The Fight Of Captain Jacob Jones
THE LIVELY LITTLE "WASP" AND HOW SHE STUNG THE "FROLIC"
NO doubt most of my readers know very well what a wasp is and how nicely
it can take care of itself. When I was a boy I found out more than once
how long and sharp a sting it has, and I do not think many boys grow up
without at some time waking up a wasp and wishing they had left it
The United States has had three
asps and one Hornet in its navy,
and the British boys who came fooling in their way found that all of
them could sting. I will tell you about the time one of our Wasps met
the British Frolic and fought it in a great gale, when the ships were
tossing about like chips on the ocean billows.
Not long after the Constitution had her great fight with the
Guerriere, a little sloop-of-war named the Wasp set sail from
Philadelphia to see what she could find on the broad seas. This vessel,
you should know, had three masts and square sails like a ship. But she
was not much larger than one of the sloops we see on our rivers to-day,
so it was right to call her a sloop. For captain she had a bold sailor
named Jacob Jones.
The first thing the Wasp found at sea was a mighty gale of wind, that
blew "great guns" for two days. The waves were so big and fierce that
one of them carried away her bowsprit with two men on it. The next
night, after the wind had gone down a little, lights shone out across
the waves, and when daylight came Captain Jones saw over the heaving
billows six large merchant ships. With them was a watch-dog in the shape
of a fighting brig.
This brig was named the Frolic. It had been sent in charge of a fleet
of fourteen merchantmen, but these had been scattered by the gale until
only six were left. The Frolic was a good match for the Wasp, and
seemed to want a fight quite as badly, for it sailed for the American
ship as fast as the howling wind would let it. And you may be sure the
Wasp did not fly away.
Captain Jones hoisted his country's flag like a man. He was not afraid
to show his true colors. But the Frolic came up under the Spanish
flag. When they got close together Captain Jones hailed,--
"What ship is that?"
The only answer of the British captain was to pull down the Spanish flag
and run up his own standard, stamped with the red cross of St. George.
And as the one flag went down and the other went up, the Frolic fired
a broadside at the Wasp. But just then the British ship rolled over on
the side of a wave, and its balls went whistling upward through the air.
The Yankee gunners were more wide-awake than that. They waited until
their vessel rolled down on the side of a great billow, and then they
fired, their solid shot going low, and tearing into the Frolic's
The fighting went that way all through the battle. The British gunners
did not know their business and fired wild. The Yankees knew what they
were about, and made every shot tell. They had sights on their guns and
took aim; the British had no sights and took no aim. That is why the
Americans were victors in so many fights.
But I think there was not often a sea-fight like this. The battle took
place off Cape Hatteras, which is famous for its storms. The wind
whistled and howled; the waves rose into foaming crests and sank into
dark hollows; the fighting craft rolled and pitched. As they rolled
upward the guns pointed at the clouds. As they rolled downward the
muzzles of the guns often dipped into the foam. Great masses of spray
came flying over the bulwarks, sweeping the decks. The weather and the
sailors both had their blood up, and both were fighting for all they
were worth. It was a question which would win, the wind or the men.
As fast as the smoke rose the wind swept it away, so that the gunners
had a clear view of the ships. The roar of the gale was half drowned by
the thunder of the guns, and the whistle of the wind mingled with the
scream of the balls, while the sailors shouted as they ran out their
guns and cheered as the iron hail swept across the waves.
In such frantic haste did the British handle their guns, that they fired
three shots to the Yankees' two. The latter did not fire till they saw
something to fire at. As a result, most of British balls went whistling
overhead, and pitching over the Wasp into the sea, while most of the
Yankee balls swept the decks or bored into the timbers of the Frolic.
But you must not think that the shots of the Frolic were all wasted,
if they did go high. One of them hit the maintopmast of the Wasp and
cut it square off. Another hit the mizzen-topgallantmast and toppled it
into the waves. In twenty minutes from the start "every brace and most
of the rigging of the Wasp were shot away." The Wasp had done little
harm above, but a great deal below.
The Frolic could have run away now if she had wanted to. But her
captain was not of the runaway kind. The fire of the Wasp had covered
his deck with blood, but he fought boldly on.
As they fought the two ships drifted together and soon their sides met
with a crash. Then, as they were swept apart by the waves, two of the
Wasp's guns were fired into the bow-ports of the Frolic and swept
her gun-deck from end to end. Terrible was the slaughter done by that
The next minute the bowsprit of the Frolic caught in the rigging of
the Wasp, and another torrent of balls was poured into the British
ship. Then the Yankee sailors left their guns and sprang for the enemy's
deck. The captain wanted them to keep firing, but he could not hold them
First of them all was a brawny Jerseyman named Jack Lang, who took his
cutlass between his teeth and clambered like a cat along the bowsprit to
the deck. Others followed, and when they reached the deck of the
Frolic they found Jack Lang standing alone and looking along the
blood-stained deck with staring eyes.
Only four living men were to be seen, and three of these were wounded.
One was the quartermaster at the wheel and the others were officers. Not
another man stood on his feet, but the deck was strewn with the dead,
whose bodies rolled about at every heave of the waves.
When the men came running aft the three officers flung down their swords
to show that they had surrendered, and one of them covered his face
with his hands. It hurt him to give up the good ship. Lieutenant Biddle,
of the Wasp, had to haul down the British flag.
Never had there been more terrible slaughter. Of the 110 men on the
Frolic there were not twenty alive and unhurt, while on the Wasp
only five were dead and five wounded. The hull of the Frolic was full
of holes and its masts were so cut away that in a few minutes they both
Thus ended one of the most famous of American sea-fights. It was another
lesson that helped to stop the English from singing
"Britannia rules the waves."
But the little Wasp and her gallant crew did not get the good of their
famous victory. While they were busy repairing damages a sail appeared
above the far horizon. It came on, growing larger and larger, and soon
it was seen to be a big man-of-war.
The game was up with the Wasp and her prize, for the new ship was the
Poictiers, a great seventy-four ship-of-the-line. She snapped up the
Wasp and the Frolic and carried them off to the British isle of
Bermuda, where the victors found themselves prisoners.
A few words will finish the story of the Wasp. She was taken into the
British navy; but she did not have to fight for her foes, for she went
down at sea without doing anything. So she was saved from the disgrace
of fighting against her country.
Captain Jones and his men were soon exchanged, and Congress voted them a
reward of $25,000 for their gallant fight, while the brave captain was
given the command of the frigate Macedonian, which had been captured
from the British. It was Captain Stephen Decatur, the hero of Tripoli,
that captured her, in the good ship United States.
Would you like to hear about the other Wasps? There were two more of
them, you know. They were good ships, but ill luck came to them all. The
first Wasp did her work in the Revolution, and had to be burned at
Philadelphia to keep her from the British when they took that city. The
second one, as I have just told you, was lost at sea, and so was the
third. You may see that bad luck came to them all.
The third Wasp was, like the second, a sloop-of-war, but she was a
large and heavy one. And though in the end she was lost at sea and
followed the other Wasp to the bottom, she did not do so without
sending some British messengers there in advance.
I will tell you the story of this Wasp, and how she used her sting,
but it must be done in few words.
She was built at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and sailed on May 1, 1814,
her captain being Johnston Blakeley; her crew a set of young countrymen
who were so unused to the sea that most of them were seasick for a week.
Their average age was only twenty-three years, so they were little more
than boys. Yet the most of them could hit a deer with a rifle, and they
soon showed they could hit a Reindeer with a cannon. For near the end
of June they came across a British brig named the Reindeer, and in
less than twenty minutes had battered her in so lively a fashion that
her flag came down and she was a prize.
The crew of the Reindeer were trained seamen, but they did not know
how to shoot. The Americans were Yankee farmer-lads, yet they shot like
veteran gunners. I am sure you will think so when I tell you that the
British could hardly hit the Wasp at all, though she was less than
sixty yards away. But the Yankees hit the Reindeer so often that she
was cut to pieces and her masts ready to fall. In fact, after she was
captured, she could not be taken into port, but had to be set on fire
and blown to pieces.
But I must say a good word for the gallant captain of the Reindeer.
First, a musket ball hit him and went through the calves of both legs,
but he kept on his feet. Then a grape-shot--an iron ball two inches
thick--went through both his thighs. The brave seaman fell, but he rose
to his feet again, drew his sword, and called his men to board the
Wasp. He was trying to climb on board when a musket ball went through
his head. "O God!" he cried, and fell dead.
This fight was in the English Channel, where Blakeley was doing what
John Paul Jones had done years before. Two months after the sinking of
the Reindeer the Wasp had another fight. This time there were three
British vessels, the Avon, the Castilian, and the Tartarus, all of
them brig-sloops like the Reindeer. These vessels were scattered,
chasing a privateer, and about nine o'clock at night the Wasp came up
with the Avon alone. They hailed each other as ships do when they meet
at sea. Then, when sure they were enemies, they began firing, as ships
do also in time of war. For forty minutes the fight kept up, and then
the Avon had enough. She was riddled as the Reindeer had been. But
the Wasp did not take possession; for before a boat could be sent on
board, the two comrades of the Avon came in sight.
The Wasp, after her battle with the Avon, could not fight two more,
so she sailed away and left them to attend to their consort. They could
not save her. The Wasp had stung too deeply for that. The water poured
in faster than the men of all three ships could pump it out, and at one
o'clock in the morning down plunged the Avon's bow in the water, up
went her stern in the air, and with a mighty surge she sank to rise no
more. But the gallant Wasp had ended her work. She took some more
prizes, but the sea, to whose depths she had sent the Reindeer and
Avon, took her also. She was seen in October, and that was the last
that human eyes ever saw of her.