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Paul Jones, the popular naval hero of the Revolution, the son of John Paul, a gardener in Scotland, was born July 6, 1747, at a cottage on the estate of his father's employer, Mr. Craik, at Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean. His parents belonged to a respectable class of the population of the country. The boy, as is wont with Scottish boys, however humble, received the elements of education, but could not have advanced very far with his books, since we find him at the age of twelve apprenticed to the sea. The situation of Kirkbean, on the shore of the Solway, naturally gave a youth of spirit an inclination to life on the ocean; and he had not far to seek for employment in the trading-port of Whitehaven, in the opposite county of Cumberland. Paul's first adventure--the appendix of Jones was an after-thought of his career--was in the service of Mr. Younger, a merchant in the American trade, who sent his apprentice on a voyage to Virginia, where an elder brother of Paul had profitably established himself at Fredericksburg. This gave him an early introduction to the country with which the fame of the future soldier of fortune was to be especially identified.
Paul Jones and Lady Selkirk.
It took some time to prepare the Ranger for sea, but Jones got off on his adventure in November, made a couple of prizes by the way, and at the end of a month reached Nantes. Disappointed in obtaining the large vessel which he expected, and obliged to be contented with the Ranger, he employed his time in making acquaintance with the French navy at Quiberon Bay, and offering valuable suggestions for the employment of D'Estaing's fleet on the American coast. He soon determined to put to sea on an adventure of spirit. On April 10, 1778, he sailed from Brest on a cruise in British waters. Directing his course to the haunts of his youth, he captured a brigantine off Cape Clear, and a London ship in the Irish Channel; planned various bold adventures on the Irish coast, which he was not able to carry out from adverse influences of wind and tide, but well-nigh succeeded in burning a large fleet of merchantmen in the docks of Whitehaven. In this last adventure, he made a landing at night, and advanced to the capture of the town-batteries, leaving his officers to fire the ships, of which there were about two hundred in the port. His orders were not obeyed, either from insufficient preparations or the relenting of his agents, when he himself set fire to one of the largest of the vessels. It was now day, and the people were warned by a deserter from his force, but Jones managed to hold the whole town at bay till he made good his retreat. This daring affair was an impromptu of Jones's genius, justified in his view by similar depredations of the British on the American coast; but it had an ugly look of ingratitude to the place which had sheltered his youth, and first given him promotion in the world.
Nor was this all. He immediately crossed to his native shore of Scotland, with the intention of seizing the Earl of Selkirk, at his seat on the promontory of St. Mary's Isle, on the Solway, near Kirkcudbright. Landing at the spot he ascertained that the earl was from home. Disappointed in his object, he would have returned, when the officers in his boat insisted upon a demand for the family plate. Jones demurred, but yielded with the proviso that the thing was to be done in the most delicate manner possible. His lieutenant, Simpson, undertook the business, and introduced himself to Lady Selkirk, who was, conveniently enough for his purposes, engaged at breakfast. She had at first taken the party for a press-gang, and had offered them refreshments; on being informed of the nature of their visit, their request, backed by the armed crew at the door, was complied with.
It is said that Jones apologized personally to Lady Selkirk, and we shall presently find him, at the first interval of leisure, taking measures to repair the act. For the moment, however, he had more serious work on hand. In his upward voyage along the Irish coast, he had looked into Belfast Lough, after his Majesty's sloop-of-war Drake, of twenty guns, which he attempted to board in a night attack by a bold manoeuvre, which came within an ace of success. Immediately after the affair of St. Mary's, he ran across the channel and had the fortune to meet the Drake coming out of Carrickfergus. She was getting to sea to check the exploits of the Ranger, which had now alarmed the whole region. Jones desired nothing more than an encounter. As the ship drew up she hailed the Ranger. Jones gave the reply through his sailing-master: "The American continental ship Ranger. We are waiting for you. Come on. The sun is little more than an hour high, and it is time to begin!" A broadside engagement commenced, and continued at close quarters for an hour, when the Drake surrendered. Her captain and first lieutenant were mortally wounded, her sails and rigging terribly cut up, and hull much shattered. The loss of the Ranger was 2 killed and 6 wounded; that of the Drake, 42. The Drake had two guns the advantage of her adversary. The action took place on April 24th; on May 8th, Jones having traversed the channel, carried his prize safely into Brest.
His first thought now was to make some amends to Lady Selkirk and his own reputation for the plundering visit of his lieutenant. He therefore addressed to her, the very day of his landing, an extraordinary letter--Jones was fond of letter-writing--full of high-sounding phrases, and professions of gallantry and esteem, in the midst of which he failed not to recite the splendid victory of the Ranger. He drew a picture of the terrors inflicted by the British in America; and in respect to that unfortunate plate, expressed his intention to purchase it, in the sale of the prize, and restore it at his own expense to the family. This, after delays and obstacles, he finally accomplished some years later, when we are told it was all returned as it was taken, the very tea-leaves of the parting breakfast clinging to the tea-pot.
The affair of the Ranger, so brilliantly conducted, the short, energetic cruise in narrow seas, so near the British naval stations, gave Jones a great reputation for gallantry in Paris. The delays and difficulties, however, incidental to the wretched state of the American finances abroad, and the imperfect relation of his country with the French court, were well calculated to cool any enthusiasm excited by his conquest; and a man of less vivacity and perseverance than Jones might have dropped the service. He persevered. His lieutenant, Simpson, after various refractory proceedings, had sailed home in the Ranger, when an arrangement was finally made with Le Ray de Chaumont, the negotiator of the French court, to furnish a jointly equipped and officered fleet, of which Jones was to take command. Five vessels were thus provided, including the American frigate Alliance. An old Indiaman, the Duke de Duras, fell to the lot of Jones. In compliment to Dr. Franklin, one of the commissioners, and especially in gratitude for a hint which he had accidentally lighted upon in an odd number of that philosopher's almanac, to the effect that whoever would have his business well done must do it himself--a suggestion by which Jones had greatly profited in giving a final spur to his protracted negotiations--he changed the name of his vessel, by permission of the French Government, to the Bon Homme Richard.
Jones at length set sail, on August 14th, with his squadron. Landais, an incompetent Frenchman in the American service, was in command of the Alliance. It was altogether a weak, mongrel affair. The Bon Homme Richard was unseaworthy, her armament was defective, and in her motley crew Englishmen and foreigners outnumbered the Americans. The plan of the cruise was to sail round the British Islands from the westward. At Cape Clear the commander parted with two of the smaller vessels of the squadron, which now consisted of his own ship, the Alliance, the Pallas, and the Vengeance. The service was, however, far more impaired by the insubordination of Landais, who evinced great jealousy of his superior. Several prizes were taken, one of them by Jones off Cape Wrath, at the extremity of Scotland. Traversing the eastern coast, he arrived, with the Pallas and the Vengeance, at the Firth of Forth, and entertained the bold idea of attacking the armed vessels at the station, and putting not only Leith, but possibly the capital, Edinburgh itself, under contribution. He would certainly have made the attempt--indeed, it was in full progress--when it was defeated by a violent gale of wind.
Jones now continued his course southwardly, casting longing eyes upon Hull and Newcastle, when, having been joined by the Alliance, the squadron suddenly, off Flamborough Head, fell in with the Baltic cruisers, the Serapis, forty-four. Captain Pearson, and the Countess of Scarborough, twenty, Captain Piercy, convoying a fleet of merchantmen. Jones at once prepared for action. The combat which ensued, between the Serapis and the Bon Homme Richard, is one of the most remarkable in the annals of naval warfare, for the circumstances under which it was fought, the persistence of the contest, and the well-matched valor of the commanders. The engagement was by moonlight, on a tranquil sea, within sight of the shore, which was crowded with spectators, who thronged the promontory of Flamborough Head and the piers of Scarborough. After various preliminary manoeuvres on the part of the English commander to shelter the merchantmen, the engagement began at half-past seven in the evening, with a series of attempts of the Bon Homme Richard to come to close quarters with her antagonist. At the first broadside of Jones's vessel, two of the old eighteen-pounders mounted in her gun-room burst, with fearful destruction to the men. This accident compelled the closing of the lower ports, and produced a still greater inequality between the combatants than at the start, for the Serapis was not only a well-constructed, well-furnished man-of-war, thoroughly equipped, while the Bon Homme Richard had even-disadvantage in these respects: but the absolute weight of metal was, at the outset, greatly in favor of the Englishman. The Richard then passed to windward of the Serapis, receiving her fire, which did much damage to the rotten hull of the old Indiaman. Jones next attempted a movement to get into position to rake his antagonist from stem to stern, which resulted in a momentary collision. There was an effort to board the Serapis, which was repulsed, when Captain Pearson called out, "Has your ship struck?" and Jones instantly replied, "I have not yet begun to fight." The ships then separating, were brought again to a broadside encounter, when Jones, feeling the superior force of the Serapis, and her better sailing, was fully prepared to take advantage of the next position as the ships fell foul of one another, to grapple with his opponent. He himself assisted in lashing the jib-stay of the Serapis to the mizzenmast of the Richard.
The ships became now closely entangled for their full length on their starboard sides; so near were they together, that the guns of one touched the sides of the other, and in some places where the port-holes met, the guns were loaded by passing the rammers into the opposite vessel. Every discharge in this position was of course most deadly, and told fearfully upon the rotten hull of the Richard. To add to Jones's embarrassment, he was repeatedly fired upon by Landais, from the Alliance, which always kept her position with the Richard between her and the enemy. This extraordinary circumstance is only to be accounted for by an entire lack of presence of mind in the confusion, or by absolute treachery. The Serapis poured in her fire below from a full battery, while the Richard was confined to three guns on deck. She had efficient aid, however, in clearing the deck of the Serapis, from the musketry and hand-grenades of her men in the tops. One of these missiles reached the lower gun-deck of the Serapis, and there setting fire to a quantity of exposed cartridges, produced a destruction of life, an offset to the fearful loss of the Richard by the bursting of her guns in the opening of the engagement. The injury to the Richard, from the wounds inflicted upon her hull, was at this time so great that she was pronounced to be sinking, and there was a cry among the men of surrender; not, however, from Jones, who was as much himself at this extremity as ever. Seeing the English prisoners, who had been released below, more than a hundred in number, rushing upon deck, where in a moment they might have leaped into the Serapis, and put themselves under then country's flag, he coolly set them to working the pumps, to save the sinking ship. Human courage and resolution have seldom been more severely tried than in the exigencies of this terrible night on board the Richard. Jones continued to ply his feeble cannonade from the deck, levelled at the mainmast of the adversary. Both vessels were on fire, when, at half-past ten, the Serapis struck.
The loss in this extraordinary engagement, which outstrips and exaggerates the usual vicissitudes of naval service, was of course fearful. The entire loss of the Richard is estimated by Cooper at one hundred and fifty, nearly one-half of all the men she had engaged. Captain Pearson reported at least one hundred and seventeen casualties. The Bon Homme Richard was so riddled by the enemy's fire, and disembowelled by the gun-room explosion, that she could not be saved from sinking. When the wind freshened, the day after the victory, she became no longer tenable; her living freight was taken from her, and Jones, in the forenoon of the 25th, "with inexpressible grief," saw her final plunge into the depths of the ocean.
While the engagement of the Richard and Serapis was going on, the Pallas, better officered than the Alliance, captured the other English vessel, the Countess of Scarborough. The two prizes were carried to the Texel, where the squadron enjoyed the uneasy protection of Holland. Jones himself had a more satisfactory reception in an enthusiastic greeting on the Exchange at Amsterdam, and a brilliant triumph, illuminated by the smiles of the fair sex, shortly after in Paris. In October, 1780, he left for America in the Ariel, bearing with him a gift from the king, a gold-mounted sword, with the inscription on the blade: Vindicati Maris Ludovicus XVI. Remunerator Strenuo Vindici--"Louis XVI., rewarder, to the valiant defender of a liberated sea." The voyage was interrupted, at its outset, by a severe storm off the harbor, in which Jones displayed his usual heroism. The vessel was refitted, and after a partial action on the high seas with a mysterious stranger, reached Philadelphia in February, 1781.
In 1787 he left America with the intention of serving under Louis. When he reached Paris, he was met by a proposition to enter the service of Catherine of Russia, in which he was induced to engage by prospects of rank and glory. On his journey to St. Petersburg, he had a characteristic adventure in his passage from Stockholm to Revel, which he made while the navigation was interrupted by ice, traversing the sea, with great hardihood, in an open boat, extorting the labors of the boatmen by his threats of violence. He was well received by the Empress, who forwarded him to Potemkin, then in command on the Black Sea, in a war with the Turks. It is not necessary to recount the movements of a small squadron, with a divided command and jealous counsels, presided over by a whimsical, despotic court favorite. Many as were the vexations encountered by Jones in the inefficient resources, the shifts and expedients of foreign allies, and the straits of the American commissioners, they were light compared with the stifling restraints of Russian tyranny. Jones did much fighting, in his command of the Wolodomer, on the Black Sea, against the Pasha, but retired with little glory. Persecution followed at St. Petersburg--there was an assault upon his moral character, which was triumphantly disproved--various projects flitted through his teeming mind, and his connection with the country closed after a residence of fifteen months. It is sad to watch the last years of Paul Jones, not, indeed, of age, but of growing weariness and disease, as he renews his broken Russian hopes, and revives the old, faded, pecuniary claims on the French court. A gleam of sunshine appears in his aspirations to serve his country--for he still looked across the Atlantic--in the removal of the chains from the American sailors imprisoned at Algiers. His country listened to his cry; he was charged to treat with the Regency for their ransom, but before the commission reached him, he had passed to that land where the weary cease from sighing, and prisoners are at rest. Here, with Mercy bending over the scene, let the curtain fall. Paul Jones died at Paris, at the age of forty-five, of a dropsical affection, July 18, 1792.
The person of Paul Jones is well known by the numerous prints devoted to his brilliant exploits. You will see him, a little active man of medium height, not robust but vigorous, a keen black eye, lighting a dark, weather-beaten visage, compact and determined, with a certain melancholy grace.
He was one of nature's self-made men; that is, nature gave the genius, and he supplied the industry, for he knew how to labor, and must have often exerted himself to secure the attainments which he possessed. He was a good seaman, as well as a most gallant officer; sagacious in the application of means; vain, indeed, and expensive, but natural and generous; something of a poet in verse, much more in the quickness and vivacity of his imagination, which led him to plan nobly; an accomplished writer; and as he was found worthy of the warm and unchanging friendship of Franklin, that sage who sought for excellence while he looked with a kindly eye upon human infirmity, we, too, may peruse the virtues of the man and smile upon his frailties.
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