John Paul Jones
(1747-1792)

The Founder of the American Navy

From Famous Privateersmen and Adventurers of the Sea by Charles H. L. Johnston

"Every generation has its own war. To forget the disagreeable is a characteristic of the human mind."
--The Philosopher

"Why! Shiver my bones! It's John Paul Jones!
Johnny the Pirate! Johnny should swing!
Johnny who hails from Old Scotlant y' know,
Johnny who's tryin' to fight our good King.
Shiver my Timbers! We'll catch the old fox!
Clew up those top-sails! Ware o' th' shoals!
Fire 'cross his bow-lines! Steer for th' rocks!
Ease away on the jib-boom; shoot as she rolls!

"Oh! Johnny, my Johnny, you're slick as can be,
But, Johnny, My John, you'll be nipped present-ly."

--Song of the English Privateers--1794.

A French frigate lay in the silvery water off Norfolk, Virginia, and, as she swung quietly upon her anchor chains, a small sloop came bobbing alongside. A hail arose from her stern, where sat a man of about twenty-eight years; of medium stature, strongly built and swarthy. He was dressed in the grey clothing of a Virginian planter.

"Hallo," he shouted in very good French. "May I come aboard?"

"Certainement! Certainement!" cried a French officer, as he neared the rail. "Welcome, Monsieur Jones!"

And, as the Virginian farmer scrambled upon the deck, he was greeted most effusively by a handsome nobleman. It was Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke de Chartres; known as "the Sailor Prince of France." The Virginian was John Paul Jones, of "Whitehaven" upon the river Rappahannock.

"I bring you delicacies of the season from my garden," said the planter, smiling. "Some for you, and some for the commander--the Commodore de Kersaint. I trust that you will accept them, with my kindest regards. Meanwhile, I beg that you will give me leave to inspect your vessel and obtain information in regard to her plan, construction of the hull, arrangement of the batteries, her spars, her rig and other technical particulars. For, know you, Gentlemen, that war has just commenced between Great Britain and her Colonies and the newly-formed Marine Department of the Government will require a knowledge of ships and their construction. Partly for this I have visited you."

Kersaint's face grew sober.

"Monsieur Jones," said he, "I have just heard the news from Lexington and I am the senior officer upon this coast. France is at peace with England. The situation for me is a delicate one. I must refuse to allow you to sketch any plans of my vessel."

But the young Duke de Chartres looked upon the matter in a different light.

"You shall have all the assistance from me that you wish," he cried. "I do not fear the displeasure of England."

So the Virginian planter was allowed to obtain the most complete data of the new frigate, even to copies of deck plans and sail spread, which he caused his carpenter to make. John Paul Jones was the guest of the Frenchman for two or three days.

"And now you will visit my plantation," said he, when the time came for him to leave. "Is it not so? For there I can repay some of the kindnesses which you have shown me."

"That we cannot do," replied the French commander. "It would be most impolitic for us to accept entertainment ashore from persons known to be hostile to King George. But we thank you, exceedingly, for your kind offer."

So John Paul Jones proceeded alone to his plantation, and the French warship sailed for Corunna, Spain, after firing one gun as a salute to the new-born nation.

The son of a Scotch gardener of Arbigland, Parish of Kirkbean, the youthful farmer had emigrated to America, where his brother owned the large plantation upon which he now resided. He found his kinsman dying of what was then called lung fever--in our time pneumonia--and, as he willed him his Virginian possessions, Jones was soon residing upon "3,000 acres of prime land, on the right bank of the Rappahannock; 1,000 acres cleared and under plough, or grass; with 2,000 acres of strong, first-growth timber." He had a grist-mill; a mansion; overseer's houses; negro quarters; stables; tobacco houses; threshing floors; thirty negroes of all ages; twenty horses and colts; eighty neat cattle and calves; and many sheep and swine. Thus lived the future sea-captain; in peace, plenty, and seclusion, at the outbreak of the American Revolution.

John Paul Jones had gone to sea at the early age of twelve. As a master's apprentice upon the stout brig Friendship, he had sailed from Scotland to the North American Colonies, the West Indies, and back again. He had kept to his seaman's life, and--so improved in knowledge of his profession--that he became second mate; then first mate; then Captain. At twenty-one he had amassed a fortune of about one thousand guineas ($5,000) in gold,--then equal, in purchasing power, to three times this sum. Besides this he had studied French and Spanish assiduously, so that he could speak the first like a native. It was to be of great help to the ambitious mariner. And he had plenty of nerve, as the following incident bears full witness:

Upon one of his many voyages, the crew was reduced, by fever, to five or six hands. One of them was a huge mulatto named Munro--or "Mungo"--Maxwell. They became mutinous, and, as Captain Jones was the only officer who could keep the deck, it was found necessary to subdue the refractory seaman.

"Will you obey my orders?" cried Jones, picking up a belaying pin.

"You go sit down," cried Maxwell. "I no like you. Pish! I could kill you with one crack."

John Paul Jones did not answer, but walking towards the big black, he struck him just one blow with his pin. "Mungo" dropped to the deck and lay there. He never rose again.

Upon arriving at port, Captain Jones surrendered to the authorities, and asked for a trial. It was given him.

"Captain Paul," asked the Judge, "are you, in conscience, satisfied that you used no more force than was necessary to preserve discipline on your ship?"

"May it please the most Honourable Court, Sir," answered the doughty seaman, "it became imperative to strike the mutinous sailor, Maxwell. Whenever it becomes necessary for a commanding officer to hit a seaman, it is also necessary to strike with a weapon. I may say that the necessity to strike carries with it the necessity to kill, or to completely disable the mutineer. I had two brace of loaded pistols in my belt, and could easily have shot him. I struck with a belaying pin in preference, because I hoped that I might subdue him without killing him. But the result proved otherwise. I trust that the Honourable Court and the jury will take due account of the fact that, though amply provided with pistols throwing ounce balls, necessarily fatal weapons, I used a belaying pin, which, though dangerous, is not necessarily a fatal weapon."

The judge smiled and Captain Paul was acquitted.

The famous Lord Nelson once said: "A naval officer, unlike a military commander, can have no fixed plans. He must always be ready for the chance. It may come to-morrow, or next week, or next year, or never; but he must be always ready!" Nunquam non Paratus. (Never unprepared.)

Paul Jones kept a copy of this maxim in his head. He was always in training; always on the qui vive; always prepared. And--because he was always prepared--he accomplished what would seem to be the impossible.

Shortly placed in command of a sloop-of-war, the Alfred (one of the four vessels which constituted the American Navy), Lieutenant Jones assisted in an expedition against Fort Nassau, New Providence Island, in the Bahamas, which was a complete and absolute failure. On the way home, and when passing the end of Long Island, his boat was chased by the twenty-gun sloop-of-war Glasgow. The long shot kicked up a lot of spray around the fleet American vessel, but it was of no use. Jones got away and sailed into Newport Harbour, Rhode Island, with sails full of holes and stern-posts peppered with lead. But he was created a Captain; placed in command of the Providence--sloop-of-war, fourteen guns and one hundred and seven men--and soon harried the seas in search of fighting and adventure. With him were two faithful negro boys--Cato and Scipio--who followed him through the many vicissitudes of the Revolutionary War.

The seas traversed by the Providence were full of English cruisers--superior in size to the saucy American--but inferior in alertness and resources of her commander and her crew. She captured sixteen vessels--of which eight were sent to port and eight were destroyed at sea. Twice she was chased by British frigates, and, on one of these occasions, narrowly escaped capture.

As the little sloop was running into one of the many harbours of the coast, a fast-sailing frigate bore down upon her from the starboard quarter.

Whang!

Her bow-guns spoke and said "Heave to!"

But Captain Jones had heard this call before, and kept on upon his course.

"She's got me," said he. "But, as the breeze is fresh I may run away. Stand ready, Boys, and let go your tackle immediate, when I give the command!"

The helm was now put hard-up and the Providence crept into the wind. Closer and closer came the brig--now her bow-guns sputtered--and a shot ricochetted near the lean prow of the Providence. But the sloop kept on.

Suddenly--just as the brig drew alongside--Paul Jones swung his rudder over, wore around in the wind, and ran dead to leeward.

"Watch her sniffle!" cried the gallant Captain, as the brig chug-chugged on the dancing waves, and, endeavouring to box short about, came up into the wind. But fortune favoured the American skipper. Just then a squall struck the Englishman; she lost steering way; and hung upon the waves like a huge rubber ball, while her Captain said things that cannot be printed.

When in this condition, Jones ran his boat within half gun-shot, gave her a dose of iron from one of his stern-guns, and--before the frigate could get squared away--was pounding off before the wind, which was the sloop's best point of sailing.

"Well," said the crafty John Paul, his face wreathed in smiles. "If the frigate had simply followed my manoeuvre of wearing around under easy helm and trimming her sails as the wind bore, I could not have distanced her much in the alteration of the course, and she must have come off the wind very nearly with me, and before I could get out of range.

"I do not take to myself too great credit for getting away. I did the best that I could, but there was more luck than sense to it. A good or bad puff of wind foils all kinds of skill one way or the other--and this time when I saw the little squall cat's-pawing to windward--I thought that I would ware ship and see if the Britisher wouldn't get taken aback. The old saying that 'Discretion is the better part of valour' may, I think, be changed to 'Impudence is--or may be, sometimes--the better part of discretion.'"

Two kinds of news greeted the slippery sailor when he arrived in port. One was a letter from Thomas Jefferson, enclosing his commission as Captain in the Continental Navy, by Act of Congress. The other--an epistle from his agents in Virginia, informing him that, during the month of July previous, his plantation had been utterly ravaged by an expedition of British and Tories (Virginians who sided with England in the war) under Lord Dunmore. His buildings had all been burned; his wharf demolished; his livestock killed; and every one of his able-bodied slaves of both sexes had been carried off to Jamaica to be sold. The enemy had also destroyed his growing crops; cut down his fruit trees; in short, nothing was left of his once prosperous and valuable plantation but the bare ground.

"This is part of the fortunes of war," said Jones. "I accept the extreme animosity displayed by Lord Dunmore as a compliment to the sincerity of my attachment to the cause of liberty."

Bold words, well spoken by a bold man!

"But," continued the able sailor, "I most sadly deplore the fate of my poor negroes. The plantation was to them a home, not a place of bondage. Their existence was a species of grown-up childhood, not slavery. Now they are torn away and carried off to die under the pestilence and lash of Jamaica cane-fields; and the price of their poor bodies will swell the pockets of English slave-traders. For this cruelty to those innocent, harmless people, I hope sometime, somehow, to find an opportunity to exact a reckoning."

Again bold sentiments,--and the reckoning, too, was forthcoming.

"I have no fortune left but my sword, and no prospect except that of getting alongside of the enemy," wrote the impoverished sea-captain to a Mr. Hewes.

This prospect also was to soon have ample fulfilment.

Ordered to take command of the Alfred, Captain Jones made a short cruise eastward, in 1776, accompanied by the staunch little Providence. The journey lasted only thirty-three days, but, during that time, seven ships of the enemy fell into the clutches of the two American vessels.

"Aha!" cried Captain Jones, as he rubbed his hands. "This looks more propitious for our cause. We have taken the Mellish and the Biddeford. Let us break into them and see how much of the King's treasure has been secured."

And it was indeed good treasure!

The Mellish was found to contain ten thousand complete uniforms, including cloaks, boots, socks and woollen shirts, for the winter supply of General Howe's army; seven thousand pairs of blankets; one thousand four hundred tents; six hundred saddles and complete cavalry equipments; one million seven hundred thousand rounds of fixed ammunition (musket cartridges); a large quantity of medical stores; forty cases of surgical instruments; and forty-six soldiers who were recruits sent out to join the various British regiments then serving in the Colonies.

The larger prize--the Biddeford--carried one thousand seven hundred fur overcoats for the use of the Canadian troops; eleven thousand pairs of blankets, intended partly for the British troops in Canada, and partly for the Indians then in British pay along the northern frontier; one thousand small-bore guns of the type then known as the "Indian-trade smooth-bore," with hatchets, knives, and boxes of flint in proportion, to arm the redskins. There were eight light six-pounder field guns and complete harness and other equipage for the two four-gun batteries of horse-artillery. Also some wines and table supplies for Sir Guy Carleton and a case of fine Galway duelling pistols for a British officer then serving in Canada.

"These I will appropriate as mine own portion," cried Captain Jones. "And also a share of the wines, for I must have something to drink the health of mine enemy in." And--so saying--he chuckled gleefully. It had been a rich haul.

But the Captain was not happy. His pet project was to cruise in European waters, and he wanted to get near the British coast with a ship--or better--a squadron of some force.

"Cruises along the American coast," said he, "will annoy the enemy and result in capture of small ships and consorts from time to time. But who--forsooth--will hear of this in Europe? We will add nothing to our prestige as a new nation if we win victories upon this side of the ocean."

All who heard him were much impressed by the vehement earnestness of his arguments.

"You have had so much success, Mr. Jones," said they, "that we feel you will have still greater good fortune in future years."

And Jones said to himself: "Oh, if I only could get the chance!"

It soon came, for on June the 14th, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the following resolution:

"Resolved: That Captain John Paul Jones be appointed to command the ship Ranger" (a brand-new sloop-of-war which had just been launched at Portsmouth, N. H.).

This boat was designed to carry a battery of twenty long six-pounders and was planned expressly for speed. She was one hundred and sixteen feet long, twenty-eight feet in breadth, and her bottom was covered with copper: the first American ship to be thus protected. Captain Jones put fourteen long nine-pounders in her and only four six-pounders, but even then she was top-heavy.

In spite of the fact that it was not quite safe to carry full sail, if clearing to windward, close-hauled in squally weather; when running free--before the wind--she could course through the water like a jack-rabbit. In outward appearance she was a perfect beauty, and, as she was rather low in the water for her length, and her masts raked two or three degrees more than any other ship of the day, she was--on the whole--the sauciest craft afloat. Jones was delighted.

"I have the best crew I have ever seen," said he. "I believe it is the best in the world. They are nearly all native Americans, and the proportion of able seamen to the total is much beyond the average. I'm going to make one or two short runs off the coast--a day or two at a time--to shake down the sails and find the best trim of the ship. Then away to the shores of England and France!"

He waited impatiently for orders to proceed across the blue Atlantic. On October the 18th, 1777, a courier raced frantically into Portsmouth, crying,

"Burgoyne has surrendered! Burgoyne has surrendered!" And Jones' impatience to be off increased ten-fold.

There were no details of the American victory, for the courier had reached the sleepy New England town from the field of Stillwater, in about thirty hours, and it was one hundred and forty-seven miles--as the crow flies--or, about one hundred and seventy-five by the shortest road. He had stopped only long enough to saddle a fresh horse and shift his saddle, eating his meals in the stirrups, and never thinking of rest until he had shouted his tidings for three full days. The patriot country was wild with enthusiasm.

"I will spread the news in France in thirty days," said Jones, when his dispatches were placed in his hands, about midnight of October the thirty-first. And, running by the whirling eddies of

"Pull-and-be-damned" Point, he soon had the Ranger clear of the low-lying Isle of Shoals: the sea cross and choppy, but the good ship bowling along before a fresh gale of wind.

"I had sailed with many Captains," writes Elijah Hall, second Lieutenant of the staunch, little vessel, "but I never had seen a ship crowded as Captain Jones drove the Ranger. The wind held northeasterly and fresh 'til we cleared Sable Island and began to draw on to the Banks. Then it came northeast and east-northeast with many snow squalls, and thick of nights."

Imagine the situation of the Ranger's crew, with a top-heavy, cranky ship under their feet, and a Commander who day and night insisted on every rag she could stagger under, without laying clear down!

As it was, she came close to beam-ends more than once, and on one occasion righted only by letting-fly her sheets cut with hatchets. During all this trying work Captain Jones was his own navigating officer, keeping the deck eighteen or twenty hours out of the twenty-four; often serving extra grog to the men with his own hands; and, by his example, silencing all disposition to grumble. In the worst of it, the watch and watch was lap-watched, so that the men would be eight hours on to four off; but no one complained. It speaks well alike for commander and crew that not a man was punished or even severely reprimanded during the terrific voyage.

But Captain Jones made good his boast. He actually did land at Nantes--upon the coast of France--early in the morning of December second, 1777, thirty-two days out from Portsmouth. His crew were jubilant, and sang a song which ran:

"So now we had him hard and fast,
Burgoyne laid down his arms at last,
And that is why we brave the blast,
To carry the news to London!
Heigh-ho! Carry the News!
Go! Go! Carry the News!
Tell old King George that he's undone!
He's licked by the Yankee squirrel gun.
  Go!
    Go!
  Carry the news to London!"

And Captain John made haste to proceed to Paris, placing the dispatches in the hands of Dr. Franklin early upon the fifth day of December,--travelling two hundred and twenty miles in sixty hours. He returned to his ship about the middle of the month, to find that several of the crew were mutinous.

"See here, Captain," said one--a seaman from Portsmouth, New Hampshire--"Me and my pals enlisted at home after readin' a hand-bill which said that we wuz to get $40.00 apiece extra, for this cruise. Now, your young Lieutenant tells us that the reg'lations of Congress say that we are to only get th' reg'lar salary allotted by those old pals, who make our laws. We came with you thinkin' that we wuz ter git this money, and, by gum, we intend to git it!"

"Calm yourself, my good fellow," said Jones soothingly. "If the hand-bill said that you were to receive $40.00 you shall have it. You shall get this sum even if I have to pay it myself."

And this he did.

"I would not deceive any man who has entered or may enter, to serve in my command," remarked John Paul Jones. "I consider myself as being under a personal obligation to these brave men, who have cheerfully enlisted to serve with me, and I accept their act as a proof of their good opinion of me, which I value so highly, that I cannot permit it to be dampened in the least degree, by misunderstanding, or failure to perform engagements. I wish all my men to be happy and contented. The conditions of the hand-bills will be strictly complied with."

Accordingly he disbursed one hundred and forty-seven guineas (about $800.00) out of his own pocket, in making good the terms of the hand-bill. Is it any wonder that the gallant seaman was popular with his followers?

But the Ranger lay at Brest--eager for action--her light sails furled; her spars shining with new varnish; her polished guns winking in the rays of the sun.

"Come, my Hearties!" cried Captain Jones on April the 10th, "we'll hie us out to the west coast of Ireland and see if our new ship cannot make a good name for herself."

Sails were hoisted upon the staunch, little vessel. Her bow was turned toward the ocean--and--with the new flag of the infant republic fluttering from her masts, the Ranger went forth for battle, for plunder, and for glory. She was to get a little of each.

Arriving off the coast of Cumberland, and, learning from fishermen decoyed on board, that there was a large amount of shipping in the harbour of Whitehaven, with no warship of superior force in the neighbourhood to protect it, the bold American skipper resolved to make a dash into this quiet cove, with a view of destroying the ships there in port. The British authorities had no suspicion of his presence in the Irish Sea.

As the Ranger drew near to Whitehaven, the wind blew such a gale from the southwest, that it was impossible to land a boat.

"We must hold off until the breeze slackens!" cried bold Captain Jones. "This cannot last forever, and our opportunity will soon be here."

Sure enough--the wind died out about midnight of April 22nd--and the Ranger beat up towards the town. When about five hundred yards from the shore, the vessel was hove to--two boats were lowered--and twenty-nine seamen, with third Lieutenant Wallingford, Midshipmen Arthur Green and Charles Hill, jumped into them. With Jones in command they hastened toward the coast.

The surprise was complete. Two small forts lay at the mouth of the harbour, but, as the seamen scrambled ashore, they were precipitately abandoned by the garrison of "coast-guards." Captain Jones, Midshipman Green, and six men rushed shouting upon one of these, capturing it without an effort; the other was taken by Lieutenant Wallingford and eight sailors,--while four were left behind as a boat-guard. A few pistols spattered, a few muskets rang; but, when the stout sea-dogs reached the tidal basin, where the shipping lay, the townsfolk were thoroughly aroused. Burning cotton was thrown on board of the ships lying at anchor, but only one took fire. It was full daylight, and the insignificance of Jones' force became evident to the townsfolk, who were rallying from all directions.

"Retreat to the ships," shouted the Yankee Captain, "there is no time to lose!"

The landing party--small as it was--had become separated into two groups; one commanded by Jones, the other by Wallingford. Thinking that Wallingford's party was, for the moment, more seriously menaced than his own, Jones attacked and dispersed--with his dozen men--a force of about one hundred of the local militia who were endeavouring to retake the lower fort, or battery, whose guns had been spiked by the Americans. The townsfolk and coast-guards had joined and were making a vigorous assault upon Wallingford. But shots flew thick and fast from the muskets of the followers of the daring Paul Jones--as they retreated to their own boats. The whole landing party--with the exception of one man--finally leaped safely into the boat, and were on board the Ranger before the sun was an hour over the horizon.

Jones was delighted.

"The actual results of this affair," said he, "are of little moment, as we destroyed but one ship. The moral effect--however--is very great, as it has taught the English that the fancied security of their coasts is a Myth."

In fact this little raid of the valiant John Paul made the Government take expensive measures for the defence of numerous ports hitherto relying for protection upon the vigilance and supposed omnipotence of the navy. It also doubled the rates of marine insurance; which was the most grievous damage of all.

"Now to attack a castle!" cried Jones, "and bag an Earl, too, if he is around!"

The Ranger was headed for Solway Firth--not more than three hours' sail away--where, upon St. Mary's Isle, was the castle of the Earl of Selkirk.

"If we can catch the noble owner of this keep," said John Paul, "we will hold him as hostage for the better treatment of American prisoners in England."

As luck would have it, the Earl was away at this particular time, and, although the wild sea-dogs of the Ranger carried off several pieces of silverware from the castle, this was all that was captured. Lucky Earl! But, had he fallen into the clutches of John Paul, he would have been treated with the greatest consideration, for the Captain of the Ranger was the most chivalrous of conquerors.

The Ranger stood across the Irish Channel and next day ran into some fisher boats.

"Ah! Ha!" laughed one of the sons of Ireland. "The Drake--the guard-ship at Carrickfergus--is after you, and she's a twenty-gun sloop-of-war."

John Paul smiled.

"To lessen trouble," said he, "I'll heave-to off the mouth of Belfast Lough and wait for her to work out. This will save her the pains of coming after me."

So he luffed his ship, lay to, and waited for the Drake to sail on. Her white sails could be seen more clearly as she neared the adventurous American. A boat was sent out to reconnoitre--but--as it approached, it was surrounded by tenders from the Ranger; a midshipman and five men in her, were made prisoners. Tide and wind were both against the Drake; she came on slowly; and, at an hour before sundown, was just within hail. The sea was fairly smooth, the wind southerly and very light.

"What ship is that?" sounded from the deck of the Drake.

"The American Continental ship Ranger," rang the clear reply. "Lay on! We are waiting for you!"

Both ships bore away before the wind and neared each other to within striking distance. Boom! a broadside roared from the side of the Drake, and the fight had begun.

Crash! Crash! Muskets spoke from the rigging of the Ranger, where several seamen had climbed in the endeavour to pick off the gunners on the deck of the British warship. There were one hundred and fifty-seven men upon the Drake; Paul Jones had one hundred and twenty-six. The Drake's battery was sixteen nine-pounders and four sixes. Thus--you see--the advantage was clearly with the Britishers.

Both boats swung along under full canvas, pounding away at each other like prize-fighters. Spars were shattered; sails ripped; masts splintered in the hail of iron. And--as the fight progressed--it could be plainly seen that the marksmanship of those upon the Drake was infinitely less accurate than that of the Americans.

"Every shot of our men told," said Jones--not long afterwards. "They gave the Drake three broadsides for two, right along, at that. The behaviour of my crew in this engagement more than justifies the representations I have often made, of what American sailors would do, if given a chance at the enemy in his own waters. We have seen that they fight with courage on our own coast--but fought here, almost in hail of the enemy's shore."


"Began To Hull the 'Drake' Below the Water-Line"
(From "The Army and Navy of the United States")

As the two ships were going off the wind, which was light, they both rolled considerably, and together; that is, when the Ranger went down to port, the Drake came up to starboard. The gunners upon the quarter-deck of the Ranger timed their guns, so that they were fired as their muzzles went down and the enemy's side arose. By this practice they began to hull the Drake below the water-line.

"Sink the English! Sink the English!" cried the powder-blackened fighters.

But Captain Jones thought differently.

"Don't sink her!" he yelled to gunner Starbuck, above the din of battle. "I want to take her alive, instead of destroying her; for it will be much more to our advantage if we carry her as a visible prize into a French port."

"All right, Cap'n!" shouted his men. "We'll cripple her aloft!"

They now fired as the muzzles rose, and, so terrific were their broadsides, that the fore and main topsail-yards came tumbling across the starboard quarter, in a tangle of ropes, sails, and rigging.

"Rake her! Rake her!" shouted Jones to his men.

The Ranger luffed and crossed the stern of the Drake with the purpose of spanking a full broadside down her decks. The British boat was badly crippled and had lost steering way.

But, before the well-aimed guns belched another destructive volley into the shattered Englishman, a white flag went aloft, and a voice came: "Hold your fire. We surrender!" The Drake was a prisoner-of-war.

Thus Paul Jones had won a notable victory, and thus he had proved that the British were not invincible, and could be defeated, upon the sea, by their own cousins, as readily as upon the land.

When the Ranger lay in the harbour of Brest, a few days later, with the Drake alongside, boats crowded about in order to view the vessel which had captured another,--larger than herself. And, as the Ranger had taken three merchant ships on the way to the coast of France, the black eyes of the natives shone with beady lustre as they gazed upon the graceful hull of the victorious sloop-of-war from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

"See Monsieur Jones," said they, as they nudged each other. "Voil! Here is a man who is better than our own sailors. Look at this American sea-devil!"

And the chest of John Paul Jones swelled with pride.

Eager and active, the gallant Commodore was most unhappy during the next few months, for the Ranger was ordered back to America--under his Lieutenant Simpson. Twenty-seven of his crew, however, elected to remain and fight with him, when he should get another command,--among them a little Narragansett Indian called Antony Jeremiah.

"Me like to see big gun shoot," said he. "Me like to walk on deck of enemy's big boat when you take it! Byme-by we take bigger ship than Drake and kill heap more enemy! Ugh! Ugh!"

At this John Paul laughed.

"Antony Jeremiah," said he, "you shall witness one big fight if you stay with John Paul. You wait and see!"

And what John Paul had said soon came to pass.

"The French," writes the doughty warrior, "have little conception of an expedition such as I propose; to harry the coast and destroy the commerce of the enemy. Their idea is to leave all of that to privateers, of which I have already been offered a dozen commands. Some of the ships they fit out as privateers are really respectable frigates in size, and I have seen one, called the Monsieur, that mounts thirty-eight or forty guns. But I do not wish to engage in privateering. My object is not that of private gain, but to serve the public in a way that may reflect credit on our infant navy and give prestige to our country over the sea."

Noble sentiments--nobly expressed!

In spite of the gloomy outlook he at last secured a vessel from the King himself, called the Duras, which he re-christened "Le Bon Homme Richard"--"The Good Richard"--the name assumed by Dr. Benjamin Franklin when writing his famous "Almanack," except that he called him "Poor Richard." This was a well-merited compliment to the great and good man, who was then Commissioner from the United States to France, and a firm friend to the ardent John Paul. The vessel had forty guns, "and," writes the Minister of Marine, "as you may find too much difficulty in enlisting a sufficient number of Americans, the King permits you to levy French volunteers, until you obtain a full crew."

John Paul hastened to get her ready for a cruise. "I mounted twenty-eight long twelve-pounders on the gun-deck," he says, "put eight of the long nines on the quarter-deck, and discarded the six-pounders of her old battery. This gave her a battery of forty-two guns, throwing two hundred and fifty-eight pounds of metal in a single broadside. She was the fair equivalent of a thirty-six gun frigate."

From February to June she was worked over; refitted; resparred. On June 19th, 1779, the gallant John Paul Jones swung out into the English Channel; he, himself, in command of the Good Richard, which carried a crew of three hundred and seventy-five, not more than fifty of whom were Americans. Four other vessels were with him: the Alliance, a thirty-two gun frigate; the Pallas, a twenty-eight gun frigate; the Vengeance, a twelve gun brig; and the Cerf, a cutter.

On the second day out the Alliance fouled the Richard, causing so much damage to both, that the squadron was compelled to return to port for repairs, which--with other transactions--consumed six weeks. But the accident was a lucky one, for numerous American sailors, who were in English prisons, were shortly exchanged with English seamen in French dungeons; and thus Paul Jones was able to man the Good Richard with one hundred and fourteen native Americans, who were anxious to have a crack at those who had captured them but a short time before.

Finally, with refitted ships and reorganized crews, Paul Jones was ready to sail from the roadstead of Isle de Groaix, in the early part of August, 1779, bound upon his cruise around the British Islands. There were four ships in this squadron: the Good Richard; the Alliance, under Pierre Landais (a depraved and dishonest Frenchman); the Pallas, under Cottineau (an honest Frenchman); and the Vengeance, a sloop-of-war. The prevailing winds were light and baffling, so the squadron moved slowly.

War had been declared between France and England, and thus the English Channel was thronged with privateers from both countries. The Richard and a French privateer, in company, re-captured a large ship belonging to Holland, but bound from Barcelona to Dunkirk, France, which had been taken some days before by an English vessel off Cape Ortegal and ordered into Falmouth, England. England and Holland were still at peace, at this time, but the English claimed the right to intercept and send into their own port for examination, all neutral vessels bound to French ports, as England and France were then at war.

Commodore Jones took the English prize-crew out of the Dutch ship, as prisoners of war, and then ordered the ship into l'Orient in charge of her own crew, but under the command of one of his midshipmen, until she could come under the protection of a French port.

"Things are going well with us!" cried Captain Jones, rubbing his hands gleefully.

He soon felt much happier. For, on the morning of August 23rd, when in the vicinity of Cape Clear, the Richard sent three boats, and afterwards a fourth, to take a brig that was becalmed in the northwest quarter--just out of gun-shot. It proved to be the Fortune, of Bristol, bound from Newfoundland for her home-port with whale-oil, salt fish, and barrel staves. Manned by a prize-crew of two warrant officers and six men, she was sent to Nantes.

All were happy. All were looking forward to a good fight. It was to come to them.

The little fleet of war-dogs sailed northward, and, on September 1st, about ten o'clock in the morning, the northwest promontory of Scotland was sighted. At the same instant, two large ships bore in sight on the same quarter, and another vessel appeared to windward.

"Bear up! Bear up!" cried Jones.

The Richard held over toward the first two ships until he saw that it was the Alliance and a prize she had taken about daylight,--a vessel bound for Jamaica, from London.

"Now chase the other fellow!" he cried, turning the wheel with his own hands, and soon the Good Richard was bounding over the waves in hard pursuit of the second sail. Slowly but surely she was overhauled. Heavily armed, she did not surrender until after the exchange of several shots, which the Richard pumped into her, after running up close enough to show her broadside.

A boat soon carried a number of seamen to take possession of her, and she proved to be the British privateer, the Union, mounting twenty-two six-pounders, and bound northward from London to Quebec, in Canada, laden with a cargo of naval and military stores for the British troops and flotillas on the Lakes. The Union also carried a valuable mail, including dispatches for Sir William Howe, in New York, and Sir Guy Carleton, in Canada. "These were lost," writes John Paul to good Doctor Franklin, at Paris, for the Alliance imprudently showed American colours, though English colours were still flying on the Bon Homme Richard; "the enemy thereby being induced to throw his papers of importance overboard before we could take possession of him." The prizes were manned from the Alliance and sent (by Landais) into the seaport of Bergen, in Norway.

The squadron now beat down the east coast of Scotland, and, after capturing five or six small prizes, rounded-to off the Firth of Forth.

"I intend to attack the port of Leith!" cried Jones, "as I understand that it is defended only by a small guard-ship of twenty-two guns, and an old fortification (old Leith Fort) garrisoned by a detachment of Militia."

The wind was adverse, blowing off shore, with frequent heavy squalls, but about noon of the 17th of September, the Richard and the Pallas beat up within gun-shot of Leith Fort and were lowering away their tenders in order to land, when a heavy Northwest gale sprang up, compelling them to hoist their boats, and put to sea. The gale lasted about twenty-four hours, but, on the morning of the 19th, the wind took another turn, the sea grew calm, and Jones proposed to renew the attack upon Leith. The Commander of the Pallas made strong objection to this. "I do not believe that we should stay here," cried he. "If we persist in the attempt to remain on this station three days longer, we shall have a squadron of heavy frigates, if not a ship of line, to deal with. Convinced of this, I offer it as my judgment that we had better work along the shore to-day and to-morrow, as far as Spurn Head, and then, if we do not fall in with the Baltic merchant fleet, stand off the coast and make the best of our way to Dunkirk."

Commodore Jones spent a few moments in reflection. "You are probably right, Cottineau," said he. "I only wish that another man like you were in command of the Alliance. However, we cannot help what is and must make the best of it. Go aboard your ship and make sail to the south-southwest. Speak the Vengeance as you run down, and tell Ricot--her commander--to rendezvous off Spurn Head. I will bring up the rear with this ship. We may fall in with the Baltic fleet between here and Scarboro', which is usually their first English port of destination at this time of the year. Should you happen to sight the Alliance, inform Captain Landais of our destination, but do not communicate it to him as an order, because that would be likely to expose you only to insult."

The two ships turned South, and the next three days were without events of importance. At length they neared the harbour of Scarboro', and, as they hovered about twelve miles off the land, they saw some vessels making for the shore, and protecting a fleet of merchantmen.

"They're a heavy man-of-war--either a fifty-gun frigate, or a fifty-four--with a large ship-of-war in company," cried one of his Lieutenants, who had been watching them through a glass. "The Captain of the larger one has cleverly manoeuvred to protect his merchant ship."

Commodore Jones seemed to be much pleased.

"At last we'll have a little fight," cried he. "Bear hard for the land, and get between the larger vessel and the shore!"

Captain Cottineau was signalled to and requested to go after the sloop-of-war. About sundown the Richard succeeded in weathering the large frigate and manoeuvred between her and the land.

The ships neared each other very gradually, for the breeze was slight. They were on opposite tacks and Commodore Jones readily made out the force and rate of his antagonist. By the light of the dying day--for it was about seven P. M.--he saw that she was a new forty-four; a perfect beauty. It was the Serapis--Captain Richard Pearson commanding--but six months off the stocks and on her first cruise as a convoy to the Baltic fleet of merchantmen: consisting of about forty vessels laden with timber and other naval stores for the use of the British dockyards. Jones had hoped to have an opportunity to attack this flotilla, but his plans had been frustrated by the vigilance and skill of the commander of the men-of-war in convoy.

Even now Landais might have got among the merchantmen in the fast-sailing Alliance, while Jones and Cottineau occupied the attention of the two men-of-war; but the French officer did not have sufficient courage to tackle them, and kept well beyond striking distance.

The Captain of the Serapis stood upon the deck, intently gazing at the on-coming vessel.

"Gad Zooks!" he uttered. "From the size of her spars and her height out of water I take her to be a French fifty of the time of the last war. It's too dark for me to see whether she has any lower ports or not." He raised his night glasses to his eyes, and, in the light of the full moon which was now flooding the sea with a silvery haze, saw that his opponent was intent upon a fight.

"It is probably Paul Jones," said he, lowering the glasses. "If so--there's tight work ahead. What ship is that?" he cried out in loud tones.

No answer came from the dark hull of the Good Richard, but, as she swung nearer upon the rolling waves, suddenly a flash, a roar, and a sheet of flame belched from her side. The battle was on!

It was a struggle which has been talked of for years. It was a battle about which the world never seems to tire of reading. It was the battle which has made the name of John Paul Jones nautically immortal.

The two warriors of the deep were on the same tack, headed northwest, driven by a slight wind which veered to the westward. The sea was smooth, the sky was clear, the full moon was rising--the conditions for a night struggle were ideal.

Crash! Crash! Crash!

Broadside after broadside rolled and shrieked from ship to ship, as the air was filled with flying bits of iron.

Crash! Crash! Crash!

Travelling very slowly, for the wind was little more than sufficient to give them steering-way in the tide, the two antagonists drifted along for twenty minutes, at cable length (600 to 900 feet--about the distance of the 220 yard dash). But suddenly--Boom! an explosion sounded in the gun-room of the Good Richard. Two of her eighteen-pounders had blown up back of the trunnions; many of the crew lay dead and dying, the after part of the main gun-deck was shattered like a reed: Senior Midshipman and Acting Lieutenant John Mayrant--who had command of this battery--was severely wounded in the head by a fragment of one of the exploded shells, and was scorched by the blast of flame.

"Abandon your guns!" shouted First Lieutenant Dale, "and report with your remaining men to the main-deck battery!"

"All right!" answered Mayrant, as he bound a white kerchief around his bleeding head. "I'll be with you just as soon as I give them one more shot."

This he endeavoured to do, but not a gun could be touched off. "The old sixteen-pounders that formed the battery of the lower gun-deck, did no service whatever, except firing eight shots in all," writes John Paul Jones. "Two out of three of them burst at the first fire, killing almost all the men who were stationed to manage them."

The gunnery of the Good Richard was excellent. Though her battery was one-third lighter than that of the Serapis; though her gun-crews were composed--to a great extent--of French volunteers, who had never been at sea before--in quickness and rapidity of fire, the shells from the American fell just as accurately as did those from the Britisher; pointed and gauged by regular, trained English men-of-war seamen. The roar of belching cannon was deafening. The superior weight and energy of the British shot began to tell decisively against the sputtering twelve-pounders of the Richard, in spite of the fact that they were being served with quickness and precision. As the two battling sea-monsters drifted slowly along, a pall of sulphurous smoke hung over their black hulls, like a sheet of escaping steam. They were drawing nearer and nearer to each other.

It was now about a quarter to eight. Wounded and dying littered the decks of both Britisher and American, but the fight was to the death.

"Luff! Luff!" cried Captain Pearson, as the Richard began to forge near him. "Luff! Luff! and let fly with all guns at the water-line. Sink the Yankee Pirate!"

But Paul Jones was intent upon grappling with his adversary. Quickly jerking the tiller to one side, he shoved the Richard into the wind and endeavoured to run her--bows on--into the side of his opponent. The Serapis paid off, her stern swung to, and, before she could gather way, the Richard's jib-boom shot over her larboard quarter and into the mizzen rigging.

Jones was delighted.

"Throw out the grappling hooks!" cried he, in shrill tones. "Hold tight to the Britisher and be prepared to board!"

In an instant, many clawing irons spun out into the mizzen stays of the Serapis; but, though they caught, the lines holding them soon parted. The Serapis fell off and the Richard lurched ahead. Neither had been able to bring her broadsides to bear.

"We can't beat her by broadsiding," cried Jones. "We've got to board!"

Crash! Crash! Crash!

Again the cannon made the splinters fly. Again the two game-cocks spat at each other like angry cats, but, the fire from the Richard was far weaker than before.

Commodore Jones walked hastily to the gun-deck.

"Dick," said he to Lieutenant Dale, "this fellow's metal is too heavy for us at this business. He is hammering us all to pieces. We must close with him! We must get hold of him! Be prepared at any moment to abandon this place and bring what men you have left on the spar-deck--and give them the small arms for boarding when you come up."

Lieutenant Dale saluted.

"All right!" cried he. "I'll be with you in a jiffy, Commodore."

As Jones walked hastily to the main deck--the Lieutenant ran to the store-room and dealt out cutlasses, pistols and pikes, to the eager men. The deck was red with blood.

The worst carnage of all was at "number two" gun of the forward, starboard division. From the first broadside until the quarter-deck was abandoned, nineteen different men were on this gun, and, at this time, only one of the original crew remained. It was the little Indian, Antony Jeremiah; or, as his mates called him, "Red Cherry."

"Let me join you," he cried, as he saw Mayrant's boarding party. Seizing a cutlass and dirk, he stood beside the cluster of men, eager and keen to have a chance at the enemy. A soul of fire was that of the little savage--and now he had a splendid opportunity to indulge in the natural blood-thirst of his race, for an Indian loves a good fight, particularly when he is upon the winning side.

The vessels swung on slowly--the fire from the Serapis still strong and accurate; the sputtering volleys from the Richard growing weaker and weaker. Only three of the nine-pounders on the starboard quarter-deck were serviceable; the entire gun-deck battery was silent and abandoned.

"We have him," cheerfully cried Captain Pearson to one of his aides. "But, hello"--he continued, "what sail is that?"

As he spoke the Alliance came bounding across the waves, headed for the two combatants, and looking as if she were to speedily close the struggle.

"The fight is at an end," said Jones, jubilantly.

Imagine his astonishment, chagrin, and mortification! Instead of pounding the English vessel, the French ally discharged a broadside full into the stern of the Richard, ran off to the northward, close hauled, and soon was beyond gun-shot.

"Coward!" shouted John Paul, shaking his fist at the retreating ally. "I'll get even with you for this if it takes me twenty years!"

No wonder he was angered, for, with his main battery completely silenced, his ship beginning to sink, nearly half his crew disabled, his wheel shot away, and his consort firing into him, there remained but one chance of victory for John Paul Jones: to foul the enemy and board her.

Luckily a spare tiller had been fitted to the rudder stem of the Richard below the main tiller--before leaving port--because of the fear that the wheel would be disabled. The foresight of the Commodore had effected this; and now--by means of this extra steering-gear--the battered warrior-ship was enabled to make one, last, desperate lunge for victory. It was touch and go with John Paul Jones.

"I could distinctly hear his voice amid the crashing of musketry," says a seaman. "He was cheering on the French marines in their own tongue, uttering such imprecations upon the enemy as I have never before or since heard in French, or any other language. He exhorted them to take good aim, pointed out the object of their fire, and frequently took their loaded muskets from their hands in order to shoot them himself. In fact, towards the very last, he had about him a group of half a dozen marines who did nothing but load their firelocks and hand them to the Commodore; who fired them from his own shoulder, standing on the quarter-deck rail by the main topmast backstay."

Luck now came to the disabled Richard. A fortunate puff of wind struck and filled her sails, shooting her alongside of the growling Serapis, and to windward. The canvas of the Britisher flapped uselessly against her spars. She was blanketed and lost steering-way. In a moment the jib-boom of the English vessel ran over the poop-deck of the American ship. It was seized, grappled by a turn of small hawsers, and made fast to the mizzen-mast.

"She's ours!" cried John Paul Jones. "Seize that anchor and splice it down hard!"

As he spoke, the fluke of the starboard anchor of the Serapis hooked in the mizzen chains. It was lashed fast, and the Richard had been saved.

Rattle! Rattle! Crash! sounded the muskets of the French marines. The English tried to cut their anchor chains and get free, but all who attempted to sever these hawsers were struck dead by the accurate balls from the marksmen on the poop-deck and round-house of the Richard.

"I demand your surrender!" shouted Pearson.

"Surrender?" cried John Paul Jones. "Why, I am just beginning to fight!"

Then he turned to John Mayrant, who stood ready to rush across the hammock-nettings into the waist of the enemy's ship. Twenty-seven sailors were nearby, each with a cutlass and two ship's pistols.

"Board 'em!" he cried.


"They Swarmed Into The Forecastle Amidst Fierce Cheers."
(From an old print)

Over the rail went the seamen--monkey-wise--over the rail, John Mayrant leading with a dirk in his teeth, like a Bermuda pirate. They swarmed into the forecastle amidst fierce cheers, the rattle of musketry, and the hiss of flames. Just at the moment that John Mayrant's feet struck the enemy's deck, a sailor thrust a boarding-pike through the fleshy part of his right thigh. Crack! a pistol spat at him, and he fell prostrate.

"Remember Portsea jail! Remember Portsea jail!" cried the dauntless raider, rushing down into the forecastle with his wild, yelping sailors. Pearson stood there; crest-fallen--abashed.

Seizing the ensign-halyards of the Serapis, as the raging torrent of seamen rolled towards him, the brave English sea-captain hauled the flag of his ship to the deck.

The Richard had won!

"He has struck; stop firing! Come on board and take possession!" yelled Mayrant, running to the rail.

Lieutenant Dale heard him, and, swinging himself on the side of the Serapis, made his way to the quarter-deck, where Captain Pearson was standing. "I have the honor, sir, to be the first Lieutenant of the vessel alongside," said he saluting. "It is the American Continental ship Bon Homme Richard, under command of Commodore Paul Jones. What vessel is this?"

"His Britannic Majesty's late man-of-war the Serapis, sir," was the sad response, "and I am Captain Richard Pearson."

"Pardon me, sir," said the American officer, "in the haste of the moment I forgot to inform you that my name is Richard Dale and I must request you to pass on board the vessel alongside."

Pearson nodded dejectedly.

As he did so, the first Lieutenant of the Serapis came up from below, and, looking at Captain Pearson, asked,

"Has the enemy struck, sir?"

"No, sir! I have struck!" was the sad reply.

"Then, I will go below and order our men to cease firing," continued the English Lieutenant.

But Lieutenant Dale interrupted.

"Pardon me, sir," said he, "I will attend to that; and, as for yourself, please accompany Captain Pearson on board the ship alongside."

With reluctant steps the two officers clambered aboard the battered Good Richard, where Commodore Jones received them with much courtesy.

Bowing low, Captain Pearson offered him his sword. His first Lieutenant did likewise.

"Captain Pearson," said the victorious John Paul, "you have fought heroically. You have worn this weapon to your own credit and to the honor of your service. I hope that your sovereign will suitably reward you."

The British commander was the image of chagrin and despair. He bowed again, and then walked slowly into the cabin, followed by his crest-fallen Lieutenant.

It was nearly midnight. The full moon above--in a cloudless sky--made it almost as light as day. Seven feet of water were in the hold of the Richard; she had sunk so much that many shot-holes were below the water-line and could not be plugged. Nearly sixty of her crew lay dead upon her decks; more than a hundred and twenty were desperately wounded. Every twelve-pounder of the starboard broadside was either dismounted, or disabled. The starboard side, which had been opposite the Serapis's eighteen-pounders, was driven so far in, that, but for a few frames and stanchions which remained, the whole gun-deck would have fallen through. She was afire, and the flames licked upward with an eager hiss.

"Take the wounded aboard the Serapis!" commanded Captain Jones. "We must desert our good ship!"

In an hour's time all were upon the deck of the vanquished Britisher. No one was left on the Richard but the dead. The torn and tattered flag was still flying from the gaff, and, as the battered sea-warrior gradually settled in the long swell, the unconquered ensign fluttered defiantly in the slight breeze. At length the Bon Homme Richard plunged downward by the head; her taffrail rose momentarily on high, and, with a hoarse roar of eddying bubbles and sucking air, the conqueror disappeared from view. To her immortal dead was bequeathed the flag which they had so desperately defended.

*       *       *       *       *

So ended the great battle. Thus Paul Jones had made his name immortal. And by it he was to be known for all time.

This was not the end of his career, by any means. He never again fought for the infant Republic of the United States. But he became an Admiral in the Russian Navy: battled valorously for the great Empress Catherine against the Turks, and died in Paris, July 18th, 1792.

Buried at the French capital, his body was disinterred in the year 1905, and brought to the United States, to be entombed with military honours, at Annapolis, Maryland.

Paul Jones loved brave men. The braver they were the more he loved them. When he went ashore and happened to meet his old sailors--every one of whom he knew and called by his first name--they seldom failed to strip his pockets of the last shilling. He was generous to a fault and faithful to his friends. His time, his purse, his influence were always at the call of those who had served under him. A typical sea-dog: a brave fighter,--

Then, why not give three times three for John Paul Jones?

Are you ready?

Note that the copyright on this eBook has expired and it is free to copy.


Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2016