upon him by John Paul. The young navigator was extremely sensitive in regard to this accusation and went to considerable trouble and expense to disprove it. This attitude tends to demonstrate that even then he was zealous to maintain a good reputation as a commander and there is no instance during his whole career in which he is shown to have exercised cruelty either to his own men or his enemies. Subsequent to this, according to general report, he engaged extensively in smuggling, his base of operations being the Isle of Man and later on Dover. After a varied experience in this line he entered into the West India trade and while thus engaged was impressed into the Royal navy, a condition which was of short duration, for at the first opportunity he deserted, knowing that his position would never be anything but subordinate. He went to France, fitted out a ship of his own in the India trade, which also involved smuggling, and brought him into frequent clashes with the authorities. During this time he was, rightfully or wrongfully, accused of piracy.

In 1773 he sailed to America and settled in Virginia on the estate of his brother, who had died. He remained there long enough to make a failure of agriculture as a pursuit, and at the first outbreak of the colonies against the mother country he offered his services to America. During his residence in Virginia he had assumed the name of Jones. There are two versions of his reason for adopting this name. One is that he was sent on a secret mission to Great Britain in the interest of America, another that gratitude to a General Jones of Virginia, who had befriended him, induced him to take the name. At any rate the first authentic record of his entering the service of the colonies is on December 22, 1775, when Congress passed a resolution providing for equipping thirteen frigates and, among a number of other officers, appointed John Paul Jones as a first Lieutenant. The ship Alfred was made flagship of the squadron fitted out and to her Lieutenant Jones was assigned. E. Hopkins had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the fleet and when he boarded the Alfred, Lieutenant Jones hoisted and displayed for the first time an American flag. It was not, however, the stars and stripes, that national standard not being adopted until two years later. The first flag as flown in this instance is believed to have represented a pine tree with a rattlesnake at its root in a position to strike. Jones was at this time 29 years of age, a perfect specimen of physical manhood, and every inch a sailor and commander, as was subsequently demonstrated in the most ample manner.

The squadron had been intended to operate against Lord Dunsmore, who was at this time terrorizing the Virginia coast, but the Delaware river, in which the fleet was fitted out, froze up so that the sea was not reached until February of the following year. The British island of New Providence in the Bahamas was then made the objective goal and here, as a result of the Commander-in-Chief's distrust of the pilots, Jones distinguished him-self by guiding the ships safely into the harbor. Nearly one hundred cannon and valuable munitions of war were captured and on the return trip several prizes were taken. Soon after this Jones was given command of the sloop Providence of twelve guns and a crew of seventy men. For some time he was engaged in convoying along the coast from Boston to the Delaware and showed great skill in avoiding and outwitting the enemy's cruisers. Twice he engaged in running fights with the British frigate, Cerberus, and each time managed to escape and safely deliver his convoys. For this service he was on August 8, 1776, presented by Congress with a commission as Captain and ordered on a six weeks' cruise against the enemy's commerce. This was an adventurous cruise, during which he encountered at different times two of the enemy's large frigates and caused them to waste great quantities of ammunition in vain efforts to capture him. He destroyed the shipping and fisheries at the harbor of Canso and at the island of Madam by swift, daring, and irresistible moves, and at the expiration of forty-seven days returned to Newport with sixteen prizes. These successful enterprises inspired the naval authorities with still greater confidence in his ability and valor, and an expedition was planned for him which was well calculated to test his intrepid soul. He was directed to proceed to Isle Royale, where over one hundred American prisoners were reported to be incarcerated in the coal mines, and liberate them; also to capture the coal fleet and destroy the fisheries.

November 2, 1776, Jones set out in the Alfred accompanied by the Providence. Off Louisburg he captured three prizes, the most important being the Mellish, which carried 10,000 uniforms and stores for Burgoyne's army. These uniforms and stores were soon turned over to Washington's army, and that at a time when the Continental troops were in an almost destitute condition. The following day the Providence deserted and left the Alfred to proceed alone on its mission. Jones, nothing daunted, continued on his way with his prizes, stopped at Canso to destroy a transport and burn an oil warehouse and buildings connected with the whale and cod fisheries. Once more setting out for his destination, Jones during a fog, captured and destroyed three coal vessels, notwithstanding the fact that they were under convoy, and two days later a Liverpool privateer of sixteen guns fell into his hands. Arriving off Isle Royale he found the harbor frozen up. He was short of water and provisions, had t50 prisoners on his hands aside from the flotilla of prizes and concluded to abandon the original enterprise. During his return voyage he encountered, on St. George's bank, the British frigate Milford, which gave chase. He was no match for the frigate and was in danger of losing all his prizes. But here again his quick judgment and seamanship saved him. As darkness approached and the chase continued he directed his crews on the prizes to sail for the nearest port, placed the Alfred between them and the pursuing frigate and after raising the lights on the Alfred, suddenly changed his course. The frigate followed and the next day came up with and engaged the Alfred. Jones continued to maneuver and fight until a favorable opportunity offered when he made his escape, and on December i entered the harbor of Boston in triumph with his prizes. Instead of being rewarded for this enterprise, Jones was superseded in the command of the Alfred and by the appointment of a fresh batch of captains, most of whom had seen no service, but were commissioned as the result of wealth, social standing or influence, Jones found himself eighteenth on the list instead of sixth. He strove in every way possible to have this injustice corrected but without avail. Still eager for action he proposed to Congress an expedition to the West Indies and was ordered by the marine committee to proceed with his plans and five vessels were put at his disposal, but before his scheme could be carried into action the jealousy of superior officers served to have the order countermanded. He was, however, given the new ship Ranger, of 18 guns, and ordered to France, carrying instructions to the American commissioners there to supply him with a frigate. In the Ranger he sailed from Portsmouth the first day of November, 1777, and arrived safely at Nantes thirty-one days later, having captured two prizes on his passage across. On presenting himself at Paris he was disappointed and chagrined to discover that the powerful frigate he had expected could not be provided for him. Nevertheless he proceeded on the Ranger to Quiberon bay, where a French fleet under command of Admiral la Motte Piquet was preparing to convoy some vessels to America with stores. Here, after communicating with the Admiral, an exchange of salutes was arranged and it was the first time that the flag of America was recognized and saluted by a foreign power.

But inactivity was not to the liking of Paul Jones.

He left the coast of France April 10, having in contemplation a series of daring dashes along the British coast. April 14 he captured a brigantine bound for Ireland with flaxseed. Not desiring to divide his crew, he burned the ship and cargo. Three days later a second prize, convoying a cargo of great value fell into his hands, and this he sent into Brest. Next evening, when the Ranger was off the Isle of Man, he determined to destroy the shipping of Whitehaven, the port from which he first sailed as a boy. The project was an exceedingly daring one, and while the first attempt was delayed by untoward weather, a second effort was made, Jones himself leading a small party, which scaled the cliffs, captured a small fort and spiked forty cannon. The men detailed to fire the shipping failed in their duty and the only ship burned was one fired by Jones himself after the dawn had come and while, pistol in hand, he stood off the dismayed residents who had gathered to learn what was transpiring. Following this desperate, but not particularly valuable exploit, Jones decided to capture the Earl of Selkirk, with the idea of exchanging him for some desirable American prisoner. The Earl happened to be away from home and Jones' men allayed their disappointment by carrying away the family plate. This was afterward bought up by Jones and returned to Lady Selkirk with a letter of regret, for which Jones received the warm thanks of the Earl. On the morning of April 24 Jones was off Carrickfergus and discovered the Drake, a ship of twenty guns, coming out of the harbor. The commander of the Drake had been informed of what had happened at Whitehaven and was setting out to seek the Ranger. The Drake had, in addition to her own men, taken aboard a number of volunteers, so that her crew numbered 16o men. Jones disguised his ship as much as possible and kept her stern to the Drake, which sent out a boat to reconnoiter the stranger. The boat was captured and its crew made prisoners, whereupon the Drake bore down upon the Ranger and a desperate battle at close range began and continued for one hour and four minutes, at the end of which time, the Drake having suffered greatly and her captain having received a mortal wound, her crew called for quarter. The losses in killed and wounded on the Drake were forty-two, while on the Ranger but two were killed and six wounded. After making repairs Jones, with the Drake and other prizes, and over 20o prisoners, entered Brest, May 7, 1778. The narrative of this gallant victory reached King Louis XVI, who ordered Jones to Versailles to receive a better command. Many honors were shown the intrepid sea-fighter, but delay followed delay and not until Jones had determined to return to the Ranger was an ill-fitted squadron got ready for him in order that he might under the American flag, fight against England both on behalf of America and France. This squadron was made up of the Alliance, an American frigate of thirty guns, in which Lafayette had just returned from America; an old French frigate which Jones named Bonhomme Richard, hastily armed with a miscellaneous collection of forty guns, mostly twelve pounders, but including six indifferent eighteen pounders; the Pallas of thirty-two guns; the Cerf of eighteen guns, and the Vengeance of twelve guns. The crews comprised sailors of all nations and tongues, men undisciplined, inexperienced and accepted only owing to the desire of Jones to get to sea after the months lost waiting for French promises to be fulfilled. Finally, August 14, 1779, the redoubtable squadron sailed from L'Orient. Within a few days disaffection and jealousies grew into mutinies and desertions. Captain Landais, of the Alliance, was especially insolent, and by disobeying orders lost two valuable prizes. Many prizes were, however, safely taken into French ports. Finally on September 23 the Baltic fleet, of which Jones had been in quest, was sighted off Flamborough Head, in which vicinity he had been cruising after an unsuccessful effort, due to a gale, to attack Leith. The Baltic fleet was under the convoy of the powerful English frigate Serapis, and the Countess of Scarborough of twenty-two guns. They were within two leagues of. the coast and in sight of Scarborough castle. Jones' squadron, owing to the lack of harmony and discipline which existed, was widely scattered. He signaled his three companion ships to form in line of battle, and the captain of the Alliance as usual disregarded the order, following it up during the desperate conflict, which shortly ensued, by deliberately firing upon the Bonhomme Richard and exhibiting the most treasonable conduct. The battle between the Serapis and the Bonhomme Richard was unquestionably one of the most terrific encounters in the history of naval warfare, and this victory of John Paul Jones over an enemy greatly his superior from every standpoint places him, when the battle is calmly viewed in its various stages, preeminently as the highest type of the heroic, undaunted warrior ready to die in glorious combat, but proudly unyielding and unwavering. It may here be of interest to peruse the brief and modest official account of the battle written by Jones himself aboard the Serapis off the Texel, several days after the encounter.

"I have only-time, my dear friends," he writes, "to inform you, that I have this day anchored here, having taken this ship in the night of the 23d ult., on the coast of England, after a battle of three hours and a half; two hours and a half of that time the Good Man Richard and this ship being fast along side of one another, both ships being in flames, and the Good Man Richard making water faster than all the pumps could deliver it. This ship mounts forty-four guns, and has two entire batteries, one of them eighteen pounders, so that my situation was severe enough, to have to deal with such an enemy in such a dreadful situation. Judge then, what it must have been when the Alliance came up, toward the close of the action, and, instead of assisting me, directed her whole fire against the Good Man Richard, not once or twice, but repeatedly, after being spoke to, and showing a private signal of recognizance.

"The Alliance killed eleven men, and mortally wounded an officer on the Good Man Richard's forecastle at one volley. I have lost, in killed and wounded, the best part of my men. The Good Man Richard went to the bottom on the morning of the 25th ult. in spite of every effort to bring her into port. No action before was ever, in all respects, so bloody, so severe, and so lasting. I beg of you to communicate this, with my best respects, to the gentlemen of your port.

"The fire was not quite extinguished on board of the Good Man Richard till eight hours after the enemy had struck; and at last it had reached within a few feet' of the magazine. We lost all the stores and all our private effects; but no lives were lost from the conflagration. The Pallas took at the same time an armed ship of twenty six pounders. The prizes taken and ransomed by the Good Man Richard during her cruise of about three months' amount to at least one million livres."

It was 7 o'clock in the evening with beautiful serene weather and a light southwesterly breeze when the action really began. For several hours previously the vessels had been slowly maneuvering and gradually approaching each other. The Scarborough had drawn close to the Serapis, and the English cruisers were confident of victory. The decks had long been cleared for action and there had been ample time for reflection as the rival craft silently drew near each other. Coming within pistol shot, Captain Pearson, from the bridge of the formidable appearing Serapis, hailed the Richard with, "What ship is that?" "I cannot hear what you say," was the sarcastic retort from the Richard. The hail was repeated with a threat to fire unless immediate answer was made. The answer was a shot from the Richard. Immediately there was an exchange of broadsides. This was the beginning of that memorable conflict which continued unabated through the twilight of that September evening, grew fiercer as the dusk deepened and waged with relentless fury far into the darkness of the night. At the very first fire of the Richard two of the miserable eighteen pounders burst, spreading death and ruin on every hand. Jones ordered the lower deck ports closed and made no further effort to use that battery during the engagement.

After many terrific exchanges of broadsides, during which the rotten sides of the Richard suffered so that she began to leak, the constant maneuvering for position, in which the Serapis, owing to her superior qualities, usually fared best, although her crew were suffering terribly from the musketry and grenades in the Richard's tops, Jones determined to get at closer quarters and succeeded in bringing his ship alongside the Serapis. With his own hands he assisted in lashing them together. The guns of each ship touched the sides or protruded into the decks of the other; there were frequent hand to hand skirmishes. Fires were frequent on both vessels and every part of the decks presented a scene of carnage. An hour after the battle began and just after the ships had grappled and an attempt at boarding by Jones had been repelled, Captain Pearson hailed him with, "Has your ship struck ?" Jones proudly retorted, "I have not yet begun to fight." Later on when most of the guns on the Richard were disabled and her decks strewn with dead and wounded a report spread that Jones and his only Lieutenant were dead. One of the crew ran to the quarter deck to strike the flag and there found Jones undismayed and calm, helping to work his three remaining guns.

"If you do not strike," shouted Pearson, "I will sink you at the next broadside." "Sink nie if you can," was Jones' reply. "If I must go to the devil, I would rather strike to him than to you."

In the midst of this the Alliance, which had attempted to take no part in the engagement, came up on the larboard side of the Richard and deliberately fired into her several times, despite the fact that signals of recognition were flashed and voices shouted out in protest to Captain Landais. This fire killed and wounded several of the Richard's men.

Finally, with the best part of the men on both ships killed or wounded, with the Richard in a sinking condition and men at the pumps, with the yards and spars of the Serapis destroyed and her upper decks rendered untenable by the effective work of the men in the Richard's tops, and with both ships on fire, the commander of the Serapis surrendered to his indomitable adversary. The Richard was kept afloat two days, when she went to the bottom, Jones having transferred his wounded and prisoners to the Serapis. The victory was solely due to the immovable courage, self composure, and brilliant skill of Jones. Throughout the engagement he displayed the noblest heroism, taking an active part from time to time in every phase of the fighting, from firing cannon to repelling in hand-to-hand conflicts boarders from the Serapis. On October 7 Jones reached Amsterdam, where he was lionized, and where his presence did much to inspire friendly feeling for his adopted country and the cause of the colonies. Another "glorious accomplishment," as Dr. Franklin expressed it, resulting from the services of Jones was the liberation of American captives who had long languished in English prisons. Including the prisoners captured by the Pallas, which gave a good account of herself while Jones was fighting the Serapis by defeating the Scar-borough, he had in his custody over 500 Englishmen, and these were eventually exchanged for Americans. Of this accomplishment Jones was as proud as of his victories, showing that he possessed the virtue of sympathetic humanity as well as bravery.

While his squadron lay anchored at the Texel, Holland, undergoing repairs with a score of British cruisers waiting outside for him to make his appearance, Jones remained for a season in Paris, was fêted and applauded and presented with a sword by Louis XVI. He soon grew weary of court surroundings and boarded the Alliance, from which Captain Landais had been dismissed in disgrace, and during a favorable gale at night slipped out of the harbor and away from the British cruisers so anxiously watching for him. His resulting cruise in the Alliance was disheartening, and owing to the constant clamor of his crew for the prize money due them, Jones conveyed his ship to L'Orient arriving there February 10, 1780. In October of that year, being furnished with the Ariel, a King's ship of twenty guns, by the French minister of marine, Jones sailed for America. During the pas-sage he engaged the English privateer, Triumph, whose captain after brief resistance struck his colors but made all sail and escaped before a prize crew could board her. Jones arrived in Philadelphia February 18, 1781. Here anew his enthusiasm. Soon after this Jones was offered the position of Captain Commandant in the Russian navy. He did not think the honor was high enough and he was made a Rear Admiral and given a squadron in the Black Sea. He rendered distinguished service in the engagements in which he participated, but at the expiration of eight months as a result of jealousies and rivalry he was recalled and kept in idleness for a time and finally given two years' leave of absence. This virtually amounted to a dismissal and Jones repaired to Paris, from whence he kept up a fruitless correspondence with Russia in an effort to be restored to favor and active service.

His constitution had gradually broken down, dropsy manifested itself and he became a helpless invalid. He declined rapidly and on July 18, 1792, after making his will as "a citizen of the United States," the unconquered hero of the seas gave up the ghost. Two days later his remains were followed to the grave by many distinguished men of the day, including twelve members of the National assembly.

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