Commodore Paul Jones

Brady Cyrus Townsend
Commodore Paul Jones

PREFACE

In preparing this work I began, I admit, with an ardent admiration for John Paul Jones, born of long study of his career. I have endeavored, however, so far as possible, to lay aside my preconceived opinions and predisposition in his favor, and I have conscientiously gone over the immense mass of material bearing upon him, de novo, in an attempt to be absolutely and strictly impartial. Perhaps I have not altogether succeeded, but if it be found that I have erred in Jones' favor, I shall be glad that I have followed the impulses of affection rather than those of depreciation. I have not, I trust, been blind to the faults in the character of the great sailor, nor to the mistakes he committed, nor to the wrongdoings in his career to which I have called attention; but, in spite of these things, which I have most reluctantly recorded, I am happy that renewed investigation, careful study, and much thought have only endeared him the more to me. I lay down the pen with a higher respect, with a more affectionate regard, with a greater admiration for him than ever.

In Miss Seawell's fine phrase, "It may be said of him as of the great Condé: 'This man was born a captain.'" His place among the great sea kings as a strategist, a tactician, and a fighter is now unquestioned by the most calumnious of his defamers; but the wound he inflicted upon British pride still rankles after the lapse of more than a century, and his professional status and personal character are still bitterly aspersed. So doth prejudice blind the eyes of truth. I have devoted some space to the old charge that he was a pirate, which was renewed recently in an article in the London Academy, one of the leading journals of England, and I trust that the reader will find that I have finally disposed of that absurd statement, and the other slanders concerning him, in these pages. And I have tried to be fair to the enemy as well.

Wherever it has been possible, without clogging the narrative or letting it assume the form of a mere collection of letters, Paul the sailor, like Paul the Apostle, hath been permitted to speak for himself. Contrary to some of his biographers, I have made it a rule to accept Jones' own statements unless they were controverted by adequate evidence. It is proper to call attention to the fact that the intent of the series, of which this is one, which deals primarily with the subjects of the different volumes as great commanders, naturally emphasizes their public exploits rather than their private life. This will account for a lack of amplification in certain directions, and for the omission of details of certain periods of his life which, were the circumstances other than they are, would probably be treated of at greater length. However, it is believed that enough appears in the pages to complete the picture and exhibit the man.

There is a great amount of matter available for the study of his life, in the shape of lives, essays, sketches, and general histories, and contemporary memoirs, and an immense mass of manuscript reports and correspondence, and Jones himself left several interesting accounts of his career and services, which are of great value to his biographers. I have freely used all sources of information to which I could gain access, and they have not been few. It will be only justice, however, if I acknowledge that among the authorities consulted I have found the excellent life by Commodore Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, U. S. N., published in 1841, the most useful. Mackenzie was an officer and seaman of wide experience and fine talents, whose life covered the period of our naval development succeeding the War of 1812, and his comments from a sailor's point of view are instructive and invaluable. His work is marred by an unfortunate bias against Jones, which appears in several instances; in a desire to be accurate and just he has gone to a censurable extreme. Two other books have been most helpful: the life by John Henry Sherburne, sometime Register of the United States Navy, published in 1825, with its valuable collection of reports of participants in different actions, and statements and official documents not otherwise preserved; and the life compiled from the manuscript furnished by Miss Janette Taylor, a niece of the great commodore, published in 1830. I may also add that I have found Captain Mahan's admirable papers upon the subject, in Scribner's Magazine, of great value. Indeed, there are facts, observations, and deductions in these articles which appear nowhere else, so sure is the touch of a genius for historical accuracy and investigation like his. Among other essayists, Miss Molly Elliott Seawell, whose facile pen has done so much to exploit our early naval heroes, has written a notable and interesting paper which appeared in the Century Magazine; while Professor John Knox Laughton, the English naval expert, in his celebrated but scandalous and utterly unjustifiable attack, gives us a modern British estimate of the commodore. I shall pay my respects to his contribution later. No extended life has been published for fifty years.

My thanks are due to General Horace Porter and the Honorable Charlemagne Tower, LL.D., ambassadors of the United States to France and Russia respectively, for investigations in answers to inquiries, and for suggestions; to Dr. Talcott Williams, of Philadelphia, for valuable suggestions as to sources of possible information; to the Rev. Dr. William Elliot Griffis, of Ithaca, New York, for much interesting matter connected with the Baron van der Capellen, for unpublished manuscript notes on North Holland, the Helder, and the Texel, and for the rare copy of the old Dutch song, "Hir komt Pauwel Jones aan," which appears in the appendix; to Lieutenant-General O. V. Stubendorff, Chief of the Topographical Section of the Imperial Russian General Staff, and to Major-General E. Sarantchof, of the Russian army, for maps, reports, and other data concerning the campaign on the Dnieper-Liman, not accessible in any American books; to Mr. Charles T. Harbeck, of New York, for generous permission to make use of rare books and pamphlets relating to Paul Jones in his valuable collection of Americana; to Messrs. W. M. Cumming and Junius Davis, of Wilmington, N. C., and Mrs. A. I. Robertson, of Columbia, S. C., for information concerning the assumption of the name of Jones by John Paul, not hitherto published in book form; to Mr. E. G. McCollin and the Misses Mabel S. Meredith, Edith Lanigan, and Bertha T. Rivailles for much important work in translation; and to Miss Isabel Paris for invaluable assistance in transcribing the manuscript.

Lest any of the above should be involved in possible criticisms which may be made of the book, I beg to close this preface with the assurance that for everything which follows I alone am responsible.

Cyrus Townsend Brady.
Philadelphia, Pa., July, 1900.

CHAPTER I
ANCESTRY-BIRTH-EARLY YEARS-PROFESSION-SUCCESS-CHANGE OF NAME

Of the three great captains whose magnificent fighting has added such glorious chapters to the history of our naval campaigns, but one, George Dewey, the last of them all, is purely an American by birth and generations of ancestors. Farragut, the greatest of the three, was but one remove from a Spaniard. John Paul Jones, first of the group in point of time and not inferior to the others in quality and achievement, was a Scotsman. Only the limitation in means necessitated by the narrow circumstances of his adopted country during his lifetime prevented his surpassing them all. He remains to this day a unique character among the mighty men who trod the deck and sailed the ocean-a strange personality not surpassed by any in the long line of sea fighters from Themistocles to Sampson. In spite of, nay, because of his achievements, he was among the most calumniated of men. What follows is an attempt to tell his story and to do him justice.

Near the close of the fifth decade of the eighteenth century, George I reigned in England, by the grace of God and because he had succeeded in putting down the rebellion of 1745; Frederick the Great was tenaciously clutching the fair province of Silesia which Maria Theresa, with equal resolution but with faint prospect of success, was endeavoring to retain; Louis XV (the well beloved!) was exploiting the privileges and opportunities of a king with Madame de Pompadour and the Parc aux Cerfs; and the long war of the Austrian succession was just drawing to a close, when there was born on July 6, 1747, to a Scots peasant, named John Paul, and to Jean MacDuff, his wife, a son, the fifth child of a large family.1

 

The youngster was duly christened John Paul, Junior, after his sire. He is the hero of this history. He first saw the light on the estate of Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean, in the county of Kirkcudbright, a province once called the Royal Stewartry of Kirkcudbright (pronounced "Kircoobree"), because it had been governed formerly by a steward or deputy, appointed by the crown, of which the county had been an appanage.

The father of the subject of this memoir filled the modest situation of a master gardener, a precursor of the modern and scientific landscape gardener, or engineer, in a small scale, in the employ of a Scots bonnet laird named Craik. His remote family-peasants, yeomen always-had come from the ancient lands of the Thanes of Fife, whence his grandfather had removed to Leith, where he kept a mail garden or wayside inn-in short, a tavern. It is to the credit of Master John Paul, Senior-evidently a most honest and capable man in that humble station in life into which it had pleased God to call him-that he forsook the tavern and clung to the garden. When he had finished his apprenticeship as gardener he removed to Arbigland, where he married Jean MacDuff, the daughter of a sturdy yeoman farmer of the neighboring parish of New Abbey, whose family had been established in their present location from time immemorial.

The marriage was blessed with seven children, the two youngest sons dying in infancy. The first was a boy named William; the next three were girls, named Elizabeth, Janet, and Mary Ann; and the fifth and last, considering the death of the infants, the boy named John, after his father. En passant, there must have been something favorable to the development of latent possibilities in gardeners' sons in that corner of Scotland, for in the neighboring county of Ayr, a few years later was born of similar bucolic stock the son of another tiller of the soil, known to fame as Robbie Burns!

The cottage in which young Paul made his first appearance was a little stone building in a verdant glade in a thriving wood hard by the north shore of the Solway. In front of the cottage whose whitewashed walls were in full view of the ships which entered the Firth there was a patch of greensward. The country of that section of bonnie Scotland in which is the parish of Arbigland is rugged and broken. To the east and to the west, huge, craggy mountains shut in a thickly wooded plateau, diversified by clear, rapid streams abounding in fish. The fastnesses in the hills even then were covered with romantic ruins of decayed strongholds of feudal times, reminiscent of the days of the Black Douglasses and their men. The coast line, unusually stern and bold, is broken by many precipitous inlets, narrow and deep. At the foot of the cliffs at low tide broad stretches of sand are exposed to view, and the rapid rise of the tide makes these shelving beaches dangerous places upon which to linger. The water deepens abruptly beyond the beaches, and vessels under favorable circumstances are enabled to approach near the shore.

Amid such scenes as these the childhood of young Paul was passed. Like every thrifty Scots boy of the period, he had plenty of work to do in assisting his mother and father. The life of a Scots peasant of that time was one of hard and incessant toil; his recreations were few, his food meager, his opportunities limited, and the luxuries absent. Young John Paul ate his porridge and did his work like the rest. It would probably now be considered a sad and narrow life, which the stern and rigid austerity of the prevailing form of Calvinism did nothing to lighten. That gloomy religion, however, did produce men.

It was the parish school which shaped and molded the minds of the growing Scots, and it was the Kirk which shaped and directed the schools, and the one was not more thorough than the other. I doubt if anywhere on earth at that day was the standard of education among the common people higher and more universally reached than in Scotland. During the short school year Paul was sent religiously to the nearest parish school, where he was well grounded in the rudiments of solid learning with the thoroughness which made these little schools famous. No demands of labor were allowed to interfere with the claims of education. On Sunday he was religiously and regularly marched to the kirk to be duly inducted into the mysteries of the catechism, and thoroughly indoctrinated with the theory of predestination and its rigorous concomitants.

Of him, as of other boys, it is veraciously stated that he conceived a great fondness for the sea, and it is related that all his plays were of ships and sailors-a thing easily understood when it is remembered that his most impressionable hours were spent in sight and sound of the great deep, and that the white sails of ships upon the horizon were quite as familiar a picture to his youthful vision as the tree-clad hills and valleys of his native land. It is evident that he had no fancy for the garden. A man of action he, from his bib-and-tucker days. His chroniclers have loved to call attention to the fact that even as a lad he manifested the spirit of one born to rule, for in the sports and games it was his will which dominated his little group of comrades-and the Scotsman, even when he is a child, is not easily dominated, be it remembered. His was a healthy, vigorous boyhood.

His desire for the sea must have been stronger than the evanescent feeling which finds a place sooner or later in the life of most boys, for in 1759, with the full consent of his parents, he crossed the Solway to Whitehaven, the principal port of the Firth, where he was regularly bound apprentice to a merchant named Younger, who was engaged in the American trade. He was immediately sent to sea on the ship Friendship, Captain Benson, and at the tender age of twelve years he made his first voyage to the new land toward whose freedom and independence he was afterward destined to contribute so much. The destination of the ship happened to be the Rappahannock River. As it fortunately turned out, his elder brother, William, had some years before migrated to Virginia, where he had married and settled at Fredericksburg, and by his industry and thrift finally amassed a modest fortune. Young Paul at once conceived a great liking for America which never faltered; long afterward he stated that he had been devoted to it from his youth.

The ship duties in port not being arduous, the young apprentice, through the influence of his brother, was permitted to spend the period of the vessel's stay in America on shore under the roof of his kinsman. There he continued his studies with that zeal for knowledge which was one of his distinguishing characteristics, and which never left him in after life; for it is to be noted that he was always a student; indeed, had he not been so, his subsequent career would have been impossible. It was largely that habit of application, early acquired, that enabled him to advance himself beyond his original station. He especially applied himself to the science of navigation, the intricacies of which he speedily mastered, so that he became subsequently one of the most expert navigators that sailed the sea.

His natural inclination for the sea stood him in good stead, and he finally acquired a complete knowledge of the details of his trying profession. Upon the failure of Mr. Younger, who surrendered the indentures of young Paul to him as the only thing he could do for him in his present circumstances, he was sufficiently capable to receive an appointment as third mate on the slaver King George, of Whitehaven. A few years after, in 1766, being then but nineteen years of age, he was appointed to the most responsible position of chief mate of the slaver Two Friends, a brigantine of Jamaica. The contrast between the old and the new régime is brought vividly before us when we learn that to-day a cadet midshipman-the lowest naval rank at present-of the same age has still a year of schooling to undergo before he can even undertake the two years' probationary cruise at sea required before he can be commissioned in the lowest grade.

Slave trading was a popular and common vocation in that day, not reprehended as it would be at present. Gentlemen of substance and station did not scruple to engage in it, either as providing money and receiving profit, or as actually participating as master or supercargo of ships in the traffic. It is interesting to note that young Paul, as he grew in years and acquired character, became intensely dissatisfied with slaving. The sense of the cruelties, iniquities, and injustice of the trade developed in him with coming manhood, and gradually took such possession of him that, as was stated by his relatives and himself, he finally resolved to withdraw from it.

This determination, scarcely to be expected from one of his birth and circumstances, was greatly to his credit. The business itself was a most stirring and lucrative one, and for a young man to have attained the rank he enjoyed so early in life was evidence that he need have no fear but that the future would bring him further advancement and corresponding pecuniary reward. In this decision he was certainly in advance of his time as well; but that love of liberty which had been bred in him by the free air of the bold hills of his native land, and which afterward became the master passion of his life, for which he drew his sword, was undoubtedly heightened and intensified by this close personal touch with the horrors of involuntary servitude.

In the year 1768, therefore, giving up his position on the Two Friends, he sailed as a passenger in the brigantine John, bound for Kirkcudbright. It happened that the captain and mate of the vessel both died of fever during the voyage, and at the request of the crew Paul assumed command and brought the vessel safely to her port. Currie, Beck & Co., the owners of the John, were so pleased with this exploit that they appointed young Paul master and supercargo of the vessel, in which he made two voyages to the West Indies. He was a captain, therefore, and a merchant at the age of twenty-one. The owners of the John dissolved partnership on the completion of his second voyage, and disposed of the ship, giving Paul the following honorable certificate upon his discharge from their employ:

"These do certify to whom it may concern, that the bearer, Captain John Paul, was two voyages master of a vessel called the John, in our employ in the West India trade, during which time he approved himself every way qualified both as a navigator and supercargo; but as our present firm is dissolved, the vessel was sold, and of course he is out of our employ, all accounts between him and the owners being amicably adjusted. Certified at Kirkcudbright this 1st April, 1771.

"Currie, Beck & Co."

One incident in his West Indian service is worthy of mention, because it afterward crept out in a very ugly manner. On the second voyage of the John the carpenter, a man named Mungo Maxwell, formerly of Kirkcudbright, who had been mutinous, was severely flogged by the order of Paul. Maxwell was discharged at the island of Tobago. He immediately caused Paul to be summoned before the judge of the vice-admiralty court for assault. The judge, after hearing the testimony and statement of Captain Paul, dismissed the complaint as frivolous. Maxwell subsequently entered on a Barcelona packet, and in a voyage of the latter ship from Tobago to Antigua died of a fever. Out of this was built up a calumny to the effect that Maxwell had been so badly punished by Paul that he died from his injuries. When Paul was in the Russian service years afterward the slander was enhanced by the statement that Maxwell was his nephew. There was nothing whatever in the charge.

After his retirement from the command of the John he engaged in local trading with the Isle of Man. It has been charged that he was a smuggler during this period; but he specifically and vehemently denied the allegation, and it is certain that the first entry of goods shipped from England to the Isle of Man, after it was annexed to the crown, stands in his name on the custom-house books of the town of Douglas. Soon after this he commanded a ship, the Betsy, of London, in the West India trade, in which he engaged in mercantile speculations on his own account at Tobago and Grenada, until the year 1773, when he went to Virginia again to take charge of the affairs of his brother William, who had died intestate, leaving neither wife nor children.

 

Very little is known of his life from this period until his entry into the public service of the United States. From remarks in his journal and correspondence, it is evident, in spite of his brother's property, to which he was heir, and some other property and money which he had amassed by trading, which was invested in the island of Tobago, West Indies, that he continued for some time in very straitened circumstances. He speaks of having lived for nearly two years on the small sum of fifty pounds. It is probable that his poverty was due to his inability to realize upon his brother's estate, and the difficulty of getting a return of his West Indian investments, on account of the unsettled political conditions, though they were of considerable value. During this period, however, he took that step which has been a puzzle to so many of his biographers, and which he never explained in any of his correspondence that remains. He came to America under the name of John Paul; he reappeared after this period of obscurity under the name of John Paul Jones.

It is claimed by the descendants of the Jones family of North Carolina that while in Fredericksburg the young mariner made the acquaintance of the celebrated Willie (pronounced Wylie) Jones, one of the leading attorneys and politicians of North Carolina. Jones and his brother Allen were people of great prominence and influence in that province. It was Jones' influence, by the way, which in later years postponed the ratification of the proposed Constitution of the United States by North Carolina. Willie Jones seems to have attended to the legal side of Paul's claims to his deceased brother's estate, and a warm friendship sprang up between the two young men, so dissimilar in birth and breeding, which, it is alleged, ended in an invitation to young Paul to visit Jones and his brother on their plantations.

The lonely, friendless little Scotsman gratefully accepted the invitation-the society of gentle people always delighted him; he ever loved to mingle with great folk throughout his life-and passed a long period at "The Grove," in Northampton County, the residence of Willie, and at "Mount Gallant," in Halifax County, the home of Allen. While there, he was thrown much in the society of the wife of Willie Jones, a lady noted and remembered for her graces of mind and person, and who, by the way, made the famous answer to Tarleton's sneer-wholly unfounded, of course-at the gallant Colonel William A. Washington for his supposed illiteracy. Morgan and Washington had defeated Tarleton decisively at the Cowpens, and in the course of the action Washington and Tarleton had met in personal encounter. Washington had severely wounded Tarleton in the hand. The Englishman had only escaped capture by prompt flight and the speed of his horse. "Washington," said the sneering partisan to Mrs. Jones, "why, I hear he can't even write his name!" "No?" said the lady quietly and interrogatively, letting her eyes fall on a livid scar across Tarleton's hand, "Well, he can make his mark, at any rate."

The Jones brothers were men of culture and refinement. They were Eton boys, and had completed their education by travel and observation in Europe. That they should have become so attached to the young sailor as to have made him their guest for long periods, and cherished the highest regard for him subsequently, is an evidence of the character and quality of the man. Probably for the first time in his life Paul was introduced to the society of refined and cultivated people. A new horizon opened before him, and he breathed, as it were, another atmosphere. Life for him assumed a different complexion. Always an interesting personality, with his habits of thought, assiduous study, coupled with the responsibilities of command, he needed but a little contact with gentle people and polite society to add to his character those graces of manner which are the final crown of the gentleman, and which the best of his contemporaries have borne testimony he did not lack. The impression made upon him by the privilege of this association was of the deepest, and he gave to his new friends, and to Mrs. Jones especially, a warm-hearted affection and devotion amounting to veneration.

It is not improbable, also, that in the society in which he found himself-and it must be remembered that North Carolina was no less fervidly patriotic, no less desirous of independence, than Massachusetts: it was at Mecklenburg that the first declaration took place-the intense love of personal liberty and independence in his character which had made him abandon the slave trade was further developed, and that during this period he finally determined to become a resident of the new land; a resolution that made him cast his lot with the other colonists when the inevitable rupture came about.

It is stated that in view of this determination on his part to begin life anew in this country, and as a mark of the affection and gratitude he entertained for the family of his benefactors, he assumed the name of Jones. It was a habit in some secluded parts of Scotland and in Wales to take the father's Christian name as a surname also, and this may have been in his mind at the time. He did not assume the name of Jones, however, out of any disregard for his family or from any desire to disguise himself from them, for, although he last saw them in 1771, he ever continued in correspondence with them, and found means, whatever his circumstances, to make them frequent remittances of money during his busy life. To them he left all his property at his death. It is certain, therefore, that for no reason for which he had cause to be ashamed did he affix the name of Jones to his birth name, and it may be stated that whatever name he took he honored. Henceforth in this volume he will be known by the name which he made so famous.2

One other incident of this period is noteworthy. During his visit to North Carolina he was introduced by the Jones brothers to Joseph Hewes, of Edenton, one of the delegates from North Carolina to the first and second Provincial Congresses, and a signer of the great Declaration of Independence. In Congress Hewes was a prominent member of the Committee on Naval Affairs, upon which devolved the work of beginning and carrying on the navy of the Revolution. When the war broke out Paul Jones was still living in Virginia. But when steps were taken to organize a navy for the revolted colonies, attracted by the opportunities presented in that field of service in which he was a master, and glad of the chance for maintaining a cause so congenial to his habit of life and thought, he formally tendered his services to his adopted country. The influence of Willie Jones and Hewes was secured, and on the 7th of December, 1775, Jones was appointed a lieutenant in the new Continental navy.

Additional note on the assumption of the name of Jones

Mr. Augustus C. Buell, in his exhaustive and valuable study of Paul Jones, published since this book was written, states that the name was assumed by him in testamentary succession to his brother, who had added the name of Jones at the instance of a wealthy planter named William Jones, who had adopted him. Mr. Buell's authority rests on tradition and the statements made by Mr. Louden, a great-grandnephew of the commodore (since dead), and of the sometime owner of the Jones plantation. On the other hand, in addition to the letters quoted in the Appendix, I have received many others from different sources, tending to confirm the version given by me. Among them is one from a Fredericksburg antiquarian, who claims that William Paul never bore the name of Jones in Fredericksburg. General Cadwallader Jones (who died in 1899, aged eighty-six), in a privately published biography, also states explicitly that he heard the story from Mrs. Willie Jones herself. Mr. Buell, in a recent letter to me, calls attention to the fact-and it is significant-that absolutely no reference to the North Carolina claim appears in any extant letter of the commodore, and claims that Hewes and Jones were acquainted before John Paul settled in America. As the official records have all been destroyed, the matter of the name will probably never be absolutely determined.

1Among the gross slanders by which envy strove to blacken the fame of the great commodore in after years-the foulest, because it attempted to rob a virtuous woman of her crown of honest motherhood and question the legitimacy of Jones' birth-was one which ascribed his paternity to the Earl of Selkirk. To the English snob of that day it may probably have seemed impossible that so much greatness could spring from so plain a stock, and in a left-handed descent from Lord Selkirk was sought an explanation of Jones' fame. The calumny was refuted not only by its antecedent incredibility, but by the testimony of persons in position to affirm as to the high personal character of Jean MacDuff Paul and by the loving and tender family relationship she ever sustained to her husband and children. The family was well known and highly respected. It may be noted, by the way, that the Earl of Selkirk was not conspicuous for ability or anything else, and if it had not been for a subsequent exploit of Jones' he would have been forgotten long since.
2See Appendix I.
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