Paul Jones, Scottish Mason, American Patriot




The author of this vivid historical story of Revolutionary days is becoming widely and deservedly known as a writer of American fiction, and we are glad to be able to introduce him to our readers, and to be able to promise them further productions of his pen.

Like the tale of a mythical god of old Athens reads the record of that courageous gentleman of the long ago, who though born in one of the lower stratas of Scottish society, attained riches, titles and honour; who came to walk with kings, but whose proudest boast ever remained that he was an American citizen.

Paul Jones, the son of a poor Scotch gardener, was born July 6, 1747, in Arbigland, parish of Kirkbean, stewartry of Kirkcudbright. It was on the estate of Lord Selkirk, a nobleman of distinction, whose castle was on St. Mary's Isle, that Paul first saw the light of day. Years after the future commodore of the American navy was to do the employer of his father an injury and then make ample reparation.

The youth of Paul Jones was spent on the shores of the Solway Frith across the channel from Whitehaven, which also he was to bring into the limelight of history.

Although the name has now become so familiar that it is difficult to think of him in other terms, it must not be forgotten that the famous sailor's birth name was not Paul Jones, but John Paul. Under that name he was at the age of twelve apprenticed to a Mr. Younger of Whitehaven, a merchant engaged in trading with America. Before he was thirteen John Paul sailed for Rappahannock, Virginia, in the ship Friendship. From the first he liked America. His elder brother, William Paul, had already settled in Virginia, and it was in his home that John stayed while on this first voyage to America.

A business failure on the part of Mr. Younger now induced that gentleman to release John from his apprenticeship, and the boy was therefore thrown upon his own resources. He, however, improved to the full such limited opportunities as he had. Filled to the brim with the thirst for learning, he studied late at night, not only navigation and kindred subjects, but French as well. In time he became a very good French student, and his scholarship in other lines was such that he did not have to blush when in the presence of the learned.

John was still but a boy when he shipped as third mate on a slaver hailing from Whitehaven. And in 1766 he secured a berth as first mate on the brigantine Two Friends, also engaged in the slave trade. At this time the business of slave trading was considered entirely respectable, but John Paul grew so disgusted with it that he left the business after the ship had arrived in the West Indies, and returned to Scotland as a passenger on another vessel. On the way over both the captain and the mate of the ship died of the fever, and Paul took command, bringing the brigantine safely into port. This act earned for him the appointment as master of the ship.

In the year 1770 he commanded the Betsy of London, a vessel engaged in the West India trade. John now entered into speculations and made considerable money. It was in this same year of 1770 that, being ever in search of Light, he was initiated in St. Bernard Lodge, No. 122, F. & A. M., of Kilwinning, Kirkcudbright, Scotland. This was on Nov. 27.

The next year John Paul renounced Scotland as his home, and in 1773, being called to Virginia to settle the estate of his brother, William Paul, he decided to stay there and set up as a planter. He now had some property, although it would appear that he never was a very rich man. It was also probably about this time that he decided to change his name by adding to his birth name that of Jones.

Until recently it had remained a mystery just what induced him to take this step. But a few years ago that indefatigable historian, Cyrus Townsend Brady, cleared up this point. It seems that during his lean years Paul had grown on very friendly terms with a gentleman of North Carolina by the name of Wiley Jones. Although Brady does not mention this point, it is exceedingly probable that the cause of this friendship was Masonry. Jones was of much help to John Paul when the latter sorely needed it, and in romantic gratitude Paul added the name of Jones to his own. Later Wiley Jones was instrumental in securing for John Paul Jones his first commission in the infant navy of the United States.

John Paul Jones seems to have been an enthusiastic and consistent Mason. Both before and during the Revolution he was a frequent visitor at the lodges in Boston, Philadelphia and New York. There is not the slightest doubt but that it was Masonry which first brought him to the attention of influential Americans. Later most of the officers who sailed with him on his various cruises were Masons, including the afterward famous Richard Dale, lieutenant on the Bonhomme Richard at the time of her battle with the Serapis. Dale and Jones were firm friends as well as Masonic brothers, and worked together in utmost harmony.

On Dec. 7, 1775, John Paul Jones received his commission as lieutenant in the Continental navy, being ordered to service on the Alfred. It is said that to him fell the honour of hoisting the first American flag over a ship of war. This was the celebrated Rattlesnake flag with the motto, "Don't Tread On Me."

Jones' first independent command was the schooner Providence of seventy tons burden and armed with four tiny guns. With this feeble force he made a very successful cruise in which he captured sixteen vessels and destroyed British property aggregating a million dollars.

Shortly after this, while in command of the Alfred he made another cruise and captured great stores of clothing, of which the patriots were then in much need.

Paul Jones was commissioned a captain on the very day that the stars and stripes were adopted as the national flag. Ordered to the command of the Ranger, a corvette of three hundred tons, he hoisted at her masthead on the 4th of July, 1777, the new flag. This particular ensign had been made from "slices of their best silk gowns" by the Misses Mary Langdon, Augusta Pierce, Caroline Chandler, Dorothy Hall and Helen Seavey, of Portsmouth, N. H., for presentation to Jones for this very ceremony. The ladies were present on the deck of the Ranger when the flag was raised.

This flag had a glorious history. It streamed over the Ranger when Jones set sail to carry to the King of France the news of Burgoyne's surrender; it still flew from the masthead of this famous ship when she captured the Drake; it received from the united French fleet at Brest on Feb. 14, 1778, the first salute by a foreign naval power; and it went down with the Bonhomme Richard after the desperate fight off Flamborough Head.

According to Augustus C. Buell in his history of Paul Jones: "When Jones returned to this country in February, 1781, he found Miss Langdon of 'the quilting party' a guest of the Ross family whose house was always his home in Philadelphia. By way of an apology he explained to her that his most ardent desire had been to bring that flag back to America, with all its glories, and give it back untarnished into the fair hands that had given it to him nearly four years before. 'But, Miss Mary,' he said, 'I couldn't bear to strip it from the poor old ship in her last agony, nor could I deny to my dead on her decks, who had given their lives to keep it flying, the glory of taking it with them.'

"'You did exactly right, Commodore,' exclaimed Miss Langdon, 'that flag is just where we all wish it to be--flying at the bottom of the sea over the only ship that ever sunk in victory.'"

After arriving at Brest with the message for the French king, Jones soon took the Ranger on a cruise destined to be famous. He fairly swept the English Channel and the Irish Sea of British commerce, causing the price of marine insurance to sky-rocket and himself to be denounced as a pirate, a blackguard and a traitor.

Knowing the harbour of Whitehaven like a book, he determined to surprise it and burn the shipping. Taking two boat crews, he landed in the night, surprised the forts, which appear to have had but small garrisons, then attempted to burn the fleet of merchantmen that fairly crowded the harbour. But here fortune turned against him. His torches had burned out. Running into a nearby house he secured some fire which he placed in the hold of a vessel warped to a dock. Soon this ship burst into flame.

But now the dawn had come up and the populace were aroused. Jones himself describes what ensued. He says: "The inhabitants began to appear in thousands, and individuals ran hastily toward us. I stood between them and the ship on fire, with my pistol in my hand, and ordered them to stand, which they did with some precipitation. The sun was a full hour's march above the horizon; and as sleep no longer ruled the world, it was time to retire. We re-embarked without opposition, having released a number of prisoners, as our boats could not carry them. After all my people had embarked, I stood upon the pier for a considerable space, yet no person advanced. I saw all the eminences round the town covered with the amazed inhabitants."

The raid had been but partly successful, yet it served to terrorize the inhabitants of the British coast towns and awaken them to a feeling for the coast-wise citizens of America, who for so long had been forced to endure the aggressions of the British navy.

It was ever in the mind of Paul Jones to secure as a hostage some prominent Briton, that his captivity might serve to mitigate the evil experienced by the Americans. With this end in view he approached St. Mary's Isle and saw through the clustered foliage the turrets of the castle of Lord Selkirk.

On the estate of this nobleman Paul had played as a little child. He knew every inch of the surrounding country. He held the family of Lord Selkirk in the highest respect, for the Lady Selkirk had in old times often befriended his mother. But he knew that if he could secure the person of the nobleman it would go a long way toward insuring the good treatment of American prisoners, such as were at this time languishing in that floating hell, the Old Jersey prison ship.

Choosing two boat crews of his most trusty men, Jones debarked from the Ranger, landed on the shore of St. Mary's Isle and proceeded up the broad driveway that led to the castle 

Coming very soon upon two countrymen, the Americans learned that Lord Selkirk was away from home. This was bitter news for Jones; but as the person of the lord was all he wanted, he gave the command to his men to right about face and march to the pier, but the men were inclined to revolt. They wished to loot the castle of the family plate that they knew it must contain.

Jones pondered their grievance. He well knew the mental processes of the average common sailor. In those days if a sailor could not make prize money or secure loot he was very prone to mutiny. Bitterly Jones resented being placed in the position of a plunderer, and at that of one who had befriended him in his childhood. However, he could not risk a mutiny at this time.

He, therefore, directed the officers of the party to proceed with the men to the castle and secure the plate, but on no account to permit any other pilfering, or any injury to the people of the castle. He then returned to the shore and awaited the return of his men.

The party, now fully satisfied, made its way to the castle, secured the plate and returned to the Ranger without doing any further damage either to property or person.

Later, when the plate was put up for sale, Jones, although he really could not afford to do so, purchased it and returned it to Lord Selkirk with an explanation and apology. His courtesy and thoughtfulness were acknowledged by Lord Selkirk in a letter which was printed in various papers, but which did not serve to lessen the storm of abuse showered upon Jones by the British public. The British had grown to fear him, hence they hated him.

This raid has been made the subject of a novel by Cooper, and The Pilot has had a popularity with the reading public that has continued to this day.

Shortly after this event Jones was attacked by the British man-of-war Drake near Carrickfergus. The Drake was a ship about equal to the Ranger in size and weight of metal, but was heavier manned.

It was late in the afternoon when the action commenced. It continued for over an hour. At the end of that time the Drake's rigging, spars and sails were cut to pieces, one-fifth of her crew had fallen, and she was completely helpless. She was therefore forced to strike. On the Ranger but two men were killed and six wounded. Jones carried the Drake into Brest harbour as a prize.

After the French alliance, Jones thought it probable that he would be able to secure a command sufficiently strong to work havoc upon the British shipping. Said he, "I do not wish to have command of any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."

But he met with many discouragements. Franklin tried to aid him, but it was not until the summer of 1779 that he was enabled to secure a command that promised to be of any avail. Then he was given the Duc de Duras, an old, rotten East Indiaman, which he proceeded to turn into a warship. Many of her guns, forty in number, were rusty and positively dangerous. Her crew had to be raised among the offscourings of the docks and wharves. Of her entire personnel, but seventy-five of the seamen were Americans. The rest were foreigners of various breeds, including even so, me Malays. The French government loaned him an hundred soldiers to act as marines. The officers were mainly American and included the brave, active and efficient Lieutenant Richard Dale, personal friend and Masonic brother of Jones. The flag that floated over the old ship, renamed the Bonhomme Richard, now in the harbour of L'Orient, was the same that Jones had raised on the Ranger in Portsmouth harbour.

In Jones' little squadron there were also four other vessels, the Pallas, Cerf, Vengeance, Alliance. The last named was a small, well-built American frigate with an American crew, but commanded by the Frenchman, Captain Landais, who had been given this command as a compliment to the French government. Landais was a half-insane, wholly-jealous crank, who bitterly resented having Jones rank him, and who proved when the crucial moment came that he was more of a menace than a help. The three other vessels were small affairs, thoroughly French throughout, but flying the American flag. With this polyglot and feeble command Jones started out to win honour for the flag and immortality for himself. And, strange as it may seem, he succeeded in doing both.

Sailing the temporarily quiet waters of the North Sea on the evening of Sept. 30, 1779, Jones on the quarterdeck of the Bonhomme Richard sighted near Flamborough Head a large fleet of merchantmen convoyed by two powerful ships of Britain's navy. The first, a fine new frigate of fifty guns, was commanded by Captain Pearson. This frigate was the Serapis. The second ship of war was the sloop Countess of Scarborough.

It was already growing dark; a finger of light streamed from the tower on Flamborough Head; the moon was shedding its soft radiance over the water; the light of the battle lanterns made plain the rows of portholes in the sides of the ships. Crowds of curious people had gathered along the heights to watch the expected fight. The merchant vessels scuttled for cover, but the warships came straight toward the challenger of the naval supremacy of England.

And now from the dark shadow with the double row of lurid portholes came a loud cry, "What ship is that?"

For answer Paul Jones gave a command and a heavy broadside rang out from the Bonhomme Richard.

Before the flash of the guns had died out an answering broadside crashed from the eighteen-pounder gun of the Serapis. Through the rotten sides of the Richard the heavy balls tore, splintering beams and tearing human flesh.

Then, too, there was other cause for apprehension on the part of Jones. Two of the old rusty cannon in the lower tier of guns burst with the first discharge, killing their crews and hurling pieces of metal everywhere, some of them even penetrating the deck above.

But the Richard surged slowly ahead while Jones tried to manoeuvre her into position for raking. Still firing heavy broadsides, the Serapis avoided her antagonist and came sweeping up on the port side. Soon the bowsprit of the Serapis got entangled in the rigging of the Richard and locked together the two ships swung side by side, the bow of each pointing in a different direction. Jones hastened to lash the ships together, for he well knew that his chance of success lay in making it a close fight. If he allowed the Serapis to chose her distance she could knock the rotten old East Indiaman to pieces with impunity.

And now the Pallas, another one of Jones' squadron, proceeded to attack the Countess of Scarborough. The other ships gave no aid. Rather, the crazy Frenchman, Landais, took himself off with the Alliance, while the other ships stayed at a safe distance.

The gloom of the autumn evening had fallen fast; it was now quite dark, except for the joint illumination of the moon and the ever-flashing broadsides of the ships. The roaring of the heavy cannonade echoed and re-echoed along the coast and far inland, filling the hearts of the peasantry with foreboding.

On the high poopdeck of the ancient ship stood Paul Jones watching the enemy pound his command to pieces under his very feet. For the decayed planking of the Richard offered but slight impediment to the flight of the heavy balls from the battery of the Serapis. Within an hour from the time the action commenced the main battery of the American ship was silenced, everything in the path of the terrible discharges from the enemy being blown either out or in. It is said that from this time on the balls from the eighteen-pounders of the Serapis went straight through the Richard without hitting anything, the planking and timbers on both sides having been cut asunder and hurled out of the way. The gun deck was a veritable shambles. And now the ship caught fire !

Almost immediately after this the ship's carpenter told Jones that in the hold the water was pouring in very fast. The old tub was sinking under their feet. And to add to the confusion, someone released the two hundred prisoners that had been held below deck on the Richard. These men came tumbling up the hatchways, adding tremendously to the hazard of battle, for they were all British seamen. And now among the mongrel crew of the Richard some began to cry for quarter, while even among the officers murmurs were heard that Jones should strike. Surely this was the time to try a man with a heart of oak. But Jones had a heart of steel and fire.

And now from the Serapis came the hoarse cry, "Have you struck?"

Immediately Jones sprang upon the rail and, funnelling his hands, roared back through the sulphurous gloom, "sir, I have not yet begun to fight !"

Then, as though in an effort to blast that unconquerable spirit, the broadsides of the Serapis reopened with added intensity. Splinters flew in clouds, the flames secured a new start, masses of stifling smoke rolled up from below decks and almost strangled the men. All of which but served to stir Jones to new endeavour..

First he caused a rumour to be circulated among the released prisoners that the Serapis was sinking, and that the only salvation for both crews was to keep the Richard afloat. The terrified prisoners thereupon, rushed to the pumps and worked heroically, releasing for other duty many of Jones' men. Next he hauled two nine pounders across the spardeck, had them loaded with chainshot and grape, and opened fire on the mainmast of the Serapis, hoping to bring it down. Then he directed the fight in the tops and the rigging of the entangled ships.

About this time Jones stopped long enough to reprove one of the junior officers for indulging in profanity. "Don't swear, Mr. Stacey," said he. "In another moment we may all be in eternity, but let us do our duty."

In view of the fact that the British have always characterized Jones as a pirate, this seems rather strange language to use at such a time and place.

If the British had it all their own way below decks, it was not so either on the main deck or aloft. The French soldiers of the Richard had from the rigging of the American ship fairly swept the deck of the Serapis clear of men. Also, the Americans had speedily swarmed into the tops and upper rigging of the Richard and, crossing over into the rigging of the Serapis, had driven the topmen out and gained command, thus being able to fire directly down on the British deck and into the various hatchways that led to the gun deck below.

And now an old American tar, taking a bucket of hand grenades, crept out along a yard that hung directly over the main hatch of the British ship, calmly lighted the fuse of one of his missiles and tossed it down into the hole. Almost immediately there followed a terrific explosion, which tore up part of the deck of the Serapis and put many of the guns of her main battery out of commission.

It seems that the powder monkeys of this battery had accumulated behind each gun several surplus charges, while some had been broken open and the powder strewn along the decks. When the grenade exploded here the loose powder was ignited with disastrous results.

Now the Americans fairly rained grenades on the deck of the Serapis and even tossed them through the portholes of the ship. If most of their cannon had been rendered useless, they yet retained and could use a most formidable weapon. And now the Serapis caught fire. The Richard had been almost continuously on fire.

On the Richard the doctor came running on deck bawling that the water was gaining so fast in the cockpit that it already floated the wounded there. He advised an immediate surrender. "Tut ! Tut ! Doctor," smiled Jones amid all that reign of horror, "would you have me strike to a drop of water? Just help me a bit with this gun."

The crew of the Serapis growing desperate, attempted to board. They were beaten back. The crew of the Richard made a like attempt which also failed. But the continued hammering of Jones' two ninepounders against the foot of the mainmast of the Serapis bore fruit. The mast tottered and swept downward into the sea carrying the top of the mizzen mast with it.

For Jones things now looked brighter. But at this instant out of the gloom came the Alliance firing alike upon both the Serapis and the Richard. In vain the Americans shouted for the crazy Frenchman to hold his fire. Broadside after broadside he discharged, returning again and again to the attack. Many of the Richard's crew were killed by the missiles from the Alliance, the captain of which desired to make the Richard strike to the Serapis that he might have the honour of taking both ships.

Seeing that their calls were unheeded, the Americans of the Richard's devoted crew, now under fire from both friend and foe, turned again to their job. Lieutenant Richard Dale had been wounded, but in the excitement of the fight failed to realize it. Throughout the contest he was a veritable tower of strength to Jones.

The contest had now been raging for three hours. About half of the crew of the American ship had fallen; nearly two-thirds of that of the Serapis. The Pallas had captured the Scarborough. This fight could not go on forever; human endurance could not stand much more; nor were there men enough left in both crews to furnish food for powder for many more hours. Someone had to yield. Jones would not. Hence on the deck of the Serapis, the commander, Captain Pearson, tore down the British colours with his own hands.

The bloodiest fight in all naval history was over !

The perfidious Landais had at last sailed away with the Alliance. Lieutenant Dale led on board the captured Serapis a prize crew and sent Captain Pearson and his first lieutenant to the Richard. When Pearson handed to Jones his sword in token of surrender, he is reported to have made a remark to the effect that he would hate to fight with a halter around his neck.

The answer of Jones was characteristic of him; courteous, high-minded gentleman that he was: "Sir," said he, "you have fought like a hero; and I make no doubt your sovereign will reward you in the most ample manner."

Pearson's sovereign did just that thing; he made Pearson a knight. When a long time after this Jones heard about it, he remarked dryly, "He deserves it. And if I ever fall in with him again, I'll make him a duke."

In the morning after the bloody night battle it was soon found that the poor old Bonhomme Richard, which Jones had named in honour of his friend, Dr. Franklin, could not be saved. Therefore, the prisoners and the wounded were transferred to the deck of the Serapis, jury masts were rigged on the latter, and sail set for Holland.

Bow foremost the Richard sank into the sea, from her topmast still streaming the first Stars and Stripes ever hoisted over an American man-of-war. 

Arriving at the Texel, Jones was commanded by the Dutch to either set the French flag over his ship, accepting a French commission, or give up his prizes.

Now one of Jones' famous sayings was that "I have ever looked out for the honour of the American flag."

On this occasion he lived up to that saying, as he always did. He refused to lower the American flag, choosing rather to give up his prizes. Deposing Landais from the command of the Alliance, Jones shifted his colours to that ship. After carefully refitting her, Jones put to sea in the teeth of both a howling gale and a whole fleet of blockading British ships and brought the Alliance safely through the English Channel to Corunna in Spain, and later to a French port. The five hundred and four prisoners that he had taken were afterward exchanged for a like number of patriots who had been languishing in British dungeons.

Jones was now not only a hero, he was the talk of all Europe. The French created him a Chevalier of the Order of Merit. He returned to America in February, 1781. Congress proceeded to pass a flattering resolution concerning him.

The end of the war found no command for him in the American navy, for the navy was temporarily abolished at the close of the struggle. Jones went to Russia and was commissioned by the queen a rear admiral, later being promoted to the grade of admiral in command of a squadron in the Black Sea. In the Russian navy he displayed his genius as of yore, but he did not like the service. He eventually returned to Paris, where his health began to fail. He died July 18, 1792, being but forty-five years of age.

According to the historian Brady, to whom reference has already been made, there was found among the papers of John Paul Jones the following in his own handwriting: 

"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 recontres 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 !' "

Ever since being made a Master Mason Jones had retained his membership with the lodge at Kilwinning, but it does not appear that he received a Masonic burial in Paris. The Protestant cemetery in which he was interred was officially closed in 1793, and the location of his grave was forgotten. But a few years ago General Horace Porter, then United states Ambassador to France, caused a search to be made, the results of which were that the body of the hero was discovered, identified, and brought back to America on the deck of a warship more powerful than he had ever dreamed of.

At Annapolis his casket now rests, at the famous school where young fledglings of the Eagle's brood are taught technical details of the sea officer's trade, and filled with the heroic traditions of our navy. And among those traditions there are none more inspiring than those which cluster about the name of him who has at last been brought back home.

The urge of his fiery courage and unquenchable spirit has tended to animate thousands of young officers who have made the navy of the United states a thing known and honoured throughout the world. It was the spirit of such as he and Lawrence which doubtless nerved the crew of the Cumberland to keep on firing while fighting a battle that they knew was hopeless; the spirit of never-say-die that kept them cheering for the flag above even as the ship sank into the waves.

And when many centuries shall have rolled by and our beloved nation, following along the path blazed by the inexorable law of decay and death, has sunk into the oblivion that cloaks the dust of Chaldea, Carthage and Palmyra, wise men of a strange new race, as yet ill the loins of the future, searching for the glory that was America, shall marvel exceedingly over the record of that dauntless man, who, when the way was dark and to all others the cause seemed lost, hurled back in the teeth of the enemy that indomitable cry of defiance and purpose:

"Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!"

This article is taken from the Builder Magazine, October 1925, Volume XI, Issue 10.

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