Salutary Lesson

France, upon recognizing the independence of the United States and
entering into an alliance with our Government, promptly engaged in
fitting out a naval expedition to assist the American patriots who were
so heroically struggling for freedom. Captain Jones immediately wrote a
letter to the Commissioners in Paris, suggesting a plan of operations
for the French fleet, which was placed under the command of Count
d’Estaing. The count was a brave man, an able officer, and was heartily
devoted to the cause of the feeble colonies. The plan Captain Jones
recommended was eventually adopted. Had it been at once carried into
execution, it would probably have so crippled the English as to have
brought the war to a speedy termination.


Nearly the whole British fleet, sent to operate against the colonies,
was in the Delaware. It had abundant supplies for the British army,
which, almost without hindrance, was ranging the country, plundering and
burning. The plan proposed was, that Count d’Estaing, with the superior
force which he had under his command, should fall suddenly upon the
British fleet under Lord Howe, and destroy it, or, at least block it up
in the Delaware, with all the transport ships under its convoy. This
could then have easily been done.

But unfortunately the fleet, instead of being fitted out at Brest, on
the Atlantic coast, whence it could have a speedy voyage across the
Atlantic, was got ready at Toulon, a Mediterranean port, requiring a
much longer voyage. Just before the fleet arrived, Lord Howe, aware of
his danger, had effected his escape. In those days the French fleet
could have arrived almost as soon as the intelligence of the alliance
had reached these shores. In a letter to M. De Sartine, the French
Minister of Marine, Captain Jones subsequently writes:

“Had Count d’Estaing arrived in the Delaware a few days sooner, he might
have made a glorious and most easy conquest. Many successful projects
may be adopted from the hints which I had the honor to draw up. And if I
can furnish more, or execute any of those already furnished, so as to
distress and humble the common enemy, it will afford me the truest

Captain Jones, on his voyage from Nantes to Brest, convoyed some
American merchant vessels as far as Quiberon Bay. Thence they were to be
convoyed to America by a French fleet, commanded by Admiral La Motte
Piquet. Here, for the first time, the Stars and Stripes of our Union
received the honor of a national salute. John Paul Jones managed the
somewhat delicate affair with the instincts of a gentleman, and the
sensitiveness of an accomplished naval officer, conscious that the honor
of the infant nation was, in some degree, intrusted to his guardianship.
I give the interesting event in his own words. In a letter to the Marine
Committee, dated February 22, 1778, he writes:

“I am happy in having it in my power to congratulate you on my having
seen the American flag, for the first time, recognized in the fullest
and completest manner by the flag of France. I was off their bay the
13th instant, and sent my boat in, the next day, to know if the admiral
would return my salute. He answered that he would return to me, as the
senior American Continental officer in Europe, the same salute which he
was authorized, by his court to return to an admiral of Holland, or any
other republic; which was four guns less than the salute given. I
hesitated at this, for I had demanded gun for gun.

“Therefore I anchored in the entrance of the bay, at a distance from the
French fleet. But, after a very particular inquiry, on the 14th, finding
that he had really told the truth, I was induced to accept of his offer,
the more so as it was, in fact, an acknowledgment of American
independence. The wind being contrary and blowing hard, it was after
sunset before the Ranger got near enough to salute La Motte Piquet with
thirteen guns, which he returned with nine. However, to put the matter
beyond a doubt, I did not suffer the Independence to salute till next
morning, when I sent the admiral word that I would sail through his
fleet in the brig, and would salute him in open day. He was exceedingly
pleased, and he returned the compliment also with nine guns.”

The Independence here alluded to, it is said, was a privateer which had
been fitted out to sail under the orders of Captain Jones. His sailing
through the French fleet was characteristic of the man, as he fully
appreciated, at this time, the importance of this interchange of
national courtesies, and the importance that it should be so
emphatically done that there could be no denial of it. Thus he who first
raised the American Pine-Tree flag to the topmast of the Alfred, and who
first unfurled the national banner from the Ranger, now enjoyed the
honor of being the first to secure for that flag a national salute. The
times have changed. The infant republic has become one of the most
powerful nations on the globe. There is no Government now which
hesitates to return, in salute of our national banner, gun for gun.

On the 10th of April, Captain Jones, in the Ranger, sailed from Brest.
It was his intention to strike a blow first upon some unprotected point
on the south side of England. It was indeed a bold and chivalric
movement for the little Ranger, with her eighteen guns, to plunge into
the very heart of the British Channel, which was crowded with the
massive seventy-fours of Britain’s proud navy. England was discharging
the broadsides of her invincible fleet upon our defenceless towns, and
was landing her boats’ crews to apply the torch to our peaceful
villages. Not a fishing-boat could leave a cove without danger of
capture and the imprisonment of all the crew.

Little did the British Government imagine that any commander of an
American vessel would have the audacity to approach even within sight of
her shores. It was the main design of Captain Jones to punish England
for the atrocities she was so cruelly perpetrating upon us—and to punish
her in kind. On the 10th of August he launched forth, from the
magnificent harbor of Brest, and directed his course almost due north,
for Land’s End, the extreme southern cape of the island of Great
Britain. The distance across, at this point, is about one hundred and
fifty miles.

About thirty miles off the southern coast of England, in a southwest
direction, there is a group of islands called the Scilly Islands.
Captain Jones ran his vessel between them and Cape Clear, within full
view of the shores of England, and where the flash of his guns could be
seen and the thunders of his cannon distinctly heard on those shores.
Opposing winds and a rough sea so impeded his progress that he did not
gain sight of England’s coast until the 14th. Then he descried a
merchant-brig. He bore down upon her and captured her. The brig was
freighted with flax, and was bound from Ireland to Ostend, in Belgium.
As the freight was of no value, and Captain Jones did not wish to
encumber himself with prisoners, the crew were sent ashore in the boats
and the brig was scuttled and sunk.

These tidings must have created a strange sensation, as they spread like
wildfire throughout England. It must have roused the whole British navy,
to wreak vengeance upon the intrepid voyager. He then entered St.
George’s Channel, which separates Southern England from Ireland. When
almost within sight of the spires of Dublin he encountered, on the 17th
of August, a large London ship. He captured her. Her cargo consisted of
a variety of valuable merchandise. The crew were sent ashore. The prize
he manned and sent back to Brest.

Thus far dense clouds had darkened their way, and rough winds had
ploughed the seas, but now the weather changed. The skies became fair
and the wind favorable. He sailed rapidly along into the Irish Sea, and
passed by the Isle of Man, intending to make a descent at Whitehaven,
with whose harbor and surroundings he from childhood had been familiar.
About ten o’clock in the evening of the 17th, he was off the harbor,
with a boat’s crew of picked men ready to enter and set fire to the
shipping. But the wind, which had been blowing strong during the
afternoon, by eleven o’clock increased to a gale, blowing directly on
shore, and raising such a heavy sea that the boats could not leave the
ships. During the night the storm so increased, threatening to drive the
vessel upon the rocks, that it became necessary to crowd all sail, and
put out to sea so as to clear the land.

The next morning the storm abated, and the Ranger was near Glestine Bay,
just off the southern coast of Scotland. A revenue wherry hove in sight.
It was the custom of the revenue boat to board all merchant vessels in
search of contraband goods. As the Ranger concealed, as much as
possible, all warlike appearance, Captain Jones hoped that the wherry,
which was one of the swiftest of sailers, would come alongside, so that
he might effect her capture. But it seems that the tidings of the Ranger
had reached the ears of the officers of the governmental boat. After
examining the vessel carefully with their glasses, they crowded on all
sail, to escape. The Ranger pursued, opening upon the affrighted boat a
severe cannonade. The balls bounded over the waves, and the explosions
reverberated amid the cliffs of Scotland, but the wherry escaped.

The next morning, April 19th, when near the extreme southern cape of
Scotland, called the Mull of Galloway, he overtook one of the merchant
schooners of the enemy, from which he took what he wanted, sent the crew
ashore, and sunk the vessel. By a just retribution he was thus
chastising England for the crimes she was committing on the American
coast. Hudibras writes:

“No man e’er felt the halter draw
With good opinion of the law.”

England was astonished and enraged in finding the laws of naval warfare
which she had enacted, and had so long practised with impunity upon all
other nations all around the globe, now brought home to herself. She
called Paul Jones all manner of hard names. He was a beggar, a thief, a
traitor, a highway robber, a pirate. He was thus denounced for doing
that, in the English and Irish Channel, which England’s fleet was doing
all along the coast of America. And yet it was heroic in Jones thus to
brave all the terrors of the British navy, while it was ignoble and mean
for that proud navy to plunder and burn the few unprotected vessels of
the feeble colonies struggling for existence in the New World.

England had long made her banqueting-halls resound with the song,

“Britannia needs no bulwarks
To frown along the steep;
Her march is on the mountain wave,
Her home is on the deep.”

It was the noble mission of Paul Jones to teach Britannia that the arm
of the avenger could reach her even in her own Channel, and in her own
harbors. Thus England was compelled to drink of the poisoned cup which
she was forcing to the lips of others.

Upon the western coast of Scotland, about fifty miles north of the Mull
of Galloway, there was a capacious harbor called Lochryan, or Lake Ryan.
Captain Jones learned from his captives that there was there a fleet of
ten or twelve English merchant vessels, and also the tender of a
man-of-war, which had on board a large number of impressed seamen, who
were to be forced into the British navy. It was not improbable that many
of these were American citizens, who had been seized in our merchant or
fishing vessels, and who would thus be compelled to work the guns of
Great Britain against their own countrymen. “I thought this an
enterprise,” writes Paul Jones, “worthy of my attention.”

Indeed it was. He spread his sails for Lochryan. The wind was fair, so
that he could run into the bay, speedily apply the torch, kindle the
whole fleet into flame, and then run out before a sufficient force could
be collected to prevent his escape. But just as he reached the entrance
of the bay, and everything was in readiness for the successful
prosecution of his enterprise, the wind changed, and blew with great
fierceness directly into the bay. Thus, though he could easily effect
his entrance, he could not sail out from the bay until the wind changed.
He might therefore be caught in a trap. He was thus constrained to
abandon the project.

About sixty miles north of Lochryan is the Frith of Clyde, whose river
is the most important stream in the west of Scotland. Captain Jones
seeing upon his lee bow a cutter, or small sloop-rigged vessel,
belonging as a tender to a man-of-war, steering for the Clyde, gave
chase. But when he reached the remarkable rock of Ailsa, finding that
the cutter was outsailing him, he abandoned the chase. In the evening he
fell in with a merchant sloop, which he sunk.

The next day, which was the 21st, he entered the Bay of Carrickfergus,
on the eastern coast of Ireland. At the western extremity of the bay
lies the city of Belfast, which occupies the first rank among the
commercial marts of Ireland. The fortified town of Carrickfergus is
situated upon the northern shore. A British ship of war, the Drake,
mounting twenty guns, was at anchor in the bay. Thoroughly armed and
manned, she was a formidable antagonist for the Ranger to attack. As
vessels of all sizes were continually coming and going in this great
thoroughfare, and as the Ranger carefully avoided all warlike
appearance, no suspicion of her formidable character was excited on
board the Drake. Jones therefore cast anchor, preparing to make his
attack in the night. I will give the result in his own words:

“My plan was to overlay her cable, and to fall upon her bow, so as to
have all her decks open and exposed to our musketry. At the same time it
was our intention to have secured the enemy by grapplings, so that, had
they cut their cables, they would not thereby have attained an
advantage. The wind was high, and unfortunately the anchor was not let
go so soon as the order was given; so that the Ranger was brought to
upon the enemy’s quarter, at the distance of half a cable’s length.

“We had made no warlike appearance. Of course, we had given no alarm.
This determined me to cut immediately, which might appear as if the
cable had parted. At the same time it enabled me, after making a tack
out of the Loch, to return with the same advantage which I had at first.
I was, however, prevented from returning, as I with difficulty weathered
the light-house on the leeside, and as the gale increased. The weather
now became so very stormy and severe, and the sea ran so high, that I
was obliged to take shelter under the south shore of Scotland.”

The North Channel, which separates Ireland from Scotland, is at this
point about thirty miles wide. The next morning the sun rose in a
cloudless sky. It was bitterly cold in those northern latitudes. Captain
Jones was on the same parallel with Newfoundland. From the deck of his
vessel he could clearly discern the coasts of England, Scotland, and
Ireland. A white mantle of snow covered the hills and valleys as far as
the eye could extend. He decided to direct his course to the shores of
England, and to make another attempt upon the shipping in the harbor of
Whitehaven. The wind became very light, and it was not until midnight
that he reached the entrance to the harbor. For the hazardous enterprise
of penetrating a harbor defended by two batteries, he manned two boats
with volunteers, fifteen men in each. There were in the harbor two
hundred and twenty vessels, large and small. The tide was out, and many
of these vessels aground. About one hundred and fifty of them were on
the south side of the harbor adjoining the town. The remainder were on
the north side.

Captain Jones had command of one of the boats. Lieutenant Wallingford
was intrusted with the other. Jones supplied Wallingford with the
necessary combustibles to set fire to the shipping on the north side.
With fifteen men, armed only with pistols and cutlasses, he set out to
capture two English forts on the south side, and then to set fire to the
shipping there. The garrisons of these forts had no more apprehension of
an attack from the despised Americans, than Gibraltar fears assault from
some feeble tribe in Southern Asia with whom England may chance to be at

In consequence of the unfortunate delay, they did not reach the first
fort until just as the morning was beginning to dawn. Most of the
soldiers were soundly asleep in the guard-house. There were a few drowsy
sentinels dozing at their posts. Jones, with his heroic little band,
silently clambered over the ramparts. The terrified sentinels, not
knowing what was coming, rushed into the guard-house. Jones quietly
locked them in, spiked every gun, and then rushed forward to the next
battery, which was distant about a quarter of a mile. Here he
successfully repeated his achievement, so that not a gun from either of
the batteries could harm his boats.

He looked eagerly across the harbor, expecting to see the bursting forth
of the flames. It was now broad day; but no sign of flame or smoke was
to be seen. To his great disappointment, the boat under Lieutenant
Wallingford had crossed to the south side, having accomplished nothing.
The party seemed confused and embarrassed, and made the very
extraordinary statement that their torches went out just as they were
ready to set fire to the ships!

The failure was probably caused by sheer cowardice. And it must be
admitted that it was indeed one of the most desperate of enterprises.
These fifteen men, having crossed an ocean three thousand miles wide,
had penetrated the heart of a British harbor, to apply the torch to
seventy vessels.

The crews could not have amounted to less than ten men, on an average,
to each vessel. Thus the British sailors alone in that half of the
harbor, would amount to seven hundred men. The assailants, it will be
remembered, amounted to but fifteen men, in a frail boat, armed only
with swords and pistols. Even the bravest might recoil from such odds.
But as these men had volunteered for the enterprise, and knew all its
perils, it was the basest poltroonery in them to prove recreant at the
crisis of the expedition.

The torches which Captain Jones’s boat party carried, had also, by some
strange fatality, all burned out. Captain Jones, however, obtained a
light from a neighboring house, entered a large ship, from which the
crew fled, and deliberately built a fire in the steerage. This ship was
closely surrounded by at least a hundred and fifty vessels lying side by
side, and all aground. Captain Jones, to make the conflagration certain,
found a barrel of tar, and poured it upon the kindling. The flames soon
burst from all the hatchways, caught the rigging, and, in fiery wreaths,
circled to the mast-head.

“The inhabitants,” writes Captain Jones, “began to appear in thousands,
and individuals ran hastily toward us. I stood between them and the ship
on fire, with a pistol in my hand, and ordered them to retire, which
they did with precipitation. The sun was a full hour’s march above the
horizon, and, as sleep no longer ruled the world, it was time to retire.
We reëmbarked without opposition, having released a number of prisoners,
as our boats could not carry them. After all my people had embarked, I
stood upon the pier, for a considerable space, yet no person advanced. I
saw all the eminences round the town covered with the amazed

When the boats had been rowed some distance from the shore, the English
began to run to their forts, to open fire from the great guns. To their
surprise they found the garrisons locked up in the guard-houses, and the
cannon all spiked. After some delay they found one or two cannon on the
beach, which were dismounted, and which had not been spiked. These they
hastily loaded and fired; but with such ill-directed aim that the shot
all fell wide of their mark. Captain Jones’s men, in derision, fired
their pistols, returning the salute.

If the boats could have entered the harbor a few hours earlier, the
success would doubtless have been complete, and not a vessel would have
escaped the flames. “But what was done,” writes Captain Jones, “is
sufficient to show that not all their boasted navy can protect their own
coasts; and that the scenes of distress, which they have occasioned in
America, may be soon brought home to their own door.”

The Ranger now struck across the broad mouth of Solway Frith, to St.
Mary’s Island, on the Scottish shore, in Kirkcudbright Bay. Here Lord
Selkirk had his residence, in a fine mansion. It will be remembered that
the father of Paul Jones had been attached to his household. The British
were shutting up our most illustrious men in the hulks of prison ships,
and treating them with barbarity which would have disgraced savages.
Captain Jones deemed it of the utmost importance, as a measure of
humanity, to seize some distinguished Englishman and hold him as a
hostage, to secure the better treatment of our own noblemen who had
fallen into the enemy’s hands. For this patriotic movement the English
press denounced him in terms of unmeasured abuse. The motive which
influenced him was an exalted one. And he merits the highest encomiums
for the manner in which he conducted the enterprise. In justice to
Captain Jones, I feel bound to give the narrative in his own words. It
is contained in letter which he wrote to the Countess of Selkirk, with
whom he was personally acquainted, immediately after the Ranger returned
from its cruise to Brest.



“MADAM—It cannot be too much lamented that, in the profession of
arms, the officer of fine feeling and of real sensibility should be
under the necessity of winking at any action of persons under his
command which his heart cannot approve. But the reflection is doubly
severe, when he finds himself obliged, in appearance, to countenance
such actions by his authority.

“This hard case was mine when, on the 23d of April last, I landed on
St. Mary’s Isle. Knowing Lord Selkirk’s interest with his king, and
esteeming, as I do, his private character, I wished to make him the
happy instrument of alleviating the horrors of hopeless captivity,
when the brave are overpowered and made prisoners of war.

“It was perhaps fortunate for you, madam, that he was from home; for
it was my intention to have taken him on board the Ranger, and to have
detained him until, through his means, a general and fair exchange of
prisoners, as well in Europe as in America, had been effected.

“When I was informed, by some men whom I met at landing, that his
lordship was absent, I walked back to my boat determined to leave the
island. On the way, however, some officers who were with me, could not
forbear expressing their discontent. They said that, in America, no
delicacy was shown by the English, who took away all sorts of movable
property; setting fire not only to towns and to the houses of the
rich, without distinction, but not even sparing the wretched hamlets
and milch cows of the poor and helpless, at the approach of an
inclement winter.

“That party had been with me, the same morning, at Whitehaven. Some
complaisance was therefore their due. I had but a moment to think how
I might gratify them, and, at the same time, do your ladyship the
least injury. I charged the two officers to permit none of the seamen
to enter the house, or to hurt anything about it; to treat you, madam,
with the utmost respect; to accept of the plate which was offered; and
to come away, without making a search or demanding anything else.

“I am induced to believe that I was punctually obeyed; since I am
informed that the plate, which they brought away, is far short of the
quantity expressed in the inventory which accompanied it. I have
gratified my men. And when the plate is sold I shall become its
purchaser, and will gratify my own feelings by restoring it to you, by
such conveyance as you shall please to direct.

“Had the Earl been on board the Ranger the following evening, he would
have seen the awful pomp and dreadful carnage of a sea engagement;
both affording ample subject for the pencil, as well as melancholy
reflection to the contemplative mind. Humanity starts back from such
scenes of horror, and cannot sufficiently execrate the vile promoters
of this detestable war.

“‘For _they_, ’twas _they_ unsheathed the ruthless blade,
And Heaven shall ask the havoc it has made.’

“The British ship-of-war Drake, mounting twenty guns, with more than
her full complement of officers and men, was our opponent. The ships
met, and the advantage was disputed, with great fortitude on each
side, for an hour and four minutes, when the gallant commander of the
Drake fell, and victory declared in favor of the Ranger. The amiable
lieutenant lay mortally wounded; a melancholy demonstration of the
uncertainty of human prospects, and of the sad reverses of fortune
which an hour can produce. I buried them in a spacious grave, with the
honors due to the memory of the brave.

“Though I have drawn my sword, in the present generous struggle for
the rights of man, yet I am not in arms as an American, nor am I in
pursuit of riches. My fortune is liberal enough, having no wife nor
family, and having lived long enough to know that riches cannot insure
happiness. I profess myself a citizen of the world, totally unfettered
by the little, mean distinctions of climate or of country, which
diminish the benevolence of the heart and set bounds to philanthropy.
Before this war was begun I had, at an early time of life, withdrawn
from sea service, in favor of calm contemplation and poetic ease. I
have sacrificed not only my favorite scheme of life, but the softer
affections of the heart and my prospects of domestic happiness, and I
am ready to sacrifice my life also, with cheerfulness, if that
forfeiture could restore peace and good-will among mankind.

“As the feelings of your gentle bosom cannot but be congenial with
mine, let me entreat you, madam, to use your persuasive art, with your
husband’s, to endeavor to stop this cruel and destructive war, in
which Britain never can succeed. Heaven can never countenance the
barbarous and unmanly practice of the Britons in America, which
savages would blush at, and which, if not discontinued, will soon be
retaliated on Britain by a justly enraged people. Should you fail in
this, for I am persuaded that you will attempt it—and who can resist
the power of such an advocate?—your endeavors to effect a general
exchange of prisoners will be an act of humanity which will afford you
golden feelings on your death-bed.

“I hope this cruel contest will soon be closed. But should it
continue, I wage no war with the fair. I acknowledge their force and
bend before it with submission. Let not, therefore, the amiable
Countess of Selkirk regard me as an enemy. I am ambitious of her
esteem and friendship, and would do anything consistent with my duty
to merit it.

“The honor of a line, from your hand, in answer to this, will lay me
under a singular obligation. And if I can render you any acceptable
service in France or elsewhere, I hope you see into my character so
far as to command me without the least grain of reserve.

“I wish to know exactly the behavior of my people, as I am determined
to punish them if they exceed their liberty. I have the honor to be,
with much esteem and with profound respect,

“Madam, yours, etc.,

The letter of Paul Jones to the Countess of Selkirk was published widely
throughout England, and attracted much attention. Dr. Franklin wrote to
Captain Jones from Paris:

“It was a gallant letter, and must give her ladyship a high opinion of
your generosity and nobleness of mind.”

The plate fell into the hands of the prize agents. After much difficulty
and considerable delay, Captain Jones succeeded in purchasing it, though
at a price above its real value. He then returned it to Lord Selkirk,
himself defraying all the expenses of transportation. Lord Selkirk, in
acknowledging its receipt, from London, under date of August, 1789,

“Notwithstanding all the precautions you took for the easy and
uninterrupted conveyance of the plate, yet it met with considerable
delays, first at Calais, next at Dover, then at London. However, it at
last arrived at Dumfries. I intended to have put an article in the
newspapers about your having returned it. But before I was informed of
its being arrived, some of your friends, I suppose, had put it into the
Dumfries newspaper, whence it was immediately copied into the Edinburgh
papers, and thence into the London ones. Since that time I have
mentioned it to many people of fashion.

“And on all occasions, both now and formerly, I have done you the
justice to tell that you made an offer of returning the plate very soon
after your return to Brest; and although you yourself was not at my
house, but remained at the shore with your boat, that you had your
officers and men in such extraordinary good discipline, that your having
given them the strictest orders to behave well, to do no injury of any
kind, to make no search, but only to bring off what plate was given
them; that in reality they did exactly as ordered, and that not one man
offered to stir from his post on the outside of the house, nor entered
the doors, nor said an uncivil word; that the two officers staid not a
quarter of an hour in the parlor and in the butler’s pantry, while the
butler got the plate together, behaved politely, and asked for nothing
but the plate, and instantly marched their men off, in regular order,
and that both officers and men behaved in all respects so well that it
would have done credit to the best disciplined troops whatever.”

The style of Captain Jones’s letter has been found fault with. But in
literary excellence it is certainly above that of the English lord. One
of the London papers said of him:

“Paul Jones is about thirty-six years of age, of a middling stature,
well proportioned, with an agreeable countenance. His conversation shows
him to be a man of talents, and that he has a liberal education. His
letters, in foreign gazettes, show that he can fight with the pen as
well as with the sword.”

In the letter which Captain Jones sent to Lord Selkirk upon the return
of the plate, he wrote:

“The long delay that has happened to the restoration of your plate, has
given me much concern, and I now feel a proportionate pleasure in
fulfilling what was my first intention. My motive for landing at your
estate in Scotland was to take _you_, as a hostage for the lives and
liberties of a number of the citizens of America, who had been taken in
war on the ocean and committed to British prisons, under an act of
Parliament, as _traitors_, _pirates_, and _felons_. You observed to Mr.
Alexander that my idea was a mistaken one, because you were not, as I
had supposed, in favor with the British ministry, who knew _that you
favored the cause of liberty_. On that account, I am glad that you were
absent from your estate when I landed there, as I bore no personal
enmity, but the contrary, toward you. I afterward had the happiness to
redeem my fellow-citizens from Britain, by means far more glorious than
through the medium of any single hostage.

“As I have endeavored to serve the cause of liberty, through every stage
of the American Revolution, and have sacrificed to it my private ease, a
part of my fortune, and some of my blood, I could have no selfish motive
in permitting my people to demand and carry off your plate. My sole
inducement was to turn their attention and stop their rage from breaking
out and retaliating on your house and effects the too wanton burnings
and desolation that had been committed against their relations and
fellow-citizens in America, by the British; of which, I assure you, you
would have felt the severe consequences, had I not fallen on an
expedient to prevent it, and hurried my people away before they had time
for further reflection.”

We must now return from this episode to the continuance of Captain
Jones’s cruise. In his letter to Lady Selkirk, he alludes to a naval
battle with the ship Drake. After the descent upon Mary’s Island,
Captain Jones again stood across the Channel from the Scottish to the
Irish shore. On the morning of the 24th, he arrived off the Bay of
Carrickfergus, and would again have entered, to make an attack upon the
Drake, had he not seen that that ship was spreading her sails to come
out. The wind was very light and the progress of the British ship slow.
The captain of the Drake had heard of the ravages of the Ranger, for the
appalling tidings had spread far and wide, and he was coming out in
search of her. Seeing this vessel in the distance, a boat was sent out
from the Drake to reconnoitre. Captain Jones kept the ship’s stern
directly toward the approaching boat, and so succeeded in disguising his
true character that though the boat’s crew carefully scrutinized him
with a spy-glass, they were completely deceived, and, hailing the
vessel, came alongside. As soon as the officer stepped upon the
quarter-deck, he found, to his great surprise, himself a prisoner and
his boat captured.

Captain Jones learned, from his captives, that the night before an
express had reached the Drake, with tidings of the destruction of the
shipping at Whitehaven; and the Drake had immediately increased its crew
by a large number of volunteers, and was now pressing forward in pursuit
of the Ranger. Alarm fires were also seen on the eminences on both sides
of the Channel, their columns of smoke rising high into the air. It was
evident that the achievements of the bold little Ranger had created a
great commotion, rousing all England to a sense of danger, for no one
knew upon what point her next blows might fall.

The wind was light and the tide unfavorable, so that the Drake worked
out of the bay slowly. Captain Jones awaited her arrival, laying to with
courses up, and main-topsail to the mast. At length, the Drake, having
reached the mid-channel, came within hailing distance, and ran up the
flag of England. At the same instant the Stars and Stripes were unfurled
at the topmast of the Ranger. Still an officer on the quarter-deck of
the Drake shouted out:

“What ship is that?”

The reply was immediately returned:

“It is the American Continental ship Ranger. We are waiting for you. The
sun is but little more than an hour from setting. It is therefore time
to begin.”

The Drake was astern of the Ranger. Jones ordered the helm up, and as
his vessel rounded to, discharged a full broadside into the thronged
decks of the Drake. The iron storm crashed through timbers and bones and
quivering nerves with terrible destruction. But the spirit of war can
never arrest its energies to compassionate its victims. The guns of the
Drake were loaded and shotted, and the gunners stood, with lighted
torches, at their posts. Instantly the fire was returned, while the dead
were left in their blood, and the wounded were hurried to the cockpit,
to writhe beneath the cuttings of the surgeon’s knife.

Thus, for an hour and four minutes, the dreadful conflict continued. The
thunders of the exploding guns, booming over the waves, echoed along the
shores of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The British Government dreamed
not that its feeble colonies could do anything more than present a brief
and totally unavailing resistance behind frail ramparts, suddenly thrown
up, three thousand miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic. And
yet here were those colonies putting forth energies which were burning
ships in England’s home harbors, and bombarding her frigates in her own

At the close of an hour and four minutes of as obstinate a naval battle
as could be fought, the Drake dropped her flag and cried for quarter.
Her fore and main-topsail yards were both cut away, and hung down on the
cap. The top-gallant yard and mizzen gaff were also torn from their
fastenings and were dangling against the mast. The first flag had been
shot away. They had raised a second. That also had fallen before the
incessant storm of iron hail, and was draggling in the water. Her masts
and yards were all more or less shattered, while the main-mast was so
seriously wounded as to be in danger of falling. The jib was shot away,
and, held by the cordage, was floating on the waves. The hull was
pierced in many places, shivered and splintered by the balls.

Upon entering the captured ship an appalling spectacle met the eye. A
hundred and ninety men had crowded it, in the full assurance of victory.
Of these, forty-two were either killed or wounded. A musket-ball had
pierced the brain of the captain, and he lay weltering in blood, silent
in death. The first lieutenant had also been struck by a mortal wound,
and was in death’s convulsions.

It is very remarkable that on board the Ranger there was but one man
killed and six wounded. The night succeeding this terrible storm of
human violence was severe and the ocean tranquil. As all hands were busy
in refitting the shattered vessels, an English merchant brig came along,
bound for Norway. It was captured without difficulty. As English
men-of-war were crowding St. George’s Channel, Captain Jones decided to
pass through the North Channel with his two prizes, and return to Brest
by the west coast of Ireland.

When Captain Jones first made his appearance off Carrickfergus Bay, he
captured a fishing-boat to make inquiries respecting the shipping within
the bay. As secrecy was essential to his plan of operation, it was
necessary to detain those fishermen with their boat. Otherwise they
would communicate intelligence of his movements, and abundant
preparations would be made to repel him. It was no longer necessary to
detain them. Captain Jones writes:

“It was now time to release the honest fishermen, whom I took up here on
the 21st. And, as the poor fellows had lost their boat, she having sunk
in the late stormy weather, I was happy in having it in my power to give
them the necessary sum to purchase everything new which they had lost. I
gave them also a good boat, to transport themselves ashore; and sent
with them two infirm men, on whom I bestowed the last guinea in my
possession, to defray their travelling expenses to their proper home in
Dublin. They took with them one of the Drake’s sails, which would
sufficiently explain what had happened to the volunteers. The grateful
fishermen were in raptures; and expressed their joy in their huzzas as
they passed the Ranger’s quarter.”

This was indeed extraordinary magnanimity when we contrast it with the
conduct of England, bombarding and burning our defenceless villages,
immuring our most illustrious men in the dungeons of hulks, worse than
the oubliettes of the Bastile, and robbing poor fishermen of everything,
burning their boats, and often impressing them into her navy, and
compelling them to serve the guns against their own countrymen.

Contrary winds so impeded the progress of Captain Jones that it was not
until the 5th of May that he had skirted the western coast of Ireland,
and reached Ushant, a French island a few miles distant from the extreme
northwestern coast of France. The Ranger was accompanied by the two
vessels she had taken, having the torn and battered Drake in tow. A ship
hove in sight to the leeward, steering for the Channel. Captain Jones
cast off the Drake, by cutting the hawser, and gave chase to the
stranger. His swift-sailing vessel overtook the chase in little more
than an hour, and hailing her, found that she was a Swede. He therefore
immediately hauled by the wind and returned to the southward to rejoin
the Drake, which was then scarcely perceptible in the distant horizon.

The evolutions of the Drake surprised him. She seemed to be trying to
put as much distance as possible between herself and the Ranger. Several
large ships appeared steering into the Channel. But Jones was prevented
from pursuing them in consequence of the extraordinary evolutions of the
Drake. He made signals. They were totally disregarded. It was not until
the next day he succeeded in overtaking the runaway Drake. Her
commanding officer, Lieutenant Simpson, was immediately placed under
arrest for disobedience of orders.

It would seem that the lieutenant left America with the impression, and
doubtless a correct one, that, upon arriving in France, Captain Jones
was to be transferred to another and much finer ship, while he was to be
left in command of the Drake. He consequently seemed to feel that the
Drake and her crew belonged to him, and the temporary captain was rather
a passenger whom he was conveying to his destination. He therefore
assumed airs, and was guilty of petty acts of insubordination, which
were very annoying to Captain Jones, who was a strict disciplinarian.

Moreover, Lieutenant Simpson allowed his republican principles to carry
him so far as to advocate a republican form of government even upon the
decks of a war-ship. He declared to the sailors, that they, being free
and enlightened American citizens, were entitled to decide, by the voice
of the majority, respecting all questions of importance on ship-board;
that the captain was to be their agent to perform their will. Simpson
was daily growing more discontented with the position he occupied, and
was probably intending to run away with the Drake, one of the best
finished of England’s war-ships, to repair her in some French harbor,
and to sail forth on a cruise upon his own responsibility, perhaps as a
French privateersman.

But for this insubordination on the part of Lieutenant Simpson, Captain
Jones would doubtless have taken several other important prizes. The
Ranger, with her two prizes, returned to the harbor of Brest, and cast
anchor there on the 9th of May, having been absent but one month. In the
mean time the French squadron, under Count d’Estaing, had been made
ready for sea. The news of the brilliant achievements of Paul Jones
electrified France and appalled England. The alarm infused along the
coasts of Great Britain and Ireland amounted almost to a panic. Lookout
vessels were constantly cruising along the shores. The militia were
called out. New fortifications were constructed. The whole population of
the seacoast was kept in a state of constant alarm.

But Captain Jones was now in great pecuniary embarrassment. The Colonial
Government was so poor that it could not honor his drafts. He was not
only unable to refit his ship, but was in want of the means of providing
the daily food for his crew. When he left America he had advanced, from
his own means, seven thousand dollars for the public service. He had, in
a foreign land, two hundred prisoners of war to be provided for, a
number of his own sick and wounded, and his ship to be repaired,
shattered by a terrible engagement, and destitute of provisions and
stores. And he was not allowed to dispose of his prizes until he
received further orders from the home Government.

After a vast amount of mental suffering he succeeded, by his personal
credit with distinguished French noblemen, Count d’Orvilliers and the
Duke de Chartres, in raising money to meet his immediate and most
pressing wants, and in refitting both the Ranger and the Drake for sea.
The British seamen who were prisoners, if released, would be immediately
forced on board the British men-of-war to man their guns. It was also
necessary to retain them to effect exchanges for our own captive
countrymen, whom the British were treating with such great barbarity. In
his letters to the Government he urged the imperious necessity of
supplying the seamen with the little necessaries and comforts of life.
He also, while entreating that the English prisoners should be treated
with kindness, and all their needful wants supplied, urged that they
should by no means be released without an exchange. He now, during
several months, passed through a series of trials, mortifications, and
disappointments, a detail of which would but weary the reader. In
carefully examining his voluminous correspondence, during this season of
trial, when his whole soul was glowing with the desire for active
service, and when the inactivity to which he was doomed was, to him,
almost insupportable, I cannot find a single expression unworthy of his
noble character, as a self-denying patriot, a gallant officer, and a
humane gentleman.

Humanity required that England should feel the horrors of war which she
was so mercilessly inflicting upon her infant colonies. In no other way
could she be induced to sheathe the sword. He proposed to the
Commissioners in Paris another expedition, of three fast-sailing
frigates, to destroy three hundred vessels in the harbor at Whitehaven,
to burn the town, and to destroy the important coal-works there.

As time would be requisite to prepare for so important an expedition, he
proposed that a smaller force should immediately be fitted out, to
harass the northern coasts of Great Britain, and to lay contributions
upon the important towns. On the 10th of July, 1778, Dr. Franklin wrote
him, saying:

“In consequence of the high opinion which the Minister of Marine has of
your conduct and bravery, it is now settled that you are to have the
frigate from Holland, which will be furnished with as many good French
seamen as you may require. As you may like to have a number of
Americans, and your own crew are homesick, it is proposed to give you as
many as you can engage, out of two hundred prisoners which the ministry
of Britain have, at length, agreed to give in exchange for those you
have in your hands. They propose to make the exchange at Calais, where
they are to bring the Americans. The project of giving you the command
of this ship pleases me the more, as it is a probable opening to the
higher preferment you so justly merit.”

The conduct of Lieutenant Simpson had been exasperating in the highest
degree, and yet Captain Jones wrote to the Commissioners, on the 4th of

“Lieutenant Simpson has certainly behaved amiss. Yet I can forgive as
well as resent. Upon his making a proper concession, I will, with your
approbation, not only forgive the past, but leave him the command of the

In anticipation of a speedy command, Captain Jones was anxious to secure
the services of a chaplain. In a communication to a friend whom he
desired to assist him in obtaining such an officer, he wrote:

“I should wish the chaplain to be a man of reading and of letters, who
understands, speaks, and writes the French and English with elegance and
propriety. For political reasons it would be well if he were a clergyman
of the Protestant profession, whose sanctity of manners, and happy,
natural principles would diffuse unanimity and cheerfulness through the
ship. Such a man would be worthy of the highest confidence.”

On the 10th of August, Captain Jones repaired to Brest, expecting to be
put in command of the splendid ship which had been promised. This ship
belonged to the Government. To his bitter disappointment he found that
it had been assigned to another man. Lieutenant Simpson sailed to
America in the Ranger. The Drake was a shattered prize as yet unsold.
Captain Jones was left in the humiliating position of an adventurer out
of employment. He wrote to the Prince of Nassau, with the approval of
Dr. Franklin, earnestly imploring a commission under the French flag. In
his letter he wrote:

“Suffer me not, I beseech, you to continue longer in this shameful
inactivity. Such dishonor is worse to me than a thousand deaths. I have
already lost the golden season, the summer, which, in war, is of more
value than all the rest of the year. I appear here as a person cast off
and useless. When any one asks me what I purpose to do, I am unable to

Dr. Franklin transmitted this letter, and wrote to Captain Jones: “Your
letter was sent to the Prince of Nassau. I am confident that something
will be done for you, though I do not yet know what. I sympathize with
you in what I know you must suffer from your present inactivity; but
have patience.”

It was proposed that he should take command of a prize-ship taken from
the English. Examining the ship, and finding that she sailed slow, and
had but a feeble armament, he unqualifiedly rejected her. Writing to M.
Chaumont, a wealthy French gentleman, who had great influence with the
Government, he said:

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast. For
I intend to go in harm’s way. You know, I believe, that this is not
every one’s intention. Therefore buy a frigate that sails fast and that
is sufficiently large to carry twenty-six or twenty-eight guns, not less
than twelve-pounders, on one deck. I would rather be shot ashore than
sent to sea in such things as the armed prizes I have described.”

An offer was made by a wealthy merchant of Nantes, M. Montieu, to place
Captain Jones in a first-class ship, thoroughly armed, to proceed on a
privateering expedition. He replied:

“Were I in pursuit of profit, I should accept the offer without
hesitation. But I am under such obligations to Congress that I cannot
think myself my own master. And as a servant of the imperial republic of
America, honored with the public approbation of my past services, I
cannot, from my own authority or inclination, serve either myself or my
best friends in any private line whatsoever, unless where the honor and
interest of America is the premier object.”

War was now openly declared between France and England. The colonies
could not furnish Captain Jones with a suitable frigate, and there were
many French naval officers eager to take command of such ships as the
king could furnish. Consequently the prospects of Captain Jones,
notwithstanding his high reputation for both bravery and ability, were
very dark. In this emergence, and consumed with the desire for active
service, he wrote a letter to the king. In this letter, after a very
truthful and very modest narrative of his past experience, he says:

“Thus have I been chained down to shameful inactivity for five months. I
have lost the best season of the year, and such opportunities of serving
my country and acquiring honor as I cannot again expect during this war.
And, to my infinite mortification, having no command, I am considered
everywhere as an officer cast off, and in disgrace for secret reasons.

“Having written to Congress to reserve no command for me in America, my
sensibility is the more affected by this unworthy situation in the sight
of your majesty’s fleet. Although I wish not to become my own
panegyrist, I must beg your majesty’s permission to observe that I am
not an adventurer in search of fortune, of which, thank God, I have a

“When the American banners were first displayed, I drew my sword in
support of the violated dignity and rights of human nature. And both
honor and duty prompt me steadfastly to continue the righteous pursuit,
and to sacrifice to it not only my private enjoyments, but even life, if
necessary. I must acknowledge that the generous praise which I have
received from Congress and others, exceeds the merit of my past
services, and therefore I the more ardently wish for future
opportunities of testifying my gratitude by my activity.

“As your majesty, by espousing the cause of America, has become the
protector of the rights of human nature, I am persuaded that you will
not disregard my situation, nor suffer me to remain any longer in this
insupportable disgrace.”

This letter was enclosed in one to the Duchess of Chartres, with whom he
was personally acquainted, and from whom he had received kind
attentions. He besought her to present the letter to his majesty the
king; which she did.

One day, chance threw into Captain Jones’s hands an old almanac,
containing _Poor Richard’s Maxims_, by Doctor Franklin. In that curious
medley of wit and wisdom, poor Richard is represented as saying:

“If you wish to have any business done faithfully and expeditiously, go
and do it yourself. Otherwise, send some one.”

The maxim impressed Jones deeply. He pondered it, and decided that he
had acted very unwisely in writing so many letters, instead of going
directly to court, and making personal solicitations. Immediately he set
out for Versailles, in whose gorgeous palace the royal family and court
were then residing. Such was the potency of his presence that in a few
days, on the 4th of February, 1779, he received from M. De Sartine, the
French Minister of Marine, the following exhilarating letter:


“Commander of the American Navy in Europe.

“SIR—I announce to you that, in consequence of the exposition I
have laid before the king, of the distinguished manner in which you
have served the United States, and of the entire confidence which your
conduct has merited from Congress, his majesty has thought proper to
place you in command of the ship Duras, of forty guns, at present at
L’Orient. I am about, in consequence, to issue the necessary orders
for the complete armament of that ship.

“The commission which was given you, at your departure from America,
will authorize you to hoist the flag of the United States, and you
will likewise make use of the authority which has been vested in you,
to procure a crew of Americans. But as you may find difficulty in
raising a sufficient number, the king permits you to levy volunteers,
until you obtain men enough, in addition to those who will be
necessary to sail the ship. It shall be my care to procure the
necessary officers, and you may be assured that I shall contribute
every aid in my power to promote the success of your enterprise.

“As soon as you are prepared for sea, you will set sail without
waiting for any ulterior orders; and you will yourself select your own
cruising ground, either in the European or American seas, observing
always to render me an exact account of each event, that may take
place during your cruise, as often as you may enter any port under the
dominion of the king.”

No one can describe the satisfaction with which Captain Jones read this
communication. Feeling that his success was due to the good advice which
he had received from Poor Richard, he asked leave to give his ship that
name, or as translated into French, the name of _Bon Homme Richard_.
Captain Jones, in his grateful reply to the Minister of Marine, writes:

“I take the earliest opportunity to offer you my sincere and grateful
thanks, for so singular and honorable a mark of your confidence and
approbation. Your having permitted me to alter the name of the ship, has
given me a pleasing opportunity of paying a well-merited compliment to a
great and good man, to whom I am under obligations, and who honors me
with his friendship.”