John Paul Jones - a sailors biography
by Morrison, Samuel Eliot
pub. by Northeastern Univ. Press, Boston, 1985   (orig. pub. by Little Brown, 1959)    isbn 0-930350-70-7    LCCN = 84-14838 - - 453 p. - maps, appendices, bibliography, index,
This Pullitzer Prize winning biography is a good read. Morrison brings John Paul (later added Jones to his name) to life. John Paul was born July 6, 1747 in Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean, Scotland, the son of a farmer and the daughter of a farmer who was the houskeeper for the local landholder Mr. Craik. He had a satisfying childhood and went to sea at the age of 13, with his parents blessing. He spent the rest of his life as a seafarer. In 1763 he did a voyage as a Mate on a slaver, and left what he called that "abominable trade" in disgust. In 1768 he returned home to Scotland from Kingston, Jamaica. During that voyage the master and part owner and the mate fell ill and died. John Paul assumed command and brought the ship home. The owners were pleased, and at the age of 21 John Paul was made master of the 60 ton merchant brig. John.
After various sailings he ended up in Virginia in 1773. His brother, who had lived in Virginia had died and John Paul settled his effects. John Paul had fallen in love with "liberty" in America, and as the American Revolution began found himself involved. He was eventually given a command, and had difficulty navigating the political waters which naval commanders had to deal with to get and keep commands. He had a few successful skirmishes with English shipping of the American coast, and in what is now eastern Canada. Eventually he sailed to France to get a ship to raid English shipping. The French who had become allies with the revolting Americans supplied ships and other support. Benjamin Franklin was hard at work in Paris doing what was needed to foster that support. John Paul Jones commanded a flotilla which raided merchant shipping and made a couple of attacks on English soil which were gallantly done and done largely over the complaints of his Jr officers and crew which wanted to take other vessels where they could recieve prize money for the captures. His most fameous battle when he was master of the Bonhomme Richard with the British Serapis (sometimes called the Battle off Flamborough Head - on the East coast of England, in the North Sea) took place on 23 Sept. 1779. The Serapis was a new and powerful naval vessel, copper bottomed, mounting 50 guns. The battle was fought in light winds. The grappled (became tied to one another) and slugged it out until both were fairly wrecked. After the battle the Bonhomme Richard sank. John Paul Jones moved his flag to the Serapis and sailed to neutral Texel in Holland. Eventually he escaped back into France after a major re-fit. The battle with the Serapis made him the hero of the day... year... and he recieved many accolades, including being made a Chevalier of France, a huge honor. He did not get what he really wanted... to be offered a suitable strong vessel to continue contributing to the war. He was given a ship the Ariel to sail back to America with supplies for Washingtons army, in which he had to survive a horrendous storm in the Bay of Biscay. He also nearly captured the British privateer Triumph with 20 guns, but as Jones was cargo laden the privateer slipped away after having been raked with cannon fire. On 18 Feb. 1781 he arrived safely in Philadelphia harbor.
Jones did not manage to get another significant vessel from Congress and returned to France to arrange the payment for vessels captured from the French Govt. This took nearly 2 years. After that he was casting about for a job and was hired by Catherine the Great of Russia to be a Rear Admiral (one of 3 as it turned out) with the Black Sea fleet. He served under General Potemken He fought 2 major battles against the Turks at Liman, (liman a term meaning estuary) at the mouth of the Dnieper River on the north coast of the Black Sea. The commands were divided, and although Jones got along with the Russian sailors and Cossacks who were assigned to ship-board duty, he did not get along with the other foreign admirals - one Polish and the other Spanish. Eventually he left with the idea of an offer to serve Russia in the Balitc in the war against Sweden. This never happened. He was caught up in an unfortunate incident (being set-up by enemies as having had a forced affair with an under-aged female... charges he vehemently denied, and which his legal team showed were false.) Jones had not been physically well for some time. He moved to France, and sickness and friendlessness took him. He was living there through the early part of the French Revolution, and did not like what he saw. He died 9 July 1792 in Paris at the age of 45.
Jones had many affairs of the heart, but never really flirted with marriage. He was a difficult man to serve under, often being bitingly criticical then forgiving. He re-rigged most of the ships under his command. In an effort to help him be more successful with his management style his friend Benjamin Franklin wrote him a letter with this advice.
".... hereafter, if you should observe an occasion to give your officers and frineds a little more praise than is their due, and confess more fault than you can justly be charged with, you will only become the sooner for it, a great captain. Criticizin and censuring almost every one you hav eo do with, will diminish friends, increase enemies, and thereby hurt your affairs."
Good advice at any age.
This book serves not only as a biography of John Paul Jones, it also is a good history of naval affairs, ship handling, pay, privateers etc., and the affairs of state in Europe during the last 30 years of the 1700s. A good and fair read.
~ 2010-05-09 ~

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