Commodore Paul Jones

Brady Cyrus Townsend
Commodore Paul Jones

"Condescend to believe, madam, that if I had received the slightest hint that a complaint of such a nature had been made against me, and still more, that it had come to your Majesty's knowledge, I know too well what is owing to delicacy to have ventured before you till I was completely exculpated.

"Understanding neither the laws, the language, nor the forms of justice in this country, I needed an advocate, and obtained one; but, whether from terror or intimidation, he stopped short all at once, and durst not undertake my defence, though convinced of the justice of my cause. But truth may always venture to show itself alone and unsupported at the foot of the throne of your Majesty. I have not hesitated to labour unaided for my own vindication; I have collected proofs; and if such details might appear under the eyes of your Majesty I would present them; but if your Majesty will deign to order some person to examine them, it will be seen by the report which will be made that my crime is a fiction, invented by the cupidity of a wretched woman, whose avarice has been countenanced, perhaps incited, by the malice of my numerous enemies. Her husband has himself certified and attested to her infamous conduct. His signature is in my hands, and the pastor, Braun, of the district, has assured me that if the College of Justice will give him an order to this effect he will obtain an attestation from the country people that the mother of the girl referred to is known among them as a wretch absolutely unworthy of belief.

"Take a soldier's word, madam; believe an officer whom two great nations esteem, and who has been honoured with flattering marks of their approbation… I am innocent; and if I were guilty I would not hesitate to make a candid avowal of my fault, and to commit my honour, which is a thousand times dearer to me than my life, to the hands of your Majesty.

"If you deign, madam, to give heed to this declaration, proceeding from a heart the most frank and loyal, I venture from your justice to expect that my zeal will not remain longer in shameful and humiliating inaction. It has been useful to your Majesty, and may again be so, especially in the Mediterranean, where, with insignificant means, I will undertake to execute most important operations, the plans for which I have meditated long and deeply. But if circumstances, of which I am ignorant, do not admit the possibility of my being employed during the campaign, I hope your Majesty will give me permission to return to France or America, granting, as the sole reward of the services I have had the happiness to render, the hope of renewing them at some future day…"

Catherine, to her credit be it stated, took the "soldier's word," examined the convincing proofs, and, being satisfied of his innocence, publicly received him at court again and thus openly vindicated him. New projects immediately began to take shape in his fertile brain. No bodily weakness could apparently impair his mental activity. With a half dozen East Indiamen armed for warlike purposes he offered to cut off the food traffic between Egypt and Constantinople; an idea as old as the days of the Cæsars, when upon the arrival of the corn ships from Alexandria depended the control of the Roman plebeians; but the idea was as good now as it was then, and if he had been intrusted with the meager force he requested he would have compelled the Turks to detach ships from the Black Sea fleet, and thus relieve the pressure on the Crimea.

Count Besborodko was pleased with the project, and promised to submit it to the empress, proposing, at the same time, if this plan fell through, to give him another command in the Black Sea, with an adequate fleet, by which he might force his way into the Mediterranean. About the middle of June, on his applying to this minister again, he was promised an answer in two days as to the pleasure of the empress concerning him. Besborodko stated that Catherine would either give him a command or grant the leave of absence which he had asked in his letter of the 17th. The minister had a court memory, however, and not two days, but many, passed without the information. On the 5th of July Jones wrote again to the minister in the usual direct way he employed when he was irritated, and asked for an immediate declaration of intentions regarding him. It was a high-handed way to address the Russian court, but it brought an immediate reply. On the 8th of July he was officially informed that his request for a leave of absence was granted for two years, with permission to go outside the limits of the empire. His salary was to be continued during that time.

On the 18th of July he had a farewell audience with the empress, who treated him very nicely on this occasion. As he kissed her hand in good-by she wished him bon voyage, which was politic but unsubstantial. He did not leave St. Petersburg immediately, and it was not until the last of August that he took his final leave of the Russian capital. During this interval he was detained partly by the difficulty in collecting his arrears in pay and allowances, and partly for the reason that he undertook, in spite of the rebuffs he had received, again to lay before Besborodko and others a project for a war against the Barbary States, which, of course, came to nothing. He left Russia a bitterly disappointed man.

The disinterested friendship of de Ségur had not been exhausted by his previous actions, and he gave additional proofs of his affection by supplying Jones with letters of introduction to the representatives of the French Government at the different courts of Europe which he proposed to visit, and the two following statements addressed to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs:

"St. Petersburg, July 21, 1789.

"The enemies of the Vice-Admiral48 Paul Jones having caused to be circulated reports entirely destitute of foundation concerning the journey which this general officer is about to undertake, I would wish the inclosed article, the authenticity of which I guarantee, should be inserted in the Gazette de France, and in the other public papers which are submitted to the inspection of your department. This article will undeceive those who have believed the calumny, and will prove to the friends and to the compatriots of the vice admiral that he has sustained the reputation acquired by his bravery and his talents during the last war; that the empress desires to retain him in her service; and that if he absents himself at this moment it is with his own free will, and for particular reasons, which can not leave any stain on his honour.

"The glorious marks of the satisfaction and bounty of the king toward M. Paul Jones, his attachment to France, which he has served so usefully in the common cause, his rights as a subject, and as an admiral of the United States, the protection of the ministers of the king, and my personal friendship for this distinguished officer, with whom I made a campaign in America, are so many reasons which appear to me to justify the interest which I took in all that concerned him during his stay in Russia."

"Article to be inserted in the Public Prints, and particularly in the Gazette de France.

"St. Petersburg, July 21, 1789.

"The Vice-Admiral Paul Jones, being at the point of returning to France, where private affairs require his presence, had the honour to take leave of the empress, the 7th49 of this month, and to be admitted to kiss the hand of her Imperial Majesty, who confided to him the command of her vessels of war stationed on the Liman during the campaign of 1788. As a mark of favour for his conduct during this campaign the empress has decorated him with the insignia of the order of St. Anne; and her Imperial Majesty, satisfied with his services, only grants him permission to absent himself for a limited time, and still preserves for him his emoluments and his rank."

Jones did not lack other friends either, for M. Genet, Secretary of the French Legation at St. Petersburg, and subsequently Minister from France to the United States-his extraordinary conduct while he enjoyed that office will be remembered-whose father had been an old friend of the commodore's, gave him a most cordial and gratifying letter of introduction to the celebrated Madame Campan, in which he specifically states the unfounded nature of the charges which had been made, and, describing the circumstances in which Jones left Russia, authorized her to correct any rumors to his disadvantage which might be put in circulation at Versailles. He also consented to act as Jones' financial representative, and transmitted to him from time to time such amounts on his pay as he could wrest from the Russian Government.

CHAPTER XX
LAST YEARS AND DEATH

The next year of his life the commodore passed in travel. His destination when he left Russia was Copenhagen; perhaps he had in mind the possibility of resuming the negotiations with the Danish Government on the old claim, and it is possible that his deferred pension may have had something to do with this intention. He had no especial place to go; one city was as good as another to him. In his busy wandering life he had never made a home for himself, and, while his mind and heart turned with ever more intensity of affection to the United States, yet he loved America in an abstract rather than a concrete way. The principles for which the United States stood, and upon which they were constituted and organized, appealed to him, but those personal ties which he had formed in his brief sojourn before the Revolution were weakened by absence or had been sundered by death. There was no employment for him there, for his country had absolutely no navy. Besides, he needed rest. He who had fought throughout a long life for liberty and freedom, for honor and fame, was doomed to struggle for that last desire for the few remaining years left him.

 

He traveled leisurely from St. Petersburg to Warsaw, where he was kindly received at the court of Poland, and where he busied himself preparing journals of his American service and of the Liman campaign, copies of which he sent to Catherine. There, too, he met the great Pole, Kosciusko, and the acquaintance between the veteran sailor and the old soldier of the Revolution speedily ripened into intimacy. Sweden had declared war against Russia. Kosciusko, who was the inveterate enemy of this gigantic empire which finally wrote finis Poloniæ across the story of his country, would have been most happy if he could have seen the fleets of Sweden led by so redoubtable a warrior as Jones. But of course such a proposition was not, and could not be, entertained by Jones.50

On leaving Warsaw for Vienna, it is suggested that he made the detour necessitated by visiting that point, rather than proceeding directly to Copenhagen via Berlin, at the instigation of Catherine, who desired to remove him from the vicinity of the Swedes. She might not use him herself, but she could not contemplate with any degree of equanimity the possibility of his serving against her. There is not the slightest evidence that he ever thought of entering the service of Sweden. He repels the idea with indignation, and the sole foundation for it arose from Kosciusko's ardent desire. Jones' conduct in the affair is beyond criticism; indeed, he was too ill at that time, although he did not realize it, to be employed by any one. In his papers the following declaration is found. It is undated, and the documents to which it was attached give no clew as to when it was written, or whether it was ever published, but from its contents it must have been prepared while he was on this leave of absence from Russia. It is a notable little document, for it repeats his assertion of American citizenship, expresses his intention of never warring against the United States or France, and clearly defines the tenure of his connection with the Russians:

"NOTICE

"The Rear-Admiral Paul Jones, desirous of making known unequivocally his manner of thinking in relation to his military connection with Russia, declares:

"1st. That he has at all times expressed to her Imperial Majesty of Russia his vow to preserve the condition of an American citizen and officer.

"2d. That, having been honoured by his most Christian Majesty with a gold sword, he has made a like vow never to draw it on any occasion where war might be waged against his Majesty's interest.

"3d. That circumstances which the rear admiral could not foresee when he wrote on the last occasion make him feel a presentiment that, in spite of his attachment and gratitude to her Imperial Majesty, and notwithstanding the advantageous propositions which may be made to him, he will probably renounce the service of that power, even before the expiration of the leave of absence which he now enjoys."

To return to his trip. After staying some time in Vienna, where he seems to have been received with favor in high social circles, though the illness of the emperor prevented his being presented, he went to Amsterdam via Hamburg. Here he remained for some time, engaged, as usual, in correspondence. He still seems to have cherished the sailor's dream of buying a farm and passing his remaining years thereon, for we find among his letters an inquiry addressed to Mr. Charles Thompson, the Secretary of Congress, about an estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which he thought of purchasing from funds invested in the United States. But in view of his anomalous connection with Russia he thought it well to remain in Europe until it had either ceased or been renewed. This was the time, being in need of funds, that he wrote to his old friend Krudner to endeavor to secure payment of the Danish pension.

Krudner readily undertook Jones' commission, and the Danish Government promised to pay the pension at Copenhagen to any one whom Jones would authorize to receive it. They never paid it. Krudner always retained his friendship for Jones, and one of his letters closes with these words:

"At all events, I flatter myself, as a good Russian, that your arm is still reserved for us."

At the end of April, 1790, he crossed over to London on some financial business, which he settled to his satisfaction. He remained but a brief time in England-his visits there were always brief and devoid of publicity; he seems to have felt keenly the hatred with which the English regarded him, and under such circumstances his action was wise.

Toward the close of May he returned to Paris, which was perhaps the place where his happiest hours had been spent, and at Paris he continued to reside until the last scene in his eventful history. It was no longer the gay and pleasure-seeking resort of his earlier and happier years. The grim shadow of the Revolution, as yet no larger than a man's hand, was already lowering on the horizon. A year before his arrival the States-General had been summoned for the first time in a hundred and seventy-five years. On the 14th of July, eight months before his coming, the drums of the sections rolled the knell of the Bastile, and a little later still the old feudal constitution, which had endured the vicissitudes of a thousand years of change, was abrogated, and the rule of the people began. Louis XVI, poor puppet of fortune, "imponderous rag of circumstance," was driven hither and thither by the furious blasts of liberated passion charged with centuries of animosity, for a few aimless, pitiful years, and then-the guillotine!

For two years Jones lived in quiet retirement. He made but one other public appearance, in July, 1790, in connection with the first anniversary of the taking of the Bastile. Paris, inspirited with the first breath of freedom, drawn from the first labor pains of the Revolution, determined to celebrate in fitting style this grand anniversary. Different groups of foreigners residing in France sent delegates to appear before the National Assembly and ask permission to take part in the national fête. Paul Jones headed the Americans, and made an address to the Assembly. Thenceforward he did nothing of a public character.

His traveling had brought him neither surcease of care nor restoration to health. His hardy constitution, shattered by constant exposure in all weathers and every climate, and worn out by the chafings of his ardent and impatient temperament throughout the course of a career checkered by periods of alternate exaltation and depression, and filled with hopes and disappointments in equal measure, was rapidly yielding to the pains and ailments which were ushering in the fatal moment which should put an end to all his dreams and aspirations. His time, however, was not passed unhappily, and returns from investments provided him with enough for his simple needs. During the stirring hours of the beginning of the Revolution he busied himself in writing his journals, arranging the great mass of papers he had accumulated, and in his never-failing correspondence. Sometimes he attended the Sorbonne, and held discussion with philosophers. Madame de Telison was with him.

He was drawn in two ways by the condition of France. His sympathies were ever with humanity struggling for freedom; but he had received so many marks of favor from the French king, to whom he owed his great opportunities for achievement and advancement, that he could scarcely view with equanimity the dangers and harassments of that unhappy monarch. He was a republican through and through in principle, but by instinct and association, if not by birth, he was one of the proudest and most thoroughgoing of aristocrats-as Washington was an aristocrat. Like many other people, his theory of life and government was different from his practice. Besides, the liberty which the French were striving to establish was already perilously verging on that unbounded license into which it soon degenerated, and that his disciplined soul abhorred. His associates in France were mainly among the Girondists, with whom he was more nearly affiliated than with other political parties.

He did not realize that he was so broken in health, for he still clung to his tenuous connection with Russia, sending repeated letters to Catherine and Patiomkine, with demands, requests, and suggestions of various plans for service. Patiomkine, as usual, took no notice, but the last letter to Catherine having been forwarded through Baron Grimm, she directed him, rather curtly by the way, to inform Jones that if she had service for him she would let him know. After that Jones seems to have discontinued his letters to Russia. He found, however, two new outlets for his restless zeal. Early in 1792, chancing to meet an Algerian corsair, who had captured many Americans now held for ransom in Algiers, he learned much of the unfortunate condition of those unhappy sailors, to whose fate their country was apparently oblivious. The corsair informed him that if these captives were not ransomed promptly they would be sold into slavery. Jones wrote immediately to Jefferson, then Secretary of State, and with all his power urged that something be done for them, either by sending a force to compel restitution or by means of ransom. The letter, as we shall see, was not without result.

The second object of interest was a claim which he entertained against the French Government for salary due him while in command of the Bon Homme Richard and the squadron. The United States had paid him his salary as an officer during that period, but he felt that since his services had been asked by France, and the squadron had been at the charge of the French Government, a further amount was due him from the French, and he wrote to de Bertrand, Minister of Marine, demanding the balance due. The claim was the subject of acrid correspondence, and the matter was pending when he died.51 From the letters written during the last years of his life I quote portions of three-the first two to his sister, Mrs. Taylor, and the last one to Lafayette:

 
"Amsterdam, March 26, 1790.

"I wrote you, my dear friend, from Paris, by Mr. Kennedy, who delivered me the kind letter you wrote me by him. Circumstances obliged me to return soon afterward to America, and on my arrival at New York Mr. Thomson delivered me a letter that had been intrusted to his care by Mrs. Loudon. It would be superfluous to mention the great satisfaction I received in hearing from two persons I so much love and esteem, and whose worthy conduct as wives and mothers is so respectable in my eyes. Since my return to Europe a train of circumstances and changes of residence have combined to keep me silent. This has given me more pain than I can express; for I have a tender regard for you both, and nothing can be indifferent to me that regards your happiness and the welfare of your children. I wish for a particular detail of their age, respective talents, characters, and education. I do not desire this information merely from curiosity. It would afford me real satisfaction to be useful to their establishment in life. We must study the genius and inclination of the boys, and try to fit them, by a suitable education, for the pursuits we may be able to adopt for their advantage. When their education shall be advanced to a proper stage, at the school of Dumfries for instance, it must then be determined whether it may be most economical and advantageous for them to go to Edinburgh or France to finish their studies. All this is supposing them to have great natural genius and goodness of disposition; for without these they can never become eminent. For the females, they require an education suited to the delicacy of character that is becoming in their sex. I wish I had a fortune to offer to each of them; but though this is not the case, I may yet be useful to them. And I desire particularly to be useful to the two young women, who have a double claim to my regard, as they have lost their father. Present my kind compliments to Mrs. Loudon, her husband, to Mr. Taylor, and your two families, and depend on my affectionate attachment…"

"Paris, December 27, 1790.

"I duly received, my dear Mrs. Taylor, your letter of the 16th August, but ever since that time I have been unable to answer it, not having been capable to go out of my chamber, and having been for the most part obliged to keep my bed. I have now no doubt but that I am in a fair way to perfect recovery, though it will require time and patience.

"I shall not conceal from you that your family discord aggravates infinitely all my pains. My grief is inexpressible that two sisters, whose happiness is so interesting to me, do not live together in that mutual tenderness and affection which would do so much honour to themselves and to the memory of their worthy relations. Permit me to recommend to your serious study and application Pope's Universal Prayer. You will find more morality in that little piece than in many volumes that have been written by great divines:

 
"'Teach me to feel another's woe,
To hide the fault I see;
That mercy I to others show,
Such mercy show to me.'
 

"This is not the language of a weak, superstitious mind, but the spontaneous offspring of true religion, springing from a heart sincerely inspired by charity, and deeply impressed with a sense of the calamities and frailties of human nature. If the sphere in which Providence has placed us as members of society requires the exercise of brotherly kindness and charity toward our neighbour in general, how much more is this our duty with respect to individuals with whom we are connected by the near and tender ties of nature as well as moral obligation. Every lesser virtue may pass away, but charity comes from Heaven, and is immortal. Though I wish to be the instrument of making family peace, which I flatter myself would tend to promote the happiness of you all, yet I by no means desire you to do violence to your own feelings by taking any step that is contrary to your own judgment and inclination. Your reconciliation must come free from your heart, otherwise it will not last, and therefore it will be better not to attempt it. Should a reconciliation take place, I recommend it of all things, that you never mention past grievances, nor show, by word, look, or action, that you have not forgot them."

"Paris, December 7, 1791.

"Dear General: My ill health for some time past has prevented me from the pleasure of paying you my personal respects, but I hope shortly to indulge myself with that satisfaction.

"I hope you approve the quality of the fur linings I brought from Russia for the King and yourself. I flatter myself that his Majesty will accept from your hand that little mark of the sincere attachment I feel for his person; and be assured that I shall be always ready to draw the sword with which he honoured me for the service of the virtuous and illustrious 'Protector of the Rights of Human Nature.'

"When my health shall be established, M. Simolin will do me the honour to present me to his Majesty as a Russian admiral. Afterward it will be my duty, as an American officer, to wait on his Majesty with the letter which I am directed to present to him from the United States."

Jones appears in a very pleasant light in all of these letters, and I am glad to read the evidences of gentleness and of affection and kindly feeling which they present. In March, 1792, his disease, which had developed into a lingering form of dropsy, became complicated with a disorder of the liver. He grew much worse, lost his appetite, became very jaundiced, and was confined to his bedroom for two months. Under treatment he grew temporarily better, until the beginning of July, when he became suddenly worse again and the dropsy began to manifest itself once more. The disease attacked his chest. His legs became much swollen, and the enlargement extended upward so that he could not button his waistcoat and had great difficulty in breathing.

He was not, as has been asserted, in poverty and want, deserted by his friends. He lived in a comfortable apartment in the second story of No. 42 Tournon Street, and enjoyed the services of one of the best physicians in France, who was, in fact, physician to the queen. Gouverneur Morris, the American Minister, was a warm friend of his, and paid him many visits during his dying hours. He had no lack of other friends either, for he was attended by two gentlemen, ex-American army officers, Colonels Swan and Blackden, and by a French officer, M. Beaupoil. They all seem to have been fond of the little commodore, and to have visited him constantly. They did everything possible to lighten his dying hours. His symptoms became so alarming about the middle of July that Colonel Blackden took upon himself the duty of advising him to make his will and settle his affairs. He put off this action until the 18th of the month. On the afternoon of that day Morris drew up a schedule of his property from Jones' own dictation, and his friends having sent for a notary, he made his will, which was drawn in English by Morris, and transcribed in French by the notary. The will was witnessed by Swan, Blackden, and Beaupoil.52 In this document-the last of all his writings-dictated in those solemn hours when he looked Death in the face in final glance, the real value of earthly honors and titles became apparent to him; he describes himself with touching simplicity, not as Commodore, Chevalier, or Admiral-titles he had loved-but in greater words as "John Paul Jones, a citizen of the United States."

At eight o'clock in the evening his friends bade him good by, and perhaps "Good night" were the last words any one heard him speak. They left him seated in his armchair in his parlor in the second story. A short time after their departure the physician arrived to pay his regular evening visit. The armchair was empty, and the door of the chamber adjoining the parlor was open. He walked over toward it and stopped in the entrance, and this is what he saw: the figure of the great commodore lying prone upon the bed, his feet touching the floor and his hands outstretched before him. There was no sound in the still room. The physician stepped softly to the bedside, turned him over, and laid his hand upon his heart. He felt no responsive throb. The little captain of the Bon Homme Richard was dead, worn out, fretted away, broken down, at the age of forty-five! "The hand of a conqueror whom no human power can resist had been laid upon his shoulder, and for the first time in his life the face of Paul Jones was turned away from the enemy."53 Fitting, indeed, would it have been if from the deck of the war ship the soul of the sea king had taken its flight; but, after all, he was at rest at last-"in peace after so many storms, in honor after so much obloquy."

The peculiar position in which he was found, as I have thought upon it, has suggested to me the possibility that, when he felt the last crisis coming upon him, he may have attempted to sink down by his bedside, that the call of his Maker might find him-as years after it found David Livingstone in the heart of dark Africa-on his knees in prayer. And then sometimes I think-and this is perhaps more likely-that he may have risen to his feet to face death, as was his wont, and have fallen forward when it came. No one can tell. A century has fled away since they found him there, but the sorrow of it all is still present with me as I write. An exile from his native land, far from the country of his adoption, in the prime of life, he dies. There was not a woman with him to whisper words of comfort, to give him that last touch of tenderness that comes from a woman's hand. Alone he had lived-alone he died. Oh, the pity of it! The man of the world, become the citizen of the new republic, had found another country-let us hope a heavenly one. He did much and he suffered much, and for such we may be sure there is much charity, much forgiveness.

By the terms of his will all his property, amounting to some thirty thousand dollars, was left to his two surviving sisters and their children-the same to whom he had sent those sweet words counseling forbearance and consideration. The fact that he had shown but little of the one and had received but little of the other in his life only accentuates his sense of their need. One other honor his country had in store for him, but it arrived too late. He had been long buried when a commission appointing him to negotiate the release of the prisoners in Algiers arrived in France. It was an honor he would have appreciated, and in carrying it out he would have found a congenial task.

48This is a mistake, he was never a vice admiral.
49Old style.
50Nassau was then in command of the Russian fleet in the Baltic, and an encounter with him-had a Swedish command been tendered Jones, and if he could have accepted it-would have been interesting. There would have been a final demonstration, which probably would have convinced even Nassau, as to the merits of the rival commanders in the Liman. Nassau, by accepting the advice of the English and other foreign officers associated with him, succeeded with a superior force in beating the Swedes, whereupon honors were showered upon him-more land, more peasants, more roubles, more rank. His favor was higher than ever; but he was magnificently beaten a short time after by a very inferior Swedish fleet, and his defeat was as decisive as it was disgraceful. He lost fifty-three vessels, fourteen hundred guns, and six thousand men. He had refused to take anybody's advice on this occasion and had conducted the battle himself. His cowardice and incapacity therefore were entirely apparent. He tried to attribute this defeat, which compelled Catherine to make peace upon terms not advantageous to her, to the cowardice of the Russians whom he commanded. The Russians were not cowards. He fell from favor, left the court, and passed the remainder of his life on his estate in Poland in the society of his homely but devoted wife. It is to be hoped that she made things interesting for him, but it is hardly likely. He died in obscurity and poverty in 1809, unregretted and forgotten.
51A portion was subsequently paid to his heirs by the French Government.
52See Appendix No. V.
53From my book, American Fights and Fighters.
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