Commissioned as Captain

In the lonely wilds of Scotland there was, about the middle of the last
century, a secluded hamlet called Arbingland. There was a respectable
gardener there by the name of John Paul. He had a son born on the 6th of
July, 1747, to whom he gave his own name of John. His humble cottage was
near the shores of Solway Frith. Young John Paul, like most energetic
lads who live within sound of the ocean surge, became impassioned with
longings for a sailor’s life. When twelve years of age he was sent
across the bay to Whitehaven, in England, then quite an important
seaport. Here he was apprenticed to Mr. Younger, who was quite
extensively engaged in the American trade.

The daily intercourse of John with the seamen inspired him with a strong
desire to visit the New World. He had received a good common-school
education, such as Scottish boys generally enjoyed at that time, and was
also so eager for intellectual improvement that all his leisure time was
given to study. He particularly devoted himself to the acquisition of a
thorough knowledge of the theory of navigation. He even studied French.
Often at midnight, when many of his companions were at a carouse, he was
found absorbed with his books.

When John was thirteen years of age he embarked, as a sailor, on board
the ship Friendship, bound for the Rappahannock, in Virginia, for a
cargo of tobacco. He had an elder brother, William, who had emigrated to
this country, and, marrying a Virginia girl, had settled on the banks of
the Rappahannock. John had acquired a high reputation at Whitehaven for
his correct deportment, his intelligence, and his fidelity in the
discharge of every duty. He improved his time so well, while in the
employment of Mr. Younger, as to lay the foundation for that eminence,
which he could not have obtained but for this education. He could write
his own language correctly, and even with considerable force; he was a
very respectable French scholar, and there were but few ship-masters who
could excel him in the science of navigation.

John Paul was but thirteen years of age when, in the year 1760, he
crossed the Atlantic and was cordially welcomed in the humble home of
his brother, in one of the most attractive valleys of the world. He was
delighted with the entirely new scenes which were here opened before
him, and became thoroughly American in his feelings. His first visit was
a short one, as he returned with his ship to Whitehaven. Soon after
this, Mr. Younger failed in business, and Paul was released from his
indentures. Thus the precocious boy, who was already a man in
thoughtfulness, energy, and earnestness of purpose, was thrown upon his
own resources.

He made several voyages, and at length shipped as third mate on board
the ship King George, which was bound to the Guinea Coast of Africa, for
slaves. Strange as it now appears, the slave trade was then considered
an honorable calling. Men of unquestioned piety, who morning and evening
kneeled with their happy children around the family altar, fitted out
ships to desolate the homes and steal the children of Africans, and bear
them away to life-long slavery. Many a captain, after crowding the hold
of his ship with these melancholy victims of his inhumanity, would
retire to his cabin, read the precepts of Jesus, “As ye would that men
should do to you, do ye also to them likewise,” and would then kneel in
prayer, imploring God’s blessing. And this was not hypocrisy. So strange
a being is fallen man.

We have no indications that any compunctions of conscience disturbed
John Paul on this voyage. The most illustrious, opulent, and worthy
people of England were engaged in the infamous traffic. Of course it was
not to be expected that a boy, scarcely emerging from childhood, should
develop humanity above that of the generation in the midst of which he
was born. The Friendship bore its freight of human victims to the West
Indies, where they were sold. He then, when nineteen years of age,
shipped at Jamaica, on board the brigantine Two Friends, for Africa, to
obtain another cargo of slaves.

It speaks volumes in favor of the intelligence of John Paul, that he
became so thoroughly disgusted with the cruelty of the traffic,
desolating Africa with the most merciless wars, and tearing husbands
from wives, parents from children, that, upon his return to Kingston, he
declared that he would have nothing more to do with the traffic forever.
His friends unite in giving their testimony to this his resolve, and it
is confirmed by the uniform tenor of his subsequent correspondence.

From this his second slaving voyage he embarked for Scotland, as a
passenger, on board the brigantine John, under the command of Captain
Macadam. On the passage the yellow fever broke out. Both the captain and
the mate of the ship died. They were left in the middle of the stormy
Atlantic, with none of the crew capable of navigating the ship.
Fortunately for all, John Paul assumed the command. The whole crew
gratefully recognized his authority. Be it remembered that he had not
yet finished his twentieth year. He brought the ship safe into port. The
owners, Messrs. Currie, Beck & Co., in recompense of the great service
he had rendered them, at once gave him command of a ship both as captain
and supercargo. In their employment he sailed for two voyages.

On one of these voyages, Captain Paul was accused of whipping, with
undue severity, an insubordinate sailor, by the name of Mungo Maxwell.
But a legal investigation absolved him from all blame. The accusation,
and the trial which was prolonged through six months, caused Captain
Paul great annoyance. The following letter to his mother and sisters
reveals his feelings, and much of his character, at that time. He was
then but twenty-five years of age.

“LONDON, 24th September, 1772.


“I only arrived here last night from the Grenadas. I have had
but poor health during the voyage. My success in it not having
equalled my first sanguine expectations, has added very much to the
asperity of my misfortunes, and, I am well assured, was the cause of
my loss of health. I am now, however, better, and I trust Providence
will soon put me in a way to get bread, and, which is far my greatest
happiness, to be serviceable to my poor but much valued friends. I am
able to give you no account of my future proceedings, as they depend
upon circumstances which are not fully determined.

“I have enclosed to you a copy of an affidavit made before Governor
Young, by the Judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty of Tobago, by which
you will see with how little reason my life has been thirsted after,
and, which is much dearer to me, my honor, by maliciously loading my
fair character with obloquy and vile aspersions. I believe there are
few who are hard-hearted enough to think I have not long since given
to the world every satisfaction in my power, being conscious of my
innocence before Heaven, who will one day judge even my judges.

“I staked my honor, life, and fortune, for six long months, on the
verdict of a British jury, notwithstanding I was sensible of the
general prejudice which ran against me. But, after all, none of my
accusers had the courage to confront me. Yet I am willing to convince
the world, if reason and facts will do it, that they have had no
foundation for their harsh treatment.

“I mean to send Mr. Craik a copy, properly proved, as his nice
feelings will not, perhaps, be otherwise satisfied. In the mean time,
if you please, you can show him that enclosed. His ungracious conduct
to me before I left Scotland I have not yet been able to get the
better of. Every person of feeling must think meanly of adding to the
load of the afflicted. It is true I bore it with seeming unconcern.
But heaven can witness for me that I suffered the more on that very
account. But enough of this.”

The Mr. Craik to whom he here refers was a gentleman of property, in
whose employment Mr. Paul’s father had formerly been engaged. The whole
family were accustomed to look up to him with much reverence. It was
perhaps a fault in young Captain Paul that the organ of veneration, as
the phrenologists would say, was not, in him, very fully developed. His
knees were not supple in bowing before those who were above him in
wealth and rank. Mr. Craik had not fancied the independent boy, and was
consequently the more ready to believe the charges which were brought
against him.

A rumor reached Mr. Paul, while in the West Indies, that the commercial
firm in whose service he was sailing was about to close its operations.
This would throw him out of employment. He wrote in the following terms
to Mr. Craik, whom as a family friend and patron he highly respected.
This letter was written a year before the charge for the maltreatment of
Mungo Maxwell was brought against him. It was as follows:

“ST. GEORGE, GRENADA, 5th August, 1770.


“Common report here says that my owners are going to finish
their connections in the West Indies as fast as possible. How far this
is true I shall not pretend to judge. But should that really prove to
be the case, you know the disadvantage I must labor under.

“These, however, would not have been the case had I been acquainted
with the matter sooner, as, in that case, I believe I could have made
interest with some gentlemen here to have been concerned with me in a
large ship out of London. And as these gentlemen have estates in this
and the adjacent islands, I should have been able to make two voyages
every year, and should always have had a full ship out and home.

“However, I by no means repine, as it is a maxim with me to do my best
and leave the rest to Providence. I shall take no step whatever
without your knowledge and approbation. I have had several very severe
fevers lately, which have reduced me a good deal, though I am now
perfectly recovered. I must beg you to supply my mother, should she
want anything, as I well know your readiness. I hope yourself and
family enjoy health and happiness.

“I am, most sincerely, sir, yours always,

In 1773, John Paul’s brother died, in Virginia. He died childless, and
left no will. John repaired to his brother’s former residence to settle
the estate. Here, for some reason which has never been satisfactorily
explained, he assumed the surname of Jones, so that he ever afterward
became familiarly known as Paul Jones. His subsequent achievements
became such, that probably that name will never be obliterated from the
memories of men. He had acquired considerable property, which he
intrusted to agents at Tobago, and it was all lost.

Captain Jones, weary of the wandering life of a sailor and its
unsatisfactory results, was now disposed to devote his days to the
peaceful pursuits of agriculture and to study, for which he had very
strong predilections. In his letters to his friends he often expressed
his desire to enter upon a life of “calm contemplation and poetic ease.”
Man proposes, God disposes. The tumultuous career into which he was led,
was not one which he would have sought for himself. He was almost forced
into it by the state of the times.

When in the midst of the stormiest scenes, without a family and without
a home, he wrote pensively to the Countess of Selkirk, that duty to his
country had compelled him “to sacrifice not only his favorite scheme of
life, but the softer affections of his heart, and his hopes of domestic
happiness.” His letters all indicate that he was a thoughtful man, one
who deeply pondered the mystery of this our earthly being, and who made
frank acknowledgment of his moral and religious obligations.

His favorite poet was Thomson; and his “Seasons” he read and re-read. It
is not possible that any man of frivolous nature should develop a taste
so serious and so elevating. The loss of all his property at Tobago
disheartened him, and repelled him from the risks of a commercial life.
This probably decided him to settle down as a planter in Virginia, and
to remain satisfied with the humble competence of a cultivator of the
soil, in a rural home. He wrote to the Hon. Robert Morris:

“I conclude that Mr. Hewes has acquainted you with a very great
misfortune which befell me some years ago, and which brought me into
North America. I am under no concern whatever, that this, or any other
past circumstance of my life, will sink me in your opinion. Since human
wisdom cannot secure us from accidents, it is the greatest effort of
human wisdom to bear them well.”

From the age of thirteen, America had been the country of his adoption.
Increasing years but added to his attachment to the principles of
liberty which were being developed here. His innate mental constitution
revolted from the feudal subserviency which a haughty aristocracy
exacted in Europe. When the struggle was commencing between the mother
country and these her infant colonies, Mr. Jones, with all the ardor of
his nature, espoused the colonial cause. He then occupied the position
of a Virginia gentleman, highly respected for his character and his
endowments. The rank of those with whom he was in correspondence
indicates his social position. He was not a friendless adventurer, but
an intelligent patriot, whose influence was constantly increasing
through the sound judgment, the courage, and the spirit of
self-sacrifice he was ever exhibiting.

He often expressed deep regret for the painful necessity which compelled
him to take up arms against the Government of his native land. But he
was struggling for the maintenance of his own rights, and those of his
fellow-countrymen, goaded to resist unendurable tyranny. In a letter
which he wrote to Baron Vander Capellan, then Dutch minister at the
Hague, he says:

“I was indeed born in Britain; but I do not inherit the degenerate
spirit of that fallen nation, which I at once lament and despise. It is
far beneath me to reply to their hireling invectives. They are strangers
to the envied approbation that greatly animates and rewards the man who
draws his sword only in support of the dignity of freedom. America has
been the country of my fond election from the age of thirteen, when I
first saw it. I had the honor to hoist, with my own hands, the flag of
freedom, the first time it was displayed on the Delaware, and I have
attended it with veneration ever since on the ocean.”

When the war of the Revolution, in 1775, commenced, England had a
thousand war-vessels. The colonies had not one. Congress equipped a
naval force of five vessels to resist the most powerful naval armament
this world has ever known. Paul Jones was appointed first lieutenant of
one of these, the ship Alfred. He owed this appointment to the Hon.
Joseph Hewes, a member of Congress, and a signer of the Declaration of
Independence, who chanced to be acquainted with the rare qualifications
of Mr. Jones for the position. Captain Saltonstall commanded the Alfred.

On the 14th of November, 1776, the Alfred, a frigate of 44 guns was
lying at anchor off Chestnut Street wharf, in Philadelphia. We had then
no national banner. As the commander came on board, Lieutenant John Paul
Jones, with his own hands, raised the first American naval flag, under a
salute of thirteen guns. This flag, it is said, then consisted of
thirteen stripes, emblematic of the thirteen colonies, and a pine-tree
with a rattlesnake coiled at the roots, as if about to spring.
Underneath was the motto, “Don’t Tread upon Me.” In commemoration of
this event, Miss Sherburne wrote an ode, from which we quote two

“’Twas Jones, Paul Jones, who first o’er Delaware’s tide
From _Alfred’s_ main displayed Columbia’s pride;
The stripes of freedom proudly waved on high,
While shouts of freedom rang for liberty.

“Through England’s fleets thou dashed in bold array,
On Albion’s coast spread terror and dismay;
Thy cannons’ thunder shook her rock-bound shore,
Her Lion trembled midst his boastful roar.”

The little squadron, consisting of the ships Alfred and Columbus, the
brigantines Andrew Doria and Cabot, and the sloop Providence, sailed
from the Bay of Delaware on the 17th of February, 1776, to make a
descent on the British Island of New Providence, to seize a quantity of
military stores which were deposited in the forts there. The squadron
was armed in all with one hundred guns and about one thousand men.
Ezekiel Hopkins was commander-in-chief of the fleet. The fleet was not
ready to sail until the middle of February. Struggling through vast
masses of ice, the vessels passed Cape Henlopen on the 17th of the

In this important enterprise John Paul Jones was only a lieutenant. But
it should be remarked that there were three grades of lieutenant, and
that he was placed at the head of the first grade. He was offered a
captain’s commission, to take command of the Providence, which carried
twelve guns and one hundred and fifty men. Modestly this extraordinary
man declined the responsible position, not deeming himself fully
qualified to fill it. Subsequently, in a letter to the Hon. Robert
Morris, he wrote:

“When I came to try my skill I am not ashamed to own that I did not find
myself perfect in the duties of a first lieutenant. However, I by no
means admit that any one of the gentlemen who so earnestly sought after
rank and the command, was, at the beginning, able to teach me any part
of the duty of a sea-officer. Since that time it is well known there has
been no comparison between their _means_ of acquiring military marine
knowledge and mine. If midnight study and the instruction of the
greatest and most learned sea-officers can have given me _advantages_, I
am not without them. I confess, however, I am yet to learn. It is the
work of many years’ study and experience to acquire the high degree of
science necessary for a great sea-officer. Cruising after
merchant-ships, the service on which our frigates have generally been
employed, affords, I may say, no part of the knowledge necessary for
conducting fleets and their operations. There is now perhaps as much
difference between a single battle between two ships, and an engagement
between two fleets, as there is between a single duel and a ranged
battle between two armies.”

While the fleet was fitting and manning, Lieutenant Jones had
superintended all the affairs on board the Alfred. It was not until a
day or two before the squadron sailed that Captain Saltonstall appeared
and took the command. On the 4th of March the squadron anchored at
Abaco, one of the Bahama Islands, about one hundred miles north from New
Providence. On the passage they had captured two small sloops from New
Providence. They learned from the crew of these vessels, that the forts
were not strongly garrisoned, and that they contained large magazines of
all military stores.

The commander was not skilful either as a seaman or a soldier. Through
mismanagement the enterprise came near proving a total failure. Jones
was born to command. Without any effort on his part, his superior mind
and knowledge naturally assumed ascendency. Seeing that all things were
going wrong, he suggested sailing round to the west of the island,
landing the marines about nine miles from the fort, and then, by a rapid
march, to make the assault. Mr. Jones promised himself to pilot the
vessels to a safe anchorage. With some reluctance Captain Saltonstall
gave his assent. Jones took the pilot with him to the foretopmast-head.
From that point they could see every reef and rock, and trace out the
channel. The marines landed under cover of the guns. There was no force
sufficient to oppose them. Captain Saltonstall, by his injudicious
movements, had given ample warning of his approach, so that the governor
had found time, during the night, to load two sloops with ammunition and
send them away. This might easily have been prevented by ordering the
two brigantines to lie off the bar.

The island was surrendered by the governor. The guns, and all the
governmental property in the forts, were embarked on board the vessels.
All private property was sacredly respected. And this was done when the
officers of the English Government were laying our villages in ashes,
and hounding on the savages to assail our defenceless frontier with the
torch and the tomahawk. The governor and two other military men were
brought off as prisoners.

On the return with this booty, of such almost inestimable value to the
struggling colonies, the fleet captured two vessels without a struggle,
the Hawke, a schooner of six guns, and the brig Bolton, of eight guns.
The fleet encountered off Block Island, at the head of Long Island
Sound, an English frigate, the Glasgow, of 24 guns. The Alfred mounted
30 guns, the Columbus 28. Had there been any skill in military
seamanship displayed, the Glasgow could not have escaped this force. The
sea was perfectly smooth. Lieutenant Jones was placed between decks to
serve the first battery. He could have no voice in the direction of the
battle. Whenever his guns could be brought to bear upon the enemy he
served them well. Captain Saltonstall, in his official report, testified
to his fidelity in duty. The Glasgow escaped. This was our first naval
battle. It reflected no credit upon our infant marine. Lieutenant Jones
and the whole nation were deeply chagrined by the disgrace of that
night. Repressing merited condemnation, he mildly wrote, “It is for the
commander-in-chief and the captains to answer for the escape of the

Two days after the inglorious action the squadron entered the harbor of
New London. A court-martial was held to investigate the affair. The
account which Lieutenant Jones gave of the engagement, in the log-book
of the Alfred, shows a generous and magnanimous mind.

“At 2 A. M. cleared ship for action. At half-past two, the Cabot, being
between us and the enemy, began to engage, and soon after we did the
same. At the third glass the enemy bore away, and, by crowding sail, at
length got a considerable way ahead, and made signals for the rest of
the English fleet, at Rhode Island, to come to her assistance, and
steered directly for the harbor.

“The commodore then thought it imprudent to risk our prizes, by pursuing
farther. Therefore, to prevent our being decoyed into their hands, at
half-past six made the signal to leave off chase and haul by the wind to
join our prizes. The Cabot was disabled at the second broadside; the
captain being dangerously wounded, the master and several men killed.
The enemy’s whole fire was then directed at us. An unlucky shot having
carried away our wheel-block and ropes, the ship broached to, and gave
the enemy an opportunity of raking us with several broadsides before we
were again in condition to steer the ship and return the fire.

“In the action we received several shots under water, which made the
ship very leaky. We had, besides, the mainmast shot through, and the
upper works and rigging very considerably damaged. Yet it is surprising
that we only lost the second lieutenant of marines and four men. We had
no more than three men dangerously, and four slightly wounded.”

The skill with which the guns of the Alfred were served may be inferred
from the fact, that a passenger on board the Glasgow testified that her
hull was seriously damaged; that ten shot passed through her mainmast,
fifty-two through her mizzen staysail, one hundred and ten through her
mainsail, and eighty-eight through her foresail. She had many spars
carried away, and her rigging was badly cut to pieces.

This our first naval battle was fought so near the Rhode Island shore,
that the report of the guns was heard, and even the flashes were seen by
those on the land. The Continental Gazette of May 29, 1776, gives the
following quaint account of the conflict, from one who listened to the
thunders booming over the waves.

“For several hours before and during the engagement, a vast number of
cannon were heard from the southeast. About sunrise eight or ten sail of
ships and brigs were seen a little to the eastward of Block Island.
Indeed, the flashes of the cannon were seen by some people about
daybreak. These things caused much speculation. But in a few hours the
mystery was somewhat cleared up; for away came the poor Glasgow, under
all the sail she could set, yelping from the mouths of her cannon like a
broken-legged dog, as a signal of her being sadly wounded. And though
she settled away, and handed most of her sails just before she came into
the harbor, it was plainly perceived, by the holes in those she had
standing, and by the hanging of her yards, that she had been treated in
a very rough manner.”

Though Lieutenant Jones could not be blind to the want of nautical skill
displayed in allowing the Glasgow to escape, he did not doubt that the
commodore had done the best he could. Not a word of demur escaped his
lips. In a letter to Hon. Mr. Hewes, he wrote:

“I have the pleasure of assuring you that the commander-in-chief is
respected through the fleet. I verily believe that the officers, and men
in general, would go any length to execute his orders.”

Another passage in the same letter throws such light upon the
well-balanced and noble character of Lieutenant Jones that I cannot
refrain from quoting it. He writes:

“It is certainly for the interests of the service that a cordial
interchange of civilities should subsist between superior and inferior
officers. Therefore it is bad policy in superiors to behave toward their
inferiors as though they were of a lower species. Men of liberal minds,
who have long been accustomed to command, can ill brook being thus set
at naught by others who pretend to claim the monopoly of sense. The
rude, ungentle treatment which they experience, creates such
heart-burnings as are nowise consonant with that cheerful ardor and
spirit which ought ever to be a characteristic of an officer. Therefore,
whoever thinks himself hearty in the service, is widely mistaken when he
adopts such a line of conduct in order to prove it. To be well obeyed it
is necessary to be esteemed.”

Two courts-martial were held on board the Alfred. The captain of the
Providence was dismissed from service. Lieutenant Jones was promoted to
the captaincy of that sloop. The little fleet, having received a
reinforcement of two hundred men, sailed from Providence, Rhode Island.
The vessels having been refitted, it was necessary to enlist more men
before any important enterprise could be undertaken. As most of the
seamen had enlisted in the army, it was found very difficult to obtain
men fit for naval service.

On the 18th of May, Captain Jones, after a passage of thirty-six hours,
arrived in New York, where he devoted his time to shipping mariners. He
was greatly interested in everything relating to the creation of a navy
for the new nation of the United States, just entering into being. He
wrote to Hon. Mr. Hewes:

“In my opinion a commander in the navy ought to be a man of strong and
well-connected sense; a gentleman, as well as a seaman in theory and in
practice. Want of learning, and rude, ungentle manners, are by no means
characteristic of an officer.”

Captain Jones, having at length obtained the number of men required, in
obedience to orders sailed for New London, where he took from the
hospital all the seamen who had been left there sick, but who had
recovered, and sailed for Providence, Rhode Island. Scarcely had he
arrived there when he received orders from the commander-in-chief to
come immediately down Narragansett Bay, to attack an English
sloop-of-war, then in sight. He obeyed with alacrity. But the sloop had
disappeared before he reached Newport. He was then ordered to
Newburyport, to convoy a vessel with a cargo of cannon to New York, and
then, returning, to convoy some vessels from Stonington to Newport.

It will be remembered that England then had a fleet of a thousand sail;
superior, probably, to all the combined navies of the globe. This was
the naval power we were to resist with our poor little squadron of five
vessels, mounting in all but one hundred guns. The majestic frigates of
the enemy blockaded almost every harbor in the colonies. There were
several of these cruising at the eastern entrance of Long Island Sound,
to cut of all naval intercourse between the colonies of the Middle and
those of the Eastern States.

Captain Jones found all his intelligence, bravery, and nautical skill
tested to the utmost, in evading, thwarting, and struggling against the
British men-of-war swarming around him. He had several very fierce
rencontres with forces superior to his own. One day he saw a foreign
vessel (I think it was Spanish), coming from St. Domingo, with a cargo
of military stores for the colonies. This brigantine was hotly pursued
by the Cerberus, a British man-of-war. The thunders of her bow-guns
echoed over the waves, while the balls of solid shot, ricochetting for
more than a mile, proclaimed how terrible the bolts which those thunders
sent forth.

The courage and nautical skill of Captain Jones rescued the brigantine
and her precious cargo. The vessel was afterward purchased by Congress,
and named the Hampden. He was then ordered to Boston, whence he convoyed
some merchant vessels to Philadelphia. This was indeed an arduous and
perilous mission. The war-ships of the enemy were daily arriving off
Sandy Hook, under the guidance of Lord Howe. Captain Jones caught sight
of several of these ships, which, with a single broadside, could have
sunk him. But he had the address to avoid them. On the 8th of August,
1776, he received from John Hancock, President of Congress, his
commission as captain. It contained the following words:


“We, reposing especial trust and confidence in your patriotism,
valor, conduct, and fidelity, do, by these presents, constitute and
appoint you to be captain in the navy of the United States, fitted out
for the defence of American liberty, and for repelling every hostile
invasion thereof. You are therefore carefully and diligently to
discharge the duty of captain, by doing and performing all manner of
things thereunto belonging. And we do strictly charge and require all
officers, marines, and seamen, under your command, to be obedient to
your orders as captain.”

He then received orders to set out on a cruise of two or three months
against the navy of Great Britain. For this enterprise he was furnished
with the sloop Providence, which mounted twelve guns, and was manned by
but seventy sailors. He was left entirely to his own discretion, not
being confined to any particular station or service. Captain Jones
sailed from Philadelphia, on this chivalric expedition, the latter part
of August, 1776. Not far from the Island of Bermuda he encountered a
British frigate, the Solway.

It was like the fox meeting the hound. The only safety was in flight. A
chase took place, with a constant interchange of shot. This running
fight continued for six hours. Those who are familiar with nautical
affairs, will understand the bold measure by which he escaped. He
gradually edged away until he brought his heavy adversary upon his
weather quarter. Then, putting his helm suddenly up, he stood dead
before the wind. At the same moment he threw out all his light sails,
with which his little sloop was abundantly furnished. This manœuvre
compelled him to pass within pistol-shot of his pursuer. But he knew
that he could sail much faster than the frigate, before the wind.

The captain of the Solway was quite unprepared for such a manœuvre.
Before he could change his course to imitate it, the Providence had
gained such a start as to be soon beyond the reach of the Solway’s guns.
Triumphantly the little sloop swept the waves until the discomfited
frigate gave up the chase.

Not long after this, as Captain Jones was lying to, on the banks near
the Isle of Sables, to allow his men to fish, another large English
frigate hove in sight, which proved to be the Milford. Though he had
much confidence in the speed of his light little sloop, which, under her
cloud of canvas, could almost like a bubble skim the wave, he prudently
tried her speed with that of the gigantic foe approaching. Finding that
he could easily outstrip her, he tauntingly allowed the Milford to
approach to nearly within gun-shot. He then spread his sails, keeping
just out of harm’s way.

The frigate rounded to and discharged her broadside. The shot skipped
over the waves and sank at some distance before reaching the sloop.
After each broadside, Captain Jones, in token of his contempt, ordered
his marine officer to return the fire, by the discharge of a single
musket. He kept up this burlesque of a battle, causing the frigate to
throw away her ammunition, from ten o’clock in the morning till sunset.
He then spread all sail and went unharmed on his way.

The next morning he entered the Gut of Canso, which separates the Island
of Cape Breton from the mainland. He found three English schooners in
the harbor of Canso. He burned one, and sunk another, after having
filled the third, a schooner, the Ebenezer, with what fish had been
found in the other two. Here he learned that at the Island of Madame,
near by, on the east side of the Bay of Canso, there were nine British
vessels, consisting of brigs, ships, and schooners. He sent boats, well
armed, to destroy them, while he kept off and on with his sloop, ready
to punish severely any attempt to rescue the shipping.

The enterprise was entirely successful, and, as no opposition was made,
it was bloodless. These vessels had transferred their cargoes to the
shore, and were unrigged. It would take some time to fit them for sea.
Despatch was of the utmost importance. Captain Jones humanely, and very
wisely, informed the crews of these vessels, that if they would
cordially assist him in rigging and fitting out such vessels as he
required, he would leave them vessels sufficient to cross the Atlantic
to their own homes.

Though the British officers were generally very bitter in their
hostility to the colonial cause, it was not so with the masses of the
English people. There was in their hearts an underlying feeling of
sympathy with the brave colonists who were struggling against
intolerable oppression. These English sailors, therefore, heartily
joined their American brothers, and assisted, with the utmost energy,
until the business was accomplished.

On the evening of September 25th, a violent tempest arose, with deluging
rain. Captain Jones was compelled to cast anchor at the entrance of the
harbor, where, with both his anchors and whole cables ahead, he with
difficulty rode out the storm. One of the prize ships, the Alexander,
which was just ready for sea, anchored under the shelter of a projecting
point of rocks, and thus narrowly escaped destruction. Another of the
prizes, a schooner, called the Sea-Flower, with a valuable cargo, was
torn from her moorings and driven ashore, a total wreck. As she could
not be got off the next day, she was set on fire. The schooner Ebenezer,
which he had brought from Canso, laden with fish, was driven on a reef
of sunken rocks, and totally lost. With great difficulty the crew saved
themselves on a raft.

Toward noon of the 26th this fierce gale began to abate. The British
ship Adventure he burned in the harbor. He then put to sea, taking with
him three heavily laden prizes, the ship Alexander, and the brigantines
Kingston and Success.

The fishery at Canso and Madame he thus effectually destroyed. He left
behind him two small schooners and one brig, to convey the British
seamen, about three hundred in number, back to their homes. He said,
“Had I not done this, I should have stood chargeable with inhumanity.”

This bold enterprise was indeed bearding the lion in his den. It woke up
the British Government to a new sense of the vigor of that worm which it
supposed was squirming helplessly beneath its feet. It taught the proud
Court of St. James that in war there were blows to be received as well
as blows to be given. These acts seem cruel. But “war,” says General
Sherman, “is cruelty. You cannot refine it.”

While England was wantonly laying our villages in ashes, and driving
women and children in homelessness and starvation into the fields,
Captain Jones spared all private property on the land. He only seized or
consigned to destruction that private property _afloat_, which the code
of war England herself had established, pronounced to be lawful booty.
England, proud mistress of the seas, supposed that she, with her
invincible navy, could plunder the commerce of all nations, and that she
had nothing to fear in the way of retaliation. It must have been to her
indeed a surprise to find the shipping in her own harbors plundered and

Captain Jones felt the necessity of the utmost possible expedition. He
had learned that there was an English war-brig, of powerful armament,
within forty-five miles of him to the southward. This formidable
antagonist might, at any hour, loom in sight. As the little fleet was
crowding along under full sail making all haste, on the morning of the
27th, two sails were discerned in the distant horizon. There could be no
doubt that they were English vessels. Perilous as Captain Jones’s
situation was, he could not resist the temptation to give them chase.

He therefore signalled his prizes to rendezvous on the southwest part of
the Isle of Sables, and wait for him there three days, should he not
sooner appear. He then spread all sail in pursuit of the strangers. They
also spread every inch of canvas they could command, and before they
could be overtaken ran into the harbor of Louisbourg. There was reason
to suppose that there were several British men-of-war there. Captain
Jones therefore returned to his prizes at the rendezvous, and again all
pressed forward on their homeward voyage.

In this cruise, which lasted but six weeks and five days, Captain Jones
captured sixteen prizes, besides the vessels which he destroyed in the
harbors of Canso and Madame. Of these prizes, eight he manned and sent
into port. The remainder were burned. Captain Jones returned to Newport,
Rhode Island, where the commander-in-chief of our little navy had
established his headquarters.

The British officers were treating the captives they had taken from the
Americans, with the greatest brutality. They had driven one hundred
prisoners into the coal mines of Cape Breton, where they were forced to
labor like slaves. This procedure greatly outraged Captain Jones’s sense
of humanity and justice. He suggested that an expedition should be
fitted out for their release; and also, as far as possible, to destroy
England’s coal fleet and her fishing fleet. The plan was approved of.
For the accomplishment of this important enterprise he was allowed to
fit out two vessels, the Alfred and the Providence. The whole burden and
responsibility of the preparations rested upon him. He took command of
the Alfred, committing the Providence to Captain Hacker. He found but
thirty men on board the Alfred, and with great difficulty succeeded in
enlisting thirty more. When the Alfred entered the harbor at Newport
from Philadelphia, a few weeks before, she had two hundred and
thirty-five men on her muster-roll. Captain Jones, in a letter to Hon.
Robert Morris, explained the cause of this singular desertion, and
proposed a remedy.

“It seems to me,” he writes, “that the privateers entice the men away as
fast as they receive their month’s pay. It is to the last degree
distressing to contemplate the state and establishment of our navy. The
common class of mankind are animated by no nobler principle than that of
self-interest. This, and this alone, determines all adventurers in
privateers; the owners, as well as those whom they employ.

“And while this is the case, unless the private emolument of individuals
_in our navy_ is made superior to that in _privateers_, it never can
become respectable; it never will become formidable. And without a
respectable navy, alas, America! In the present critical situation of
affairs, human wisdom can suggest no more than one infallible expedient:
enlist the seamen during pleasure, and _give them all the prizes_.

“What is the paltry emolument of two-thirds of prizes to this vast
continent.[A] If so poor a resource is essential to its independency, we
are, in sober sadness, involved in a woful predicament, and our ruin is
fast approaching. The situation of America is new in the annals of
mankind. Her affairs cry haste; and speed must answer them. Trifles
therefore ought to be wholly disregarded, as being, in the old vulgar
proverb, ‘penny wise and pound foolish.’


Footnote A:

Congress appropriated two-thirds of all prizes to the Government,
leaving but one-third to be divided among the captors.


“If our enemies, with the best established and most formidable navy in
the universe, have found it expedient to assign all prizes to the
captors, how much more is such policy essential to our infant fleet? But
I need use no arguments to convince you of the necessity of making our
navy equal, if not superior to theirs.”

Our navy was so small and our impoverishment so great that Congress
could furnish Captain Jones with but two vessels for his important
expedition to Cape Breton. The Alfred and the Providence sailed together
from Newport harbor, on the 2d of November, 1776. This was so late in
the season, to embark for those high latitudes, that Captain Jones,
discouraged by the delays which had been encountered, was not very
sanguine as to the success of the expedition.

The first night he cast anchor at Tarpauling Cove, near Nantucket. Here
he found a privateer belonging to Rhode Island, inward bound. He was in
great want of men. Many sailors, for reasons which we have already
given, had deserted the regular service to enlist on board the
privateers. Captain Jones sent his boat on board the privateer to search
for deserters from the navy. Four men were found, carefully concealed.
They were taken on board the Alfred. This led to a law-suit, which
subsequently subjected Captain Jones to considerable trouble.
Louisbourg, on the eastern coast of the Island of Cape Breton, had a
commodious harbor, and was then a seaport of considerable importance.
Just off the harbor Captain Jones fortunately encountered an English
brig, the Mellish, partially armed, and laden with a large amount of
clothing, thick and warm, for the British troops in Canada. The brig
made a little resistance, but was speedily captured, with all her
precious cargo. Soon after this he captured a large fishing-vessel,
which quite replenished his meagre store of provisions.

The next day a violent snow-storm darkened the air, with a severe gale
blowing from the northwest. Captain Hacker, in command of the
Providence, either frightened by the inclement weather or treasonably
disposed, took advantage of the darkness of the ensuing night to bear
away south, and return to Newport. The Alfred was thus left alone to
prosecute the now impossible enterprise.

Captain Jones sent his two prizes, the brig Mellish and the
fishing-vessel, to steer for any American port which could be reached.
The fishing-vessel was recaptured by the English. But the Mellish was
successfully carried into the harbor of Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The
clothing, with which she was laden, proved to be of incalculable use to
the army of Washington. The Continental troops, thinly clad, had been
suffering severely from the freezing blasts of winter.

In the midst of smothering snow-storms and fierce gales, Captain Jones
again entered the harbor of Canso. A large English transport, laden with
provisions, was aground, near the entrance to the harbor. He sent his
boats to apply the torch. The whole fabric, with all its contents, soon
vanished in flame and smoke. A large oil warehouse, containing a large
quantity of material for the whale and cod fishery, was also consigned
to consuming fire. He then continued his voyage along the eastern coast
of Cape Breton.

In a dense fog, not far from Louisbourg, he fell in with quite a fleet
of coal vessels, from the crown mines in Sydney, under convoy of the
English frigate Flora. Favored by the fog, and unseen by the frigate, he
captured three of the largest of these vessels. Two days after this he
encountered a British privateer from Liverpool, which he took, after but
a slight conflict. Thick masses of ice filled the harbor adjacent to the
coal mines. He had one hundred and fifty prisoners on board the Alfred.
His water-casks were nearly empty, and his provisions mostly consumed.
Five prize vessels were in his train. It was clearly his duty to convoy
them, as soon as possible, into some safe port. He therefore commenced
his return.

The little fleet kept together, guarded by the Alfred, and the Liverpool
privateer, which, being armed for battle, Captain Jones had manned and
given into the charge of Lieutenant Saunders. Just on the edge of St.
George’s Bank, the British frigate Milford was again encountered. It was
late in the afternoon when her topsails first appeared above the
horizon. All the vessels of Captain Jones’s fleet were on the starboard
tack. It was evident that, as the wind was then, the Milford could not
overtake them before night, which was close at hand. He signalled his
vessels to crowd with all sail, on the same tack, through the night,
without paying any regard to the lights which he might show.

After dark both he and the captured privateer tacked, and thus entered
upon a different course from that of the rest of the fleet. To decoy the
frigate to follow him, and thus draw it away from the prizes, he carried
toplights until the morning. The Milford gave him hot chase. When the
morning light dawned upon the ocean the prizes were nowhere to be seen.
The stratagem had thus far proved eminently successful. All that now
remained for Captain Jones was to make his own escape with the Alfred,
and the privateer under Lieutenant Saunders. The privateer, through
mismanagement, was overtaken and captured. A terrible storm, which had
been for some time brewing, in the afternoon lashed the ocean, and amid
clouds and darkness and foaming surges the Alfred made her escape.

On the 15th of December, 1776, Captain Jones entered the harbor of
Boston. He had then, on board the Alfred, provisions and water barely
sufficient for two days. To his great gratification he found that his
prizes had all safely reached port. The welcome news of the capture of
the cargo of clothing, in the Mellish, reached Washington just before he
recrossed the Delaware and captured the British garrison at Trenton.
Captain Jones, in his letter to the Marine Committee, writes:

“This prize is, I believe, the most valuable which has been taken by the
American arms. She made some defence, but it was trifling. The loss will
distress the enemy more than can be easily imagined, as the clothing on
board of her is the last intended to be sent out for Canada this season,
and what has preceded it is already taken. The situation of Burgoyne’s
army must soon become insupportable.”

Captain Jones was so impressed with the importance of this capture that
he had resolved, at every hazard, to sink the vessel rather than permit
it again to fall into the hands of the enemy. He was delayed some time
in Boston in disposing of his prizes and in getting rid of his
prisoners, or, as he phrases it, of being delivered of the “honorable
office of a jail-keeper.”

He passed the winter in Boston, consecrating all his energies to the
creation of a navy worthy of the rising republic. Though his feelings
were deeply wounded, and his sense of justice greatly outraged, by
being, for political reasons, superseded in command by men who were
totally unqualified for naval office, and who had never yet served, he
did not allow these considerations, though he remonstrated indignantly
against the unjust acts, to abate, in the slightest degree, his
patriotic zeal. The suggestions he made the Marine Committee have so
commended themselves to the judgment of those in command that nearly all
of them have been gradually adopted. A few extracts from these long
communications will reflect much light upon the character of this
remarkable man.

“None other,” he writes, “than a gentleman, as well as a seaman in
theory and practice, is qualified to support the character of an officer
in the navy. Nor is any man fit to command a ship of war, who is not
capable of communicating his ideas on paper, in language that becomes
his rank.”

Again he writes, in reference to the great injustice which he had
experienced, “When I entered into the service I was not actuated by
motives of self-interest. I stepped forth as a free citizen of the
world, in defence of the violated rights of mankind, and not in search
of riches, whereof, I thank God, I inherit a sufficiency. But I should
prove my degeneracy were I not, in the highest degree, tenacious of my
rank and seniority. As a gentleman I can yield this point only to
persons of superior abilities and merit. Under such persons it would be
my highest ambition to learn.”

Again he wrote to Hon. Mr. Morris: “As the regulations of the navy are
of the utmost consequence, you will not think it presumption if, with
the utmost diffidence, I venture to communicate to you such hints as, in
my judgment, will promote its honor and good government. I could
heartily wish that every commissioned officer was to be previously
examined. To my certain knowledge there are persons who have already
crept into commission, without abilities or fit qualification. I am,
myself, far from desiring to be excused.”

After a toilsome winter of many annoyances he repaired, early in April,
1777, to Philadelphia, then the seat of the Colonial Government.
Prominent members of Congress, when their attention was called to the
subject, admitted that Captain Jones had been wrongfully treated. Mr.
Hancock, President of Congress, assured him that the injustice of
superseding him was not intentional, but was the result of a
multiplicity of business. He said to him:

“The injustice of that regulation shall make but a nominal and temporary
difference. In the mean time you may be assured that no navy officer
stands higher in the opinion of Congress. The matter of rank shall, as
soon as possible, be arranged. In the mean time you shall have a
separate command, until better provision can he made for you.”

Captain Jones urged that there should be a parity of rank between the
officers of the navy and the army. He proposed that, in accordance with
the British establishment, which was certainly the best regulated navy
in the world, an admiral should rank with a general, a vice-admiral with
a lieutenant-general, a rear-admiral with a major-general, a commodore
with a brigadier-general, a captain with a colonel, a master and
commander with a lieutenant-colonel, a lieutenant commanding with a
major, and a lieutenant in the navy with a captain of horse, foot, or

He also urged strenuously, as an object demanding immediate attention,
that commissioners of dock-yards should be established to superintend
the building and outfit of all ships of war. They were to be invested
with power to appoint deputies, and to provide and keep in constant
readiness all naval stores. It speaks well for the intelligence and
sound judgment of Captain Jones that, though he was a young officer of
but one year’s standing, nearly every suggestion he made was
subsequently adopted.

Soon after this he received an appointment from the Marine Committee, to
sail from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the French ship Amphitrite, to
France, with a letter to the American Commissioners there, ordering them
to purchase as fine a ship as could be obtained in Europe, for Captain
Jones. He was to take out a crew with him, to man the ship, from
Portsmouth. The letter the Marine Committee wrote to the Commissioners
was very urgent, calling upon them to strain every nerve to accomplish
the end as soon as possible.

“We hope,” they wrote, “you may not delay this business one moment; but
purchase, in such port or place in Europe as it can be done with most
convenience and despatch, a fine fast-sailing frigate or larger ship.
You must make it a point not to disappoint Captain Jones’s wishes and
expectations on this occasion.”

On the 14th of June, 1777, Congress established the national flag. It
was voted “that the flag of the United States should be thirteen
stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars,
white, in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The French commander of the Amphitrite, notwithstanding the sympathies
of France were then so cordially with the colonies, very reasonably
objected to taking a step so decidedly belligerent as to transport a
crew to France, to engage in direct hostilities against English
commerce. The plan therefore had to be abandoned. England and France
were then at peace. Soon, however, war commenced between them.

Congress then appointed Jones to the command of the ship Ranger, which
had recently been built in Portsmouth. He was placed in command of this
our first frigate, on the same day when Congress designated the Stars
and the Stripes as our national flag. Consequently Paul Jones, who first
unfurled the banner of the Pine Tree, over the little sloop Providence,
now enjoyed the distinguished honor of being the first to spread to the
breeze that beautiful banner, the Stars and the Stripes, now renowned
throughout the world, and around whose folds more than forty millions of
freemen are ever ready, with enthusiasm, to rally.

The Ranger was not prepared for sea until the middle of October. The
ship mounted but eighteen guns, though originally intended for
twenty-six. She sailed from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the 1st of
November, 1777, and, after a month’s voyage, entered the harbor of
Nantes on the 2d of December. This noble city, situated on the river
Loire, about thirty-four miles from its mouth, and two hundred miles
from Paris, was then one of the most important seaports in France. Ships
of two hundred tons burden could cast anchor in the broad, clear, deep
river. An immense amount of shipping crowded her quays, one of which was
a mile and a half in length.

On the voyage, soon after passing the Western Islands, he encountered
many vessels, but none which proved to be English, until he was
approaching the Channel. He then overtook a fleet of ten British
vessels, under a strong convoy. Captain Jones exerted all his nautical
skill to detach some of these from the convoy, but was unable to
succeed. He, however, soon captured two brigantines, or small brigs,
laden with fruit from Malaga, bound to London. Both of these prizes he
sent into French ports.

Upon his arrival at Nantes, he forwarded the letter which he had
received from the Marine Committee of Congress, to the American
Commissioners at Paris, Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee.
In this letter, Captain Jones writes:

“It is my first and favorite wish to be employed in active and
enterprising service, where there is a prospect of rendering acceptable
services to America. The singular honor which Congress has done me, by
their generous conduct, has inspired sentiments of gratitude which I
shall carry with me to the grave. And if a life of services devoted to
America, can be made instrumental in securing its independence, I shall
regard the continuance of such approbation as an honor far superior to
what kings even could bestow.”

He urged that since our navy was so feeble that it could not cope with
the powerful armament of England, our only feasible course was to send
out small squadrons, and surprise defenceless situations. This was the
course adopted. By invitation of the Commissioners, Captain Jones
repaired to Paris, where he met with a severe disappointment. This is
explained in the following extract from his first despatch from Nantes:

“The Commissioners had provided for me one of the finest frigates that
was ever built, calculated for thirty guns on one deck, and capable of
carrying thirty-six pounders. But they were under the necessity of
giving her up, on account of some difficulties they met at court.”

The failure of this plan was owing to the vigilance of the British
minister at Amsterdam. He discovered the secret of her ownership and
destination, and remonstrated so effectually as to thwart the plan. He
then decided to put to sea with the Ranger, as soon as possible. The
Commissioners addressed to him the following instructions:

“As it is not in our power to procure you such a ship as you expected,
we advise you, after equipping the Ranger in the best manner for the
cruise you propose, that you shall proceed with her in the manner you
shall judge best for distressing the enemies of the United States, by
sea or otherwise, consistent with the laws of war, and the terms of your

On the 10th of February, 1778, Captain Jones, in the Ranger, sailed down
the Loire, and coasted along in a northerly direction to Brest, then the
great naval depot of France, enjoying one of the finest harbors in the
world. In this month a treaty of alliance between France and the United
States was signed at Paris. France was the first nation to recognize the
independence of the United States, and to recognize the Congress of the
thirteen colonies as a legitimate Government.

France promptly engaged in fitting out a naval expedition to assist the
American colonies.