Captain Paul Jones


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

could not.

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.