South American Fights and Fighters - Cyrus T. Brady

John Paul Jones

Being Further Light on his Strange Career

One hundred and eighteen years ago a little man who had attracted the attention of two continents, and who, in his comparatively brief career of forty-five years, had won eternal fame for himself among the heroes of the world, died in Paris, alone in his room. He had been ill for some time, and his physician, calling late in the evening, found him prone upon his bed, sleeping a sleep from which no call to battle would ever arouse him. Like Warren Hastings, John Paul Jones was at rest at last; "in peace after so many storms, in honor after so much obliquy."

He was buried in a Protestant cemetery in Paris, which was officially closed in January, 1793. The exact location of his grave there was forgotten. For many years even the fact that he was buried there was forgotten. The other day the cable flashed a message which gladdened every American heart. Under the inspiration, and at the personal charges, of General Horace Porter, United States Ambassador to France, a search had been instigated and the body was found and completely identified. It is a service of sentiment that General Porter has rendered us, but not the less valuable on that account. To love the hero, to recall the heroic past, is good for the future. The remains of the great captain came back to the United States. On the decks of such a battleship as even his genius never dreamed of, surrounded by a squadron that could have put to flight all the sea-fighters of the world before the age of steam and steel, the body of the little commodore was brought back to his adopted country to repose on the soil of the land he loved, for whose liberty he fought, whose honor he maintained in battle; and a suitable monument is to be raised by our people to commemorate his services, to inspire like conduct in years to come.

Commodore John Paul Jones, the first of the great American fighters, and not the least splendid in the long line, was born of humble origin in a southern county of Scotland. His family was obscure, his circumstances narrow, his advantages meagre, his opportunities limited. At the age of twelve he became a sailor. Genius rose, superior to adverse circumstances, however, and before he died he was one of the most accomplished officers who ever served the United States. The greatest men of America and France took pleasure in his society and were proud of his friendship.

He progressed rapidly in his chosen career. At nineteen he was chief mate of a slaver, a legitimate occupation in his day but one that filled him with disgust. At twenty-one he was captain of a trader. In 1773 he came to America, forsook the sea and settled in Virginia.

The Birth of the American Navy

He was still poor and still obscure when on December 7, 1775, he was appointed a lieutenant in the new Continental Navy, In that capacity he was ordered to the Alfred, a small converted merchantman, the flagship of Commodore Hopkins. He joined the ship immediately, and in the latter part of December he had the honor of hoisting with his own hands the first naval flag of an American squadron. This was the famous yellow silk banner with a rattlesnake and perhaps a pine tree emblazoned upon it, and with the significant legend, "Don't tread on me!"

Hopkins made an abortive expedition to New Providence, in which Jones had but one opportunity to distinguish himself. At the peril of his commission, when the regular pilots refused to do so, he volunteered to take the Alfred through a difficult and dangerous channel. Needless to say, he succeeded—he always succeeded!

His first independent command was the little schooner Providence, of seventy men and twelve four-pound guns. In the Fall of 1775 he made a notable cruise in this schooner; he skirmished with, and escaped from, by seamanship and daring, two heavy frigates, the Solebay and the Milford; in four months he captured sixteen vessels, eight of which were sent in as prizes, five burned, three returned to certain poor fishermen; and he destroyed property aggregating a million dollars.

Later, in command of the Alfred, with a short crew of one hundred and fifty, when he should have had three hundred, he made another brilliant cruise in which he burned several British transports, captured one store-ship, laden to the gunwales with priceless munitions of war and supplies, cut out three of the supply fleet from under the guns of the Flora frigate, and had another smart brush with the Milford.

Jones First Hoists the Stars and Stripes

Commissioned captain on the 14th of June, 1777, in the same resolution which established an American flag, he was ordered to the Ranger, a little ship-rigged corvette of three hundred tons. In her, on the 4th of July of the same year, he hoisted the first stars and stripes that had ever waved over a ship-of-war. In Quiberon Bay—famous as one of the battle-grounds of the world—on the evening of the 14th of February, 1778, in the Ranger, he received the first formal recognition ever given by a foreign fleet to the United States in a salute to the American flag. As it was after sunset when the salutes were exchanged, and in order that there should be no mistake about it, the next morning, the 15th of February, Jones transferred his flag to the Independence, a small privateer, and deliberately sailed through La Motte Picquet's great fleet of towering line-of-battle-ships, saluting and receiving salutes again.

Still on the Ranger, on the 24th of April, he fought the British sloop-of-war Drake, of equal force and larger crew, to a standstill in an hour and five minutes. When the Drake struck her flag, her rigging, sails and spars were cut to pieces. She had forty-two killed and wounded—more than one-fifth of her crew—and was completely helpless. The Ranger lost two killed and six wounded.

In 1779 Jones hoisted his flag on the Duc de Duras, a condemned East Indiaman, which would have been broken up had he not turned her into a makeshift frigate by mounting forty guns in her batteries—fourteen twelve-pounders, twenty nines and six eighteens. This, in honor of Franklin, he named the Bonhomme Richard. Accompanied by the fine little American-built frigate Alliance and the French ship Pallas, with the brig Vengeance, and the cutter Cerf, he cruised around England, taking several prizes, and striking terror all along the shore.

The Battle with the Serapis

On the evening of the 23rd of September he fell in with the Baltic convoy. He was accompanied at the time by the Alliance and the Pallas. The Baltic convoy was protected by the Serapis and the Scarborough. The Serapis was a brand-new, double-banked frigate of eight hundred tons, carrying twenty eighteen-pounders, twenty nines and ten sixes. Inasmuch as the eighteen-pounders on the Richard burst and were abandoned after the first fire, the Serapis could and did discharge nearly twice as many pounds' weight of broadside as the Richard, say three hundred pounds to one hundred and seventy-five. The Pallas grappled with the Scarborough—a more equal match—and Jones attacked the Serapis, which was not unwilling—quite the contrary—for the fight.

The battle was one of the most memorable and desperate ever fought upon the ocean. The Richard was riddled like a sieve. Her rotten sides were literally blown out to starboard and port by the heavy batteries of the Serapis. Jones had several hundred English prisoners on board. The master-at-arms released them, but, with great readiness and presence of mind, Jones sent them to the pumps, while he continued to fight the English frigate, his own ship kept afloat by their efforts.

Captain Pearson, of the Serapis, was as brave a man as ever drew a sword, but he was no match for the indomitable personality of the American commander. After several hours of such fighting as had scarcely been seen before on the narrow seas, he struck his flag. The Alliance, accompanied by a jealous and incapable Frenchman, had contributed nothing to Jones's success. Indeed, she had twice poured her broadsides into the Richard. The American vessel was so wrecked below and aloft that she sank alongside, and Jones had to transfer the survivors of his crew to the English frigate. The aggregate of the two crews was nearly seven hundred, of which about three hundred and fifty were killed or wounded.

Serapis vs. Bonhomme Richard


It is the greatest pity that the poverty of America did not permit Jones to get to sea in a proper frigate, or in a ship of the line, before the close of the war. After the Revolution, in which he had borne so conspicuous a part, so much so that his exploits had electrified both continents, he took service under Catherine of Russia, carefully reserving his American citizenship. In her service he fought four brilliant actions in the Black Sea, in which he had to contend with the usual discouragement of indifferent personnel and wretched material, and in which he displayed all his old-time qualities, winning his usual successes, too.

Worn out in unrequited service, disgusted with Russian court intrigues of which he was the victim, resentful of the infamous Potemkin's brutal attempts at coercion, he asked leave of absence from Catherine's service and went to Paris, where, in the companionship of his friends, and in the society of the beautiful Aimee de Telison, the one woman he loved, he lived two years and died at the age of forty-five.

A Hero's Famous Sayings

Besides the memory of his battles, Paul Jones left a collection of immortal sayings, which are the heritage of the American Navy and the admiration of brave men the world over. When the monument which is to be erected shall be ready for inscriptions, these may with propriety be carved upon it:

"I do not wish to have command of any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way!" Brave little captain.

"I have ever looked out for the honor of the American flag!" It is the truth itself.

"I can never renounce the glorious title of a citizen of the United States!" The title was one which Paul Jones signally honored.

Last, but not least, that curt phrase which comes ringing through the centuries like a trumpet call to battle; the words with which he replied to the demand of the astonished Pearson, who saw his enemy's ship beaten to a pulp, and wondered why he did not yield:

"I have not yet begun to fight!"

That was the finest phrase, under the circumstances, that ever came from the lips of an American sailor. "It was no new message. The British had heard it as they tramped again and again up the bullet-swept slopes of Bunker Hill; Washington rang it in the ears of the Hessians on the snowy Christmas morning at Trenton; the hoof-beats of Arnold's horse kept time to it in the wild charge at Saratoga; it cracked with the whip of the old wagoner Morgan at the Cowpens; the Maryland troops drove it home in the hearts of their enemies with Greene at Guilford Court House; and the drums of France and America beat it into Cornwallis's ears when the end came at Yorktown. There, that night, in that darkness, in that still moment of battle, Paul Jones declared the determination of a great people. His was the expression of an inspiration on the part of a new nation. From this man came a statement of our unshakeable determination, at whatever cost, to be free! A new Declaration of Independence, this famous word of warning to the brave sailor of the British king."

What Jones Did for His Country

Never in his long career did Jones have a decent ship or a respectable crew. His materials were always of the very poorest. His officers, with the exception of Richard Dale, were but little to boast of. What he accomplished, he accomplished by the exercise of his own indomitable will, his serene courage, his matchless skill as a sailor, and his devotion to the cause he had espoused. After his death, among his papers, the following little memorandum, written in his own hand, was found:

"In 1775, J. Paul Jones armed and embarked in the first American ship of war. In the Revolution he had twenty-three battles and solemn rencontres by sea; made seven descents in Britain, and her colonies; took of her navy two ships of equal, and two of superior force, many store-ships, and others; constrained her to fortify her ports; suffer the Irish Volunteers; desist from her cruel burnings in America and exchange, as prisoners of war, the American citizens taken on the ocean, and cast into prisons of England, as 'traitors, pirates, and felons!'"

Indeed a truthful and a brilliant record. Paul Jones was accused of being a pirate. The charge was a long time dying, but it is to-day generally disavowed. When recently his bones were returned to American shores, may we not believe that from some valhalla of the heroes, where the mighty men of the past mingle in peace and amity, he saw and took pride in the great if tardy outpouring of our fellow citizens to greet this first sea-king of our flag?

Now, this story of the magnificent career of John Paul Jones, so briefly summarized, has been often told, and its details are familiar to every schoolboy. There is one mystery connected with his life, however, which has not yet been solved. I purpose to make here an original contribution toward its solution. No one knows positively—it is probable that no one ever will know, why John Paul assumed the name of Jones. Of course the question is not vital to Jones's fame, for from whatever reason he assumed the name by which he is remembered, he certainly honored it most signally; but the reason for the assumption is nevertheless of deep interest to all lovers of history. There have been two explanations of this action.

Why Did He Take the Name of Jones?

Five years ago two biographies of Jones appeared simultaneously. One I had the honor of writing myself. The other was from the pen of that gifted and able author, the late Colonel Augustus C. Buell. Our accounts were in singular agreement, save in one or two points, and our conclusions as to the character of Jones in absolute harmony. In Colonel Buell's book he put forth the theory—which, so far as I know, had not before been formulated—that John Paul assumed the name of Jones in testamentary succession to his brother William Paul, who had preceded him to America; and that William Paul had himself taken the name in testamentary succession to one William Jones, a childless old planter of Middlesex County, Virginia, who bequeathed to the said William Paul an extensive plantation on the Rappahannock, some nine miles below Urbana, at a place called Jones's Wharf, on condition that he call himself Jones. In 1805 this Jones property was owned by members of the Taliaferro family, who had received it from Archibald Frazier, who claimed to have received it from John Paul Jones, although there are no records of transfer extant.

My theory, which Colonel Buell facetiously characterized—doubtless in all good humor—as "Tar-heel mythology," stated that John Paul assumed the name of Jones out of friendship and regard for the justly celebrated Jones family of North Carolina, and especially for Mrs. Willie Jones, who is not unknown in history, and who was one of the most brilliant and charming women of the colonies. Members of this family had befriended him and assisted him pecuniarily, and had extended to him the bounteous hospitality of the famous plantations, Mount Gallant and The Groves, near Halifax. It was through their influence with Congressman Hewes that Jones received his commission as a lieutenant in the Continental Navy. In further explanation it was suggested that on casting his lot with the rebellious colonies John Paul, who was somewhat erratic as well as romantic and impulsive, determined to take a new name and begin life over again.

Here are two utterly irreconcilable theories. I at once wrote to Colonel Buell asking him to inform me what was his authority for his statement. I quote, with his permission given me before his lamented death, from several letters that he wrote me:

"My first authentic information on the subject was from a gentleman named William Louden, whom I met in St. Louis in 1873, when I was attached to the Missouri Republican. Mr. Louden was a great-grandson of Mary Paul Louden, sister of John Paul Jones. He was the only surviving blood-relative of Paul Jones in this country, being his great-grandnephew. He told me substantially the history of the change of names as related in my first volume.

"Two years later I met the late General Taliaferro of Virginia in Washington, and he corroborated the version, together with the history of the Jones plantation.

"One would naturally judge that the great-grandnephew of the man himself, and the gentleman who had subsequently owned the property, ought to know something about the antecedents of both the man and the land. . . . I doubt whether documentary evidence—such as would be admitted in court—can ever be found."

Colonel Buell also called my attention to the fact that in none of Paul Jones's letters to Joseph Hewes is there any reference to the North Carolina Jones family; and further, that Jones and Hewes became acquainted in commercial transactions before Jones settled in America.

Search for Historical Evidence

In an attempt to settle the matter I wrote to all the Virginia county clerks on both sides of the Rappahannock River, asking them if any copy of the will of William Paul, or that of William Paul Jones, could be found in their records. Most of these Virginia county records were destroyed during the Civil War. By great good fortune, however, those of Spottsylvania County, in which the city of Fredericksburg is situated, were preserved, and I herewith append a copy of the will of William Paul, in which he bequeathes his property, making no mention of any plantation and no mention of the name of William Jones, to his sister, Mary Young, who afterward married Louden.

"In the name of God, Amen; I, William Paul, of the town of Fredericksburg and County of Spottsylvania in Virginia—being in perfect sound memory, thanks be to Almighty God, and knowing it is appointed unto all men to die, do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament in manner and form revoking all former will or wills by me herebefore made.

"Principally and first of all, I recommend my soul to Almighty God who gave it, hoping through the merits of my blessed Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ to find Redemption, and as to touching and concerning what worldly estate it has pleased God to bless me with, I dispose of it in the following manner:

"Item—It is my will and desire that all my just debts and funeral expenses be first paid by my Executors hereafter named, who are desired to bury my body in a decent, Christian-like manner.

"Item—It is my will and desire that my Lots and Houses in this Town be sold and converted into money for as much as they will bring, that with all my other estate being sold and what of my out-standing debts that can be collected, I give and bequeath unto my beloved sister Mary Young, and her two eldest children and their heirs in Arbiglon in Parish of Kirkbeen in Stewartry of Galloway, North Brittain, forever. I do hereby empower my Executors to sell and convey the said land, lots and houses and make a fee simple therein, as I could or might do in my proper person, and I do appoint my friends Mr. William Templeman and Isaac Heislop my Executors to see this my will executed, confirming this to be my last will and testament. In Witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and fixed my seal as my last act and deed this 22nd day of March, 1772.


"William Paul having heard the above will distinctly read, declared the same to be his last will and testament in the presence of us:


William Paul evidently died in 1774, instead of 1773, as all the biographers of his famous brother have it, and the will was accordingly probated, as will be seen from the following transcript of the court records:

"At a Court continued and held for Spottsylvania County, December the 16th, 1774.

"The Last Will and Testament of William Paul, deceased, was proved by the oaths of John Atkinson, a witness thereto, and ordered to be certified, and the Executors therein named refusing to take upon themselves the burden of the execution thereof, on the motion of John Atkinson who made oath and together with John Walker, Jr., his security, entered into and acknowledged their bond in the Penalty of Five hundred Pounds as the law directs. Certificate is granted him for obtaining letter of administration on the said decedent's estate with his will aforesaid annexed in due form."

In further support of these facts, the grave of William Paul was recently discovered in St. George's churchyard, Fredericksburg, and his tombstone bears the date of 1774. This effectually disposes of Colonel Buell's contention. For whatever reason John Paul assumed the name of Jones it was not in testamentary succession to William Paul; for William Paul kept his inherited surname to the last.

It occurred to me that John Paul might have been empowered to represent his sister in the settlement of his brother's estate. A power-of-attorney which would have enabled him to attend to her affairs would not necessarily have been registered in the Scottish or American courts; yet, knowing the methodical habit of the Scottish bar, I caused search to be made in the private papers and records of those local advocates who might possibly have handled the business in Scotland; but with no results so far.

I also had search made for any conveyance of the property mentioned in the will by William Paul's administrators. I append a copy of a letter from Mr. J. P. H. Crismund, a county clerk of Spottsylvania County.

SPOTTSYLVANIA, VA., June 7, 1901.

"I have made the matter of John Paul Jones and William Paul and William Jones a matter of most careful study and search, but have not been able to find anything beyond the last will and testament of William Paul, a copy of which I send you. My first search was made to find the conveyance from William Paul's administration, with will annexed, conveying the houses and lots in Fredericksburg which are directed in William Paul's will to be sold, but the records nowhere show this. This seems and is strange, because some disposition must have been made of this property in some way, but I cannot find this here. I then followed the fiduciary indexes to see if I could find anything about the enlistment and service of John Paul to John Paul Jones—but this also was fruitless. William Paul could not have assumed the name of Jones, as he leaves his last will and testament in the name of Paul, nor is there any will of record in the name of Paul, nor is there any will of record in the name of John Paul Jones. I have given this matter such thought and attention and work, but I cannot find a clue to anything named in your letter to me and concerning which you make inquiry.

"As William Paul's property was in Fredericksburg, it may be that the settlement of his estate and the account of the sale of his effects is of record there. If you desire to write to the clerk of corporation court of that city as to that, he will courteously attend to your matter of inquiry.

"Yours sincerely,

I wrote as Mr. Crismund suggested, but could get no further information.

The Joneses of North Carolina

Now to revert to the North Carolina account. It comes down as straight as such a story could. Colonel Cadwallader Jones of North Carolina, in a privately printed genealogical history of his family, states that he was born in 1812. His grandmother, Mrs. Willie Jones, died in 1828. He lived with her for the first fifteen years of his life. He declares positively that she told him that John Paul had taken the name for the reasons mentioned. The matter was generally so stated and accepted in the family. Mrs. Willie Jones was a woman of unusual mental force and character, and preserved the full use of her faculties until her death.

The same statement is made independently by descendants of other branches of the Jones family. For instance, Mr. Armistead Churchill Gordon, of Staunton, Va., had it direct from his great-aunt, who was a kinswoman of Mrs. Jones, and who heard from her the circumstances referred to. And there are still other lines of tradition which create a strong probability in favor of the credibility of the theory.

For one thing, if Jones did represent his sister in the settlement of his brother's estate, it is probable that he would have to give bond for the proper performance of his trust, and it is sometimes stated that Willie and Allen Jones went on his bond for five hundred pounds—just the sum required of the Executors, by the way. It is also singular, in view of this will leaving property to his grandmother, that the Louden whom Mr. Buell knew—and who is said to have died in New Orleans 1887—should have been so mistaken in his statements; but on this point the evidence of the will is absolutely conclusive.

Paul Jones Never a Man of Wealth

Colonel Buell claims that John Paul Jones had riches and influence in Virginia after the death of his brother, but the claim is not tenable according to an exhaustive review of his book in the Virginia Historical Magazine. In the face of the present exhibit, and in the view of the fact that Jones himself spoke of living for two years in Virginia on fifty pounds, the story of his wealth cannot be credited. It is therefore entirely in harmony with the facts to accept the North Carolina tradition, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. The direct statement coming to us in one instance through but one generation is entitled to respect. As a matter of fact both Colonel Buell's version of the matter and my own story rest upon tradition alone, with this difference—the evidence submitted absolutely excluded one of the accounts; the other, therefore, logically comes to the fore.

And thus, I think, I have contributed to clear up one mooted point in American history.