Commodore Paul Jones

Brady Cyrus Townsend
Commodore Paul Jones

This action ended the general naval maneuvers which were undertaken. In this short and brilliant campaign of three weeks Jones had fought four general actions, all of which he personally directed. With fifteen vessels against twenty-one he had so maneuvered that the enemy lost many galleys and no less than thirteen of his ships; a few had escaped, and a few were locked up in the harbor, so that the Turkish naval force in the Liman was not only defeated but practically annihilated by Jones' brilliant and successful leadership and fighting. Eleven ships might have been prizes had it not been for the cruelty and criminal folly of Nassau. Jones had captured by hand-to-hand fighting two of the largest of the enemy's galleys. He had shown himself a strategist in his disposition of the fleet at the mouth of the Bug, and later, when he had placed it to command the mouth of the Liman. He had demonstrated his qualities as a tactician in the two boat attacks, and had shown his usual impetuous courage at all times. Nassau had done nothing that was wise or that was gallant. When Jones was not with him his tendency was always to retreat. The orders which brought the flotilla into action which made the brilliant combination on the first day's fight, by which the Turks were outflanked, were issued by Jones himself.

Nassau, like Landais, was "skilled in keeping out of harm's way," and he did not personally get into action at any time. His services consisted in the useless burning of the nine ships and the five galleys, but he had a ready tongue, and he still enjoyed the full favor and confidence of Patiomkine. As soon as the flotilla had retired from the last conflict, he and Alexiano hastened to the army headquarters to report their conquests and exploits. They lost nothing in the telling. In accordance with Nassau's previous statement to Jones, they were very much exaggerated, and the actions of the rear admiral were accorded scant notice.

Patiomkine received the two cowards graciously, and, as usual, forwarded their reports. Jones was not accustomed to this performance, and in ignorance of their actions took no steps to establish the value of his services beyond making a report of what he had done in the usual way-a report quietly suppressed. Two days after Alexiano returned on board the Wolodimer in the throes of a malignant fever, of which he died on the 19th of July. It had been asserted that every Greek in the squadron would immediately resign upon the death of Alexiano, but nothing of the kind took place. The Greeks, like the English and the Russians, remained contentedly under the command of the rear admiral. On the day he died Catherine granted Alexiano a fine estate in White Russia. At the same time Nassau received a valuable estate with several thousand serfs in White Russia, and the military order of St. George. The empress also directed him to hoist the flag of a vice admiral when Otchakoff surrendered. Jones received the minor order of St. Anne, an order with which he would have been perfectly satisfied if the other officers had been awarded nothing more.

All the officers of the flotilla were promoted one step, and received a year's pay with a gold-mounted sword. They were most of them soldiers. The officers of the squadron, who were all sailors, and who had conducted themselves gallantly and well, obtained no promotion, received no pecuniary reward, and no mark of distinction was conferred upon them. They were naturally indignant at being so slighted, but when Jones promised them that he would demand justice for them at the close of the campaign, they stifled their vexation and continued their service.

It is evident that the failure to ascribe the victory to Jones was due to Patiomkine, and his action in giving the credit to Nassau was deliberate. Jones and Nassau had seriously disagreed. The scorn which ability and courage feel for inefficiency and cowardice had not been concealed by the admiral; he had been outspoken in his censure, and not reserved in his strictures upon Nassau's conduct. He had treated the ideas and suggestions of that foolish commander with the indifference they merited, and had allowed no opportunity to pass of exhibiting his contempt-which was natural, but impolitic.

He seems to have made the effort in the beginning to get along pleasantly with Nassau, and to work with him for the good of the service; but, after the demonstration of Nassau's lack of character and capacity in the first action, and after the repeated failure of the prince to maneuver the flotilla in the most ordinary manner, Jones lost all patience with him. Patiomkine had endeavored to establish harmony and good feeling between the two, not only by letters, but by a personal visit which he paid the rear admiral on the Wolodimer on the 29th of June. He did everything on that occasion to persuade Nassau to make an apology for some remarks he had addressed to Jones previously, and, having done so, effected some kind of a reconciliation, but the differences between them were so wide-Nassau was so worthless and Jones so capable, while both were hot-tempered-that the breach between them was greater than before.

Between the two Patiomkine, while not at first unfriendly to Jones, much preferred Nassau. Hence his action. Not only did Patiomkine enjoin harmony, but Littlepage, the American, whom we have seen before as the chamberlain of the King of Poland, who had accepted the command of one of the ships under Jones, also wrote him to the same effect.

Jones received his letter in the spirit in which it was written, and assured the writer that he had borne more from Nassau than he would have done from any other than a madman, and he promised to continue to try to do so. The effort was a failure. Littlepage himself, unable to endure the animosities engendered between the squadron and the flotilla, threw up his command and returned to Warsaw. His parting counsel to Jones showed that he well understood the situation.

"Farewell, my dear admiral; take care of yourself, and look to whom you trust. Remember that you have rather to play the part of a politician than a warrior-more of a courtier than a soldier."

Jones indorsed upon this note the following remark:

"I was not skilled in playing such a part. I never neglected my duty."

To resume the narrative: After the defeat in the Liman, the grand Turkish fleet sailed away from Otchakoff, which was then strictly blockaded by Jones' squadron, assisted by thirty-five armed boats which had been placed under his command. At the end of July the Turkish fleet, having had an indecisive engagement with the Russians at Sebastopol, returned to Otchakoff. Preparations were made by Jones to receive an attack, but none was delivered. Three ships attempted to run the blockade: one was sunk, and the others got in with difficulty. Nothing of importance happened during the months of August and September, in which Jones continued an effective blockade, although he undertook some minor operations at the request of the marshal.

Patiomkine carried on the siege in a very desultory manner. In accordance with his contradictory nature he sometimes pressed operations vigorously, and then for weeks did nothing. He seems to have had a harem in his camp, which perhaps accounts for his dawdling. Nassau, with his usual boastfulness, sent word to Patiomkine that if he had permission he would take the boats of the flotilla and knock a breach in the walls of Otchakoff big enough to admit two regiments; whereupon Patiomkine asked him wittily how many breaches he had made in Gibraltar, and removed him from his command. He was sent northward, where he still managed to hold the favor of the empress. This did not greatly improve Jones' situation, however, for the relations between him and Patiomkine had become so strained as to be impossible.

On the 24th of October Patiomkine sent him the following order:

"As it is seen that the capitan pasha comes in his kirlangich from the grand fleet to the smaller vessels, and as before quitting this he may attempt something, I request your excellence, the capitan pasha having actually a greater number of vessels, to hold yourself in readiness to receive him courageously, and drive him back. I require that this be done without loss of time; if not, you will be made answerable for every neglect."

Indorsing this insulting document as follows: "A warrior is always ready, and I had not come there an apprentice," Jones immediately returned a spirited answer, part of which is quoted:

"Monseigneur: I have the honour to transmit to your highness a plan of the position in which I placed the squadron under my command this morning, in conformity to your orders of yesterday… I have always conformed myself immediately, without murmuring, and most exactly, to the commands of your highness; and on occasions when you have deigned to leave anything to my own discretion I have been exceedingly flattered, and believe you have had no occasion to repent. At present, in case the capitan pacha does resolve on attempting anything before his departure, I can give assurance beforehand that the brave officers and crews I have the honour to command will do their duty 'courageously,' though they have not yet been rewarded for the important services they have already performed for the empire under my eyes. I answer with my honour to explain myself fairly on this delicate point at the end of the campaign. In the meantime I may merely say that it is upon the sacred promise I have given them of demanding justice from your highness in their behalf that they have consented to stifle their grievances and keep silent."

This provoked a reply from Patiomkine and another tart rejoinder from Jones. The correspondence, in which on one occasion Jones had stated that "every man who thinks is master of his own opinion, and this is mine" – good doctrine for the United States, impossible in Russia-terminated by another order from Patiomkine, which closed as follows:

 

"Should the enemy attempt to pass Oczakow, prevent him by every means and defend yourself courageously."

Jones' indorsement on this document was as follows:

"It will be hard to believe that Prince Potemkin addressed such words to Paul Jones!"

But the patience of the prince had reached its limit, and on the 28th he summarily relieved Jones of his command, and replaced him by Vice-Admiral Mordwinoff, who had received him so coldly when he arrived at Kherson six months before.

The order relieving him is as follows:

"According to the special desire of her Imperial Majesty, your service is fixed in the northern seas; and as this squadron and the flotilla are placed by me under the orders of the vice admiral and the Chevalier de Mordwinoff, your excellency may in consequence proceed on the voyage directed; principally, as the squadron in the Liman, on account of the season being so far advanced, can not now be united with that of Sevastopol."

The northern sea service was only a pretext, but on the 30th Jones replied with the following brief note:

"I am much flattered that her Majesty yet deigns to interest herself about me; but what I shall ever regret is the loss of your regard. I will not say that it is not difficult to find more skilful sea officers than myself-I know well that it is a very possible thing; but I feel emboldened to say that you will never find a man more susceptible of a faithful attachment or more zealous in the discharge of his duty. I forgive my enemies who are near you for the painful blow aimed at me; but if there is a just God, it will be difficult for Him to do as much."

Patiomkine was intensely angered by this note, and he took serious exception to the implication that he had been influenced against Jones by any one. Jones states in one of his letters that when he took leave of Patiomkine a few days afterward, the prince remarked with much anger:

"Don't believe that anyone leads me. No one leads me!" he shouted, rising and stamping his foot, "not even the Empress!" – which was correct. The jesting interrogation with which Catherine closes one of her letters to Patiomkine by saying, "Have I done well, my master?" contained much truth. However, he moderated his tone somewhat in the face of the sturdy dignity of Jones, and, before the admiral started for St. Petersburg, Patiomkine gave him the following letter to the empress:

"Madam: In sending to the high throne of your Imperial Majesty Rear-Admiral M. Paul Jones, I take, with submission, the liberty of certifying the eagerness and zeal which he has ever shown for the service of your Imperial Majesty, and to render himself worthy of the high favour of your Imperial Majesty."

Having given the officers he commanded, who seem to have become much attached to him, testimonials as to the high value of their services, Jones embarked in a small open galley on the 1st of December for Kherson. He was three days and three nights on the way, and suffered greatly from the extreme cold. He arrived at Kherson dangerously ill, and was unable to proceed upon his journey until the 17th of December. When he reached Elizabethgrad he received word that Otchakoff had been taken by storm the day he had departed from Kherson; over twenty thousand Turks were put to the sword on that occasion. He arrived at St. Petersburg on the 8th of January, 1789, and was ordered to appear at court on the 11th, when the empress awarded him a private interview, at which he presented the letter of Patiomkine. A few days afterward Catherine sent him word that she would wait the arrival of the prince before deciding what to do with him.

CHAPTER XIX
SLANDERED IN RUSSIA-A SLAVONIC REWARD FOR FAITHFUL SERVICES

Patiomkine did not reach St. Petersburg until the middle of February, and while waiting for him Jones busied himself with formulating suggestions for a political and commercial alliance between Russia and the United States, one feature of which involved an attack upon Algiers. In addition to holding a large number of American prisoners in captivity, the Algerines had made common cause with the Turks, and had been present in large numbers before Otchakoff. When Patiomkine did arrive, the project was submitted to him, but it was not thought expedient to attempt it at the time, lest it should result in the irritation of England. During this time the commodore wrote to Jefferson and learned for the first time that all the letters he had written since he entered the Russian service had been intercepted. When he examined the official reports concerning his actions, which had been forwarded from the Liman, he found that he had been grossly misrepresented, and the reports were false even to the most trifling details.

His situation was very different from what it had been when he entered St. Petersburg before. Antagonized secretly by Patiomkine, and openly by Nassau and the English at court, his favor appreciably waned. The old story about the insubordinate carpenter whom he had punished in the West Indies was revived, and in its new version the carpenter became his nephew, and it was stated that he had flogged him to death. This was the precursor of a more deadly scandal. His occasional invitations to court functions became less and less frequent, and the coldness in official circles more and more marked. Finally, in the month of April, when he appeared at the palace to pay his respects to the empress, he was refused admittance, and unceremoniously ordered to leave the precincts.

This deadly insult, this public disgrace, which of course at once became a matter of general knowledge, was due to a most degrading accusation made against his character. To discover the origin of this slander is difficult indeed. In the first flush of his anger Jones specifically charged that his English enemies, whose animosities were not softened by time, were the authors of the calumny. It is impossible to believe that any English officer could descend to such depths, nor is it necessary to credit the report that his disgrace was due to them. The Russian court was as full of intrigue as that of an Oriental despot. Jones was out of favor. He had succeeded in creating powerful enemies for himself in Nassau and Patiomkine. The latter gentleman had negatived a promising plan in the hope of thereby pleasing England, with whom Russia was now coquetting. If he were the instigator of the cabal against Jones, he might have thought the disgrace of the man they hated would gratify the English people. If he could bring this about without compromising himself he would not hesitate to take the required action. Nassau had very strong reasons for hating Jones, who made no secret of his contempt for that pseudo princeling. At any rate, whatever the source or origin, there is no doubt as to the situation.

Jones was accused of having outraged a young girl of menial station, who was only ten years old! The charge was false from beginning to end. It had absolutely no foundation, but with the peculiar methods in vogue in Russia, it was not easy to establish his innocence. He was not only presumed, but was declared guilty, without investigation. The advocate he employed was ordered to abandon his case, and he found himself in the position of one condemned beyond hope with no opportunity for justification. He was ever jealous on the point of his personal honor, and to see himself thus cruelly stigmatized at the close of a long, honorable, and brilliant career nearly drove him frantic. After exhausting unavailingly every means to force a consideration of his case and an examination of evidence which he succeeded in securing with great difficulty, he fell into despair and seriously contemplated suicide. He was not the man that he had been. Already within a few years of his death, although only forty-one, his constitution was so broken that his strength was seriously undermined.

Providence raised up for him a friend in the person of de Ségur, the French ambassador at Catherine's court. This man should be held in eternal gratitude by all Americans-nay, by all who love honor and fair play-for he did not permit himself to be influenced, as is the wont of courtiers, by the withdrawal of royal favor from the chevalier, whom he had known in happier days and under more favorable circumstances. He had been Jones' friend when he had been in the zenith of his career, and he remained his friend in this nadir of his misfortunes. The part that he played in the transaction can be best understood by his own statement, confirmed by two letters written by Jones. The first letter is addressed to Patiomkine. It had been written before the visit of de Ségur:

"St. Petersburg, April 13, 1789.

"My Lord: Having had the advantage to serve under your orders and in your sight, I remember, with particular satisfaction, the kind promises and testimonies of your friendship with which you have honoured me. As I served all my life for honour, I had no other motive for accepting the flattering invitation of her Imperial Majesty than a laudable ambition to distinguish myself in the service of a sovereign so magnanimous and illustrious; for I never yet have bent the knee to self-interest, nor drawn my sword for hire..

"A bad woman has accused me of violating her daughter! If she had told the truth I should have had candour enough to own it, and would trust my honour, which is a thousand times dearer to me than my life, to the mercy of the empress. I declare, with an assurance becoming a military character, that I am innocent. Till that unhappy moment I have enjoyed the public esteem, and the affection of all who knew me. Shall it be said that in Russia a wretched woman, who eloped from her husband and family in the country, stole away her daughter, lives here in a house of bad fame, and leads a debauched and adulterous life, has found credit enough on a simple complaint, unsupported by any proof, to affect the honour of a general officer of reputation, who has merited and received the decorations of America, of France, and of this empire?

"If I had been favoured with the least intimation of a complaint of that nature having found its way to the sovereign, I know too well what belongs to delicacy to have presented myself in the presence of the empress before my justification.

"My servant was kept prisoner by the officers of police for several hours, two days successively, and threatened with the knout.

"After the examination of my people before the police, I sent for and employed Monsieur Crimpin as my advocate. As the mother had addressed herself to him before to plead her cause, she naturally spoke to him without reserve, and he learned from her a number of important facts, among others, that she was counselled and supported by a distinguished man of the court.

"By the certificate of the father, attested by the pastor of the colony, the daughter is several years older than is expressed in the complaint. And the complaint contains various other points equally false and easy to be refuted. For instance, there is a conversation I am said to have held with the daughter in the Russian language, of which no person ever heard me pronounce two words together; it is unknown to me.

"I thought that in every country a man accused had a right to employ advocates, and to avail himself of his friends for his justification. Judge, my prince, of my astonishment and distress of mind, when I yesterday was informed that the day before the governor of the city had sent for my advocate, and forbidden him, at his peril, or any other person, to meddle with my cause!

"I am innocent before God, and my conscience knows no reproach. The complaint brought against me is an infamous lie, and there is no circumstance that gives it even an air of probability.

"I address myself to you with confidence, my prince, and am assured that the friendship you have so kindly promised me will be immediately exerted in my favour; and that you will not suffer the illustrious sovereign of this great empire to be misled by the false insinuations and secret cabals of my hidden enemies. Your mind will find more true pleasure in pleading the cause of an innocent man whom you honour with your friendship than can result from other victories equally glorious with that of Oczakow, which will always rank among the most brilliant of military achievements. If your highness will condescend to question Monsieur Crimpin (for he dare not now even speak to me), he can tell you many circumstances which will elucidate my innocence. I am, with profound respect, my lord, your highness's devoted and most obedient servant," etc.

 

This letter was accompanied by certificates which fully established the character of the wretched woman by whose agency his ruin had been sought. The letter is dignified and touching. It is the passionate protest of an innocent man against an accusation concerning that which he had ever held dearer than life-his honor. It carries conviction with it. Incidentally it throws much light upon the Russian legal methods of that day. Never does Jones appear in a better light. But it was sent to an utterly unresponsive man. Honor, justice, innocence, were idle words to Patiomkine. No reply was made to the note, and Jones abandoned himself to despair. The narrative of de Ségur is taken from his memoirs, and, excepting in some minor details, is substantially correct:

"The American rear admiral was favourably welcomed at court; often invited to dinner by the empress, and received with distinction into the best society in the city; on a sudden Catherine commanded him to appear no more in her presence.

"He was informed that he was accused of an infamous crime: of assaulting a young girl of fourteen, of grossly violating her; and that probably, after some preliminary information, he would be tried by the courts of admiralty, in which there were many English officers, who were strongly prejudiced against him.

"As soon as this order was known every one abandoned the unhappy American; no one spoke to him, people avoided saluting him, and every door was shut against him. All those by whom but yesterday he had been eagerly welcomed now fled from him as if he had been infected with a plague; besides, no advocate would take charge of his cause, and no public man would consent to listen to him; at last even his servants would not continue in his service; and Paul Jones, whose exploits every one had so recently been ready to proclaim, and whose friendship had been sought after, found himself alone in the midst of an immense population; Petersburg, a great capital, became to him a desert.

"I went to see him; he was moved even to tears by my visit. 'I was unwilling,' he said to me, shaking me by the hand, 'to knock at your door and to expose myself to a fresh affront, which would have been more cutting than all the rest. I have braved death a thousand times-now I wish for it.' His appearance, his arms being laid upon the table, made me suspect some desperate intention.

"'Resume,' I said to him, 'your composure and your courage. Do you not know that human life, like the sea, has its storms, and that fortune is even more capricious than the winds? If, as I hope, you are innocent, brave this sudden tempest; if, unhappily, you are guilty, confess it to me with unreserved frankness, and I will do everything I can to snatch you, by a sudden flight, from the danger which threatens you.'

"'I swear to you upon my honour,' said he, 'that I am innocent, and a victim of the most infamous calumny. This is the truth. Some days since a young girl came to me in the morning, to ask me if I could give her some linen or lace to mend. She then indulged in some rather earnest and indecent allurements. Astonished at so much boldness in one of such few years, I felt compassion for her; I advised her not to enter upon so vile a career, gave her some money, and dismissed her; but she was determined to remain.

"'Impatient at this resistance, I took her by the hand and led her to the door; but, at the instant when the door was opened, the little profligate tore her sleeves and her neck-kerchief, raised great cries, complained that I had assaulted her, and threw herself into the arms of an old woman, whom she called her mother, and who certainly was not brought there by chance. The mother and the daughter raised the house with their cries, went out, and denounced me; and now you know all.'

"'Very well,' said I, 'but can not you learn the names of those adventurers?' 'The porter knows them,' he replied. 'Here are their names written down, but I do not know where they live. I was desirous of immediately presenting a memorial about this ridiculous affair, first to the minister and then to the empress; but I have been interdicted from access to both of them.' 'Give me the paper,' I said; 'resume your accustomed firmness; be comforted; let me undertake it; in a short time we shall meet again.'

"As soon as I returned home I directed some sharp and intelligent agents, who were devoted to me, to get information respecting these suspected females, and to find out what was their mode of life. I was not long in learning that the old woman was in the habit of carrying on a vile traffic in young girls, whom she passed off as her daughters.

"When I was furnished with all the documents and attestations for which I had occasion, I hastened to show them to Paul Jones. 'You have nothing more to fear,' said I; 'the wretches are unmasked. It is only necessary to open the eyes of the empress, and let her see how unworthily she has been deceived; but this is not so very easy; truth encounters a multitude of people at the doors of a palace, who are very clever in arresting its progress; and sealed letters are, of all others, those which are intercepted with the greatest art and care. Nevertheless, I know that the empress, who is not ignorant of this, has directed under very heavy penalties that no one shall detain on the way any letters which are addressed to her personally, and which may be sent to her by post; therefore, here is a very long letter which I have written to her in your name; nothing of the detail is omitted, although it contains some rough expressions. I am sorry for the empress; but since she heard and gave credit to a calumny, it is but right that she should read the justification with patience. Copy this letter, sign it, and I will take charge of it; I will send some one to put it in the post at the nearest town. Take courage; believe me, your triumph is not doubtful.'"

The contents of the letter which Jones was advised to copy and send are not now ascertainable, but the following letter was written to the empress; and, while it is so evidently in Jones' own peculiar and characteristic style as to admit of no doubt as to its authorship, he probably embodied in it the suggestions of de Ségur and substituted it for the copy proposed:

"St. Petersburg, May 17, 1789.

"Madam: I have never served but for honour; I have never sought but glory; and I believed I was in the way of obtaining both when I accepted the offers made me on the part of your Majesty, of entering into your service… I sacrificed my dearest interests to accept an invitation so flattering, and I would have reached you instantly if the United States had not entrusted me with a special commission to Denmark. Of this I acquitted myself faithfully and promptly… The distinguished reception which your Majesty deigned to grant me, the kindness with which you loaded me, indemnified me for the dangers to which I had exposed myself for your service, and inspired me with the most ardent desire to encounter more… I besought your Majesty never to condemn me unheard. You condescended to give me that promise, and I set out with a mind as tranquil as my heart was satisfied…

"At the close of the campaign I received orders to return to court, as your Majesty intended to employ me in the North Seas, and M. le Comte de Besborodko acquainted me that a command of greater importance than that of the Black Sea … was intended for me. Such was my situation, when, upon the mere accusation of a crime, the very idea of which wounds my delicacy, I found myself driven from court, deprived of the good opinion of your Majesty, and forced to employ the time which I wish to devote to the defence of your empire in cleansing from myself the stains with which calumny has covered me.

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