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John Paul Jones
Chapter XX - 1779


THE Chevalier Jones was a man of unbounded ambition, and the honours bestowed on him by the King, though regarded as a final and ample reward by many, only satisfied a lesser part of his complex nature. There is not the slightest doubt that he was a most disquieting free lance to be at large among those who were actuated by less disinterested motives than himself. He had hoped for command of the Serapis, which had been sold to the King on June 22nd for 240,000 livres. He would have been glad to have La Terpsichore, on which the Duc de Chartres first visited America, but in the French Navy the captains greatly outnumbered the available ships, and he was obliged to content himself with the Ariel, and the mission of carrying the supplies, collected with so much labour by the Commissioners, to Washington's army, a venture promising little glory. On his return to l'Orient he found his crew mutinous and sullen, full of the grievance that their commander had neglected their interests while enjoying the sunshine of popularity. This was the consequence of an intrigue hatched by Lee and Landais—the men being but pawns in the game—to ruin and annoy Jones. Though getting money from the Commissioners was a feat greater than the labours of Hercules, Jones blamed himself severely "for having returned from Paris without having absolutely insisted on the previous payment of my men."

Landais had long since been ordered to America for his court-martial, Dr. Franklin advancing money for travelling expenses. Instead of obeying orders he, backed by Lee, declared that the Alliance had been wrongly taken from him, as the command had come from Congress. The officers and crew sent a petition to the plenipotentiaries "setting forth their grievances and their wishes," while Landais modestly expressed a desire to be given his old command.

All this was enough to whiten the remaining hairs left to Franklin, for he had supposed Landais half way across the briny deep, soon to be in the hands of responsible authority; while his turbulent friend Paul seemed, for once, suitably provided with enough work to keep him occupied for some months.

The good old gentleman was so exasperated that he wrote a concise and definite reply to Landais, in which there was not the faintest hint of any temporising, or of replacing him on the Alliance.

"No one ever learned the opinion I formed of you from inquiry made into your conduct. I kept it entirely to myself. I have not even hinted it in my letters to America, because I would not hazard giving to any one a bias to your prejudice. By communicating a tart of that opinion privately to you I can do no harm, for you may burn it. I should not give you the pain of reading it if your demand did not make it necessary. I think you, then, so imprudent, so litigious and quarrelsome a man, even with your best friends, that peace and good order, and consequently the quiet regular subordination so necessary to success, are, where you preside, impossible. These are within my observation and apprehension. Your military operations I leave to more capable judges. If, therefore, I had twenty ships of war in my disposition I should not give one of them to Captain Landais. The same temper which excluded him from the French Marine would weigh equally with me; of course I shall not replace him in the Alliance."

Franklin exhausted his diplomacy to bring reason to that mutinous crew, "whom the power of France would have enabled him to crush at once." The officers and men of the Alliance were naturally indignant at the charge of having fired into the Bonhomme Richard. Franklin politely tells the discontented ones that, "if it came to be publicly known that you had the strongest aversion to Captain Landais, who had used you basely, and that it is only since the last year's cruise, and the appointment of Commodore Jones to the command, that you request to be again under your old captain, I fear suspicions and reflections may be thrown upon you by the world, as if this change of sentiment may have arisen from your observation during the cruise that Captain Jones loved close fighting, that Captain Landais was skilful in keeping out of harm's way, and that you therefore thought yourself safer with the latter." He exhorts them to take an old man's advice, and go home peacefully with their ship. He might as well have talked to the winds of heaven; "which failure proves that something beside reason is at times necessary in governing seamen."

The sailors refused to weigh anchor and depart from l'Orient unless they received six months' wages, all their prize money, and "until their legal captain, Pierre Landais, was restored to them." The last clause being interlined in Landais's own writing.

Not to be baffled, Jones posted to Versailles, where he obtained an order for apprehending and imprisoning Landais if necessary, and was promised letters to the Commissary of the Port to facilitate his departure. On the 13th of June the mutiny had reached its culmination. Causing his appointment to the Alliance to be read on the deck of the ship, and addressing the assembled crew, Jones demanded that whoever had any complaint to prefer against him should speak out. "There was," he says, "every appearance of contentment and subordination. . . . I am certain the people love me and would readily obey me." The proofs of this affection were of a very unusual kind, for no sooner had Jones quitted the ship than Landais Came on board and usurped the command, "flatly refusing to relinquish the ship !

Losing no time, Jones sped off again to Versailles, where he was assured orders had been sent to l'Orient "to compel Landais and his crew to obedience, or, if he attempted to quit the port, to fire on him and, if necessary, sink the ship; but when Jones returned to l'Orient he found no orders had materialised. However, the authorities of the port, his friends, assured him of their support, and, in this unprecedented situation, he adhered to his policy of tolerant forbearance when he learned that the Alliance had been towed from the road of l'Orient to Port Louis.

Though no express from Versailles had been received, M. de Thevenard, the commandant, made preparations to stop the Alliance, having sent orders in the evening, without consulting Jones, "to fire on the Alliance and sink her to the bottom, if they attempted to approach and pass the barrier that had been made across the entrance of the port. Had I remained silent an hour longer the dreadful work would have been done," Paul wrote in his journal.

At Franklin's request the Ministry of Marine had sent orders that the Alliance must be prevented from sailing at all hazards, but by what means was not mentioned to the peaceful Quaker, who received a shock on reading Paul's letter, where he told Franklin that, rather than doom so many innocent men to death, he had taken upon himself to cancel the orders to de Thevenard, adding, "Your humanity will, I know, justify the part I acted in preventing a scene that would have rendered me miserable for the rest of my life."

Upheld by Arthur Lee, and spared just punishment by the leniency of the Commodore, Landais put to sea on June 22nd. Though the ship was laden with military stores, of which Washington's army stood in urgent need, Landais, after passing Cape Finisterre, determined to cruise as far south as the Windward Isles. There was a stormy scene between Lee and the Captain, the former upholding officers and crew in their refusal to obey Landais. Then occurred a comedy of true Gilbertian flavour. Lee, being a doctor, with degrees from the University of Edinburgh, ordered a survey to be held upon the Captain, who was declared insane; then, as ex-Commissioner of the United States, he ordered Lieutenant Degge to take command of the Alliance, which resumed her proper course, arriving at Boston the 2nd of August. It has never been satisfactorily decided to what the intense and persistent enmity Lee displayed towards Paul Jones should be attributed. When the Alliance was fitting out and taking aboard her cargo of military supplies, Lee had asked and obtained permission from Franklin, to return to the United States on board the vessel. But Lee had no intention of sailing with Jones in command, and did everything to make matters as unpleasant as he could. During his four years as Commissioner he had accumulated a vast amount of furniture, household effects, among other things two coaches, all of which he insisted should be stowed away on the Alliance. As the object of the voyage was to take out supplies for the army, Jones refused, for, had he shipped all Mr. Lee's belongings, there would have been no room for anything else. He, however, offered to arrange for them to be taken on one of the merchant ships going under convoy of the Alliance, and was deaf to any other arrangement. Consequently Lee left no stone unturned to take the command away from Jones, with the result related above.

The social side of life furnished the Chevalier with pleasures, which in a great measure counterbalanced the annoyances to which he was subjected, and left no time on his hands in which to grow moody or repine over the irremediable. He busied himself over the many projects he had in view, receiving assurance that the Comte de Maurepas and Comte de Vergennes, whose assistance he had solicited, would aid him so far as they were able to secure ships for an expedition which he was then trying to organise.

On the 25th August he celebrated King Louis's birthday on the 4ic1, and fired two royal salutes, and, on the 2nd of September gave a magnificent entertainment on the same ship. It must be admitted that the employment of taking stores to America in the Ariel was not up to Jones's expectations, and he still hoped to be able, through the interest of the new French Ministry, to obtain the Serapis, as there were five hundred tons of army stores to be transported in excess of the tonnage of the Arid.

It is an interesting commentary on the gratefulness of Republics that Jones received from the American Government absolutely no promotion or reward for his superb victory over the Serapis, while Captain Pearson was knighted by King George for the gallant defence of his ship. Writing to the American agent Dumas, on September 8th, Jones referred to the good fortune of his late adversary, and said: "The next time I meet him I will make a lord of him!

On October 7th the Ariel sailed, to run into the most terrible storm that had swept the coast for years, in which the 4riel lost her fore and main masts, "and rode waterlogged in the open ocean to windward of the Penmarques, perhaps the most dangerous ledge of rocks in the world, for two days and three nights in a tempest that covered the shores with wrecks and dead bodies, and that drove ships from their anchors ashore even in so sheltered a port as l'Orient." They managed to get back to l'Orient on the 12th, but Jones says: "Long as I have followed the sea in all climates and at all seasons I never, till that event, conceived how awful is the majesty of tempest or the unspeakable horrors of shipwreck."

The repairs to the Ariel consumed two months, as all the cargo had to be taken out, the powder dried and muskets cleaned before they were utterly spoiled by the salt water. Paul tried again to get La Terpsiclzore, only to find himself anticipated by Captain Beauvallon. Dc Sartine had been, superseded as Minister of Marine by the Maréchal de Castries, a friend of the American party, and Jones wrote immediately on learning of his appointment to congratulate him, enclosing "an outline of a project for action," which he begged his Excellency to consider: the gist of which was, that the following spring Jones should cruise with the Alliance and Confederacy, a new ship being built in Boston. On the 17th December Paul wrote, bidding farewell to Aimée, as the nearness of parting and the uncertainty of the future recalled, with almost overwhelming vividness, the softer memories of his life in France—

"The men of France I esteem, respect and honour. They are brave, generous and faithful. But the women of France! What words can I find to express my homage, my worship, my devotion! They have been in these years of toil and storm and battle my guardian angels; they have saved me from despair, and they have inspired me to conquer. Their approving smiles and tender praise have been to me more than the applause of statesmen and even more than the favour of royalty itself.

"Should fate decree this to be my last view of enchanted France I can at least perish somewhere far away with the music of the voice of a Frenchwoman soothing me, and the beauty of a Frenchwoman's face and form pictured in my glazing eyes."

Before sailing on December 18th the Commodore gave a "superb entertainment " on the Arid, which did not escape description in detail by a puritanical contemporary. "The ship was tastefully prepared by spreading her awnings, so as to convert the quarterdeck into a ball and banqueting room. A curtain of pink silk hung from the awning to the deck, decorated with alternate mirrors and pictures, some of which latter partook of the prurient character of the French taste of that day. Between the mirrors and pictures were wreaths of artificial flowers. The deck was laid with carpets. These arrangements were made under the superintending care of a French lady, of Jones's acquaintance; while cooks and waiters from the shore made liberal preparations for the feast. When all was ready at the appointed hour, Jones despatchod three of his boats ashore, the crews of which were neatly dressed in uniform and decorated with the American and French cockades united. The ship, too, was dressed with flags. At three o'clock the company arrived, consisting of many persons of rank of both sexes, splendidly dressed.

"Jones received them, as they came up the ship's side, and conducted them to their seats on the quarterdeck, with a great deal of ease, politeness and good nature. At half-past three the company sat down to an elegant dinner, from which they did not rise till sunset. All hands were at quarters, prepared, by Jones's order, to exhibit a representation of the capture of the Serapis. At eight o'clock, as the moon rose, the evening being much the same as on that memorable occasion, a gun was fired on the forecastle as a signal to commence. It was immediately followed by a tremendous explosion of great guns, small arms, rockets and grenades. The tops, as in the action with the Serapis, were kept in a complete blaze. The scene was splendid, but the din was awful. The ladies, beside themselves with terror, begged Jones to have mercy on them, and the action was prematurely arrested at the end of an hour. The admiral's band, which had been lent for the occasion, now struck up a lively air and the dance began. It continued with unabated spirit until midnight, when the company was set on shore by the boats, with the same regularity with which they came off, except, as Fanning says, that some of them were 'half seas over.' The officers gallantly attended them to their very doors."


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