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John Paul Jones
Chapter I - 1747-1773


FAR more romantic than the swashbucklering adventures of imaginary heroes told by the light pen of fiction is the plain, unvarnished tale of John Paul Jones, who, from a childhood amid the humblest peasant environment, raised himself to world-wide fame; had the distinction of being decorated by empress and king; became admiral in two navies—and the lover of a princess.

A hint of mystery attends his birth, for it is hard to believe him to have been the son of John Paul, gardener to Mr. Craik of Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbcan, nor is there tangible reason for the assertion that his father was Captain John Maxwell, governor of the Bahamas in 1780, or the Earl of Selkirk.

The parish birth records do not solve the problem, but rather the contrary, for they record the births of his three sisters and omit any mention of either young John Paul or his elder brother William. Though the registration of births was not compulsory in those days, why should the Pauls have recorded the girls and not the boys? Nor does it seem likely that the gardener's wife could have been absent from the parish on both occasions when the latter were born.

In accordance with the maxim that "it is better to be the wife of a coal-heaver than the mistress of a prince," early Victorian writers wax indignant at any aspersions cast on the fair fame of the gardener's wife. It never seems to have occurred to them that John Paul was the unwanted child of some amorous dame, who had loved beyond discretion, put to nurse at the gardener's; for Jean Macduff had been lady's-maid to Mrs. Craik, and, it is said, in those halcyon days ladies'-maids were discreet—sometimes. Who can tell what happened in that tiny thatched cottage in the middle of the eighteenth century?

John Paul, the gardener's father, kept a public- house, or, as it was called with Scotch niceness, a "mail garden" in Leith. His son showed no aptitude for the business, and we find him some years later as gardener to Mr. Craik, where he remained till his death in 1767. "A gardener was understood to be a person of better education than a common operative mechanic in ordinary handicrafts" at that time, and John Paul laid out the gardens at Arbigland with some taste and skill, combining these duties with the office of bailiff and gamekeeper, which was not unusual on small estates. He was a man respected by those with whom he came in contact, following his unexciting daily round conscientiously, but it is difficult to reconcile his personality with that of the dare-devil fighting sailor, who has, perhaps, gained more renown for his exploits than any hero of ancient or modern times.

Soon after entering Mr. Craik's service he married Jean Macduff, the daughter of an Argyll Highlander, an armourer by trade, who, since coming to the Lowlands, had turned farmer near New Abbey. These Macduffs are erroneously described as small landed proprietors who had lived in the parish of Kirkbean for an "immemorial period"; but what of this "respectable rural race" before they had tamed their Highland blood to plough and reaping-hook? The name of Macduff invokes brawny Highlanders, flaunting tartan, dangling sporran and the clash of two- handed sword on bull's-hide iron-studded shields; hoarse, guttural cries of men who fought for death to their opponent. The name of this "respectable rural race" had figured across the pages of Scotch history from the days of myth and legend; been glorified by the Bard of Avon's pen, and followed the fiery cross o'er many a hill and dale. They rallied to royal Stuart in the ill-fated invasion of '45. If Jean Macduff was his mother, it is to her ancestors he owes his good blood. John Paul was born on July 6, 1747, before the echoes of the "pibroch, savage and shrill" had ceased to shriek through the glens of Scotland. Ills mother —of high or low birth, who knows?—like all women, loved Bonnie Prince Charlie; and her heart followed him when the men-folk flocked to the standard of their rightful sovereign. John Paul was born while the land was still stirred by a turmoil of loyalty which no rigorous cruelties had ever been able to stamp out. His mother thrilled to the stern memory of a thousand years. Such were the prenatal influences of John Paul, destined to win fame under the name of a chance benefactor.

Throughout his life he displayed marked Highland characteristics, being sensitive as to his honour, quick and fiery; but not quarrelsome, proud to a fault without being arrogant. If some of his letters, written with perfect confidence in his abilities, are open to criticism, it is admitted that Nelson's epistles do not suffer from undue modesty; that Drake and others, had they not been successful, might have been called braggarts. Glory and ambition gratified were the sole rewards asked by John Paul Jones, who fought for this end, displaying an indifference to monetary compensation which is generally considered the prerogative of the nobly horn.

William Paul, the eldest son of the gardener and his wife, emigrated to Virginia and died at Fredericks- burg in 1772, leaving a wife and considerable fortune. There were three other children : Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, died unmarried; the second, Janet, married a Mr. Taylor, watchmaker in Dumfries; the third married twice, first Mr. Young, and secondly Mr. Lowden. Her name was Mary Ann.

There was nothing in all these pleasant, commonplace people to suggest the buccaneer spirit which caused Paul Jones, years later, to make his famous descent on the Scotch coast, during which the Selkirk plate was seized, and, after endless scandal and correspondence, returned to the family with ample explanation on the part of Jones, who bought it back at his own expense from his crew. In all, John Paul and his wife had seven children, if one includes John Paul Jones, who was the fifth. The two born after him died in infancy.

It is easy to picture the circumstances of his early childhood. The unexciting, steady occupation of the gardener, the busy, toil-worn hands of Jean Paul, whose growing family and household drudgery left her no time except for the most practical of duties. From the early hour when the family porridge was vigorously stirred, to the end of the lingering twilight when her husband came home, the gardener's wife had enough to keep her fingers out of the mischief created by ennui, had she known the meaning of the word.

The primitive cottage where John Paul spent his childhood fell into ruin some years after his death, in which condition it remained until rebuilt by the generosity of Lieut. Pinkham, U.S.N., in 1831; and it stands at the present time under the shadow of an uncompromising slate roof, in place of the thatch that sheltered the young sailor. The situation was romantically picturesque. Far above the shores of the Solway, with its terrific inrush of tide, Mr. Craik's house occupied a site commanding splendid views of land and sea. At the foot of the promontory ran the river Nith, on the other side the Esk of Lochinvar fame flowed into the Solway. The coast rose sharply, merging into a granite mountain, Criftal by name. To the seaward stretched the shores of Cumberland, with the peaks of Skiddaw, Helvellyn and the Saddleback-. The cottage, overgrown with creepers and sheltered by trees and shrubbery, was never free from the sound of moving waters.

Little John displayed small partiality for the games of his playmates. His passion was to sail a leaf, a bit of wood, anything resembling a boat—in the duck- pond, on the horse-trough, on a pool of rain dripping from the roof—always to play at the mimic game of ships. On occasions he eluded the family and headed for the seashore. But the tides of the Solway were too dangerous, he was reproved by voice and hand, and sternly forbidden to go there alone. As the time went on, and he grew into a sturdy lad, his chief delight was to sail in the fishermen's boats, as they worked the sea for a living. What he dreamed, what he planned as he watched the far horizon, no one knows, for he was of too little moment for any one to heed him, except when he made himself useful in casting and hauling in the nets, with their glittering, squirming freight. It is difficult to say of what his early education consisted, or if he was idle or industrious. Of "pot-hooks and hangers" he must have had his share, also the rule of three; and he could read. Excessive education for his class in Scotland of the eighteenth century was not common. He could write, and his letters, at the age of sixteen, well expressed and showing a knowledge of grammar, do not fall into localisms, or the plentiful abbreviations found in the correspondence of the day.

Like all the children on Mr. Craik's estate, he was kindly treated, and the playmate of the sons of the family. With the democracy of boyhood, they joyously climbed everything in the neighbourhood, from trees to the sides of cliffs, where lurked unexplored treasures in the shape of sea-birds' eggs. They penetrated caves and caverns under the cliffs with that sublime disregard of tides which is boyhood's happy prerogative. They lingered at the hearths of old Elspeth and Meg Merrilies, drinking in tales of elf and goblin—too frightened to go home in the dusk, till the servants of the big house finally hunted up and retrieved them.

But life was not all play, and he had his tasks, which the thrifty Scotch discipline did not allow to be shirked. From the first, love for the sea was so strongly marked that Mr. Craik listened to his arguments, and advised Paul to let him follow the only life for which he was fitted. He had no wish for the total destruction of his peaceful garden, which he foresaw, should young John Paul be forced to delve in the earth for a living, as the lad knew not a dock from an oak, and cared less.

Prompted by a certain self-interest, the good laird did his best to smooth the path of the impetuous boy, and the die was cast. At the age of twelve he was apprenticed to "Mr. Younger, a merchant in the American trade," but remained for some time before sailing at Whitehaven, just across the Firth of Solway, in sight of his home.

There is a story to the effect that mere chance caused Mr. Younger to take young John Paul in his service. Mr. Younger, one of the most enterprising ship-owning merchants of Whitehaven, was at Arbigland in the summer of 1759, looking for sailors to man one of his ships, ready to sail for the Chesapeake. There was a high wind and tremendous sea, and, attracted by a knot of idlers, he stopped to see what they were looking at. Out, far out, bobbing like a cork, struggled a small boat, striving even to live, much less make headway, on the mountainous waves. Buffeted by a tearing north-easterly gale as she tried to reach a sheltered cove, even the stoutest-hearted fisherman had his "doots" that the little craft could live. Make the shore she did, or there would have been no Paul Jones to give colour to the book of history. The lad at the helm was the future commander. Intrepidly he clung to the tiller, shouting his orders above the howl of the tempest, his black hair streaming in the wind, his eyes snapping with excitement, every fibre of him glowing with the fight he waged with the elements. All sense of fear was lacking in his heart, and he brought the boat to shore after he had been resignedly consigned to the tender care of Davy Jones by the waiting crowd, who clapped the young captain on the back as he hurried home to change his dripping clothes, and, with the cocksureness of twelve, planned greater achievements to be carried out when he was "grown up."

There is not much information to be gleaned about John Paul on his earlier voyages; life before the mast in 1759 was a hard routine, not calculated to foster idling or effeminacy, and he began at the foot of the ladder. The merchant ship plying for trade was not fitted with the refinements of a modern hotel; after a few days out even the captain's table could not boast fresh provisions, and long voyages almost inevitably ended with scurvy among the crew, due to lack of green vegetables and an overdose of brine. Though the menu lacked variety, the same could not be said of the names of the dishes, which were descriptive and picturesque. "Salt Junk and Pork" and "Lobscouse" have a twang of the sea; " Pillaus of Rice" sounds oriental, and "Dog's Body" and "Sea Pies" speak well for the inventive brain of Jack afloat. "Pea coffee " explains itself, but the component parts of "Hurryhush " are not so easily arrived at.

With our steam and wireless to-day it is hard to realise the complete isolation formerly the seaman's lot. Empires might rise and fall, and Jack be none the wiser until he touched at port, or spoke some swifter craft within hailing distance of the captain's brazen-throated speaking-trumpet. Often becalmed for days at a time, with nothing to break the endless sameness of rolling wave and nebulous horizon, the most trifling incident furnished endless food for conversation. Was it unnatural under these conditions that superstition held the forecastle in its tenacious thrall when the thousands of weird, unnamed sounds, exaggerated by the stillness of a sailing craft, assumed alarming proportions, not to he explained away or scoffed at by a mere landsman The incessant moaning and whistling of wind through the rigging, the unrelieved monotony day after day, were bound to make their impression on the strongest nerves.

In time of war the constant chance of meeting or being chased by the enemy constituted an ever-present excitement, for privateering played an important part in the life of nations, being a recognised, and often well-requited, form of gambling; and every ship was armed.

It is not to be supposed that John Paul escaped the rough horse-play so freely indulged in aboard ship; there is no reason to assert that he failed to enter into it with all the hearty enjoyment of the normal boy, for he was not in the least a prig, though he tried to improve himself by study whenever the chance offered. Used to being at sea from the time he could walk, perhaps he was untroubled by the pangs of sea-sickness, and the remedy urgently advocated by his messmates—

"Just a wee drap o' saut water,
And if a piece o' fat pork, after,
Tied in a string ye tak' and swallow,
Yell find that mickle change will follow";

and did not listen to the suggestion, always gravely offered, that the sufferer should make his will, which did not seem amiss, so awful were the pangs of that first hour when the novice was afraid he would die— and the second, when he was afraid he would not!

The pranks of old Father Neptune on crossing the equator are well known, but that of sending the greenhorn on deck—

"As soon as ever it was dark
To hear the little dog-fish bark,"

has the charm of novelty, for, while the youth awaited this interesting exhibition of natural history, two of his shipmates, perched in the rigging, drenched him with pails of salt water, jeering at the spluttering victim, who refused to listen to their consolation—

"That the unsavoury stew
Was only what the grampus blew."

Had Polonius been aboard ship he would have recoiled aghast at the total disregard of his much- quoted advice, for borrowing went on at such a pace that the newly-arrived "griffin" disgustedly found his well-furnished kit a hollow mockery and himself shirtless, and obliged to resort to the elementary manner of his comrades-

"And wash his shirt in the pea-soup kid."-

the latter, despite its dark and evil name, being nothing more dreadful than a small wash-tub, which, it is likely, served in its idle hours as an accessory to the batterie de cuisine. The threadbare joke of putting salt water in the "plum-duff" when the cook was not looking, and rewarding that luckless wight with a lusty whacking from the "Dog's body squeezer" a stick used to stir a mixture of "squeezed pease" known by the illuminating name of "Soldier's Joy "was a source of perennial mirth. The rough pleasantry of applying a hot iron to an undefended portion of a person engaged in performing an elaborate toilet usually resulted in a free fight, lasting until stopped by the appearance of the first "luff."

If artists and writers of that day are to be relied upon, discipline became much relaxed as soon as the anchor was let go. The captain, relieved of responsibility, had his own affairs to occupy him ashore, as did the other officers. The "Little Butter- cups" and "Black-eyed Susans" were not shy of swarming over the side as soon as the gangway was lowered, and contemporary prints depict joyous merry-makings, with no puritanical atmosphere to mar the light-hearted eighteenth-century abandon of costume and attitude, in which there is more than a suggestion of revelry, fast and furious. These visiting ladies had a sly habit of concealing skins filled with rum beneath their ample petticoats, and carrying many a drink to their "fancy men"; but this being forbidden, a ship's corporal was told off to search for the contraband. All of which led to much pleasantry in the rollicking days of our forefathers, though one cannot but wonder what effect it had on the morals of the rising generation.

Undeniably life at sea had a broadening influence, and a sailor returned very much more the man of the world than his stop-at-home brother. He gathered on these voyages a store of extensive and varied information relating to the many feminine types found under tropic as well as northern skies; and having been in localities never before penetrated by the ubiquitous white man, could yarn uncontradicted, unchallenged in his Iunchausen-like proclivities. It had its advantages. Nevertheless, there was a rope's- end and tarry smell, a smack o' the sea clinging to the Sons of Neptune in those days, which, like most things, is fast disappearing. The modern steam-driven craft can never be surrounded by the romance of the full- rigged man-o'-war scudding down the Channel before a spanking breeze with her bright work glittering and crew thirsting to man the guns and fire a broadside at the interloping "Frenchie," or who might be the foe of the hour. The only repining heart was that of the midshipmite, parted for the first time from a loving mother, and bravely resisting a desire to yield to that unknown emotion, due to the nervous motions of the good ship, on which at this moment he was, despite the smart new uniform, dubbed by his mates that dreadful thing, a landlubber.

Paul was an attractive lad, high-spirited, frank, quick to anger at injustice, open and honourable, and keenly eager to master every detail pertaining to the life he had chosen. He devoured what books he could get bearing on naval history, and pored over the lives of the great commanders whom, some day, he hoped to emulate. At the age of twelve he sailed from Whitehaven, watched by the anxious eyes of his sisters.

The strange destiny which wove his life under the spell of the Three Sisters sent him to America. It was his maiden voyage; he was a Scotch boy with no experience of life, and went there with a mind as wax to receive those impressions which ultimately caused him to play his brilliant part in the world. His ship, the Friendship, Captain Benson, dropped anchor in the Rappahannock, and young Paul made his first acquaintance with the society of the new world as found in Virginia, the home of the revolution. While there he stayed with his brother William, who had been adopted by a gentleman, said to be a connection of his mother, provided he took his name, Jones. This he did, and Mr. Jones offered to buy the younger brother free from his indentures if he would remain with him and become a planter. But the call of the sea was too strong, and John Paul was loyal to the roving life he had chosen. The property left to William was to come to him later, as William died intestate without heirs, and his widow was provided for; so in 1773 Paul inherited the plantation, cattle, buildings, live stock and slaves. There was the simple stipulation that he assumed the name of Jones, which is the reason for this much-discussed action.

There is not the slightest doubt that Paul was from the first one at heart with the discontented colonists. Why not They were his countrymen, not aliens, and they were under the rule of a king against whom his people had fought. His sturdy Highland blood and his fighting temperament made him ready, at a word, to throw himself heart and soul into their cause; but the hour had not struck, and he sailed away, his brain teeming with new ideas.

His voyages now were mainly to and from the West Indies, and his rise in the merchant service rapid. At the age of sixteen his indentures were returned to him by Mr. Younger on his retirement from business, and young Paul, a lad of sixteen, and his own master, solicited and obtained the appointment of third mate on the King George of Whitehaven, a vessel engaged in the slave trade.

"The licence to act for himself would have been, to a boy whose purposes of living were not in some measure fixed, and whose will was undecided as to the future, a passport to obscurity, and if not to disgrace. In Paul's case it was sumpta prudenter. He availed himself of it, wisely having confidence in himself."

After some time aboard the King George, in 1766 he went to the brigantine Two Friends of Kingston, Jamaica, as chief mate. Paul was at this moment nineteen years old, and known as a sharp and resourceful seaman, equal to the emergency. He is said to have disliked the slave trade, but from 1766, when he shipped as chief mate on the Two Friends, he must have remained until 1771, according to the following item dated-

"Dantzic, Nov. 11. A week ago a meffenger from Peterfburg going through Copenhagen, brought advice that an account had been received at the former place, that a fhip called the Two Brothers [Two Friends?], Capt. John Paul, laden with wollen and thread goods, had failed from Smyrna, infected with the plague. This advice was immediately notified to all the ports of the Baltic, that they may avoid receiving that fhip, and all the neceffary precautions are taken to keep her off if he appears."

If this is correct, allowing for an error in name, it appears that the Two Friends traded in other than human goods and chattels, and is also interesting, as Paul's relatives declare he "became so disgusted with the business of stealing human beings, that he left the ship on its arrival in the West Indies." This would be three years before the Two B7otizers was sighted off Copenhagen. According to their story, after leaving the Two Friends in disgust, he took passage in the brigantine /o/in, of Kirkcudbright, Capt. Macadam, and, both the captain and mate dying of fever, brought the ship home, for which the owners, Currie, Beck & Co., immediately made him master and supercargo. Paul's first seriously unpleasant experience happened on one of the early voyages in this ship.

Of course his good fortune and rapid rise in the world had made enemies for him, and these seized on the story, spread to his detriment, with the greatest avidity, causing him much annoyance and unhappiness; for, it must be remembered, in years he was little more than a boy. An insubordinate carpenter named Mungo Maxwell being flogged, as was the custom in the merchant service, complained to the authorities "that his back was sore, and that his feelings were hurt; both of which representations they seem to have beleved, without feeling themselves called upon to heal the one, or soothe the other." The sworn statements of the governor of Tobago are, in themselves, enough to refute the calumny that the man was beaten in such a manner as to cause his death. If this was not enough--

"James Eastment, mariner, and late master of the Barcelona packet, maketh oath, and saith, That Mungo Maxwell, formerly on board the John, Captain Paul master, came in good health on his, the deponent's, said vessel, then lying in great Rockley Bay, in the Island of Tobago, about the middle of the month of June, in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy, in the capacity of a carpenter aforesaid; that he acted as such in every respect in perfect health.... after which he was taken ill of a fever and lowness of spirits, which continued for four or five days, when he died aboard the said vessel during her passage from Tobago to Antigua. And this deponent further saith, that he never heard the said Mungo Maxwell complain of having received any ill usage from the said Captain John Paul, but that he verily believes the said Mungo Maxwell's death was occasioned by a fever and lowness of spirits, as aforesaid, and not by or through any other cause or causes whatsoever."

This was sworn at the Mansion House, January 30, 1773, "before me, James Townsend, Mayor," and duly signed by the master on whose ship Maxwell died, John Eastment.

Like a snowball this ridiculous story grew, to crop up at intervals during Paul Jones's career; revived in the days when he was rear-admiral in the Russian navy, with Prince Potemkin and Prince de Nassau racing him neck to neck for Imperial favour. This time, however, the supposed victim was a nephew, tortured to death with ingenious cruelty. It would be most interesting, even after so long, to know how such a story was kept alive, and by whom; for why, in those days when flogging was a recognised part of the naval code, did the case stir up such a hornet's nest? Just then John Paul was by no means the conspicuous personality he became later. He was an obscure skipper on a small vessel, so unimportant that it is a wonder the incident ever saw the light of day. Without doubt we must put it to the account of that hardy perennial, the busybody, who flourished as gaily then as now. But it was a dastardly way to try and spoil his career, and worried him greatly, as this letter to his mother shows—

London, 241h September, 1772

"My DEAR MOTHER AND SISTERS,

"I only arrived here to-night from the Grenadas. I have had but poor health during the voyage; and my success in it not having equalled my first sanguine expectations has added much to the asperity of my misfortunes, and, I am well assured, was the cause of my loss of health. I am now, however, better, and I trust Providence will soon put me in a way to get bread, and (which is by far my greatest happiness) be serviceable to my poor but much-valued friends. I am able to give you no account of my future proceedings, as they depend upon circumstances which are not fully determined.

"I have enclosed you a copy of an affidavit made before Governor Young by the Judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty of Tobago, by which you will see with how little reason my life has been thirsted after, and, which is much dearer to me, my honour, by maliciously loading my fair character with obloquy and vile aspersions. I believe there are few who arc hard-hearted enough to think I have not long since given the world every satisfaction in my power, being conscious of my innocence before Heaven, who will one day judge even my judges. I staked my honour, life, and fortune for six long months on the verdict of a British jury, notwithstanding I was sensible of the general prejudices which ran against me; but, after all, none of my accusers had the courage to confront me. Yet I am willing to convince the world, if reason and facts will do it, that they have had no foundation for their harsh treatment. I mean to send to Mr. Craik a copy properly proved, as his nice feelings will not perhaps be otherwise satisfied; in the meantime, if you please, you may show him the enclosed. His ungracious conduct to me before I left Scotland I have not yet been able to get the better of. Every person of feeling must think meanly of adding to the load of the afflicted. It is true I bore it with seeming unconcern, but Heaven can witness for me that I suffered the more on that very account....

The "ungracious conduct" of which he accuses Mr. Craik was that gentleman's attitude in the Max- well' case. Although it was cleared up, and Paul proved blameless, and exonerated by Mr. Craik, he never afterwards corresponded with or met him. This was purely the result of circumstances; indeed, after 1771 he never saw his mother and sisters.

Paul has been accused of smuggling, and some contemporary tales of his exploits teem with thrillingly unreliable details. This accusation was one he always denied hotly, and there is no foundation for the assertion that the first entry in the customs books of the Isle of Man, after "that nest of smugglers and centre of the contraband trade was sold to the Crown, stands in his name at Douglas."

But his career in the Merchant Marine was soon to end. In 1772 he obtained command of the Betsy of London, a ship trading with the West Indies. He was successful in saving a considerable sum of money, and in 1773, went to Virginia to settle his brother's estate. Thus Fate for the time turned John Paul into a Virginia planter, a character about which there clings still a halo of romance, nankeen trousers, lavish hospitality, and a semi-tropical charm difficult to describe.


 


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