Captain Paul Jones
THE GREATEST OF AMERICA'S NAVAL HEROES
ONCE upon a time there lived in Scotland a poor gardener named John
Paul, who had a little son to whom he gave the same name. The rich man's
garden that the father took care of was close by the sea, and little
John Paul came to love blue water so much that he spent most of his time
near it, and longed to be a sailor.
He lived in his father
s cottage near the sea until he was twelve years
old. Then he was put to work in a big town on the other side of the
Solway Firth. This town was called Whitehaven. It was a very busy place,
and ships and sailors were there in such numbers that the little fellow,
who had been put in a store, greatly liked to go down to the docks and
talk with the seamen who had been in so many different lands and seas
and who could tell him all about the wonderful and curious places they
had seen, and about their adventures on the great oceans they had sailed
In the end the boy made up his mind to go to sea. He studied all about
ships and how to sail them. He read all the books he could get, and
often, when other boys were asleep or in mischief, he was learning from
the books he read many things that helped him when he grew older. At
last he had his wish. When he was only thirteen years old, he was put as
a sailor boy on a ship called the Friendship.
The vessel was bound to Virginia, in America, for a cargo of tobacco,
and the young sailor greatly enjoyed the voyage and was especially
delighted with the new country across the sea. He wished he could live
in America, and hoped some day to go there again.
When this first voyage was over, he returned to Whitehaven and went back
to the store. But soon after, the merchant who owned the store failed in
business, and the boy was out of a place and had to look out for
himself. This time he became a real seaman. For many years he served as
a common sailor. He proved such a good one that before he was twenty
years old he was a captain. This was how he became one: While the ship
in which he was sailing was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a
terrible fever broke out. The captain died. The mate, who comes next to
the captain, died; all of the sailors were sick, and some of them died.
There was no one who knew about sailing such a big vessel, except young
John Paul. So he took command and sailed the ship into port without an
accident, and the owners were so glad that they made the young sailor
captain of the ship which he had saved for them.
John Paul was not the only one of his family who loved America. He had a
brother who had crossed the ocean and was living in Virginia, on the
banks of the Rappahannock River. This was the same river beside which
George Washington lived when a boy. The young captain visited his
brother several times while he was sailing on his voyages, and he liked
the country so much that, when his brother died, he gave up being a
sailor for a while, and went to live on his brother's farm.
When he became a farmer, he changed his name to Jones. Why he did so
nobody knows. But he ever after bore the name of John Paul Jones. He
made this one of the best known names in the history of the seas.
I doubt if he was a very good farmer. He was too much of a sailor for
that. So, when the American Revolution began, he was eager to fight the
British on the seas. There was no nation at that time so powerful on the
sea as England. The King had a splendid fleet of ships of war--almost a
thousand. The United States had none. But soon the Americans got
together five little ships, and sent them out as the beginning of the
American navy, to fight the ships of England.
John Paul Jones was made first lieutenant of a ship called the Alfred.
He had the good fortune to hoist for the first time on any ship, the
earliest American flag. This was a great yellow silk flag which had on
it the picture of a pine tree with a rattlesnake coiled around it, and
underneath were the words: "Don't tread on me!"
Then the grand union flag of the colonies was set. This had thirteen red
and white stripes, like our present flag, but, instead of the stars, in
the corner it had the British "union jack." Thus there was a link on the
flag between the colonies and England. They had not quite cut apart.
Jones had first been offered the command of the Providence, a brig
that bore twelve guns and had a crew of one hundred men. But he showed
the kind of man he was by saying that he did not know enough to be a
captain, and was hardly fit to be a first lieutenant. That was how he
came to be made first lieutenant of the Alfred. Congress took him at
his own price.
But Commodore Hopkins, who commanded the fleet, was wise enough to see
that Jones knew more about his work than most of the captains in the
service. So he ordered him to take command of the Providence, the snug
little brig that had first been offered to him.
The new captain was set at work to carrying troops and guarding merchant
vessels along the shore, and he did this with wonderful skill. There
were British men-of-war nearly everywhere, but Jones managed to keep
clear of them. He darted up and down Long Island Sound, carrying
soldiers and guns and food to General Washington. So well did he do his
work that Congress made him a captain. This was on August 8, 1776, a
month and more after the "Declaration of Independence." He had a free
country now to fight for, instead of rebel colonies.
The Providence was a little vessel, but it was a fast sailer, and was
wonderfully quick to answer the helm. That is, it turned very quickly
when the rudder was moved. And it had a captain who knew how to sail a
ship. All this brought the little brig out of more than one tight place.
I must tell you about one of these escapes, in which Captain Jones
showed himself a very sharp sea-fox. He came across a fleet of vessels
which he thought were merchant ships, and had a fancy he might capture
the largest. But when he got close up he found that this was a big
British frigate, the Solebay.
Away went the Providence at full speed, and hot-foot after her came
the Solebay. For four hours the chase was kept up, the frigate
steadily gaining. At last she was only a hundred yards away. Now was the
time to surrender. Nearly any one but Paul Jones would have done so. A
broadside from the great frigate would have torn his little brig to
pieces. But he was one of the "never surrender" kind.
What else could he do? you ask. Well, I will tell you what he did. He
quietly made ready to set all his extra sails, and put a man with a
lighted match at each cannon, and had another ready to hoist the union
Then, with a quick turn of the helm, the little brig swung round like a
top across the frigate's bows. As she did so all the guns on that side
sent their iron hail sweeping across the deck of the Solebay. In a
minute more the studding sails were set on both sides, like broad white
wings, and away went the Providence as swift as a racer, straight
before the wind and with the American flag proudly flying. The officers
and men of the frigate were so upset by the sudden dash and attack that
they did not know what to do. Before they came to their senses the brig
was out of reach of their shot. Off like a bird she went, now quite
outsailing her pursuer. The Solebay, fired more than a hundred iron
balls after her, but they only scared the fishes.
It was not long before Captain Jones found another big British ship on
his track. He was now off the coast of Nova Scotia, and as there was
nothing else to do, he let his men have a day's sport in fishing for
codfish. Fish are plenty in those waters, and they were pulling them up
in a lively fashion when a strange sail rose in sight.
When it came well up Captain Jones saw it was a British frigate, and
judged it time to pull in his fishing lines and set sail on his little
craft. Away like a deer went the brig, and after her like a hound came
the ship. But it soon proved that the deer was faster than the hound,
and so Captain Jones began to play with the big frigate. He took in some
of his sails and kept just out of reach.
The Milford, which was the name of the British ship, kept firing at
the Providence, but all her shot plunged into the waves. It was like
the hound barking at the deer. And every time the Milford sent a
broadside, Paul Jones replied with a musket. After he had all the fun he
wanted out of the lumbering frigate, he spread all sail again and soon
left her out of sight.
We cannot tell the whole story of the cruise of the Providence. In
less than two months it captured sixteen vessels and burned some others.
Soon after that Jones was made captain of the Alfred, the ship on
which he had raised the first flag. With this he took a splendid prize,
the brig Mellish, on which were ten thousand uniforms for the British
soldiers. Many a ragged soldier in Washington's army thanked him that
winter for a fine suit of warm clothing.
Let us tell one more fine thing that Captain Jones did in American
waters before he crossed the ocean to the British seas. Sailing along
the coast of Canada he came upon a fleet of coal vessels, with a British
frigate to take care of them. But it was foggy and the coalers were
scattered; so that Jones picked up three of them while the frigate went
on with her eyes shut, not knowing that anything was wrong.
Two days afterward he came upon a British privateer, which was on the
hunt for American vessels. But when the Alfred came up, before more
than a few shots had been fired, down came its flag.
Captain Jones now thought it time to get home. His ship was crowded
with prisoners, he was short of food and water, and he had four prizes
to look after, which were manned with some of his crew.
But he was not to get home without another adventure; for, late one
afternoon, there came in sight the frigate Milford, the one which he
had saluted with musket balls. He could not play with her now, for he
had his prizes to look after, and while he could outsail her, the prizes
So he told the captains of the prizes to keep on as they were, no matter
what signals he made. Night soon came, and the Alfred sailed on, with
two lanterns swinging in her tops. Soon she changed her course and the
Milford followed. No doubt her captain thought that the Yankee had
lost his wits, to sail on with lanterns blazing and make it easy to keep
in his track.
But when morning dawned the British captain found he had been tricked.
The Alfred was in sight, but all the prizes were gone except the
privateer, whose stupid captain had not obeyed orders. The result was
that the privateer was recaptured. But the Alfred easily kept ahead.
That afternoon a squall of snow came upon the sea, and the Yankee craft,
"amid clouds and darkness and foaming surges, made her escape."
In a few days more the Alfred sailed into Boston. There his ship was
given another captain, and for six months he had nothing to do. Congress
was full of politicians who were looking out for their friends, and the
best seaman in the American navy was left sitting at home biting his
thumb nails and whistling for a ship.
I have not told you here the whole story of our greatest naval hero. I
have not told you even the best part of his story, that part which has
made him famous in all history, and put him on a level with the most
celebrated sea fighters of all time.
The exploits of Paul Jones cover two seas, those of America and those of
England, and in both he proved himself a brilliant sailor and a daring
fighter. I think you will say this from what you have already read. His
deeds of skill and bravery on our own coast were wonderful, and if they
had stood alone would have given him great fame. But it was in the
waters and on the shores of England that he showed the whole world what
a man he was; and now, when men talk of the great heroes of the sea, the
name of John Paul Jones always stands first. This is the story we have
next to tell, how Captain Jones crossed the ocean and bearded the
British lion in his den.