Paul Jones

This  hero of the American Revolution was born on the 6th of July, 1747, on the estate of Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean, Scotland. His father was a gardener, whose name was Paul, but the son assumed that of Jones, after his settlement in America. The birthplace of young Paul was a bold promontory, jutting into the sea, and was well calculated to excite a love of the briny element, for which he soon displayed a decided predilection.

At the age of twelve, he was bound apprentice to a merchant of Whitehaven, in the American trade. He soon after went to sea, in a vessel bound for Virginia. While in port, he spent his time on shore with his brother William, who was a respectable planter in the colony. He devoted himself to the study of navigation and other subjects connected with the profession he had chosen. These he pursued with great steadiness, displaying those habits of industrious application, which raised him to the distinguished place he afterwards attained. His good conduct secured him the respect of his employers, and he rose rapidly in his profession.

At the age of nineteen, he had become the chief mate of the Two Friends, a slave ship, belonging to Jamaica. At this period, the traffic in slaves was exceedingly profitable, and was followed without scruple or reproach by the most respectable merchants of Bristol and Liverpool. But young Paul had pursued this business for only a short time, when he became so shocked and sickened at the misery which it inflicted upon the negroes, that he left it forever in disgust.

In 1768, he sailed from Jamaica for Scotland, as a passenger. Both the master and mate dying of fever on the voyage, he assumed the command, and arrived safely at port. Gratified by his conduct, the owners placed him on board the brig John, as master and supercargo, and despatched him to the West Indies. He made a second voyage in the same vessel, during which he inflicted punishment on the carpenter, named Maxwell, for mutinous conduct. As Maxwell died of fever, soon after, Paul was charged, by persons who envied his rising reputation, with having caused his death by excessive punishment. This has been since abundantly disproved. Paul continued some time in the West India trade, but in 1773, he went to Virginia to arrange the affairs of his brother William, who had died without children, leaving no will. His brother was reported to have left a large estate; but as Paul was, soon after, in a state of penury, it is probable that this was a mistake. He now devoted himself to agriculture, but his planting operations do not seem to have prospered.

The American Revolution soon broke out, and considering himself a settled resident of the country, he determined to take her part in the bloody struggle which was about to follow. Impelled by a noble enthusiasm for the cause of liberty, a spirit of adventure, and a chivalrous thirst for glory, he offered his services to Congress, which were accepted, and he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the navy, in December, 1775. At this time, he bore the name of Jones, which he had perhaps assumed to conceal his conduct from his family, who might be pained to know that one of their name had taken part against England.

Jones was appointed first lieutenant of the Alfred, a flag-ship, and when the commander-in-chief came on board, he hoisted the American flag, with his own hands, being the first time it was ever displayed. At that time, the flag is said to have borne a device, representing a pine tree, with a rattlesnake coiled at the root, as if about to strike. The standard of the stars and stripes was not adopted till nearly two years later.

At this period, our hero was in the twenty-ninth year of his age. His figure was light, graceful and active, yet his health was good, his constitution vigorous, and he was capable of great endurance. There was in his countenance an expression of mingled sternness and melancholy, and his bearing was decidedly officer-like.

The first American squadron fitted out during the revolution, sailed in 1776. Jones was on board the Alfred in this expedition, but subsequently received the command of the sloop of war Providence. In this he cruised along the coast, meeting with a variety of adventures, in which he displayed admirable skill and coolness of conduct. On one occasion, he was chased by the British frigate Milford, off the Isle of Sable. Finding his vessel the faster of the two, he hovered near the frigate, yet beyond the reach of her shot. She, however, continued to pour forth her broadsides. This excited the contempt of Jones, and, with a humor peculiar to himself, he ordered the blustering battery of the frigate to be answered by a single shot from the musket of a marine.

Jones pursued his career with great industry and success. He seemed to glide over the seas like a hawk, passing rapidly from point to point, and pouncing upon such prey as he could master. Some of his feats resemble the prodigies of the days of chivalry. He seemed to court adventure and to sport with danger, yet a cool discretion presided over his conduct. In the year 1776, he captured no less than sixteen prizes in the space of six weeks.

Notwithstanding these signal services, Jones was superseded in the command of the Alfred, probably through the mean jealousy of Commodore Hopkins. There is, perhaps, no higher proof of elevation of character than is furnished by a calm and dignified endurance of injustice and ingratitude. This evidence was afforded by Jones, who, while he remonstrated against the injury that was done him, steadily adhered to the cause he had espoused, and exerted his abilities to the utmost to bear it forward with success. His letters of this period are full of enlightened views on the subject of naval affairs, and of hearty zeal in the cause of liberty. They show that his mind was far above mere personal considerations, and that even with statesman-like sagacity he looked forward to the establishment of a naval power in the United States, suited to the exigencies of the country.

The time for a recognition of his services speedily arrived. In 1777, he received orders from Congress to proceed in the French merchant ship Amphitrite, with officers and seamen, to take command of a heavy ship, to be provided for him by the American commissioners, Franklin, Dean and Lee, on his arrival in Europe. These he met at Paris, and arrangements were made by which he received the command of the Ranger, in which he sailed from Brest, on the 10th of April, 1778.

An insight into the views of Jones, at this period, as well as his general character, may be gathered from the following extract from one of his letters:—"I have in contemplation several enterprises of some importance. When an enemy thinks a design against him improbable, he can always be surprised and attacked with advantage. It is true, I must run great risk, but no gallant action was ever performed without danger. Therefore, though I cannot ensure success, I will endeavor to deserve it."

In fulfilment of these views, he set sail, and in four days after, captured and burnt a brigantine loaded with flaxseed, near Cape Clear. On the 17th, he took a ship bound for Dublin, which he manned and ordered to Brest. On the 19th, he took and sunk a schooner; on the 20th, a sloop; and soon after, made a daring, but unsuccessful attempt to capture, by surprise, the English sloop of war Drake, of twenty guns, lying in the loch of Belfast.

On the 22d, he determined to attack Whitehaven, with which he was of course well acquainted. The number of ships lying here amounted to two hundred and fifty, and were protected by two batteries, mounting thirty pieces of artillery. The attack was made in the dead of night, and while the unsuspecting inhabitants lay wrapped in repose. Roused to this daring enterprise by the fires, massacres, and ravages inflicted by the British forces upon the unprotected inhabitants of the American coast, and determined to check them by one signal and fearful act of retaliation, Jones pursued his measures with a stern and daring hand.

He proceeded, in the first place, to secure the forts, which were scaled, the soldiers made prisoners, and the guns spiked. He now despatched the greater portion of his men to set fire to the shipping, while he proceeded with a single follower to another fort, the guns of which he spiked. On returning to the ships, he found, to his mortification, that his orders had not been obeyed, from a reluctance, on the part of the seamen, to perform the task assigned them. One ship only was destroyed, which was set on fire by Jones himself.

Greatly disappointed at the partial failure of his scheme, Jones proceeded to the Scottish shore, for the purpose of carrying off the person of the Earl of Selkirk, whose gardener his father had been. The earl, however, was absent, and this part of the design failed. His men, however, proceeded to the earl's residence, and carried off his plate. Lady Selkirk was present, but she was treated with respect. Jones took no part in this enterprise, and only consented to it upon the urgent demands of his crew.

By this time, the people on both sides of the Irish channel were thoroughly roused by the daring proceedings of the Ranger. On the morning of the 24th April, Jones was hovering near Belfast, and the Drake worked out of the bay, to meet him. She had on board a large number of volunteers, making her crew amount to one hundred and sixty men. Alarm smokes were now seen rising on both sides of the channel, and several vessels loaded with people, curious to witness the coming engagement, were upon the water. As evening was approaching, however, they prudently put back.

Soon after, the two vessels met, and Jones poured in his first broadside. This was returned with energy, and a fearful conflict ensued. Running broadside and broadside, the most deadly fire was kept up. At last, after the struggle had been sustained at close quarters for more than an hour, the captain of the Drake was shot through the head, and his crew called for quarter. The loss of the Drake, in killed and wounded, was forty-two, while the Ranger had one seaman killed and seven wounded.

This victory was the more remarkable as the Drake carried twenty guns, and the Ranger but eighteen, and moreover belonged to a regular navy; while the Ranger was fitted up with little experience and under few advantages. Jones now set sail with his prize, and both vessels arrived safely at Brest, on the 8th May. Immediately after, Jones despatched a very romantic epistle to Lady Selkirk, apologizing for the violence that had been committed at the estate of the earl, and explaining the motives of his conduct. He promised to return the plate, which he afterwards accomplished with infinite difficulty.

It eventually reached England, though some years after, in the same condition in which it had been taken; even the tea leaves in the tea-pot remaining as they were found. An acknowledgment of its receipt, by the earl, was sent to Jones, with a recognition of the courteous behavior of the Ranger's crew when they landed on Saint Mary's Isle.

Being now at Brest with two hundred prisoners of war, Jones became involved in a variety of troubles, for want of means to support them, pay his crew and refit his ship. After many delays and vexations, he sailed from the road of Saint Croix, August 14, 1779, with a squadron of seven sail, designing to annoy the coasts of England and Scotland. The principal occurrence of this cruise was the capture of the British ship of war Serapis, after a bloody and desperate engagement, off Flamborough Head, September 23, 1779. The Serapis was a vessel much superior in force to Jones' vessel, the Bon Homme Richard, which sunk not long after the termination of the engagement.

The sensation produced by this battle was unexampled, and raised the fame of Jones to its height. In a letter to him, Franklin says, "For some days after the arrival of your express, scarce anything was talked of at Paris and Versailles but your cool conduct and persevering bravery during that terrible conflict. You may believe that the impression on my mind was not less than on that of the others. But I do not choose to say, in a letter to yourself, all I think on such an occasion."

His reception at Paris, whither he went on the invitation of Franklin, was of the most flattering kind. He was everywhere caressed; the king presented him with a gold sword, and requested permission of Congress to invest him with the military order of merit—an honor never conferred on any one before, who had not borne arms under the commission of France.

In 1781, Jones sailed for the United States, and arrived in Philadelphia, February 18, of that year, after a variety of escapes and encounters, where he underwent a sort of examination before the board of admiralty, which resulted greatly to his honor. The board gave it as their opinion, "that the conduct of Paul Jones merits particular attention, and some distinguished mark of approbation from Congress." That body accordingly passed a resolution highly complimentary to his "zeal, prudence, and intrepidity." General Washington wrote him a letter of congratulation, and he was afterwards voted a gold medal by Congress.

From Philadelphia, he went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to superintend the building of a ship of war, and, while there, drew up some admirable observations on the subject of the American navy. By permission of Congress, he subsequently went on board the French fleet, where he remained until the peace, which put a period to his naval career in the service of the United States. He then went to Paris as agent for prize money, and while there, joined in a plan to establish a fur-trade between the north-west coast of America and China, in conjunction with a kindred spirit, the celebrated John Ledyard.

In Paris he continued to be treated with the greatest distinction. He afterwards was invited into the Russian service, with the rank of rear-admiral, where he was disappointed in not receiving the command of the fleet acting against the Turks in the Black Sea. He condemned the conduct of the prince of Nassau, the admiral; became restless and impatient; was intrigued against at court, and calumniated by his enemies; and had permission from the empress Catherine to retire from the service with a pension, which, however, was never paid. He returned to Paris, where he gradually sunk into poverty, neglect and ill health, and finally died of dropsy, July 18, 1792.