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Paul Jones

257 pages
Library of Alexandria
“The fame of the brave outlives him; his portion is immortality.” From the funeral discourse pronounced over Paul Jones. The writer feels the most sincere diffidence in making use of the mighty name and personality of Paul Jones, who, as Cooper justly says, was not only a great seaman but a great man. An excuse, however, is not wanting. It is justifiable and profitable to bring before the eyes of American youth this heroic figure, and if it be done inadequately, the fault is not in the intention. It is not too much to say that the achievements of Paul Jones, the ranking officer in the Continental marine, had much to do with placing the American navy upon that lofty plane of skill and intrepidity which can only be matched by England, the Mistress of the Seas. Strangely enough, Paul Jones is but little known to the multitude, and the misrepresentations concerning him that occasionally appear in print to this day are the more inexcusable because few public men ever left a more complete record. This record has been carefully studied by the writer, and, although this story is professedly and confessedly a romance, history has been consulted at every point. Log books, journals, and biographies have been searched, especially the logs, journals, and letters of Paul Jones himself. Much relating to him has been left out, but nothing of consequence has been put in that is not historically true. The language ascribed to him is, whenever possible, that used by him at the time, or afterward, in his letters and journals. When it is wholly imaginary it is made consistent, as far as lies in the writer’s power, with what is known of his mode of expression. The mere recital of Paul Jones’s actual adventures is a thrilling romance, and his character was so powerfully romantic and imaginative that it lends itself readily to idealization. But he is more than the type of mere daring. Technical authors write of him with the most profound admiration, and among naval men of all nations he stands as the model of resource as well as boldness. His plans were far-reaching, and his most hazardous undertakings were inspired by a sublime common sense. John Adams said of him: “If I could see a prospect of half a dozen line-of-battle ships under the American flag and commanded by Commodore Paul Jones engaged with an equal British force, I apprehend the result would be so glorious for the United States, and lay so sure a foundation for their prosperity, that it would be a rich compensation for the continuance of the war.” And Franklin, his steadfast friend, in one noble sentence described him: “For Captain Paul Jones ever loved close fighting.” Washington, Lafayette, Jefferson, and Morris esteemed him, and left evidence of it. Nor did his enemies fail to pay him the compliment of wishing to ruin him, for at one time there were forty-two British frigates and line-of-battle ships scouring the seas for him. He was the first to raise the American flag on the ocean, and so well did he maintain its honor that he kept it flying in the Texel, with thirteen double-decked Dutch frigates menacing him in the harbor, while twelve British ships lay in wait for him outside. He was offered comparative security if he would hoist the French ensign and accept a commission in the French navy. More than that, he was told that unless he agreed to this he must give up the splendid trophy of his valor, the captured British frigate Serapis—“the finest ship of her class I ever saw,” he wrote. But cruel as this last alternative was, Paul Jones unhesitatingly transferred his flag from the beautiful Serapis to the inferior Alliance and got to sea in the face of the British fleet, with his “best American ensign flying,” as he himself wrote at the moment. Well might Paul Jones say proudly to the American Congress: “I have never borne arms under any but the American flag, nor have I ever borne or acted under any commission except that of the Congress of America.”