John Paul Jones

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John Paul Jones : biography

July 6, 1747 – July 18, 1792

After making the necessary preparations, Jones sailed for France on November 1, 1777 with orders to assist the American cause however possible. The American commissioners in France, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Arthur Lee, listened to Jones’s strategic recommendations. They assured him the command of L’Indien, a new vessel being constructed for America in Amsterdam. Britain, however, was able to divert L’Indien away from American hands by exerting pressure to ensure its sale to France instead (who had not yet allied with America). Jones was again left without a command, an unpleasant reminder of his stagnation in Boston from late 1776 until early 1777. It is thought that it was during this time Jones developed his close friendship with Benjamin Franklin, whom he greatly admired. In 1778, he was accepted, together with Benjamin Franklin, into the Masonic Lodge "Les Neuf Sœurs".

On February 6, 1778, France signed the Treaty of Alliance with America, formally recognizing the independence of the new American republic. Eight days later, Captain Jones’s Ranger became the first American naval vessel to be formally saluted by the French, with a nine-gun salute fired from captain Lamotte-Piquet’s flagship. Jones wrote of the event: "I accepted his offer all the more for after all it was a recognition of our independence and in the nation."

Finally, on April 10, 1778, Jones set sail from Brest, France for the western coasts of Britain.

Ranger attacks the British

After some early successes against British merchant shipping in the Irish Sea, on April 17, 1778, Jones persuaded his crew to participate in an assault on Whitehaven, the town where his maritime career had begun.Paullin, 1906 p.293 Jones later wrote about the poor command qualities of his senior officers (having tactfully avoided such matters in his official report): "’Their object,’ they said, ‘was gain not honor.’ They were poor: instead of encouraging the morale of the crew, they excited them to disobedience; they persuaded them that they had the right to judge whether a measure that was proposed to them was good or bad." As it happened, contrary winds forced the abandonment of the attempt, and drove Ranger towards Ireland, causing more trouble for British shipping on the way.

On April 20, 1778, Jones learned from captured sailors that the Royal Navy man o’ war HMS Drake was anchored off Carrickfergus, Ireland. According to the diary of Ranger’s surgeon Jones’s first intention was to attack the vessel in broad daylight, but his sailors were "unwilling to undertake it" (another incident omitted from the official report). Therefore, the attack took place just after midnight, but in the dark (or perhaps because, as Jones claimed in his memoirs, the man was drunk) the mate responsible for dropping the anchor to halt Ranger right alongside Drake misjudged the timing, so Jones had to cut his anchor cable and run.

The wind having shifted, Ranger recrossed the Irish Sea to make another attempt at raiding Whitehaven. Jones led the assault with two boats of fifteen men on April 23, 1778, just after midnight, hoping to set fire to and sink all Whitehaven’s ships anchored in harbor (numbering between 200 to 400 wooden vessels), which consisted of a full merchant fleet and many coal transporters. They also hoped to terrorize the townspeople by lighting further fires. As it happened, the journey to shore was slowed by the still-shifting wind, as well as a strong ebb tide. The spiking of the town’s big defensive guns to prevent them being fired was accomplished successfully, but lighting fires proved difficult, as the lanterns in both boats had run out of fuel. To remedy this, some of the party were therefore sent to raid a public house on the quayside, but the temptation to stop for a quick drink led to a further delay. By the time they returned, and the arson attacks began, dawn was fast approaching, so efforts were concentrated on a single ship, the coal ship Thompson, in the hope that the flames would spread to adjacent vessels, all grounded by the low tide. However, in the twilight, one of the crew slipped away and alerted residents on a harbourside street. A fire alert was sounded, and large numbers of people came running to the quay, forcing the Americans to retreat, and extinguishing the flames with the town’s two fire-engines. However, hopes of sinking Jones’s boats with cannon fire were dashed by the prudent spiking.