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John Paul Jones
Chapter II - 1773 - 1775


FROM the year 1773, in which John Paul, or as he must now be called, John Paul Jones, came to America to settle his brother's estate, may definitely be dated the beginning of the discontented colonists' grievances. With the increase of wealth and power during the last hundred and fifty years came growing intolerance of laws foisted on them by legislators who knew nothing of their conditions, and there was an awakening of that love of independence which had driven so many to the new country. Virginia was rent by two antagonistic political parties: the "Tide-water Aristocracy," consisting of planters whose plantations lay along the York and James River, who, by right of prior arrival, ruled arbitrarily in matters social and political, and the Scotch-Irish, who settled the valley of Virginia. These hardy beings pioneered their way up country into the districts belonging to the Rappahannock Indians, on whose lands they unconcernedly established themselves, with the natural consequence of years of Indian warfare in all its cunning and ferocious phases, during which the small farmers and planters were harassed to the verge of distraction. One of the principal grievances the masses registered against the "Oligarchy "—as they called the governor and House of Burgesses—was the inactivity displayed in taking measures to punish the Indians for their depredations, and it was more than whispered the governor's inaction was due to the very lucrative trade he drove in pelts and furs, which would have been interrupted had he commenced hostilities against his savage merchants. But when troops were wanted by the "Tidewater" faction, they were recruited from the Scotch-Irish, who, though they loved fighting, after a time began to tire of this "more kicks than halfpence" kind of warfare, and protested at all the plums being pounced on by the other party. Like so many colonial possessions, Virginia suffered from absenteeism, Sir Godfrey Amherst, the governor who controlled her destinies from 1763 till 1768, never even playing the farce of going to his domain. The governors did not interfere with their underlings, provided the perquisites of their office were forthcoming, the king knew less of his colony than the governor, and there was a great deal going on easy to describe in one essentially modern word—graft.

The great wealth of Virginia was in the tobacco- producing lands, which the ignorant colonist exhausted by planting tobacco year after year in succession, instead of alternating it with maize or corn, and in the end he lost heavily by his thriftlessness. The best houses were brick and stone, brought from England with the workmen to build and decorate them. All the furnishings came from over the seas, and many a bit of rare silver and family portraits ended their days in this strange new land. There were abrupt contrasts of primitiveness and civilisation afforded by glimpses of those gaudy, cumbersome coaches, creaking and swaying on their leather springs, and filled with gorgeously habited beauty, driving on the rough sandy tracks, called by courtesy roads, of that unexplored country. My lady never took her airings unaccompanied by a train of slaves, and armed white men closed up the rear of the cortege, which finally disappeared, Cinderella-like, in a cloud of dust.

There remained but few Indians in this part of Virginia, but the Virginia gentleman was never found without his ready pistol, and, on occasions of ceremony, his sword. Those who governed Virginia enjoyed themselves, there is no doubt of that; they were, of course, exiled from home, but in many instances at home they would have been nobodies, and here they were cocks-of-the-walk. Colonial society then, as to-day, boasted many undesirables sent as far from home as possible by their thoughtful relatives, hoping to replenish the family exchequer with the dowry of some fair colonial, who, of course, was awaiting just such a brilliant opportunity! The social lines were drawn with a rigidity allowing no stretch, and what equality there may have been among the first settlers had long ago faded into obscurity so dense that not a tradition remained. There was no common property and no common interest. The wines, sweetmeats and a thousand small refinements came from England or France, as did the red-heeled shoes of my lord and the powder patches and lappets of my lady. How eagerly the belle counted on her taper fingers the days which must elapse before the Nancy and her treasure-trove hove in sight; how fervently she prayed that her new "gownd" would come in time to end for ever the aspirations of her bosom friend and hated rival to outshine her as a woman of fashion. To be sure, Papa "poo-poo'd" and "tush-tush'd " at the nonsense of girls and their fal-lals, but a sly suggestion that his fine old Madeira, which had already twice doubled the Cape, was invoiced in the same tardy vessel, bestirred Papa to the point of commanding a look-out to be kept for the good ship Nancy, and the instant landing of the goods consigned to his distinguished family.

The plantation which Jones inherited was not, as counted in tidewater Virginia, large, comprising about "three thousand acres of prime land, bordering for twelve furlongs on the right bank of the Rappahannock, running back southward three miles, i000 acres cleared and under plough or grass, 2000 acres strong, first-growth timber, grist mill with flour cloth and fans turned by water power; mansion, overseer's house, negro quarters, stables, tobacco houses, threshing-floor, river wharf, one sloop of twenty tons, thirty negroes of all ages (18 adults), 20 horses and colts, 8o neat cattle and calves, sundry sheep and swine, and all necessary means of tilling the soil."

With the property came the legacy of old Duncan Macbean, whom his brother, when serving with the "Virginia Provincials," saved after Braddock's rout by the French and Indians, brought home and nursed through his wounds, and kept in his service. Duncan was a typical thrifty Scotchman, with a canny eye open in the interests of his master, not having any sympathy with the wasteful fashion in which "saxpences" went " bang" in this heathenish land. Jones was too good a disciplinarian not to appreciate the trait in another, so Duncan was left supreme in his management, and the plantation waxed fat and throve apace.

It is not easy to reconcile the varying statements of this part of Paul Jones's life. On the 4th of May, 1777, he wrote from Boston to Mr. Stuart Mawey of Tobago—

"After an unprofitable suspense of twenty months (having subsisted on fifty pounds only during that time), when my hopes of relief were entirely cut off, and there remained no possibility of my receiving wherewithal to subsist upon from my effects in your island, or in England, I at last had recourse to strangers for that aid and comfort which was denied me by those friends whom I had intrusted with my all."

Was Jones, in truth, without money? By his own showing in 1777 he had a considerable sum derived from the plantation, which he constantly drew on to pay the expenses of his crews and maintenance. Or does he refer to the destruction of his property following the bombardment of Norfolk by the Earl of Dunmore, January 1, 1776, or to the non-receipt of drafts from his agents in the West Indies; as the declaration of war had made communication by sea precarious and uncertain? Otherwise it is impossible to account for the state of abject poverty in which he was supposed to exist. There was no evidence of this when he was in Virginia, for he entertained his friends on every available opportunity, travelled, moved in the first rank of colonial society, went to Fredericksburg to attend the meetings of the House of Burgesses, and in all ways took a prominent part in the life of the colony, being a great favourite with the ladies, and is accused of evincing a partiality for the society of one Mistress Betty Parke, a relative of the much buckramed, whaleboned lady, who kept the character of the immortal George in such good order. But Jones had other ambitions, and Mistress Betty bestowed her hand and self on some one by the name of Tyler, while her quondam admirer was busy with the rules and regulations of the infant United States Navy and with contemporary polities.

How natural it would have been could Paul have accepted the windfall fate had sent him, lived the life of a planter, married and disappeared from sight in this pleasant drifting. Slaves anticipated every wish, the planter rode leisurely over his broad acres in the early day, before the sun had become unbearable; if he would fish, there was the river; if he preferred oysters, the most succulent were, in very truth, at his door. The surrounding forests concealed game in profusion, and the low sandy marshes around Urbana abounded in snipe, so "that it would hardly be possible to fire a gun in a horizontal position and not kill many at one shot." There were terrible and frequent devastating fires in the dense forests, caused by the careless settlers burning the brush when clearing land for cultivation. Their practice of cutting great gashes in the pine trees, and placing troughs under them to catch the resinous matter which flowed from the wound, and then abandoning the tree to decay, filled the country with dead wood that caught like tinder at the first opportunity. Deep in the gloom of these forests flowed streams of the coldest clear water, first trickling into tiny pools and lakes, gurgling their way over moss-green stones to end in dashing waterfalls, turning the mills to grind corn and saw wood.

Would Paul have preferred the life of "calm contemplation and poetic ease" to which he alludes in his famous letter to the Countess of Selkirk Was he in earnest when he wrote, " I have sacrificed, not only my favourite scheme of life, but the softer inclinations of the heart, and the prospect of domestic happiness." Is it, indeed, in this period of his career that we should cherchez la femme Many a pair of bright eyes peeped at him from beneath those bonnets which "disfigure the wearer amazingly, being made with a caul fitting close on the back part of the head, and a front stiffened with small pieces of cane, which project nearly two feet from the head in a horizontal direction. To look at a person at one side, it is necessary for a woman wearing a bonnet of this kind to turn her whole body around."

But the star which dominated Paul's life called him to play his part among men, called him to abandon for ever that peace for which in his turbulent destiny there was no place. Unconsciously his was to be the hand to fire a train ending in an explosion heard all over the country. In 1774 Jones, returning from Edmonton, stopped over in Norfolk to visit some friends. Several British ships lay at anchor in the harbour, and the hospitable colonists, wishing to show their loyalty and friendliness to his Majesty's representatives, entertained the officers at a ball. The next day Jones wrote to his constant correspondent, Joseph Hewes—

"The insolence of these young officers, particularly when they had gotten somewhat in their cups, was intolerable, and there could be no doubt that they represented the feeling of their service generally. As you may hear imperfect versions of an affair brought on by the insolence of one of them, I will take the liberty of relating it: in the course of a debate, somewhat heated, concerning the state of affairs, a lieutenant of the sloop-of-war, Parker by name, declared that in the case of a revolt or insurrection it would easily be suppressed, if the courage of the Colonial men was on a par with the virtue of the Colonial women!"

This was too much for the gallantry of young Jones. "I at once knocked Mr. Parker down," he continued, "whereupon his companions seized him, and all hurried from the scene, going aboard their ship. Expecting naturally that the affair would receive further attention, I requested Mr. Granville Hurst, whom you know, to act for me; suggesting only that a demand for satisfaction should be favourably considered, and that he should propose pistols at ten paces; place of meeting Craney Island; time, at the convenience of the other side."

Mr. Parker seems to have been loath to put himself at the disposition of Jones's notedly unerring pistol; for, to the latter's "infinite surpise, no demand came," and the sloop-of-war departed on the ebb tide, for Charlestown, "without word of any kind."

Like wildfire the news of the encounter spread, and the colonial papers rang with it. The men flocked about Jones, congratulating him heartily on the stand he had taken, and the women, in whose defence he had spoken with such striking eloquence, did their best to turn his head with the pans of praise they so unstintedly chanted. Paul found himself the most talked-of man in Virginia, as it was his fate to be at the French Court some years later, for though the relations between England and her colonies had long been strained to the point of breaking, it was the first "actual collision that had occurred on the soil of Virginia." The aggressor wearing his Majesty's uniform, and Paul Jones being a colonist who was respected by all as well as extremely popular, made it impossible to gloss the breach over. Rumour had it that Mr. Parker's brother officers thought him well punished for his insolence, and refused to act for him in the event of a duel, and that he was obliged to resign his commission; but as he is known to have been present at the bombardment of Fort Moultrie by the British squadron some time later, this was perhaps not true.

Jones was a man of keen political foresight, and saw clearly what the inevitable end must be. During the following spring, that of i75, after a trip to New York in his sloop with his crew and two favourite slaves, Cato and Scipio, he wrote to Thomas Jefferson on hearing of the battle of Lexington—

"It is, I think, to be taken for granted that there can be no more temporising. I am too recently from the mother country, and my knowledge of the temper of the king, his ministers and their majority in the House of Commons is too fresh to allow me to believe that anything is, or possibly can be, in store except either war to the knife or total submission to complete slavery."

He advances a most logical theory, unsuggested by his contemporaries—

"I have long known it to be the fixed purpose of the Tory party in England to provoke these colonies to some overt act which would justify martial law, dispersion of the legislative bodies by force of arms, taking away the charters of self-government, and reduction of all the North American colonies to the footing of the Vest India Islands and Canada—that is, to crown colonies under military rule; or, perhaps, to turn them over to the mercies of a chartered company as in the Hindostan, all of which I have seen.\

"I cannot conceive of submission to complete slavery; therefore only war is in sight. The Congress, therefore, must soon meet again, and when it meets, it must face the necessity of taking those measures which it did not take last fall in its first session, namely, provision for armament by land and sea.

"Such being clearly the position of affairs, I beg you to keep my name in your memory when the Congress shall assemble again, and in any provision that may be taken for a naval force, to call upon me in any capacity which your knowledge of my seafaring experience and your opinions of my qualifications may dictate."


 


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