How Paul Jones Won Renown
THE FIRST GREAT FIGHT OF THE AMERICAN NAVY
YOU have been told how Captain Paul Jones lost his ship. He was given
another in June, 1777. This was the Ranger, a frigate carrying
twenty-six guns, but it was such a slow old tub that our captain was not
well pleased with his new craft. He did not want to run away from the
British; he wanted a ship that was fit to chase an enemy.
ave one thing very interesting to tell. On the very day that Jones
got his new ship Congress adopted a new flag, the American standard with
its thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. As soon as he heard of the new
flag, Captain Jones had one made in all haste, and with his own hands he
ran it up to the mast-head of the Ranger. So she was the first ship
that ever carried the "Stars and Stripes." Is it not interesting that
the man who first raised the pine-tree flag of the colonies was the
first to fling out to the breeze the star-spangled flag of the American
Captain Jones was ordered to sail for France, but it took so long to get
the Ranger ready for sea that it was winter before he reached there.
Benjamin Franklin and other Americans were there in France and were
having a fine new frigate built for Paul Jones. But when England heard
of it such a protest was made that the French government stopped the
work on the ship, and our brave captain had to go to sea again in the
He had one satisfaction. He sailed through the French fleet at Quiberon
Bay and saluted the French flag. The French admiral could not well help
returning his salute. That was the first time the Stars and Stripes were
saluted by a foreign power.
What Captain Jones proposed to do was the boldest thing any American
captain could do. England was invading America. He proposed to invade
England. That is, he would cruise along the British coast, burning ships
and towns, and thus do there what the British had done along the
American coast. He wanted to let them find how they liked it themselves.
It was a daring plan. The British channel was full of war-vessels. If
they got on the track of his slow ship he could not run away. He would
never think of running from one ship, but there might be a fleet.
However, Paul Jones was the last man in the world to think of danger; so
he put boldly out to sea, and took his chances.
It was not long before he had all England in a state of alarm. News came
that this daring American warship was taking prize after prize, burning
some and sending their crews ashore. He would hide along the English
coast from the men-of-war that went out in search, and then suddenly
dart out and seize some merchant ship.
The English called Captain Jones a pirate and all sorts of hard names.
But they were very much afraid of him and his stout ship. And this
voyage of his, along the shores of England, taught them to respect and
fear the American sailors more than they had ever done before.
After he had captured many British vessels, almost in sight of their
homes, he boldly sailed to the north and into the very port of
Whitehaven, where he had "tended store," as a boy, and from which he had
first gone to sea. He knew all about the place. He knew how many vessels
were there, and what a splendid victory he could win for the American
navy, if he could sail into Whitehaven harbor and capture or destroy the
two hundred vessels that were anchored within sight of the town he
remembered so well.
With two rowboats and thirty men he landed at Whitehaven, locked up the
soldiers in the forts, fixed the cannon so that they could not be fired,
set fire to one of the vessels that were in the harbor, and so
frightened all the people that, though the gardener's son stood alone on
the wharf, waiting for a boat to take him off, not a man dared to lay a
hand on him. With a single pistol he kept back a thousand men.
Then he sailed across the bay to the house of the great lord for whom
his father had worked as a gardener. He meant to run away with this
nobleman, and keep him prisoner until the British promised to treat
better the Americans whom they had taken prisoners. But the lord whom
he went for was "not at home," so all that Captain Jones's men could do
was to carry off from the big house the silverware of the earl. Captain
Jones did not like this; so he took the things from his men and returned
them to Earl Selkirk, with a letter asking him to excuse his sailors.
Not long afterward one of the British men-of-war which were in the hunt
for Captain Jones, found him. This was the Drake, a larger ship than
the Ranger and carrying more men. But that did not trouble Paul Jones,
and soon there was a terrible fight. The sails of the Drake were cut
to pieces, her decks were red with blood, and at last her captain fell
dead. In an hour after the fight began, just as the sun was going down
behind the Irish hills, there came a cry for quarter from the Drake,
and the battle was at an end. Off went Captain Jones, with his ship and
his prize, for the friendly shores of France, where he was received with
Soon after this the French decided to help the Americans in their war
for independence. After some time Captain Jones was put in command of
five ships, and back he sailed to England to fight the British ships
The vessel in which he sailed was the biggest of the five ships. It had
forty guns and a crew of three hundred sailors. Captain Jones thought so
much of the great Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who had written a book of good
advice, under the name of "Poor Richard," that he named his big ship for
Dr. Franklin. He called it the Bon Homme Richard, which is French for
"good man Richard." But the Bon Homme Richard was not a good boat, if
it was a big one. It was old and rotten and leaky, and not fit for a
warship, but its new commander made the best he could of it.
The little fleet sailed up and down the English coasts, capturing a few
prizes, and greatly frightening the people by saying that they had come
to burn some of the big English sea towns. Then, just as they were about
sailing back to France, they came--near an English cape, called
Flamborough Head--upon an English fleet of forty merchant vessels and
two war ships.
One of the war ships was a great English frigate, called the Serapis,
finer and stronger in every way than the Bon Homme Richard. But
Captain Jones would not run away.
"What ship is that?" called out the Englishman. "Come a little nearer,
and we'll tell you," answered plucky Captain Jones.
The British ships did come a little nearer. The forty merchant vessels
sailed as fast as they could to the nearest harbor, and then the
warships had a terrible battle.
At seven o'clock in the evening the British frigate and the Bon Homme
Richard began to fight. They banged and hammered away for hours, and
then, when the British captain thought he must have beaten the
Americans, and it was so dark and smoky that they could only see each
other by the fire flashes, he called out to the American captain: "Are
you beaten? Have you hauled down your flag?"
And back came the answer of Captain John Paul Jones: "I haven't begun to
So they went at it again. The two ships were now lashed together, and
they tore each other like savage dogs in a fight.
The rotten old Richard suffered terribly. Two of her great guns had
burst at the first fire, and she was shot through and through by the
Serapis until most of her timbers above the water-line were shot away.
The British rushed on board with pistols and cutlasses, and the
Americans drove them back. But the Richard was on fire; water was
pouring in through a dozen shot holes; it looked as if she must
surrender, brave as were her captain and crew. There were on board the
old ship nearly two hundred prisoners who had been taken from captured
vessels, and so pitiful were their cries that one of the officers set
them free, thinking that the ship was going to sink and that they ought
to have a chance for their lives. These men were running up on deck,
adding greatly to the trouble of Captain Jones; for he had now a crowd
of enemies on his own ship. But the prisoners were so scared that they
did not know what to do. They saw the ship burning around them and heard
the water pouring into the hold, and thought they would be carried to
the bottom. So to keep them from mischief they were set to work, some at
the pumps, others at putting out the fire. And to keep the ship from
blowing up, if the fire should reach the magazine, Captain Jones set men
at bringing up the kegs of powder and throwing them into the sea. Never
was there a ship in so desperate a strait, and there was hardly a man on
board, except Captain Jones, who did not want to surrender.
But the British were not having it all their own way. The American tars
had climbed the masts and were firing down with muskets and flinging
down hand grenades, until all the British had to run from the upper
deck. A hand grenade is a small, hollow iron ball filled with powder,
which explodes when thrown down and sends the bits of iron flying all
around, like so many bullets.
One sailor took a bucketful of these and crept far out on the yard-arm
of the ship, and began to fling them down on the gun-deck of the
Serapis, where they did much damage. At last one of them went through
the open hatchway to the main deck, where a crowd of men were busy
working the great guns, and cartridges were lying all about and loose
powder was scattered on the floor.
The grenade set fire to this powder, and in a second there was a
terrible explosion. A great sheet of flame burst up through the
hatchway, and frightful cries came from below. In that dreadful moment
more than twenty men were killed and many more were wounded. All the
guns on that deck had to be abandoned. There were no men left to work
Where was Captain Jones all the time, and what was he doing? You may be
sure he was busy. He had taken a gun and loaded it with double-headed
shot, and kept firing at the mainmast of the Serapis. Every shot cut a
piece out of the mast, and after a while it came tumbling upon the deck,
with all its spars and rigging. The tarred ropes quickly caught fire,
and the ship was in flames.
At this moment up came the Alliance, one of Captain Jones's fleet. He
now thought that the battle was at an end, but to his horror the
Alliance, instead of firing at the British ship, began to pour its
broadsides into his own. He called to them for God's sake to quit
firing, but they kept on, killing some of his best men and making
several holes under water, through which new floods poured into the
ship. The Alliance had a French captain who hated Paul Jones and
wanted to sink his ship.
Both ships were now in flames, and water rushed into the Richard
faster than the pumps could keep it out. Some of the officers begged
Captain Jones to pull down his flag and surrender, but he would not give
up. He thought there was always a chance while he had a deck under his
Soon the cowardly French traitor quit firing and sailed off, and Paul
Jones began his old work again, firing at the Serapis as if the battle
had just begun. This was more than the British captain could bear. His
ship was a mere wreck and was blazing around him, so he ran on deck and
pulled down his flag with his own hands. The terrible battle was at an
end. The British ship had given up the fight.
Lieutenant Dale sprang on board the Serapis, went up to Captain
Pearson, the British commander, and asked him if he surrendered. The
Englishman replied that he had, and then he and his chief officer went
aboard the battered Richard, which was sinking even in its hour of
But Captain Jones stood on the deck of his sinking vessel, proud and
triumphant. He had shown what an American captain and American sailors
could do, even when everything was against them. The English captain
gave up his sword to the American, which is the way all sailors and
soldiers do when they surrender their ships or their armies.
The fight had been a brave one, and the English King knew that his
captain had made a bold and desperate resistance, even if he had been
whipped. So he rewarded Captain Pearson, when he at last returned to
England, by making him a Knight, thus giving him the title of "Sir."
When Captain Jones heard of this he laughed, and said: "Well, if I can
meet Captain Pearson again in a sea fight, I'll make him a lord."
The poor Bon Homme Richard was such an utter wreck that she soon sank
beneath the waves. But, even as she went down, the stars and stripes
floated proudly from the mast-head, in token of victory.
Captain Jones, after the surrender, put all his men aboard the captured
Serapis, and then off he sailed to the nearest friendly port, with his
great prize and all his prisoners. This victory made him the greatest
sailor in the whole American war, and the most famous of all American
Captain Jones took his prize into the Dutch port of Texel, closely
followed by a British squadron. The country of Holland was not friendly
to the Americans, and though they let him come in, he was told that he
could not stay there. So he sailed again, in a howling gale, straight
through the British squadron, with the American flag flying at his peak.
Down through the narrow Straits of Dover he passed, coming so near the
English shore that he could count the warships at anchor in the Downs.
That was his way of showing how little he feared them. The English were
so angry at Holland because it would not give up the Americans and their
prizes that they declared war against that country.
When Captain Jones reached Paris he was received with the greatest
honor, and greeted as one of the ablest and bravest of sea-fighters.
Everybody wished to see such a hero. He went to the King's court, and
the King and Queen and French lords and ladies made much of him and gave
him receptions, and said so many fine things about him that, if he had
been at all vain, it might have "turned his head," as people say. But
John Paul Jones was not vain.
He was a brave sailor, and he was in France to get help and not
compliments. He wished a new ship to take the place of the old
Richard, which had gone to the bottom after its great victory.
So, though the King of France honored him and received him splendidly
and made him presents, he kept on working to get another ship. At last
he was made captain of a new ship, called the Ariel, and sailed from
France. He had a fierce battle with an English ship called the
Triumph, and defeated her. But she escaped before surrendering, and
Captain Jones sailed across the sea to America.
He was received at home with great honor and applause. Congress gave him
a vote of thanks, "for the zeal, prudence and intrepidity with which he
had supported the honor of the American flag"--that is what the vote
People everywhere crowded to see him, and called him hero and conqueror.
Lafayette, the brave young Frenchman who came over to fight for America,
called him "my dear Paul Jones," and Washington and the other leaders
in America said, "Well done, Captain Jones!"
The King of France sent him a splendid reward of merit called the "Cross
of Honor," and Congress set about building a fine ship for him to
command. But before it was finished, the war was over; and he was sent
back to France on some important business for the United States.
Here he was received with new honor, for the French knew how to meet and
treat a brave man; and above all they loved a man who had humbled the
English, their ancient foes. Captain Jones had sailed from a French port
and in a French ship, and they looked on him almost as one of their own.
But all this did not make him proud or boastful, for he was not that
kind of man.
In later years Paul Jones served in Russia in the wars with the Turks.
But the British officers who were in the Russian service refused to
fight under him, saying that he was a rebel, a pirate, and a traitor.
This was because he had fought for America after being born in Scotland.
So, after some hard fighting, he left Russia and went back to France,
where he died in 1792.
In all the history of sea fighting we hear of no braver man, and the
United States, so long as it is a nation, will be proud of and honor the
memory of the gallant sailor, John Paul Jones.