Monday, August 23, 2010

John Paul Jones

One of my earliest heroes was John Paul Jones. 

As a young 12 year old he left his native Scotland for a life at sea and by the time he turned 17 he had become a capable navigator and seaman. He was captain of a small merchantman in the West Indies when some of his men became unruly, broke into the ships rum locker and demanded to be paid off there instead of waiting until they returned to England. A fight broke out and Jones (whose name was actually just “John Paul”, struck and killed one of the sailors. To cover their mutinous activity several of the crew subsequently accused John Paul of murder.

The English Admiralty “advised” John Paul to leave the West Indies and stay gone until an Admiralty Court could be convened to hear the case (otherwise he would have been imprisoned waiting trial, and it sometimes took several years to get enough senior English Naval Officers together in that part of the world for such a trial). As a result, John Paul added the name “Jones” and came to Virginia where he had a brother and several cousins. Upon arriving in Virginia, he quickly became an ardent supporter of the rebellion forming and when hostility broke out, he immediately volunteered to serve in the new Navy in any capacity thought appropriate.

Many of his exploits were the stuff of legend and I will be happy to write about some of them from time to time as I'm sure my readers would find them interesting. Today I just wanted to mention one little known event in this mans remarkable career. After the peace was signed with England, Jones was “loaned out” (his services were bought and Congress received a some of money for allowing Jones to serve as an Admiral in the service of Catherine the Great in a War against the Turks). He was successful but became very ill and was forced to return to Paris. 

Trouble broke out when the Barbary Pirates began seizing American flag ships and demanding the United States pay tributes just as England France, Spain, Holland and Germany all did in order to ensure their ships could sail the Mediterranean in peace. The United States turned, in secret, to it’s naval hero to go to the Mediterranean and negotiate a treaty. The following is an account of this little known appointment as explained in one of Jones official biograhies:

The plight of the captains and crews of out merchantmen who had been captured and made slaves by the Barbary States was well known as was Jones' interest in them. It was but natural, therefore, that when Thomas Jefferson became the first Secretary of State in Washington's cabinet, that our foreign policy should concern itself with the fate of our imprisoned sailors; and it was also natural that Jefferson should recall John Paul Jones' interest in them. In his crypt is the original parchment commission signed by both Washington and Jefferson, 1 June 1792, appointing John Paul Jones a Commissioner of the United States to the Dey and Government of Algiers to "negotiate" a Treaty for the Ransoming of the American Captives. Accompanying the commission was an eleven-page letter signed by Thomas Jefferson to John Paul Jones of the same date (1 June 1792) giving Jones the previous history of the policy of the United States and its futures policy with regard to the Barbary Corsais seizing our merchant ships in the Mediterranean because of refusal to pay tribute, etc. Jefferson refers to the necessity of secrecy and that he even filled in the blank spaces on the commission himself to insure secrecy; that only the President and himself knew of the commission being issued but that Thomas Pinkney, newly-appointed minister to England, who would bring him the letter and the commission would be informed. 

It will be noted that the words "with the advice and consent of the Senate" are omitted in this commission -- one issued when the Senate is not in session. This practice continues to this day and in the navy such commissions are known as "gunboats" -- one so commissioned can draw the salary and wear the uniform of the rank but at the next session of the Senate must be confirmed. Jefferson and Washington purposely chose a time when the Senate was not in session so that secrecy could be insured.

The commission was never delivered. John Paul Jones died in Paris on 18 July 1792, age 45. No one was with him at the moment of death -- when discovered a few hours later, he was found lying across the bed "with his feet on the floor."

It was the generosity of Pierre Francois Simmonneau who paid the funeral expenses and provided for the body to be preserved by being placed in a lead casket, filled with alcohol, in case his country cared to bring the remains to the United States. He was buried in a cemetery in outskirts of Paris.

In 1899, General Horace Porter (a graduate of Military Academy at West Point), our ambassador to France, began a diligent and tireless search for John Paul Jones' lost and forgotten grave. He was aided by the French government and in 1905 the undertaking ended in success. The body had been wonderfully preserved and positive identification was possible. A squadron of United States warships was sent to bring the hero to Annapolis and on 6 July (his birthday) 1905, John Paul Jones passed once again in triumph through the streets of Paris with French and American military escort. On 24 April 1906, commemorative services were held in Dahlgren Hall at the United States Naval Academy, participated in by President Theodore Roosevelt, the French Ambassador, other high civil military representatives, and twelve thousand people.

The following inscription is placed in the marble floor in the front of sarcophagus:


Here are a few of my favorite quotes of this remarkable man (many made in the heat of battle):

An honorable Peace is and always was my first wish! I can take no delight in the effusion of human Blood; but, if this War should continue, I wish to have the most active part in it.
If fear is cultivated it will become stronger, if faith is cultivated it will achieve mastery.
It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.
Sign on, young man, and sail with me. The stature of our homeland is no more than the measure of ourselves. Our job is to keep her free. Our will is to keep the torch of freedom burning for all. To this solemn purpose we call on the young, the brave, the strong, and the free. Heed my call, Come to the sea. Come Sail with me.
Whoever can surprise well must Conquer.
As a young Midshipman one of my first “text books” was called “The Division Officers Guide”. This quote was the preface to that book and has always been one of my favorites:

It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.

He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, kindness, and charity. No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward is only a word of approval. Conversely, he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though at the same time, he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error from malice, thoughtlessness from incompetency, and well meant shortcomings from heedless or stupid blunder.
Here is a great You Tube Clip of a 1956 Navy training film about the History of the Navy during the Revolution. It is pretty "corny", I admit, but it is also very accurate and entertaining.

Something Special
To the right of this blog you will see a list of my "favorite" postings. In that list is one called "Report of John Paul Jones". That is a letter, written by John Paul Jones to Benjamin Franklin reporting on the cruise he had just completed where he famously said the words "I have not yet begun to fight!". It is hard to read but it is the history and his own account of the problems he actually faced - it is a rare glimpse into real history!.

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