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.
shake the enemy, so, in classic fashion, he aimed to trick her. Jones ordered his marines hidden below. The ship was cleared for action, but the guns were not run out. As part of his standard ruse de guerre, Jones was flying British colors. Jones, wearing his usual British uniform, allowed the Triumph to range up on Ariel’s quarter. Assuming the confident manner of a Royal Navy officer, he proceeded to engage the Triumph’s captain in a lengthy conversation as the two ships glided along, not
encountered head winds off the coast of France, so Jones told Barney to steer for England and drop him off in a fishing village near Portsmouth, on Britain’s southern coast. Jones explained that he had secret dispatches to deliver to the American minister (John Adams) in London. Barney spluttered that Jones was a wanted man and would be hanged if he was caught wandering around the English countryside. Jones shrugged off the caution. He was accustomed, he said, to being chased by “British blood
JPJP, LOC. 166 Wybert was one of the soldiers: Boudriot, John Paul Jones and the Bohomme Richard, pp. 61-62. 166 Most of the officers: Fanning’s Narrative, p. 124. 167 On the morning of August 14: Log of Bonhomme Richard, Aug. 14, 15, 1779, p. 24. Chapter Eight: “Lay It in Ashes” 168 The battle and the invasion: Morison, p. 192; Lambert, p. 134. 168 Jones would later write: Gawalt, p. 47. 168 Even before the Bonhomme Richard: Narrative of John Kilby, p. 29. 169 “hot and sultry”: Log of
southern coast, Maxwell was cocky, entitled, and in no mood to take orders from someone who was the son of a gardener. Captain Paul had him flogged. It has been said that ship captains were more powerful than the King of England in the eighteenth century, because the crown could not order a man flogged. Harsh physical discipline was a fact of life aboard ship. The lash was part of the “ancient custom of the sea.” The age was violent, and not just at sea. Public hangings were spectator sports,
He did not alter course. If the wind continued to veer south, Ariel would be able to safely weather the Brittany coast. In the dim light of a gray morning, Jones could see the island of Groix, vanishing far astern. Squalls began to sweep in from the west. The rain, slanting horizontally, was cold in early October. Jones and his officers donned oilskins and closely watched the sails, to see how much they could bear without tearing or carrying away a spar. All morning, the wind rose, until by late