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John Paul Jones
Chapter V - 1777

IN the shipyards of the colonial town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with its tales of serving-maid who rose to the estate of governor's wife and lived to walk up the aisle of the church, sumptuously arrayed, with a train of little hackamoor pages carrying prayer- books and reticule on velvet cushions; where stately elms overhung the first brick house built in the new country, that ship which was to become so famous as the Ranger was being laid down.

She was planned expressly for speed, and she was the first American ship to be coppered, a new idea just beginning to he adopted in the British and French navies. She was six feet longer than any twenty-gun ship-sloop of her day, in all 116 feet, and she was of 308 tons. Elijah Hall, her second lieutenant, by trade a shipwright, describes her at length with bewildering technicality, being much struck with the fact that her spars, a set got out of a 400-ton Indiaman, were too heavy for a vessel of her class," and had "just stepped" the lower masts, with a view to "cutting them down about four feet in the cups," when Paul Jones appeared on the scene, and, being arbiter in the matter, decided it was apity to spoil such fine masts, directing Mr. Hall to "fid them about four feet lower than usual in the hounds," which Mr. Hall proceeded to do. This, with the changes Jones made in her guns, putting "fourteen long nines" and four six-pounders, instead of the original twenty six-pounders intended, "raised her centre of weight and increased her top-heaviness," which with the extra ballast necessitated, brought her a foot lower in the water when she was provisioned for the voyage than planned. But she could, "with the wind abaft the beam, or going free, run like a hound," though she was "somewhat crank in windward work. In outward appearance she was a perfect beauty, her sheer being as delicate as the lines of a pretty woman's arm, and as she was rather low in the water for her length, and her masts raked two or three degrees more than any other ship of the day, she was on the whole the sauciest craft afloat."

When he saw her Captain Jones forgave the loss of the Trumbull; his nautical eye appraised her sailing worth and picked out her good points, and he worked day and night to get her afloat; reporting to the Marine Committee that she would he ready to sail on October 5. He had the goodwill of the town, there were no obstacles put in his way this time, and interested spectators watched the work being pushed for all it was worth.

Busy though he was, it must not be supposed Paul Jones neglected the social side of life. Even without his renown, his personal attractions won more than a sigh from the pretty maidens before whom he bowed so deferentially, perhaps flirted with in the jovial manner of most Sons of the sea, though he departed heart-whole if not fancy free.

Portsmouth was in the heart of the revolutionary country, and its daughters emulated the spirit of the "Boston Tea Party," drinking herb tea, rather than pay for the heavily taxed Bohea. Portsmouth had been discovered by a venturesome craft, whose owner braved the turbulent currents of the Piscataqua river in search of sassafras bark, an ingredient greatly appreciated and employed by the seventeenth-century doctors in the nauseous compounds forced upon their patients. Whether the search was successful has little to do with the story, but the fair promise of the shores which lay on either side of the river, with their virgin forests, impressed the captain so favourably that his report to those at home determined a venturesome party to essay the trackless ocean, and, in the spring, or summer, of 1623, David Thompson with a goodly party of settlers from Plymouth in fair Devon, landed at Odiorne's Point, where they built a block-house to protect themselves from the Indians, and settled down to wrest a meagre living from the new land, where even the climate was hostile to those accustomed to the mildness of the south of England. Other settlers followed, and the surrounding country was known by the suggestive name of "Strawberry Bank" until 1653, when it was incorporated by the Government of Massachusetts under its present name of Portsmouth.

The settlers were so harassed by the Indians that they tilled the fields with gun slung over shoulder, and planted the maize in rows radiating from their houses so that the redskins would have no cover to creep upon them. The country abounded in stone, hard, flinty granite, scattered over the land as if from a pepper- pot; which, to get rid of, they piled in walls around their meadows as their forefathers had done in the home country. There was constant wrangling between the Anglican settlers and the Puritans, and at times civil strife threatened to rend the colony. Those were days of no religious toleration, and, it must be remembered, that it was only a few miles to the town of Salem, where witch-burning flourished.

Despite these bickerings Portsmouth, with its picturesque environment, its many islands and rockbound coast, became in 1679 the capital of a separate county, known to-day as the State of New Hampshire. The governor of the state lived there, in a charming old house, with lodge gates and lawns sloping to the river; and it all seemed more like a bit of home than something in a new, Indian-troubled country. A few miles from the town he had a country place, deep in the heart of fragrant pine forests, where the hot summer sun never penetrated, though its fiery breath enhanced the sweetness of the aromatic gums with which the trees were laden.

Though Virginia has ever been the theme of pens, writing of colonial times, the governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts held sway in a lordly manner; tricked out themselves and their women-folk with right royal pomp and circumstance, for, it must not be forgotten that they represented their king, equally with their confreres of the South. There were many of Puritanical leanings, outwardly any way, for their Roundhead ancestry accounted for a love of hypocrisy and eagerness to condemn everything they could not understand. The different governors, the Wentworths and the Langdons, were open-handed, high-living gentlemen, a trifle pompous maybe, as suited their rank and station; more than a trifle fond of the fleshpots, particularly of the hospitable and flowing bowl on a winter night.

There was much trade with the East and West Indies, and the spoils of those voyages still linger in the dim drawing-rooms, like spectres of the past. To this day its owner proudly shows a carpet stained with the contents of a wineglass upset by Lafayette, whose elbow was jostled by a careless one in the assembly as he was "taking wine" at the request of his host. Many famous men had been there. Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, who experimented with his lightning-rod, before he forsook such prosaic work, and went to France to worry himself and every one else, trying to gain favours from those unwilling to grant them. The old fort, William and Mary, was captured at the beginning of the revolution by militia sent from Portsmouth, on the arrival of the news that the exportation of military stores to America was forbidden; the tidings being brought by that indefatigable horseman, Paul Revere, who, according to pictorial history, seems to have spent his life as one of the "hatless brigade," galloping about on a horse with a long, flowing tail, shouting disturbing news to his countrymen.

As has been seen, Portsmouth was hospitable, and Portsmouth entertained Paul Jones to such a degree that he was forced to write to a friend to send him a particularly smart scarlet coat, which he had not thought to have need of, and some more of a favourite hair powder, unobtainable there, for which "he begged to enclose a guinea." It is to be hoped that the correspondent dispatched the articles forthwith, for Paul was very much of a dandy and noted for the perfection of his dress, and a powderless beau would have been too tragic to contemplate.

But it was his fate to be here to-day and there tomorrow, and he wasted little time in philandering, however bright the eyes. Though he escorted bevies of charming and vivacious damsels and their duennas over the Ranger, and explained the many wonders of the craft, at which they exclaimed, as their sisters of the present day do under similar conditions, his one idea was to get to sea.

Charming as the tale of silken pennant, broidered by slender fingers for the chosen knight, is the romance clinging to the flag that fluttered gaily on the Ranger when she put to sea, on a mission of which none could foretell the result. Fashioned amid chat and laughter at a "quilting bee," planned and fitted with breathless accuracy, according to sketches made by the handsome captain, whose opinion was awaited on the important subject with most flattering attention. Patriotic Mistress Helen Seavey contrived thirteen snowy stars of the "New Constellation" from the dress she had worn to the altar when she wedded a dashing young officer of the "New Hampshire Line," in May 1777, a few months ago. Wanton destruction, thought Helen's mamma, who had an eye to future utility and younger daughters' weddings, and belonged to that generation which looked on the silk and satin "gownds" with more deference than their descendants. The red stripes came from a court dress, that had curtseyed loyally to its king, alas! now a fallen idol.

The patriotic maidens cut and slashed ruthlessly, stitching the starry emblems on the dark blue field. Merry parties were these "quilting bees," ending up with a substantial supper, a country dance, and a sly stroll under the October moon for a few soft words, and a "good-bye to summer." Can we not picture the laughing jests, the high hopes, the aspirations which stirred those feminine bosoms, as they stitched and saw grow under their nimble fingers the flag they were so proud of, which Paul Jones ever called his twin, as his commission was dated on the same day as Congress officially described the flag to he used in place of the old "Rattlesnake" carried in the early (lays of the Revolution?

Of those charming and energetic workers, we know the names of but live: Mary Langdon, Helen Scavey, Dorothy Hall, niece of Lieut. Hall of the Ranger, Caroline Chandler, and Augusta Pierce. If the Captain had any preference it is not recorded, as he devoted himself to the party en masse, straightening a stripe that tried to turn itself into an arabesque, or giving the final decision as to the placing of the thirteenth star. Every stitch was set with a good wish for his success, and he vowed it brought him luck! He considered it his personal belonging, a gift of his well-wishers, and took it with him on relinquishing his command of the Ranger in 1778. When he "broke his pennant" on the Jionizomme Richard he flew the flag of the Portsmouth girls, and not yet was its distinguished career over, for it was the first flag of the United States to be saluted by the guns of a foreign naval power. Strange still, it was the "first and the last flag that ever went down, or ever will go down, flying on a ship that conquered and captured the ship that sunk her."

This was the case, for the Bo7thomlne Richard forced the Serapis to surrender after a frightful battle, the like of which has never been seen"; being so riddled that after a few hours she could not be kept afloat, filled and went to the bottom. The very last vestige mortal eyes ever saw of the Bonhomme Richard was the defiant waving of her unconquered and unstricken flag as she went down."

In 1781 Jones returned to America, visiting Mr. Ross, where he always stayed in Philadelphia. There he met Miss Langdon, who had been one of the "quilting bee," and told her that he had wished, above anything, "to bring that flag back to America, with all its glories, and give it back untarnished into the fair hands that had given it to him nearly four years before." "But, Miss Mary," he said, "I couldn't bear to strip the poor old ship in her last agony, nor could I deny to my dead on her decks, who had given their lives to keep it flying, the glory of taking it with them."

"You did exactly right, Commodore!" exclaimed Miss Langdon. That flag is just where we all wish it to be, flying at the bottom of the sea over the only ship that ever sunk in victory. If you had taken it from her and brought it back to us we would hate you!"


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