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John Paul Jones
Chapter XIV


THERE is little doubt that in the minds of most people the name of Paul Jones instantly calls up the form of a villainous pirate seeking whom he could devour. Varied as was his career, the Skull and Crossbones never fluttered from his mast-head; he never commanded privateer or smuggler, or sailed with even a letter of marque. From the day he left the merchant service, with the exception of two years on his plantation, he was in the navy of the United States, and later in the service of Imperial Russia, though still holding his former commission. But a century ago the word America, to the world at large, invoked a vague jumble of Indians scalping captives at the stake, bloodthirsty buccaneers, and all sorts of joyful lawlessness in which Morgan, Captain Kidd and John Smith, with Pocahontas in the background, rollicked shoulder to shoulder in the jollity of universal brotherhood. By a process of reasoning the colonists became desperate law-breakers, and Paul Jones, from the fact of such association with ships and colonists, developed into the dare-devil pirate of fiction, with red shirt carelessly flung open, displaying a brawny chest, luridly tattooed with fearful and mystic symbols. An individual with slouched hat pulled low over his villainous countenance, who in place of the necessary and harmless cigarette, carried between his clenched teeth a gleaming cutlass, oblivious of the discomfort of such a pastime, when he wished to rush hastily through a narrow hatchway. His sash bristled with pistols, which he habitually used in target practice on his crew or to stimulate the exertions of such of his passengers as were occupied in the gymnastic and risky exercise of walking the plank. The name of the "Black Douglas" was not more terrifying in his day than that of Paul Jones; in fact, it is quite unbelievable if there were not authentic records of the fact. Many a merchant would have rejoiced to hear that he had died the customary hanging-in-chains death of the pirate he never was, for, had not his desperate forays on unprotected coasts and in home waters doubled the rate of insurance.

Paul Jones was the theme of endless ballads, chapbooks and prints, embodying in his person as he did, without recourse to the inventiveness of the writer, all the romance needed to weave a glowing tale. His personality was fascinating, as was the hint of mystery and noble birth clinging to him; he enjoyed a noted success in the world of fashion, and became the intimate of royalties; his unsurpassed brilliancy as a commander, his conquests in love and war created a character which for a typical hero could not have been outdone by the most fertile pen.

From the date of his death, 1792, until the early part of the eighteenth century, he was the subject of many a tale, whose inventors let nothing stand in the way of embellishment. He is generally described as the "son of the Earl of Selkirk's head gardener, but his real father is Captain John Maxwell, Governor of the Bahama Islands." In others, he was left on the doorstep of the Paul cottage, to be brought up as one of their children. Some time in his early infancy he became a desperate smuggler, rapidly saved up two hundred pounds, and in his varied enterprises got to the north coasts, where exciting adventures came thick and fast.

"Being impressed on a man-o'-war, he availed himself of the first opportunity to escape, and the second time commenced a smuggler, and assumed the command of a vessel himself, appointing such of his companions officers as he knew from experience to be able seamen. The crew consisted of sixteen persons, and the vessel was provided with every kind of ammunition and necessary for hazarding desperate adventures, and proved a most formidable annoyance to the maritime trade of the whole kingdom."

No sooner had war broken out between England and America than he rushed off to the latter country, entering into negotiations with "Silas Deane and others," to whom he offered "very valuable communications and intelligence. He obtained from time to time several remittances," which enabled him to "cross the Atlantic to Europe twice, to pick up further particulars of our coasts. Upon this account he is generally said to have changed his name, and assumed that of Captain Paul Jones. Government not being apprised of the sort of spy that had arrived in the country, he was at liberty to go about the capital, and dwelt f or a short time at Wapping," where, according to this narrative, he occupied himself in buying up all the maps, charts, soundings and information having to do with the coasts that he could get his hands on, "all this information making him more valuable to those who employed him." He goes through stirring scenes in the early part of the revolution, and, one is inclined to wonder if there is more truth than fiction in the comments the writer makes on the fiasco with the Glasgow, alleging that the "Commander of the Fleet Ezekiel Hopkins was in reality in the pay of the enemies of his country."

Paul is credited with a number of voyages that would have put the Ancient Mariner to the blush, and taken several lifetimes to make. His failure to take the Drake the first time is laid to the fact that "the mate, who had drunk too much brandy, did not let go the anchor according to orders," and this is amusing, for the official report lays the blame on the mate, though the brandy is not mentioned.

The description of his informal call at St. Mary's Isle is not to be omitted, as, after some preliminary conversation, "Lady Selkirk herself observed to the officers that she was exceedingly sensible of their commander's moderation; she even intimated a wish to repair to the shore, although a mile distant from her residence, in order to invite him to dinner; but the officers would not allow her ladyship to take so much trouble." Such a charming entente cordiale between a peeress of the realm and a piratical son of the sea in the midst of war is quite idyllic, and it is no wonder Paul spared no expense in returning the family plate at the earliest opportunity.

Paul had an eye for stage effect, such as dressing his men up in "red clothes," and putting some of them aboard the prizes to give the appearance of transports full of troops. The action between the J3onlzornme Richard and the Serapis is thrillingly described, being illustrated by a lurid picture of "Paul Jones Shooting Lieutenant Grub For Endeavouring to Lower the American Flag to the Serapis, Captain Pearson, off Flamborough Head, Sept. 1779." In this memorable scene Paul is adorned with a pair of jet-black whiskers, of the " Piccadilly weeper" fashion, that would have wrought havoc with the heart of an Early Victorian beauty. Considering the heated and sanguinary engagement in which all parties were participating, the exquisite neatness of the Commander's white trousers is most noticeable.

To continue this exciting tale, the captain of the Serapis, "hearing the gunner express his wish to surrender in consequence of his supposing that they were sinking, instantly addressed himself to Jones, and exclaimed, 'Do you ask for quarter? do you ask for quarter?' Paul was so occupied at this period, in serving three pieces of cannon on the forecastle, that he remained totally ignorant of what had occurred on deck. He replied, however, 'I do not dream of surrendering, but I am determined to make you strike!' In this dilemma, Lieutenant Grub proceeded directly to tear the stripes from the stump they had been nailed to. The Commodore caught him in this disgraceful act, and shot him instantly with a boarding-pistol, which, as it is a circumstance of remarkable temerity, has as often been asserted as denied, and not seldom misrepresented; but the reader is assured of the fact, which came from the most undoubted authority, that of Lieut. Wm. Grub's widow.'"

Alas, for the veracity of "Wm. Grub's widow"! The roster of the f3onlzomme Richard shows but one of that name, and he, "Beaumont Grub, midshipman," was "absent and not in action." And in the ship's log there is no mention of Jones having shot any one.

As many famous actors used to play classical parts in contemporary periwigs and red-heeled shoes, copying the exaggerated dress of the fops who patronised them, so fashion has left its stamp on the mass of prints handed down to us. Pictures of Paul Jones vary as much as the histories of him, and even in the portraits by recognised artists, his eyes rival the chameleon, sometimes black, at others an innocuous bluish-purple, as in the miniature at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; while that painted by the Comtesse de la Vandhal, which was his favourite portrait, gives him eyes of a dark but elusive hazel. In a print of the Grub incident, issued in 1826, Paul and the nonexistent Grub are depicted with resplendent ebony whiskers, while in an earlier one, about 1803, when these adornments were not fashionable, they are guileless of such attractions, though Paul is shown with a beautiful nose, strongly reminiscent of the Iron Duke. He also wears top-boots, and Mr. Grub is stylishly clothed in striped trousers, which add a certain éclat to the scene of battle. The Comtesse de la Vandhal's miniature presents him as a man of fashion in all the nicety of Court dress, but above all, Houdon's bust is the most characteristic, reproducing the keen, shrewd, strong features, the forceful concentration, the virility of purpose and doggedness, without which he could never have succeeded. The artist's conception of him is as varied as the historian's idea of his character. From a low-browed, snub-nosed, villainous individual, with a negligee shirt and sash full of pistols, to one wherein he resembles "the Father of his Country," if that gentleman ever appeared minus his wig in the stress of battle, they run the gamut. He had remarkably well-shaped hands, as, in the three-quarter portraits of him, this fact is generally emphasised, unless, after the fashion of Sir Joshua Reynolds, one pair of elegant hands served the artist of his day as models for every sitter.

As is the case with a man who had such ardent admirers, Paul had his detractors, bitter and unscrupulous, unsparing in their malignant slanders. He is supposed, after having completed his "servitude" with Captain Johnson, to have "signed articles with Captain Baines, who was then in the Guinea trade; and here his cruel disposition blazed forth in its proper colours by his attempt to sink and destroy the ship and cargo, in consequence of a slight reprimand from the captain, who was a man that bore an excellent character for justice and humanity to his inferiors. For this offence he was brought home in irons; but owing to some defect in the evidence produced on his trial, he was acquitted of the charge." After admitting that this voyage changed Paul's views of a seafaring life, and made him stay ashore, the writer naively remarks: "We are sorry to observe that in this part of the history we have no favourable record to make of the wanderings of our turbulent hero."

Though every moment of these years is now accounted for, this anonymous writer, more remarkable for his total abstention from the truth than anything else, endows young Paul with characteristics that would put the rakes of the Restoration to the blush.

"After committing a number of excesses in the neighbourhood of his patron's residence the patron being Lord Selkirk, who, it is an authentic fact, Paul Jones had never seen, though his father is assigned to him as gardener, and his services with Mr. Craik ignored—" he attempted to seduce (and but too successfully succeeded) the virtue of some three young women of some respectability; two of whom soon after became pregnant. The evil did not stop here; it appears he was resolved upon completing the wretchedness of his victims, and placing his own villainy beyond the possibility of a doubt. For it was no sooner known by Paul that the young persons were in a thriving way, than he endeavoured, by his artifices and insinuations, to prevail upon each of them to form an acquaintance with a wealthy farmer, for the sole purpose of making him father the unfortunate and innocent offspring! And it is a fact generally accredited, that he completely succeeded in this abominable design."

Not satisfied with this scandal, it continues, " From the respect the Earl of Selkirk had for his father, young Paul was admitted into the house as a domestic, but not without some excellent admonitions from his father, who earnestly entreated him to leave the dissolute part of his companions and take himself seriously to amend his life. In this, as in many other cases, it proved only loss of time to reason with so depraved a character, for he had no sooner got into this situation, than he paid his addresses to one of the females in the house, and who very prudently refused to accept them. But Paul had made sure of this prize also, and determined to run all hazards rather than forgo the objects of his pursuits. He accordingly watched an opportunity when he saw her enter the dairy, and immediately rushed in and fastened the door after him, he then, in the most deliberate manner proceeded to insult the terrified woman, and had nearly accomplished her ruin, when her repeated shrieks brought the Earl (who was at that time near the spot) "—evidently being an inquisitive peer with an interest in dairy farming—"to her assistance. So flagrant an act of injustice could not easily be forgotten, and in lofty language the Earl banished such a desperate character from his estates," this reason being very ingeniously made the motive for the attempt to carry off Selkirk some years later.

And the reader will learn, " Paul's hatred to the Earl, from this occurrence, was continually rankling in his bosom; and that he embraced the first opportunity for retaliating."

Not satisfied yet, Paul became a smuggler, and married a "beautiful farmer's daughter with three hundred pounds." But life ashore becoming monotonous, he again headed his smuggler's hand, running into "a port in France, and after most tempestuous weather (during which Paul actually threw a man overboard for a trifling disobedience of orders!) arrived at Boulogne, where the cargo was disposed of, to a great disadvantage from the damage it sustained in the last storm."

If Paul had lived a few years later he would have been one of the shining lights among the "Latter Day Saints," for "our hero now turned his thoughts towards a smirking widow "—not having had the benefit of the immortal Mr. Weller's advice—" the mistress of the hotel where he too had lodgings during his stay in Boulogne." But this "merry widow" was well able to take care of herself, and "after using every kind of stratagem for three months successively without being able to prevail upon the fair hostess to accompany him to the altar of Hymen, he deposited two hundred guineas as a proof of the sincerity of his intention to return and render her completely happy, and then took an affectionate leave." Once on the seas he reverted to the joys of a smuggler's life. "Rightfully judging that Dover was an eligible situation, he hired a capital house there, and figured as a first-rate merchant. Having a confidential superintendent, he had many opportunities of visiting the whole coast; and in one of his excursions, falling in with a number of associates, they formed the resolution of boarding an armed vessel in the Downs, which had been fitted out by our merchants to act against the Barbary cruisers. Enterprising and audacious as this undertaking was, from the numerous revenue cutters usually stationed in the Downs, they completely succeeded; two men and a boy were the only persons on board, and from their never having been heard of, the owners supposed the vessel had been driven out to sea, and that all on board perished."

Then Paul goes through a variety of stirring events, vanquishing customs-house men, after sanguinary fights, landing under the cover of dense fogs, and plundering houses of gold and jewels, to which the famed riches of Golconda were "as moonlight unto sunlight." From Sussex to the Isle of Man they roved, ultimately receiving intelligence of some merchant ships laden with gold and silver, which they took, "and that not one of the richest; but Paul Jones, finding himself entitled to a share amounting to upwards of five hundred pounds, determined to pursue his amour at Boulogne."

Where, during all this time, was his legal bride, "the beautiful farmer's 'daughter," who does not appear again in the narrative? On reaching l'Orient, Paul generously presented "the vessel and her appurtenances" to his companions; binding them, however, in a solemn oath that they should deal with him only in such articles as were proper for sale at Boulogne and the Isle of Man. . . . Paul slept that night ashore; and in the morning, after sending his comrades a present of twelve dozen of wine and a liberal supply of fresh provisions, set out for Boulogne. On his arrival he was heartily welcomed by the widow, with whom he had held correspondence during the several months of his absence." Bigamy had no terrors for this roistering blade, as "in about five days they were married, and having assumed the character of landlord, he gave the principal customers of the house an elegant entertainment. For several weeks his behaviour was so affable and condescending, and the articles in which he dealt so good of their respective kinds, and so moderate in price, that the custom of the house surprisingly increased. But nature had not made him to keep within the bounds of moderation. The idea of being possessed of property sufficient to render him independent of business, and the prospects of greater riches, swelled his pride to that pitch that he was no longer able to act under the mask of humility that had for some time disguised his natural turbulence." Just what he did is not hinted, "but the customers were disgusted with his shameful conduct . . . and sought other places of entertainment," so possibly Paul raised the prices. "The decay of the business inflamed him to a degree of the utmost extravagance; and in all probability his wife would have fallen a sacrifice to the impetuosity of his temper had not the amiable' tenderness of her disposition been capable of giving some degree of moderation to his violent, restless and impatient spirit."

Apparently he had a partiality for smuggling transactions connected with the Isle of Man, and hearing that the Earl of Derby was about to sell it to the Crown, he decided to "go there and put his affairs on a firm footing, which he did, leaving his wife in charge of the hotel. . . . On the high seas he met his old pirate crew, but waved his hand in token of greeting," upon which they sailed away leaving him unmolested. "As soon as he arrived he made the first entry of licensed goods transported from England into the Isle of Man." Returning to Boulogne he carried on his smuggling until the death of his wife, when he "again went to the Isle of Man, and transacted some business in the legal way the better to elude the suspicion of his being engaged in contraband dealing," though, sad to relate, except with the law, smugglers were exceptionally popular characters, helped by high and low alike in their efforts to foil the "Preventive" men.

If he ever went to see bride the first, there is no note of the fact; undoubtedly he did not, being a very much occupied individual with his many sporting ventures, not "yet an absolute pirate, but a desperate smuggler." His crew was formed of ruffians of all nationalities, "Blacks, Swedes, Americans, Irish and Liverpool men were particularly welcome to him, and in the north of England he was called the English corsair." He amassed three thousand pounds in these ventures, but his "avaricious mind had led him to take great advantage of several of the smugglers with whom he dealt, some of whom he apprehended might at length be provoked to lodge information against him on account of the illegal traffic he had so long pursued." So he got rid of his various encumbrances, and went to keep a coffee-house in Dunkirk—stocked with the money which he had borrowed from confiding individuals before leaving the Isle of Man. He kept on dealing in contraband goods, but was "driven nearly to a state of distraction by those to whom he had entrusted his goods allowing them to be seized, as through his want of precaution the goods had fallen into the hands of the king's officers." Paul now shut up his house in Dunkirk, and prepared to embark for England, having "previously remitted a small sum to each of the persons he had defrauded in the Isle of Man; and as they accepted of payment in part, they destroyed every idea of felony, and constituted their respective claims into mere matters of debt; he was therefore no longer under apprehension of prosecution from the criminal laws."

Having concluded the matters which brought him to Rochester, Paul re-turned his attention to the ladies. Taking a "lodging in Long Acre, where he had not resided many weeks before he debauched his landlady's daughter, who removed with him to Tottenham, but in about three weeks he deserted her, and she became a common prostitute." Shocking to relate, "Our hero now engaged in a criminal intercourse with the mistress of a notorious brothel in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, who assumed his name, and passed under the character of his wife." But again was he bereaved, "the woman being seized with a fit of apoplexy, she expired while he was examining some accounts in a parlour adjoining to her bedroom. He no sooner discovered her situation, than he searched her pockets, and taking her keys, secreted all her ready money, and some other valuable effects, amounting in the whole to about three hundred pounds, and then absconded with his booty." Moving to Paternoster Row, where he gambled recklessly, until reduced to the sum of £io8, with which, after a good deal of brawling in billiard-rooms and pot- houses, he again went to sea as a smuggler, "committing many depredations along the coast, and capturing a Spanish galleon of inestimable treasure, which struck on a rock, going to the bottom with all hands on board. There were innumerable merchant vessels that found him unpleasantly on the alert, and on one foray he went to Whitehaven, where he seized a young woman while she was standing on the wharf, and placed her in the hold; and the following day he enticed a publican on board, and immediately got under weigh. The man returned several years after, but the woman has never been heard of since."

Now all this is an amazing tissue of lies, as Paul Jones was born in 1757 and went to America in 1773, he was less than seventeen when most of these disreputable adventures were being enacted. Is it odd that he was spoken of with bated breath, shunned as more dangerous than the plague, and that mothers hushed naughty children with the invocation of his name? His services in France and Russia are ignored, and he is sent to Kentucky, where he gained great wealth and estates, dying in the early eighteen hundreds.

In a three-volume romance by Allan Cunningham, Paul dies in Paris, poor and miserable, wrapped in his cloak on a truckle bed, just as he is about to receive the appointment of commander of the Republican navy; Fenimore Cooper wrote of him in Tue Pilot.,- and Thackeray in Dennis Duval, and Dibden wrote a "melodramatic romance" about him, which was played at the Metropolitan minor theatres, and the great Dumas took him as the subject of one of his least-known novels, under the title of Captain Paul. In this book he is the natural son of a great French family, a beneficent dens ex maclzina to his left- handed brothers and sister, whom he showers with favours. On the many voyages which he made to the West Indies, he always visited this sister and her husband, who was governor of Guadeloupe. The story floats in hysterical tears, in which Paul joins frequently, finally disappearing, after a touching scene with his mother, who presses on his acceptance a diamond-encrusted miniature of his long dead father, the Comte de Morlaix. This, for twenty-five years, the secretive lady had kept, unknown to her husband, who shot Paul's father in a duel, where the latter refused to fire; an incident so disturbing to his mind that he went mad. It is a great jumble, with all the elements of purest melodrama. That very puissant lady, Margaret Blanche de Sable, Marquise d'Auray, his mother, was an austere character with a great reputation for piety, and her children stood in wholesome awe of her. She must be pardoned her early indiscretion, for she had been engaged to the Comte de Morlaix, when, alack! a sort of Montagu-Capulet unpleasantness happened, and the lovers were parted. Dumas, with most unusual inaccuracy, buries his hero in Père la Chaise, which was not opened until 1804.

The ballad writers sang in praise of his deeds, quite unfettered by hampering truth, and the following is one of the best examples. It begins—

PAUL JONES
(From the collection of A. M. Broadley, Esq.)

"An American frigate, called the Rachel by name,
Mounted guns forty-four, from New York she came,
To cruise in the Channel of old England's fame,
With a noble commander, Paul Jones was his name.
We had not cruised long when two sails we espied,
A large forty-four, and a twenty likewise.
Fifty bright shipping, well loaded with store,
And the convoy stood in for the old Yorkshire shore."

It goes on to relate how they came alongside, with the customary interview through the speaking-trumpet, and says—

"We fought them four glasses, four glasses so hot,
Till forty hold seamen lay dead on the spot,
And fifty-five more lay bleeding in gore,
While the thun'dring large cannons of Paul Jones did roar."

The fight continued amid much smoke of battle, and

"Paul Jones he then smiled, and to his men did say,
Let every man stand the best of his play,'
For broadside for broadside they fought on the main
Like true buckskin heroes, we returned it again.

The Cerapus wore round our ship for to rake,
Which made the proud hearts of the English to ache,
The shot flew so hot we could not stand it long,
Till the bold British colours from the English came down.

And now, my bold boys, we have taken a rich prize,
A large forty-four, and a twenty likewise;
To help the poor mothers, that have reason to weep,
For the loss of their sons in the unfathomed deep."


 


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