John Paul Jones

JOHN PAUL JONES was born at Arbingland, in Scotland, July 6th 1747. His father was a gardener, whose name was Paul; but the son assumed that of Jones in subsequent life, for what reason is not known. Young Paul early evinced a decided predilection for the sea, and, at the age of 12, was bound apprentice to a respectable merchant of Whitehaven, in the American trade. His first voyage was to America, where his elder brother was established as a planter. He was then, engaged for some time in the slave-trade, but quitted it in disgust, and returned to Scotland, in 1768, as passenger in a vessel, the captain and mate of which died on the passage. Jones assumed the command, at the request of those on board, and brought the vessel safe into port. For this service, he was appointed by the owners master and supercargo. While in command of this vessel, he punished a sailor who afterwards died of a fever at the island of Tobago - a circumstance which gave rise to an accusation against Jones, of having caused his death, by the severity of the punishment upon him; but this has been completely refuted. Jones was afterwards in command of the Betsy, of London, and remained some time in the West Indies, engaged in commercial pursuits and speculations, by which it is said he realized a handsome fortune. In 1773, he was residing in Virginia, arranging the affairs of his brother, who had died intestate and childless, and about this time took the name of Jones. In Virginia he continued to live until, the commencement of the struggle between the colonies and mother country. He offered his services to the former, and was appointed first of the first lieutenants, and designated to the Alfred, on board of which ship, to u se his own language in one of his letters, 'he had the honor to hoist, with his own hands, the flag of freedom, the first time it was displayed on the Delaware.' Soon after this, we find Jones in command of the Providence, mounting 12 four-pounders, with a complement of 70 men, cruising from the Bermudas to the Gut of Canso, and making 16 prizes in little more than six weeks. In May, 1777, he was ordered to proceed to France, where the American commissioners, Franklin, Deane and Lee, were directed to invest him with the command of a fine ship, as a reward of his signal services. On his arrival in France, he was immediately summoned to Paris by the commissioners. The object of this summons was to concert a plan of operations for the force preparing to act against the British in the West Indies, and on the coast of America. This plan, which certainly did great honor to the projector, though untoward delays and accidents prevented its immediate success, was afterwards openly claimed by Jones as his own, without acknowledging the assistance or participation of the American commissioners or the French ministry. The Ranger was then placed under his orders, with discretion to cruise where he pleased, with this restriction, however, that he was not to return to France immediately after making attempts upon the coasts of England, as the French government had not yet declared itself openly as the ally of the U. States. April 10th 1778 he sailed on a cruise, during which he laid open the weakness of the British coast. With a single ship, he kept the whole coast of Scotland, and part of that of England, for some time, in a state of alarm, and made a descent at Whitehaven, where he surprised and took two forts, with 30 pieces of cannon, and set fire to the shipping. In this attack upon Whitehaven, the house of the earl of Selkirk, in whose service the father of Jones had been gardener, was plundered, and the family plate carried off. But the act was committed without his knowledge, and he afterwards made the best atonement in his power. After his return to Brest with 200 prisoners of war, he 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, Jones sailed from the road of St. Croix, August 14th, 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 23d, 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 acme. In a letter to him, Franklin says, 'For some days after the arrival of your express, scarce any thing 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 strong 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 every where caressed; the king presented him with a gold sword, bearing the inscription, Vindicati maris Ludovicus XVI remuneratur strenuo vindici, 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 U. States, and arrived in Philadelphia February 18 of that year, after a variety of escapes and rencounters, where he underwent a sort of examination before the board of admirality, 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.' Congress 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 conclusion of peace, which put a period to his naval career in the service of the U. 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 Led yard. In Paris, he continued to be treated with the greatest distinction. He afterwards was invited into the Russian service, with the rank of rearadmiral, where he was disappointed in not receiving the command of the fleet acting against the Turks in the Black sea. He found fault with 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 Catharine, to retire from the service with a pension, which was never paid. He returned to Paris, where he gradually sunk into poverty, neglect, and ill health, until his death, which was occasioned by jaundice and dropsy, July 18th 1792. His last public act was heading a deputation of Americans, who appeared before the national assembly to offer their congratulations on the glorious and salutary reform of their government. This was before the flight of the king. Jones was a man of signal talent and courage; he conducted all his operations with the most daring boldness, combined with the keenest sagacity in calculating the chances of success and the consequences of defeat was, however, of an irritable, impetuous disposition, which rendered him impatient of the authority of his superiors, while he was, at the same time, harsh in the exercise of his own; and he was deficient in that modesty which adorns great qualities and distinguished actions, while it disarms envy and conciliates jealousy. His early education was of a very limited kind. It terminated when he went to sea, at the age of twelve, but he supplied its defects by subsequent study, so as to enable himself to write with fluency, strength and clearness, and to sustain his part respectably in the polished society into which he was thrown. In his letters, he inculcates the necessity of knowledge for naval officers, and intimates that he had devoted 'midnight studies' to the attainment of that information which he deemed requisite in his situation. His memorials, correspondence, etc., are quite voluminous. He also wrote poetry, and in Paris was a great pretender to ton, as a man of fashion, especially after his victory over the Serapis, which, of course, gave him great eclat amongst the ladies of the French capital. At this period, he is described by an English lady then resident of Paris, as 'a smart little man of thirty-six; speaks but little French, and appears to be an extraordinary genius, a poet as well as a hero.' An account of his life has been written by J. H. Sherburne (Washington, 1828).