John Paul Jones
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. "Voilą! 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.
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?
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