John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy
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The New York Times bestseller from master biographer Evan Thomas brings to life the tumultuous story of the father of the American Navy.
John Paul Jones, at sea and in the heat of the battle, was the great American hero of the Age of Sail. He was to history what Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey and C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower are to fiction. Ruthless, indomitable, clever; he vowed to sail, as he put it, “in harm’s way.” Evan Thomas’s minute-by-minute re-creation of the bloodbath between Jones’s Bonhomme Richard and the British man-of-war Serapis off the coast of England on an autumn night in 1779 is as gripping a sea battle as can be found in any novel.
Drawing on Jones’s correspondence with some of the most significant figures of the American Revolution—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson—Thomas’s biography teaches us that it took fighters as well as thinkers, men driven by dreams of personal glory as well as high-minded principle, to break free of the past and start a new world. Jones’s spirit was classically American.
Coggins, p. 79. 68 Sailing on a privateer: Ernest Eller, “Seapower in the American Revolution,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, June 1936, p. 781. 68 “Privateers entice men”: JPJ to Robert Morris, Oct. 17, 1776, JPJP, LOC. 68 “inveigled away”: Muster Roll of Sloop Providence, NDAR, vol. 6, p. 1372. 69 “sly, smooth tongued fellow”: Advertisement for a deserter from the Continental sloop Providence, Nov. 23, 1776, NDAR, vol. 7, p. 263. 69 “never become respectable”: JPJ to Robert
Lexington Green and at Concord Bridge. On their retreat to Boston, more than 200 British redcoats were slain by colonial militia. Colonial rebellion against the crown, fueled by repressive colonial governors, was boding over. In March 1775, Patrick Henry, Jones’s rival for Miss Dandridge, had thrilled a convention of Virginia delegates by exclaiming, “Give me liberty or give me death!” The British government became jittery and moved to crack down. On April 29, the streets of Fredericksburg
his “special friend” on the Naval Committee (now called the Marine Committee), whose favor he wished to curry. Sitting in his tiny first lieutenant’s cabin as the Alfred swung on its anchor in New London harbor, he wrote out in his neatly flowing longhand an account of the attack on Nassau and the engagement with the Glasgow, drawing on his entries from the ship’s log. Then he reached the tricky subject of the performance of his commanding officers. He struggled to find the right words. He began,
the Solebay drew within musket shot, just to leeward of the Providence’s stern quarter, Jones raised the American flag and ordered his gun crews to prepare to fire. The British captain tried to play a trick, a ruse de guerre. He, too, ordered his crew to hoist American colors. The Solebay fired a few guns to leeward, the international signal for “I am friendly.” Since warships looked similar from navy to navy, and indeed had frequently been captured and renamed, captains would often try to
left Passy, the local curate, L’Abbe Rochon, had approached Franklin and Mme. de Chaumont with a scandale. The hôtel’s gardener had come by the priory to see the priest for his guidance in a matter of grave concern: Captain Jones, it was alleged, had tried to rape his wife. “The old gardener and his wife had complained to the curate of your having attacked her in the garden about 7 o’clock the evening before your departure, and attempted to ravish her,” Franklin wrote Jones. The aggrieved couple