Litres Baner
Commodore Paul Jones

Brady Cyrus Townsend
Commodore Paul Jones


When Jones arrived at Philadelphia, the Board of Admiralty was engaged in investigating the delay in bringing the stores from France. Franklin, Jones, and Landais were under discussion. For his share in the performance, and for other actions mentioned, Landais had already been punished, as we have seen. Jones, therefore, was at once summoned before the board, but before he reported to them they dismissed the summons and instead requested him to answer in writing an exhaustive series of questions covering his actions from the time of his arrival at L'Orient the year before. Jones immediately set about preparing his replies, meanwhile sending Franklin's note and De Sartine's letter to the President to Congress, which, on the 27th of February, adopted the following resolutions:

"Resolved, That the Congress entertain a high sense of the distinguished bravery and military conduct of John Paul Jones, Esq., captain in the navy of the United States, and particularly in his victory over the British frigate Serapis on the coast of England, which was attended with circumstances so brilliant as to excite general applause and admiration.

"That the Minister Plenipotentiary of these United States, at the Court of Versailles, communicate to his Most Christian Majesty, the high satisfaction Congress has received from the conduct and gallant behaviour of Captain John Paul Jones, which have merited the attention and approbation of his Most Christian Majesty, and that his Majesty's offer of adorning Captain Jones with a Cross of Military Merit, is highly acceptable to Congress."

In accordance with the permission conveyed by these flattering resolutions, the French Minister, M. de la Luzerne, gave a splendid entertainment, to which the members of Congress and the principal citizens of Philadelphia were invited. Before this distinguished company, in the name of the king, the commodore, wearing his beautiful sword, was invested with the cross of a Knight of the Order of Military Merit. It is stated that Jones habitually wore this decoration thereafter, and referred to himself, and desired to be addressed, by the title of Chevalier, which was conferred with it.

On the 28th of March, having carefully considered his answers to the questions, the board declared itself as fully satisfied that the delay had not been owing to Jones or Franklin, and stated to Congress in an enthusiastic document that the conduct of Jones merited some distinguished mark of approbation. In accordance with this recommendation, on the 14th of April the following resolution was passed:

"That the thanks of the United States, in Congress assembled, be given to Captain John Paul Jones, for the zeal, prudence, and intrepidity with which he hath supported the honour of the American flag; for his bold and successful enterprises, to redeem from captivity the citizens of these States, who had fallen under the power of the enemy; and, in general, for the good conduct and eminent services by which he has added lustre to his character and to the American arms.

"That the thanks of the United States, in Congress assembled, be also given to the officers and men who have faithfully served under him from time to time, for their steady affection to the cause of their country, and the bravery and perseverance they have manifested therein."

The thanks of Congress, the highest honor an officer can receive, were given to but five other officers during the Revolution-viz., to Washington, for the capture of Boston; to Gates, for taking Burgoyne; to Wayne, for the storming of Stony Point; to Morgan, for the victory at the Cowpens; and to Greene, for his success at Eutaw Springs. Jones, therefore, stood in distinguished company.

On the 19th of May, to all of these honors was added a further evidence of esteem, which was perhaps as valuable as any that he had received. It came in the shape of the following letter from Washington:

"Sir: My partial acquaintance with either our naval or commercial affairs makes it altogether impossible for me to account for the unfortunate delay of those articles of military stores and clothing which have been so long provided in France. Had I any particular reasons to have suspected you of being accessory to that delay, which I assure you has not been the case, my suspicions would have been removed by the very full and satisfactory answers, which you have, to the best of my judgment, made to the questions proposed to you by the Board of Admiralty, and upon which that board have, in their report to Congress, testified the high sense which they entertain of your merit and services.

"Whether our naval affairs have, in general, been well or ill conducted it would be presumptuous for me to determine. Instances of bravery and good conduct in several of our officers have not, however, been wanting. Delicacy forbids me to mention that particular one which has attracted the admiration of all the world, and which has influenced a most illustrious monarch to confer a mark of his favour which can only be obtained by a long and honourable service, or by the performance of some brilliant action.

"That you may long enjoy the reputation you have so justly acquired is the sincere wish of, Sir, your most obedient and very humble servant,

"George Washington."

An attempt was made in Congress to promote him to the grade of rear admiral-which he certainly deserved-and a resolution to that effect was introduced. Owing, however, to jealousy among certain other officers whom he would have superseded, the effort fell through. This would have settled the long and tiresome contention on the question of relative rank, and naturally would have been most agreeable to Jones. However, the matter was settled in a more indirect but perhaps equally satisfactory way.

On the 23d of June, Robert Morris became Minister of Marine in succession to the Board of Admiralty, which was abolished, and on that same day Congress resolved to take a ballot three days later to designate the commander of the America, a magnificent ship of the line, building at Portsmouth, which was then believed to be nearly ready for launching. On the 26th of June, the ballot being taken, it was found that Paul Jones had been unanimously chosen for the position. Since the act of Congress on the 15th of November, 1776, made a captain of a ship of from twenty to forty guns equal to a lieutenant colonel, while a captain of a ship of forty guns and upward was made equal to a colonel, and as he was the only officer intrusted with so large a command, Jones was thus in effect placed at the head of the navy list. He certainly belonged there. With his usual good sense he notes in his journal his satisfaction, as follows:

"Thus Congress took a delicate method to avoid cabal and to do justice. It was more agreeable to Captain Jones to be so honourably elected captain of the line than to have been, as was proposed by the committee, raised at once to the rank of rear admiral, because Congress had not then the means of giving a command suitable to that rank."

By direction of Robert Morris, at this time he presented his accounts to Congress. He had received no pay and but little prize money since his entry into the service, and, as has been stated, had advanced large sums of money from his private funds for the payment of officers and crew. The Government indebtedness to him amounted to some twenty-seven thousand dollars, but no money was forthcoming, consequently on the 28th of July he was actually compelled to ask for an advance of four hundred pounds to pay current expenses and small debts in Philadelphia, and enable him to proceed to New Hampshire and enter upon his duties. This he appears to have received. He stopped en route at New Rochelle, where he was handsomely entertained by Washington and de Rochambeau, both of whom he had great pleasure in meeting. As he received a hint at the army headquarters that his decoration and title might be obnoxious to the sturdy New Englanders, he thereafter discontinued wearing the cross for a space. He reached Portsmouth toward the last of August, and found that the America was still on the ways and would not be ready to put to sea for months. This was a great disappointment to him, but he set to work with his usual zeal to further the work of getting the ship ready for launching.

During his wanderings he had collected a most valuable professional library, and he now found leisure to devote a good part of his time to study, some of the results of which appeared in the improvements which he carried out on the America. As usual, he also resumed his correspondence. In his letters of this period are many excellent suggestions looking to the welfare and future development of the naval service. Many of these suggestions were subsequently adopted in the service. The following letter, dated August 12, 1782, which he received from John Adams, then minister at The Hague, is pleasant reading:

"The command of the America could not have been more judiciously bestowed; and it is with impatience that I wish her at sea, where she will do honour to her name. Nothing gives me so much surprise, or so much regret, as the inattention of my countrymen to their navy; it is a bulwark as essential to us as it is to Great Britain.38 It is less costly than armies, and more easily removed from one end of the United States to the other.


"Rodney's victory has intoxicated Britain again to such a degree that I think there will be no peace for some time. Indeed, if I could see a prospect of half a dozen line of battle ships under the American flag, commanded by Commodore John Paul Jones, engaged with an equal British force, I apprehend the event would be so glorious for the United States, and ay, so sure a foundation for their prosperity, that it would be a rich compensation for a continuance of the war."

When Jones heard of the movement which resulted in the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, he had expressed a desire to serve as a volunteer in the army for the campaign under Lafayette. He pined for action always. On this subject he received the following affectionate letter from that gallant Frenchman:

"December 22, 1781.

"I have been honoured with your polite favour, my dear Paul Jones, but before it reached me I was already on board the Alliance, and every minute expecting to put to sea. It would have afforded me great satisfaction to pay my respects to the inhabitants of Portsmouth, and the State in which you are for the present. As to the pleasure to take you by the hand, my dear Paul Jones, you know my affectionate sentiments, and my very great regard for you, so that I need not add anything on that subject.

"Accept of my best thanks for the kind expressions in your letter. His Lordship's [Lord Cornwallis] downfall is a great event, and the greater as it was equally and amicably shared by the two allied nations. Your coming to the army I had the honour to command would have been considered as a very flattering compliment to one who loves you and knows your worth. I am impatient to hear that you are ready to sail, and I am of opinion that we ought to unite under you every Continental ship we can muster, with such a body of well-appointed marines [troupes de mer] as might cut a good figure ashore, and then give you plenty of provisions and carte blanche."

It would appear from the letters that both Adams and Lafayette held a similar opinion of the capacity of the great commodore.

On the occasion of the rejoicings at Portsmouth over the surrender of Cornwallis he ventured to assume his cross of knighthood again, and, finding that no objections were made, he continued to wear it on all occasions, and he also resumed the title of Chevalier. The fall, the winter, and the following summer passed quietly and pleasantly for the little captain, busily engaged in writing, waiting, working, planning, and drawing. On the whole I think this must have been, after Paris, the happiest period of his life. He made many friends, and was much looked up to by the people of Portsmouth and vicinity. There was a spice of excitement about his work as well, which relieved the monotony, for the enemy conceived various projects to destroy the America, which could not be put in operation owing to the vigorous watchfulness of Jones, who armed and drilled and exercised his workmen for guarding the ship. The birth of the French Dauphin was celebrated elaborately in the summer of 1782.

Toward the last of August the ship was about ready for launching, and Jones cherished high hopes of soon getting to sea in her. Unfortunately, however, a squadron of French ships of the line, under the Marquis de Vaudreuil, entered the harbor of Boston at this time, and one of them, named the Magnifique, was stranded on a rock and lost. Congress, by a resolution dated the 3d of September, presented the America to the French king as a recompense for the loss of the Magnifique, and on the 4th of September Morris sadly acquainted Jones with the decision. To be compelled to turn over the great ship, in which he had hoped to do such brilliant service, to the French was a tremendous disappointment to the commodore, but he wrote in so noble and magnanimous a manner to Morris on the subject that the latter at once said to him that the sentiments which he had expressed would always reflect the highest honor upon his character. In fact, Jones' words made so strong an impression upon the mind of Morris that he immediately submitted his letter to Congress.

The America was launched on the 5th of November. The operation of getting her into the water was a difficult one on account of the peculiar lay of the land opposite the ways, but Jones accomplished it with his usual skill and address. When the ship was safely moored he turned her over to the Chevalier de Martigne, the former captain of the Magnifique, and on the next day he started for Philadelphia. The America was reputed to be one of the most beautiful and effective ships afloat.

Morris, who was a great admirer and an old friend of Jones, now desired to place him in command of that vessel which had been the object of his desire for so many years, the frigate Indien, which, by a queer combination of circumstances, had finally been brought to Philadelphia. The King of France, having no use for the ship, had lent her to the Chevalier de Luxembourg, who had entered into a business arrangement with a certain sea captain named Gillon, who was employed by the State of South Carolina to command a small naval force which had been equipped for the protection of her coasts, Gillon assuming the title of commodore.

The Indien, now called the South Carolina, had been a rather fortunate cruiser. Gillon had captured a number of merchantmen, and had joined in another successful expedition to New Providence. He had then proceeded to Philadelphia. As he was indebted to the United States for advances of large sums of money, and as he had made no accounting to the Chevalier de Luxembourg for his share of the prizes, it was thought by Robert Morris and Luzerne, the French Minister, who represented Luxembourg, that if they could get control of this frigate, by placing it under Jones' command with other ships, they could create a formidable force to cruise against the enemy.

But Gillon contrived to evade the legal process by which the claimants sought to insure the payment of their dues, and, in spite of the efforts made to detain him, he succeeded in carrying the Indien to sea, where she was promptly captured just as she cleared the capes of the Delaware by the Diomede, the Astrea, and the Quebec, three English frigates stationed particularly to intercept her.

Disappointed again in his hope of getting a command by these untoward circumstances, Jones requested permission to embark as a volunteer in the squadron of De Vaudreuil, which was destined to take part in a proposed grand expedition to France and Spain against Jamaica. Morris forwarded Jones' request to Congress with a strong recommendation, and that body at once passed the following resolutions:

"Resolved, That the agent of marine be informed that Congress, having a high sense of the merit and services of Captain J. P. Jones, and being disposed to favor the zeal manifested by him to acquire improvement in the line of his profession, do grant the permission which he requests, and that the said agent be instructed to recommend him accordingly to the countenance of his Excellency, the Marquis de Vaudreuil."

Admiral de Vaudreuil was graciously pleased to receive the chevalier on his flagship, the Triomphante, where he treated him with the highest consideration, even sharing his cabin with him. The expedition came to nothing, and though Jones probably enjoyed ample opportunity for observing the handling of the fleet, he saw no actual service, to his great disappointment; instead of which he became seriously ill with intermittent fever. At Porto Cabello, on the 4th of April, 1783, he received the news of the signing of the treaty of peace, and this stern warrior, who was supposed to live only for fighting, thus expressed himself concerning the subject:

"The most brilliant success, and the most instructive experience in war, could not have given me a pleasure comparable with that which I received when I learned that Great Britain had, after so long a contest, been forced to acknowledge the independence and sovereignty of the United States of America."

Jones shortly thereafter left the French fleet and returned to Philadelphia, where he arrived on the 18th of May, 1783. He was still very ill. He carried with him the two following letters to the French Minister from de Vaudreuil and the Baron de Viomenil, who commanded the land forces on board the fleet.

From the Marquis de Vaudreuil:

"M. Paul Jones, who embarked with me, returns to his beloved country. I was very glad to have him. His well-deserved reputation caused me to accept his company with much pleasure, and I had no doubt that we should meet with some occasions in which his talents might be displayed. But peace, for which I can not but rejoice, interposes an obstacle which renders our separation necessary. Permit me, sir, to pray you to recommend him to his chiefs. The particular acquaintance I have formed with him since he has been on board the Triomphante makes me take a lively interest in his fortunes, and I shall feel much obliged if you find means of doing him services."

From the Baron de Viomenil:

"M. Paul Jones, who will have the honour of delivering to you, sir, this letter, has for five months deported himself among us with such wisdom and modesty as add infinitely to the reputation gained by his courage and exploits. I have reason to believe that he has preserved as much the feeling of gratitude and attachment toward France as of patriotism and devotion to the cause of America. Such being his titles to attention, I take the liberty of recommending to you his interests, near the President and Congress."

He was in some doubt as to his future career, but for the present the state of his health rendered it necessary for him to abstain from active duty. As a matter of fact, there was practically no American navy in existence at the close of the war, and no duty for him to undertake. The commodore's constitution was much shattered, and the wasting fever still clung to him. He removed, therefore, by the advice of his physician, to the village of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he passed the summer in rest and retirement, and his health gradually improved under the careful treatment he received. He seems to have had in mind the project of settling down and forming an establishment somewhere, and marrying "some fair daughter of liberty," and he wrote to some friends in regard to an estate he desired to purchase near Newark, New Jersey. However, the design fell through, mainly because he was unable to realize upon his resources, as his expense account had not been paid by Congress, and no prize money was yet forthcoming. While awaiting the complete restoration of his health he prepared several plans for organizing a navy for the new country, all of which are distinguished by his usual insight and skill. Many of the plans, including the germ of a proposed naval academy in the shape of a school-ship filled with cadets, were adopted with profit to the naval service and the country in after years. But the new nation was too poor and the central government too weak at that time to accept any of these suggestions. Finally, by an act of Congress, dated November 1, 1783, in accordance with the report of a committee of which Mr. Arthur Lee was a member-singular revolution of time which put him in the position of upholding Jones! – he was appointed a special commissioner to solicit and receive the money due from France for the prizes taken by the Bon Homme Richard and his squadron. He was, of course, to act under the direction of the American Minister, Franklin, and was required to give bond to the amount of two hundred thousand dollars for the faithful performance of his duty. It is an evidence of his high reputation for probity and honor that he found no difficulty in securing signers to his bond.

38The remarks of John Adams as to the need of a great navy are even more apposite now than they were then.
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