Monday, November 9, 2009

John Paul Jones

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Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones, the only pretender to the title of "Father of the US Navy," does not deserve what is rightfully descriptive of Captain John Barry.

While both men were responsible for legendary action against the British during the revolution, it was Barry who became the first flag officer when the Navy was formally established, and it was Barry who chose, trained and developed the first class of Midshipmen and officers of the new Navy - Stewart, Decatur and Somers.

Before the revolution, John Paul Jones, while a merchant captain, killed one of his own crew, claiming self-defense, but in any case, no way to treat a crew. And after the revolution, he unsuccessfully sought prize money promised from France, which was like trying to collect a bad gambling debt. Jones also served as a mercinary admiral for Russia, failing to inspire or lead the Russians who expected more from him.

At the time of his death John Paul Jones was said to be on a secret mission, an attempt to obtain the release of Americans being held hostage as slaves by the Barbary Pirates.

Jones died, pennyless they say, in Paris, where he was burried and forgotten, until America needed a hero again.

Through the determination of an American diplomat, the remains of Jones were discovered, and through the efforts of President Teddy Roosevelt, were repatriated home and reburied at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Who will be the American diplomat who will be responsible for the repatriation of the remains of Captain Richard Somers?

Once a Virginian Invaded Britain

Congress Rewards Valor By "Investigation"

By John T. Goolrick

He made now a last voyage for America, capturing 12 ships which he burned. He had taken in all 60 British vessels, more than a million dollars in supplies, destroyed 10 times that amount, captured 1,500 British seamen, and four times invaded Britain, as a reward for which his country called him back for congressional investigation. Before the committee he said, "I came as a youth to Virginia, of which I am a citizen. I entered and fought in the Continental Navy. If I have done ought wrong let it be made clear."

After a single day he was cleared with honor and Congressman Varnum of Massachusetts afterward wrote: "There is a magic about his way and manner. Whatever he said carried conviction. He made himself master of the situation. At the end the committee felt honored for the privilege of hearing him."

John Paul Jones at that time was just passed 32 years old. He had served in the Continental Navy less than three years.

Found Body Under Laundry Refuse Pile

One hundred and eight years later Ambassador Porter began to look for his body and after six years found it in a leaden coffin, under the stable and refuse of a laundry. It was brought back amid fleet of warships and at Annapolis the President and great men eulogized the memory of the little sea fighter. But even then the strange fate which would have hurt him worse than all else followed the vain little man, for his coffin was placed behind a door and forgotten for several years more. Then some one remembered and his country reared above his remains a monument of marble and porphyry fit to honor any hero.

Half the world still regards him as a bold pirate. But of him the Duchess of Chartres said, "Not Bayard, or Charles le Tamaire, could lay his helmet at a lady's feet with half so knightly grace." He himself wrote to Catherine, "Far from being bloodthirsty, I am the most peaceable of men. I was no made to be a soldier or sailor, but for quiet and love."

Mrs. John Adams, whose husband was not by any means Jones' friend, wrote of him, "He is small, well proportioned, soft of voice, and vastly civil. He understands all about a lady's toilette and what perfumes she should use. Under all this he is bold, enterprising, ambitious, and a favorite among French ladies. I should sooner think of wrapping him in cotton wool and putting him to bed than of sending him out to contend with cannon balls." One begins to think that, perhaps Mrs. Adams was falling under the charm of his "indescribable manner."

His worth was gauged by one man whose star rose when Jones' star had set, On St. Helena Napoleon said:

"How old was Paul Jones when he died?"

He was told 37.

"Had he lived" Napoleon said, "He would have been Admiral of France."


LissBirds said...

Sorry, but collecting prize money was by far an acceptable and commonplace practice for Continental Navy captains--this was, in part, how they paid their crew. Sometimes the crew was even involved in the decsion-making: it was Jones's crew that decided to put HMS Serapis up for auction rather than sell it directly to the French.

Perhaps you're confused about the term "prize momey"--it doesn't refer to an amount of money given to someone. "Prizes" are captured ships. So when Jones was seeking prize money, what he was doing was trying to get money for ships he captured in battle, by selling them off to the French government.

Jones lobbied for his crew's pay through numerous channels, from Benjamin Franklin to the French Minister of the Marine. Often he paid his crew with money from his own pocket.

While a case can be made to consider Barry the father of the U.S. Navy, it is unfair to cast Jones's lobbying for prize money as collecting on a bad gambling debt. It is what was expected of him as a Continental Navy officer. At no time was Jones ever a privateer. Even though he was given the opportunity to be one, he turned it down, thinking it was beneath both him and America.

Jones went to Russia with the blessing of none other than Thomas Jefferson--in the hopes that he would gain experience and be useful to the American Navy at a later time. After the Revolution, the Continental Navy was dissolved. Why let a good officer go rusty?

Granted he was a tough, tempermental, and difficult man in regards to his crew, but his heart was in the right place. He considered himself a gentleman, and he acted as such.

He wasn't yet on a "secret mission" to free sailors captured by Barbary pirates at the time of his death--though Jefferson had sent him orders to do so, he died before he received them.

Bill Kelly said...

Thanks for your comments, Liss, I stand Corrected. BK