Commodore Paul Jones

Brady Cyrus Townsend
Commodore Paul Jones


The tremendous nervous strain which Jones had undergone, the constant labor and exposure necessitated by the circumstances of his hard cruising and fighting, and the recent exposure in the severe winter weather had broken down his health. His spirit had outpaced his body, and in a very ill and weak condition, with his eyes so inflamed that he was almost blinded, he went on shore in search of rest. Meanwhile preparations were made thoroughly to overhaul the Alliance and load her with a large quantity of valuable and much-needed military supplies which had been purchased for the army of the United States, among them the battery which had been cast for the Bon Homme Richard, which had arrived after her departure.

Hard by the Alliance in the harbor lay the handsome Serapis. With perfectly natural feelings Jones longed to get possession of her again. He wrote immediately to Franklin, detailing the repairs necessary to put the Alliance in shape, which were very extensive and correspondingly expensive, and asked that he might have leave to sheath the Alliance with copper, and that the Serapis might be purchased and turned over to him. He hoped that the repairs to the Alliance might be made by the French Government, perhaps that they would also give him the Serapis. As the condition of the Alliance had been justly attributed by Jones to the negligence and incompetence of Landais, and not to any accident of the cruise under the auspices of France, there did not seem to be any good reason for having the ship repaired at the expense of the French Government. Franklin stated that the whole expense would have to fall upon him, and begged him in touching words to be as economical as possible, as his financial resources, as always, were limited. For the same reason it was impossible to secure the Serapis.

He says:

"I therefore beg you would have mercy on me; put me to as little charge as possible, and take nothing that you can possibly do without. As to sheathing with copper, it is totally out of the question. I am not authorized to do it if I had money; and I have not money for it if I had orders."

As the demand in America for the military supplies which Franklin had procured was pressing, Jones was ordered to hasten the repairs to the Alliance. In spite of Franklin's strict injunction to economize, Jones proceeded to overhaul, refit, and remodel entirely the frigate in accordance with his ideas and experience. As his ideas were excellent and his experience had been ample, when the repairs had been completed they left nothing to be desired. But the bills were very heavy. Franklin protested, but paid. As a matter of fact, it must be admitted Jones did not stint himself when it came to outfitting a ship-or anything else, for that matter. His experience with the Ranger, the Richard, and the Alliance had naturally disgusted him with inadequately provided ships of war. The beautiful little boat was the superior of any of her size upon the ocean, and subsequently, under the command of Captain John Barry, she did brilliant and noteworthy service. If it had not been for Jones she would have been worthless.

The charge of extravagance, however, is fairly substantiated. Jones was, in fact, as indifferent in the spending of other people's money as he was with his own, and I have no doubt the bills, although he paid them, almost broke the harassed commissioner's heart. Jones, however, was in a very different position from that he had occupied previously. He had demonstrated his capacity in the most unequivocal manner. He was not a man to be dealt with slightingly, nor did Franklin, who undoubtedly cherished a genuine admiration and regard for him, which the sailor fully reciprocated by an enthusiastic admiration amounting to veneration, wish to do anything to humiliate him.

While the repairs were progressing the financial status of the crew was in no way amended. There was no money forthcoming to them on the score of wages; the sale of the prizes was delayed, and serious differences arose between the agents of the crews, de Chaumont as representing the king, and Jones himself. Finally, in order to further the settlement of the matter, Jones decided to go to Paris and see what he could do personally to hasten the sale of the prizes, and perhaps secure some funds with which to pay the wages of the crews, in part at least.

Early in April, therefore, he left the Alliance at L'Orient and repaired to the capital. From one point of view it was an unwise thing to do, for he left behind him a discontented and mutinous crew, which only his own indomitable personality had been able to repress and control. It is likely, however, that affairs at L'Orient would have remained in statu quo had it not been for the advent of Arthur Lee. This gentleman is perhaps the only member of the famous family whose name he bore upon whose conduct and character severe judgment must be passed. Jealous, quarrelsome, and incompetent, his blundering attempts at diplomacy had worked more harm than good to the American nation. By his vanity and indiscretion he had continually thwarted the wise plans and brilliant policy of Franklin, with whom he had finally embroiled himself to such an extent that it became necessary for him to return home. Not only had he lost the esteem of Franklin, but through his petty meanness he had also forfeited the confidence of Congress, which had superseded him by John Jay at the court of Spain, to which he had been accredited previously.

Franklin desired Jones to give him a passage home in the Alliance. Jones had a great dislike to his proposed passenger. When his draft upon the commissioners for twenty-four thousand livres had been dishonored, it was largely through the influence of Lee that the money had been refused him. Lee was fully acquainted with the circumstances which caused Jones to apply, and he might have secured payment. At least that was the opinion of Jones. With his usual frankness, Jones had not hesitated to express his opinion to Lee in a very tart letter, which had not improved the situation. In the face of the request of Franklin, Jones had no option but to receive Lee and his suite on the Alliance. He objected, however, most strenuously to allowing the ex-commissioner to take his carriage and other equipage on the frigate, stating with entire accuracy that articles of such bulk would take up much room, which could be better devoted to other and more important freightage. This, no doubt, further incensed Lee against Jones. He was ever inclined to put his personal comfort before the welfare of his country.

Landais had been summoned, as we have seen, to Paris. The commissioners, with the documents prepared in the Texel before them, had discussed his case, and had decided to send him to America for trial. Franklin, who had not yet expressed any public judgment in the premises, though his private opinion was well known, had presented Landais with a sum of money for his voyage to the United States, and the whole correspondence, including the charges, had been transmitted to Congress.

Arthur Lee, with his usual captious spirit, and inspired by his hatred of Jones and the desire to disagree with Franklin at the same time, had dissented from the view and decision of his colleagues. He had maintained that Landais was legally entitled to continue in the command of the Alliance, and that Franklin had not the power to supersede him-a contention not substantiated by the facts, nor, as was afterward shown, supported by Congress itself.

When Jones went to Paris, therefore, Lee, realizing his opportunity, at once began to foment additional disorder in the already demoralized crew. Coincident with Jones' departure, Landais also made his appearance. Had Lee summoned him? Lee did not hesitate to express the opinion to that gentleman himself, his officers, and crew, that Landais was legitimately entitled to the command of the Alliance, and could not be removed therefrom except by specific direction of Congress. Things, therefore, developed with painful rapidity at L'Orient, until Landais addressed a note to Franklin demanding that he be reinstated in the command of the Alliance-a curious procedure for a man who claimed that Franklin was without power to displace him!

Meanwhile Jones was having a brilliant reception in France. While he had incurred the hostility of the French naval officers, who fancied that he had deprived them of commands to which they were better entitled, and in the enjoyment of which he had gained distinction through opportunities which might possibly have fallen to them and which they might have embraced, he was everywhere received with the highest honors, as well by the court as the people. To the populace, indeed, he was a hero who had humbled the enemy whom they hated with the characteristic passion of Frenchmen. Franklin took him to call upon his old tormentor, the dilatory de Sartine, and, owing perhaps to naval prejudice, his first reception was extremely cool; but, as it became evident that he was a popular hero, the tone of the minister was lowered, and his actions were modified, so that he afterward extended him a warm welcome and professed extreme friendship for the commodore. The king and queen accorded him the favor of an audience, and his majesty, falling in with the popular current, was pleased to declare his intention of presenting him with a magnificent gold-mounted sword, to be inscribed with the following flattering motto:


He also signified his royal purpose, should the Congress acquiesce therein, of investing Jones with the cross of the Order of Military Merit, a distinction never before accorded to any but a subject of France, and only awarded for heroic conduct or conspicuous and brilliant military or naval services against the enemy. Nothing could have been more grateful to a man of Jones' temperament than the appreciation of the French people, and these evidences of admiration and esteem from the hand of the king. On his previous visit to Paris, after the capture of the Drake, he had been made much of; in this instance his reception greatly surpassed his former welcome. He became the lion of the day, the attraction of the hour. Great men sought his company, and held themselves honored by his friendship; while the fairest of the ladies of the gay court were proud to receive the attentions of the man who had so dramatically conquered the hated English. In all these circumstances he bore himself with becoming modesty. On one occasion he was invited to the queen's box at the opera. When he entered the theater he was loudly cheered, and at the close of the act a laurel wreath was suspended over his head, whereupon he changed his seat. This natural action has been quaintly commented upon by various biographers, and the statement is made that for many years it was held up before the French youth as an exhibition of extraordinary modesty!


One of the most admirable of Jones' traits was a chivalrous devotion to women. To a natural grace of manner he added the bold directness of a sailor, which was not without its charm to the beauties of Versailles, sated with the usual artificial gallantry of the men of the period. Jones spoke French rather well, and had a taste for music and poetry. There were, therefore, many who did not disdain to draw the "sea lion" in their train. On account of the favors he had received he was a person of distinction at the court. Among his voluminous correspondence which has been preserved are numbers of letters to and from different women of rank and station, dating from this period and from his prolonged stay in Paris after the war had terminated. Among others, he corresponded with a lady who, after the romantic fashion of the time, at first endeavored to hide her identity under the name of Delia. Between Jones and Delia there seems to have sprung up a genuine passion, for the letters on both sides breathe a spirit of passionate, heartfelt devotion. It has been discovered that Delia was but another name for Madame de Telison, a natural daughter of Louis XV, with whom Jones frequently corresponded under her own name, and who is referred to in his biographies as Madame T-, and the identification is definite and complete. He was catholic in his affections, however, for he by no means confined his epistolary relations to the gentle and devoted Madame de Telison.

It is interesting to note that in all these letters there is not a single indelicate or ill-bred allusion. That is what would be expected to-day, but when we remember that so great an authority as Robert Walpole suggested that everybody at his table should "talk bawdy," as being the only subject every one could understand, the significance of his clean letters is apparent. In his correspondence, except in the case of Aimée Adèle de Telison, he never appears to have passed beyond the bounds of romantic friendship. In later years, however, it is possible to infer from his letters that Madame de Telison bore to him a son, whose history is entirely unknown. Among others who honored him with their friendship were three women of high rank, the Duchess de Chartres, Madame d'Ormoy, and the Countess de Lavendahl, who painted his portrait in miniature.

An English lady, Miss Edes, sojourning in France at this time, thus refers to him in two letters which she wrote for publication in the English journals:

"The famous Paul Jones dines and sups here often; he is a smart man of thirty-six, speaks but little French, appears to be an extraordinary genius, a poet as well as hero; a few days ago he wrote some verses extempore, of which I send you a copy. He is greatly admired here, especially by the ladies, who are wild for love of him; but he adores the Countess of Lavendahl, who has honored him with every mark of politeness and distinction.

"'Insulted freedom bled; I felt her cause,
And drew my sword to vindicate her laws
From principle, and not from vain applause.
I've done my best; self-interest far apart,
And self-reproach a stranger to my heart.
My zeal still prompts, ambitious to pursue
The foe, ye fair! of liberty and you;
Grateful for praise, spontaneous and unbought,
A generous people's love not meanly sought;
To merit this, and bend the knee to beauty,
Shall be my earliest and latest duty.'

"Since my last, Paul Jones drank tea and supped here. If I am in love for him, for love I may die. I have as many rivals as there are ladies, but the most formidable is still Lady Lavendahl, who possesses all his heart. This lady is of high rank and virtue, very sensible, good-natured, and affable. Besides this, she is possessed of youth, beauty, and wit, and every other form of female accomplishment. He is gone, I suppose, for America. They correspond, and his letters are replete with elegance, sentiment, and delicacy. She drew his picture, a striking likeness, and wrote some lines under it which are much admired, and presented it to him. Since he received it he is, like a second Narcissus, in love with his own resemblance; to be sure, he is the most agreeable sea wolf one would wish to meet with."

In all this, however, Jones did not for a moment neglect the business which had called him to Paris. He moved heaven and earth to effect the sale of the prizes, bringing to bear all his personal popularity and making use of his new-found friends, both men and women, to accomplish the desired results. In all his attempts he was zealously supported by Franklin, who, I have no doubt, greatly enjoyed the popularity of his protégé.

Finally, on the last day of May, having received positive assurance that the prizes would be sold and distribution made immediately, he set out for L'Orient. On leaving Paris he carried with him a personal commendation from Franklin and a letter from de Sartine to the President of Congress, as follows:

"Passy, June 1, 1780.

"Samuel Huntington, Esq., President of Congress.

"Sir: Commodore Jones, who by his bravery and conduct has done great honour to the American flag, desires to have that also of presenting a line to the hands of your Excellency. I cheerfully comply with his request, in recommending him to the notice of Congress, and to your Excellency's protection, though his actions are more effectual recommendations, and render any from me unnecessary. It gives me, however, an opportunity of shewing my readiness to do justice to merit, and of professing the esteem and respect with which I am, etc. B. Franklin."

From M. de Sartine to Mr. Huntington, President of the Congress of the United States:

"Versailles, May 30, 1780.

"Commodore Paul Jones, after having shown to all Europe, and particularly to the enemies of France and the United States, the most unquestionable proofs of his valor and talents, is about returning to America to give an account to Congress of the success of his military operations. I am convinced, Sir, that the reputation he has so justly acquired will precede him, and that the recital of his actions alone will suffice to prove to his fellow citizens that his abilities are equal to his courage. But the king has thought proper to add his suffrage and attention to the public opinion. He has expressly charged me to inform you how perfectly he is satisfied with the services of the Commodore, persuaded that Congress will render him the same justice. He has offered, as a proof of his esteem, to present him with a sword, which can not be placed in better hands, and likewise proposed to Congress to decorate this brave officer with the cross of Military Merit. His Majesty conceives that this particular distinction, by holding forth the same honours to the two nations, united by the same interests, will be looked upon as one tie more that connects them, and will support that emulation which is so precious to the common cause. If, after having approved the conduct of the Commodore, it should be thought proper to give him the command of any new expedition to Europe, His Majesty will receive him again with pleasure, and presumes that Congress will oppose nothing that may be judged expedient to secure the success of his enterprises. My personal esteem for him induces me to recommend him very particularly to you, Sir, and I dare flatter myself that the welcome he will receive from Congress and you will warrant the sentiments with which he has inspired me."

While all this had been going on, however, Franklin had been having serious trouble with the men of the Alliance. On the 12th of April the officers dispatched a letter to Franklin demanding their prize money and wages. Franklin had previously advanced them twenty-four thousand livres, and he wrote them that everything was being done to hasten the sale of the prizes, and that they would have to be content with what he had given them, and receive the balance when they reached the United States. On the 29th of May Landais wrote, repeating his application of the 17th of March, and inclosing a mutinous letter signed by one hundred and fifteen of the crew of the Alliance, declaring that they would not raise an anchor nor sail from L'Orient till they had six months' wages paid to them, and the utmost farthing of their prize money, including that for the ships sent into Norway, and until their legal captain, Pierre Landais, was restored to them.

Landais had added the phrase "until their legal captain, P. Landais, is restored to us," himself. With this letter was another communication from fourteen of the original officers of the Alliance, to the effect that the crew were in favor of Landais, who was a capable officer, whose conduct had been misrepresented, and whom they considered themselves bound to obey as their legal captain. These officers can not be relieved of a large share of the odium attaching to the conduct of the Alliance during the battle between the Richard and the Serapis. The reason for their dislike of Jones is therefore apparent. To carry out their designs they had circulated among the crew statements to the effect that Jones had received the prize money and was enjoying himself at their expense. The fine Italian hand of Mr. Lee is to be seen in the documents they forwarded to Franklin. Franklin's reply to this disgracefully insubordinate batch of letters was remarkable for its tact, acumen, and good sense. After keenly expressing his surprise that the very officers who had testified against Landais a short time before, and whom Landais had stated were all leagued against him, were now desirous of being placed again under his command, he writes as follows:

"I have related exactly to Congress the manner of his [Landais'] leaving the ship, and though I declined any judgment of his maneuvers in the fight, I have given it as my opinion, after examining the affair, that it was not at all likely either that he should have given orders to fire into the Bon Homme Richard, or that his officers should have obeyed such an order should it have been given them. Thus I have taken what care I could of your honour in that particular. You will, therefore, excuse me if I am a little concerned for it in another. If it should come to be publicly known that you had the strongest aversion to Captain Landais, who has used you basely, and that it is only since the last year's cruise, and the appointment of Commodore Jones to the command, that you request to be again under your old captain, I fear suspicions and reflections may be thrown upon you by the world, as if this change of sentiment may have arisen from your observation during the cruise, that Captain Jones loved close fighting,35 but that Captain Landais was skilful in keeping out of harm's way; and that you, therefore, thought yourself safer with the latter. For myself, I believe you to be brave men and lovers of your country and its glorious cause; and I am persuaded you have only been ill-advised and misled by the artful and malicious representations of some persons I guess at. Take in good part this counsel from an old man who is your friend. Go home peaceably with your ship. Do your duty faithfully and cheerfully. Behave respectfully to your commander, and I am persuaded he will do the same to you. Thus you will not only be happier in your voyage, but recommend yourselves to the future favours of Congress and of your country."


At the same time he specifically directed Landais to refrain from meddling with the men or creating any disturbance on the Alliance at his peril. To this letter Landais paid no attention. This was the situation when Jones reached L'Orient. Franklin wrote him concerning the letters and batch of documents from Landais and the crew, which had arrived after his departure, and advised him what had been done in consequence. The commissioner had procured an imperative order to the authorities at L'Orient for the arrest of Landais, who was to be tried for his life as an emigrant without the king's permission. Franklin also directed Jones to withhold from the signers of the mutinous letter any portion of the money he had advanced on account of the prizes, and he added the firm and decided injunction that if any one was not willing to trust his country to see justice done him he should be put ashore at his own charges to await the sale of the prizes.

The situation was most critical, and that Franklin appreciated it fully is shown by the following citation from one of his letters to Jones:

"… You are likely to have great trouble. I wish you well through it. You have shown your abilities in fighting; you have now an opportunity of showing the other necessary part in the character of a great chief, your abilities in policy."

Before this letter was received, however, matters had risen to a climax, which resulted in the ejection of Jones and the assumption of the command by Landais. Immediately he arrived at L'Orient, Jones hastened to get ready for leaving. The Ariel, a small ship of twenty guns, had been loaned by the French Government to carry such supplies as could not be taken on the Alliance. Several American vessels with valuable cargoes were awaiting his departure also, to sail under his convoy.

Jones had gone on board the Alliance as usual, as his duty demanded, and had been received respectfully and his orders promptly obeyed. On the morning of the 13th of June, being now for the first time informed of the mutinous action of the crew and the letters to Franklin, he mustered the crew and caused his commission and Franklin's first order to him to take command of the ship in the Texel, and his last one, to carry her to Philadelphia, to be read to the men. He then addressed the seamen, pointing out to them the obligations they had assumed, the consequences of a refusal to obey him on their part, and urged them to a faithful performance of their duty. He asked them, if any one had any complaints to make against him, that they be made now. No reply was made to this address, and no complaints were brought forward. The men were then dismissed to their stations.

Shortly after this incident Jones went ashore. Landais was advised of the whole situation immediately, and sent a letter to Degges, the first lieutenant, ordering him to assume the command of the ship and retain it in the face of Jones or any one else until Landais should receive an answer to his demand to Franklin to be replaced in the command of the Alliance. When he received this order, Landais stated that he would at once come on board and take over the ship. Degges mustered the crew again and read this letter. The adroit suggestions of Mr. Lee and the insinuations as to Jones' alleged betrayal of their interests by making off with the prize money had so worked on the feelings of the men that they at once declared for Landais, who, on being notified, promptly repaired to the ship and formally assumed command.

Dale and the officers of the Richard on the Alliance, who had not been aware of these last proceedings, for they had been adroitly timed for their dinner hour when they were below, were apprised of Landais' arrival by the cheering on deck. They protested against his assuming command, and were all sent ashore without ceremony. Mr. Lee seems to have suggested and approved of the action of Landais; indeed, without his sanction the latter would never have dared to take command of the ship.

On the afternoon of the same day Jones dispatched a letter to Franklin by express, relating the circumstances, and then immediately followed in person, which was an unnecessary thing to do. On his arrival at Paris he found that peremptory orders had already been sent post haste to L'Orient to detain forcibly the Alliance, and reiterating the command to arrest Landais. Franklin, appreciating the meddling of Lee, withdrew his request to Jones to receive him as a passenger, and stated that he might return to America in some of the other ships going home under the convoy of the Alliance. Finding nothing more to be done, after staying but two days, Jones returned to L'Orient as quickly as possible. He arrived on the morning of the 20th of June, having been absent six days.

During this time the Alliance had been warped out of the inner roads into the narrow strait called Port Louis, which was inclosed by rocks and commanded by batteries, which she would have to pass before she could reach the outer roads of Groix. The peremptory orders to stop the ship had not arrived, but the commander of the port under his previous orders had caused a barrier to be drawn across the narrow strait of Port Louis, and had ordered the forts to sink the frigate if she attempted to pass out. When Jones arrived, a boat was sent off to the ship by the port officer, carrying the king's order for the arrest of Landais. He positively refused to surrender himself. Franklin's latest orders to Landais and the officers and men were then delivered, and were treated with equal contempt.

All this was another evidence of Landais' folly, for the Alliance was completely in Jones' power. He had but to give the word to have caused the batteries to open fire and sink her. She could neither have escaped nor made adequate reply. Indeed, it is probable, from the character of her captain, officers, and crew, that she would have made little or no fight. But, according to Jones' specific statement, for France, the avowed ally of America, to have opened fire upon an American ship, and to have killed and wounded American sailors, would have been a terrible misfortune, a thing greatly to be deplored, and to be avoided if possible, lest the present friendly relations between the two countries should be impaired by this action. The aid of France was vital to the American cause at this juncture, and it was patent that every effort should be made to promote harmony rather than sow discord; therefore Jones reluctantly requested the commander to secure his batteries, open the barrier, and allow the Alliance to get through the strait. The French officers accordingly, in the absence of other orders, stopped the preparations they had made to detain the frigate, and expressed their admiration for the magnanimity of Jones in allowing the Alliance to go free. As soon as he received permission, Landais warped the Alliance through the passage between the rocks and anchored in Groix roads. Safe out of harm's way, he had reached a position from which he really could defy Jones and France at last, and defy them he did, more boldly than ever.

It is impossible entirely to approve of Jones' conduct in this complicated affair. He might have gone on board the Alliance the day of the outbreak and confronted Landais. His own personality was so strong that it seems probable he could have regained possession of the ship in despite of anything the weak Landais could say or do. However, if the spirit of the men had been so turned against him that in his judgment this would have been impracticable, he certainly had the situation entirely in his own hands when the Alliance lay under the guns of the batteries. It was not necessary for the batteries to open fire. If he had simply kept the pass closed Landais would have been unable to get away, and it is difficult to see how he could have avoided surrendering himself and yielding up his ship eventually. All that would have been necessary for Jones to do would be to have patience; that was a thing, however, of which he had but little throughout his life. If he did not desire to wait, he could have opened fire upon the ship, taking the risk of a rupture, or allowing the blame, if any arose, to fall upon those who had put him in command of the Alliance originally, and had continued him therein. I venture to surmise that the first broadside would have brought down the flag of the Alliance. In this action he would have been entirely within his rights. If Jones really wanted her, he could have easily secured possession of the ship.

34"Louis XVI, the rewarder, to the mighty deliverer, for the freedom of the sea."
35Italics mine.
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