April 24, 2003
A Family Legend
by Halcott G. Grant
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public
This paper traces the early history of
a young Scotsman named John Paul, born in Arbigland, Scotland, who went to sea,
apprenticed to a sea captain in 1761 at the tender age of 13. During the next 12 years on
several ships he matured and became captain of square riggers trading between Scotland and
the Colonies. This period of his life came to an abrupt end in Tobago in the West Indies
in 1773 when he was confronted by a mutinous crewman, resulting in John Paul running him
through with his sword, killing him. This necessitated an escape from the island to avoid
being jailed or worse. He then went incognito for almost two years, hoping to return later
to clear his name before an Admiralty Court. There is no written record of his whereabouts
or activities for the next 20 months or so.
Later that year according to the family legend and the official North
Carolina position, John Paul was befriended by the brothers, Willie (pronounced Wylie) and
Alan Jones, prominent planters and politicians in Halifax, North Carolina. Their
friendship develops, and when he made the decision to offer his naval expertise to the
fledgling United States, John Paul asked the brothers to allow him to assume their name Jones as his surname, and that he would make them proud of it. They agreed and
the rest of his story is history.
The prominent Naval Historian, Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, in his
definitive biography John Paul Jones, A Sailors Biography printed in
1959, relegates this theory to his appendices and states that he doesnt think it
Evidence to support the oral history of the North Carolina
Position and the family tradition is contained in two books printed after Morisons
biography: Elizabeth Cottons The John Paul Jones Willie Jones Tradition,
A Defense of the North Carolina Position, printed in 1966 and The Land and the
People by Margaret Green Devereux, a direct descendant of Alan Jones, printed in
1974. Historians dont seem to want to accept historical data unless supported by
written evidence. This paper questions why oral history, telling the same story from
several sources, cant be given the same weight in reconstructing the past.
The paper ends with a short description of the momentous Naval battle
between the United Statess Bonhomme Richard and Britains Serapis, during
which John Paul Jones cried when challenged I have not yet begun to fight! during his victory over his stronger foe.
A Family Legend
One day in 1774, in Halifax Town, North Carolina, Willie (pronounced Wylie) Jones was
walking down the street and encountered a lonely and depressed stranger resting on a bench
outside a tavern. Willie asked, What is your name the reply was I have
none, and Where is your home, again the reply was I have
none. So starts a relationship that this young man and Willie and his brother Allen
had, which was to last about two years, but which would cause controversy and historical
uncertainty up to the present day.
Who was this young man,
and who are Willie and Allen Jones?
First of all, I want to tell you about the young man. His name was John Paul. He was
born in Arbigland, Scotland on July 6, 1747. His father was a gardener for a landowner,
William Craik, and spent an uneventful childhood on the banks of the Solway Firth on the
west coast of Scotland, at the border of England. In those days, kids didnt get much
education or social training so they pursued whatever direction seemed possible to them as
they grew up. Since he was on the banks of the Solway, and was around ships and seamen, in
1761 he went away to sea at the tender age of 13. Having completed the schooling available
to him at the parochial school and having signed articles of apprenticeship for seven
years, he left receiving almost no pay but learning the mariners profession.
His first ship was the brig Friendship, a cargo vessel of 179 tons which sailed between
Whitehaven, Scotland and Fredericksburg, Virginia, one round trip yearly. He was able to
make contact with, and to visit his brother , a tailor in Fredericksburg, Virginia during
this period which lasted only two years, as the 7 Years War in Europe was over and trade
was drying up. In 1764, the owner of the Friendship went broke and sold it, releasing John
Paul from his apprenticeship obligation. According to Samuel Eliot Morrison in his
Biography, John Paul Jones he then signed on to the slave trade and at the age
of 17 became the third mate of the King George, a blackbirder out of
Whitehaven. After two years on the King George he became chief mate of the slaver Two
Friends of Kingston, Jamaica. This was a small vessel of 30 tons not over 50 feet long
with a crew of six men and officers and carrying 77 negros from Africa. One can imagine
the horror of that voyage and how many of the cargo survived. At the end of one round
trip, John Paul obtained his discharge, leaving that abominable trade.
At this point he was in Kingston and was lucky enough to run into Samuel McAdam of
Kirkcudbright, Scotland, (on the Firth of Solway), the part owner and Master of the brig
John of Liverpool. John Paul, coming from the same area and being a personable young man,
made friends with him and was offered a free passage home, which he happily accepted. It
proved to be an eventful voyage, as his new friend, Samuel McAdam and his mate died during
the voyage of a fever and John Paul jumped into the breech bringing the ship
safely home to Kirkcudbright. Naturally this made the other owners very happy and they
awarded him command of John, and as such, he made at least two round trip voyages to the
The first voyage was relatively routine, carrying salt provisions and consumer goods to
Jamaica to trade for local products for transportation back to Kirkcudbright. As a matter
of interest, the cargo he carried back on this first voyage consisted of 49 hogsheads and
6 casks of sugar, 156 puncheons of rum, 44 bags of pimentos, 6 bags of cotton, 75 mahogany
planks, and 2 ½ tons of logwood & fustick, the dyewoods that the Jamaicans cut at
Campeche. Logwood was used to make blue and black dyes and fustick for yellows. He got
back to Kirkcudbright by the end of August 1769, too late to return before the next
His second voyage took until the end of 1770 for his return to Kirkcudbright. His cargo
was similar, but the voyage itself was eventful. John Paul, as he matured, developed an
explosive temper which got him into a serious scrape. Mungo Maxwell, the son of a
prominent buisnessman in Kirkcudbright was hired as the ships carpenter by the owners and
turned out to be incompetent and disobedient. Midway into the journey to Jamiaca John Paul
had had enough of Mungo and strung him up in the rigging and had him lashed with the
cat-o-nine-tails. When the ship arrived in Jamiaca, Mungo complained to the
vice-admiralty court. When the court heard the evidence and examined Mungos torso,
they declared that his wounds were neither mortal nor dangerous and dismissed
the complaint as frivolous. Mungo then left for home on another ship, came down with a
fever and died at sea. When Mungos father heard about his sons death, he
believed that the death was caused by the flogging and brought Captain Paul to court
saying his son
was most unmercifully, by the said John Paul, with a great cudgel or batton,
bled, bruized and wounded upon his back and other parts of his body, and of which wounds
and bruises he soon afterward died on board the Barcelona Packet of London.
John Paul then found it necessary to convince the court that he could prove his
innocence and would stand trial when he was able to gather the evidence. He did so and was
subsequently cleared of all charges. In spite of this incident, it seems that he had
conducted himself so well in his commercial dealings as master of the John that he had the
respect of the community and the ships owners. He was initiated into the Masons
Lodge of Kirkcudbright that fall of 1770, a step up for him that was to be to his
advantage for the rest of his life. Masonry was highly regarded, both in England and the
Colonies, and provided John Paul access to the gentry and even nobility of the various
cities he would visit during his lifetime. He was not shy about taking this advantage.
In early 1771 the John was sold and Captain Paul was given an honorable discharge with
high recommendations. There doesnt seem to be any record of our heros
activities other than he was in Tobago in the spring of 1772 and obtained documents
clearing his name as mentioned previously. Because his reputation had grown he managed to
be made Master of a large square rigger, the Betsy, and probably a part owner in the fall
of 1772. Using the trading experience he got as Master of the John and the continuing
experience of being master of a large square rigged ship, he established partnerships with
Tobago people resulting in making it a very successful ship. There is evidence that by
1773 he was closing in on his dream of becoming rich enough to give up the sea, find a
wife and become a planter in Virginia. These dreams came from his early voyages when he
was able to observe how the gentry and landowners lived.
These dreams all came to an end at the end of his second voyage in the Betsy when the
ship was in Scarborough, Tobago. He was in the process of trying to purchase a cargo for
his return trip to England, and to make sure he had enough cash to make the purchases, he
unwisely refused to advance wages to his crew, telling them they wouldnt be paid
until they got to England. Many of the crew were locals to Scarborough, and they wanted
some pay to spend with their friends and relatives ashore. The details that are known of
what happened then come from a letter John Paul wrote to Benjamin Franklin in 1778.
One of the crew, who was a troublemaker on the outbound voyage, stirred up the rest of
the crew and made a demand that they be paid a once. John Paul attempted to appease them,
by offering them clothing but the ringleader refused and threatened to lower a boat and go
ashore without leave. Captain Paul tried to stop them, but was threatened by the very
large and powerful seaman and was forced to take refuge in the captains cabin.. The
skipper , not to be faced down by this totally unruly crewman, took his sword from the
cabin table and stormed forth, hoping to intimidate him, but it had the opposite result.
His opponent let out a mighty roar and charged him, brandishing a club. Having to retreat,
The skipper backed up until his heel encountered the sill of an open hatchway. Not being
able to retreat any further, he had no choice but to defend himself and ran the seaman
through with his sword just a the club was descending toward his head. The vicious crewman
fell dead at his feet, thus stopping the mutiny, but creating a huge problem for himself.
Although he had defeated the mutiny attempt, he felt that he should turn himself in to
the authorities because of his causing the seamans demise. He immediately went
ashore and met with the justice of the peace. He was informed that in all probability, if
an Admiralty Court were to hear his case, he would be found to have acted within his
authority and that turning himself in wasnt necessary. However, there was no
authority in Tobago to try an Admiralty case and his friends in Tobago felt he
wouldnt stand a chance in a civil court, so he was persuaded to flee the island at
once. He thereupon crossed to the other side of the island on horseback to a bay in which
there was a vessel on which he got away. He left all his possessions, excepting 50 pounds
which he took with him, in the hands of his partner Archibald Stewart and his agent
Admiral Morrison correctly points out that it seems strange that a man whose
personality was such that he would seek solutions to problems in the most direct way would
choose to flee rather than fight for his rights, particularly in those times when the
skipper of a vessel had almost absolute power over his crew, and the courts almost always
backed the Captain. It must have been that the guy he ran through was a local Tobago man
with a large family who stirred things up to the point that Johns friends felt that
he was in danger, so urged him to make his exit, which he did.
Here the written history of what happened to John Paul peters out for a period of
almost 2 years. Morison conjectures that he left the Islands, changing his name to Jones,
possibly because it is a patronymic, or the son of John, or possibly because it was, then
as now, common enough that it would not stand out. It probably was in his mind to
disappear until such time that he was able to return to Tobago to clear his name. Morison
was able to identify that John Paul, now known as Paul Jones, spent some time in
Philadelphia and Virginia, but with no details filling in the twenty months during which
there is so little written detail of his activities. The beginning of this period was
sometime in the last 3 months of 1773. Morison admits that his movements are an almost
complete mystery historically, and that trying to reconstruct them is like trying to solve
a picture puzzle with 90% of the pieces missing.
He relates that John Paul escaped Tobago from a harbor across the island from
Scarborough called Courland Bay, which was a port of call for the British Mail Packets
which cruised the Islands. One of these packets may well have been available to him,
giving him transportation to Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Antigua or Jamaica where
further transportation would have been available to the Continent. Admiral Morison
continues that there was no doubt that John Paul then went incog as he said as
much in his letter to Ben Franklin written in 1779 in order to avoid prosecution for the
event in Tobago. Morison next has, now, John Jones in Virginia, where Johns brother,
William Paul, a tailor in Fredericksburg, died in 1774. William left all his property to
his sister and her children in Scotland, not to his estranged wife, or to his brother John
according to the will of record.
Morison conjectures that the courts probably let John live in his brothers house while
the estate was being settled. He then suggests that John befriended a Dr. John K. Read,
probably through the Masonic Lodge, and that through him he met Joseph Hewes, a leading
Shipbuilder, merchant and politician of Edenton, North Carolina. This, in turn, has John
Jones and the Doctor spending many sentimental hours together at The Grove, an
adjoining estate owned by a family named Crenshaw. Research done by others dispute this,
as there is no record of any estate named The Grove in Virginia. He also has
John in a romance with Dorothea Dandridge, who subsequently married Patrick Henry, as she
was mentioned in later correspondence between the Doctor and John Paul Jones. As I said
before, during this period of less than two years, Admiral Morison continuously uses
modifying phrases such as may have or reasonable to assume since
there is no paper trail following his adventures during this time.
To provide an alternative possibility as to how this time was spent, I will use as
reference two books, the first published by Heritage Printers of Charlotte, N.C. by
Elizabeth H. Cotton entitled The John Paul Jones Willie Jones Tradition, and
the other The Land and the People by my aunt Margaret Green Devereux,
published by Vantage Press. Both were published after Admiral Morisons John
Paul Jones, A Sailors Biography went to press in 1959. They provide a
different take on how John Paul acquired and kept the surname Jones. Elizabeth
Cotton was a patriotic member of a prominent North Carolina family, wife of a
distinguished naval officer and a long time curator of manuscripts in the Southern
Historical Collection at Chapel Hill. An avid supporter of the so called North
Carolina Tradition, she researched in great detail all aspects of the controversy
created because all Jones family records were lost in a fire which destroyed Willies
daughters house and everything in it, including correspondence of both Allen and
Willie Jones including a portrait of John Paul Jones, sent by him to Mrs. Allen Jones. She
had as supporters of her point of view Colonel Cadwallader Jones, author of A
Genealogical History of the Jones family, published in 1899, Secretary of the Navy
under Woodrow Wilson, Josephs Daniels and Captain H. A. Baldridge, Director of the Naval
Academy Museum at Annapolis. Both of the latter gentlemens correspondence is
included in Elizabeth Cottons volume, signing on to the premise put forward.
Margaret Devereux, my mothers sister, with the help of her brother, Halcott
Green, wrote The Land and the People, a volume created for the family, and
which includes several chapters on the Jones. Much of the information comes from my
grandfather, Halcott Pride Green, who compiled all the data available to him, and perhaps
could have written the book himself.
Who were Willie and Allen Jones?
The Jones brothers were the great, great grandsons of Robin Jones, my Grandfather, nine
generations or so back, born in Wales in 1640 arriving in Norfolk, Virginia in 1663. His
grandson, Robert, became a planter, and was a prominent member of the educated few who was
most influential in the early development of North Carolina. As the wilderness gave way to
settlement, Indian Tribes were displaced and vast tracts of land were acquired. Robin,
educated in England at Eaton College, moved his family from Sussex County , sometime
between 1750 and 1753 to Northampton County in North Carolina on the banks of the Roanoke
River, and built his house The Castle. He represented the County in the North
Carolina assembly from 1754 to 1761. In that year he was appointed Attorney General for
the Crown for the Province of North Carolina. He was also Agent for Lord Granville, the
sole member of the North Carolina Proprietary Government who retained his large holdings
of land in the Province. Through these positions and being an astute businessman, he was
able to acquire large tracts of land, becoming in a few years perhaps the largest landed
proprietor on the Roanoke and maybe the largest in the Province. He was again elected to
the Assembly in 1766 when he was 49 years old, but because of his death in October that
year, did not serve.
He sent his two sons to England for their education, both going to Eaton College as he
had. Allen, from whom I am descended, the eldest, returned after school, but Willie
remained, continuing his studies at Eaton, and then traveling through Europe. During this
time he observed and learned about how the people lived and were ruled in Europe,
particularly the way the common folk were mistreated by Royalty, although there are no
records telling us exactly what his itinerary was. He returned home a far more cultivated
and mature man than he was when he left. Allen, meanwhile returned home in 1753 and became
a successful planter on the family property just outside Halifax. In 1766, Robin died and
chose his two sons to be his executors along with his friend Joseph John Alston. His vast
lands were divvied up between the two boys. Allen built his estate Mt. Gallant
across the river in Northampton County on his inherited property, while Willie built his
estate The Grove in Halifax County, probably between 1772 and 1775 using many
of the architectural details from his fathers house The Castle. Allen
and Willie were successful planters in the area and after their marriages, among the
Willie was, while still a bachelor. a free wheeling sportsman who bred and raced horses
and was known to bet large sums. His estate The Grove had in it the first
known bow window anywhere in its great room through which he could watch the horses
race on his own race track out back. He married Mary Montfort in 1776 and had several
children. Their house was known for its hospitality and they were known for their
gathering of the poor and bereft. An unusual trait in those days.
During this period of the latter 60s and into the 70s the stirrings of
rebellion were spreading and the brothers were caught up in the dreams of self rule,
unencumbered with the demands of the far off Crown. Willies politics and ideology
were developing quite differently from his brother who was a conservative and believed
that only the educated men of proven ability and experience with responsibility in owning
property should be leaders. He, Willie, was of the opinion that the common people should
have a say in how society should be run and fought successfully for the Bill of Rights in
North Carolina, and in fact has been given credit for being the creator of the North
Allan, who became a General in the North Carolina Militia during the Revolution,
differed from Willie on the subject of the return of property to the Tories which had been
summarily confiscated, where Willie thought it should be disseminated to the
Willie felt that paper money should be issued to help the common man, whereas Allen was
adamant that money should not be printed without sufficient guarantee to back it up.
Allan, as an elected member of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia approved
the adoption of the Constitution of the United States of America by North Carolina whereas
Willie disagreed, and in fact refused to succeed his brother when Allen was too sick to
continue after serving for a year as a delegate in 1779 and 1780. The Constitution was
finally adopted by North Carolina in Hillsborough in 1789, with the brothers on opposite
They were close personally and socially until a rift occurred between them at some
point during the 1780s or the 1790s which split them and their families apart.
The exact cause doesnt survive, but we can surmise that the reason was political in
those days when political thought was the overwhelming subject in the drawing rooms
throughout the colonies or the fledging United States.
So, this is a brief description of the brothers and their position in the countryside
where the sad young man was approached in front of a tavern in Halifax in 1773. Willie,
one of the most powerful men in the colony, known for his sympathy and compassion for the
common man, with an intellect equaled by few others, engaged him in a labored
What is your name?
I have none, the young man said.
Where is your home?
I have none, again was the reply.
Willie engaged him in kindly conversation, and took him home to The
Grove where he remained for a year or more, leaving Halifax for several months, then
returning again. Some of those months were spent at Mount Gallant, the home of
Alan Jones, and in fact he recovered from a bout of typhoid fever there under the care of
Allans second wife, Rebecca during the first months. A close relationship developed
between the brothers and the sailor. In the meantime, the winds of war were developing and
John Paul, having adopted the ways of the aristocratic Joneses, and being wholly
sympathetic to the revolutionary positions of the brothers, expressed a desire to put his
expertise as a ships captain at the disposal of the colonies in the looming showdown with
Both Alan and Willie gave their full support to his desire to go back to sea, and the
following scene has been described with essentially the same details through several
separate family branches via oral history, backed up by written statements of family
members when Admiral Morisons total rejection of the validity of North
Carolinas and the Jones family claim as to how the name change occurred. John
Paul expressed his desire to go back to sea and Willie offered him money to tide him over,
but was refused , so instead offered him his sword, which was accepted with gratitude.
John Paul then asked of the brothers that they allow him to adopt the name
Jones as his new surname, and that he would make them proud of it. Willey and
Alan, flattered, gave him permission and so John Paul became John Paul Jones.
Willie introduced him to Congress through Joseph Hewes who had been appointed by
Congress a member of the Naval Committee, who caused him to be appointed a first
lieutenant in the American Navy on December 22, 1775. His subsequent career in the Navy is
history, the most famous incident, of course, being his great naval victory in the battle
between his Bonhomme Richard and the British Man of War Serapis in
view of the English shoreline off Flamborough Head in Yorkshire.
Since there has been no updated biography of John Paul Jones since Admiral
Morisons A Sailors Biography which either accepts or rejects the
North Carolina Tradition, I would like to address a couple of the principal
reasons that the family, that is the descendents of Willie and Allen Jones, believe that
they are correct in making the claim that his surname is their Jones.
Admiral Morison says, here I quote, that
the tradition even acquired properties. In the Naval Academy at the Museum at
Annapolis, is a broad sword presented by Rear Admiral R. F. Nicholson, U. S. N., in 1924,
which to quote the museums catalog at that time According to tradition was
given by Willie Jones of North Carolina in 1775 to John Paul Jones, used by Jones during
the Revolution and given by him to Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr. Later presented
to the Nicholson family. There is no inscription on the sword and John Paul Jones, so far
as evidence exists never even met Theodosia Burr. There is certainly no reason why he
should have given her the sword."
Here Elizabeth Cotton refers to the Honorable Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy
in the cabinet of Woodrow Wilson, and Ambassador to Mexico during the administration of
Franklin Roosevelt, and his address to The North Carolina Literary and Historical Society
wherein he traces the history of the sword as follows:
It is known that the Naval officer (John Paul Jones) presented the sword to Judge
Matthew Davis of South Carolina, who gave it to his intimate friend, Aaron Burr, who gave
it to his daughter Theodosia Alston, who gave it to Mr. Duchachet, of Philadelphia, who in
turn presented it to his nephew, Commodore Somerville Nicholson, father of Admiral
Nicholson to whom it now belongs.
It is on loan to the Naval Academy Museum where it is on display. This documented
provenance, which corrected the museum catalog, effectively rebuts Morisons
Morison allows as how John Paul may have met Willie somewhere - in Edenton,
the port city at he mouth of the Roanoke River, where he may have gone looking for work at
Hewes & Smith, the enterprise partly owned by Joseph Hewes. It seems this would have
been a strange place for a man, supposedly attempting to be incog to go,
because the port would have been full of the kind of people who might recognize him.
Morison continues that the negative evidence against John Paul taking the name as a
compliment to Willie and Allan Jones is overwhelming, basing his conclusions, among
others, as follows:
No letters exist. We know that all of the Willie and Allan Jones correspondence were
lost when a fire destroyed Willies granddaughters house in Virginia in the
John Paul Jones never mentions the Jones brothers in any known correspondence. This is
true, but we should keep in mind that no letters of either Willie or Allans survive,
yet family members have stated they remember seeing letters from John Paul to Mrs. Allan
Jones. Admittedly, there is no documentary evidence.
Morison says that John Paul had over a dozen casts of a bust of him by French sculptor
Houdon, and presented them to various American friends, but none to Allan or Willie or any
other North Carolinians. This is true, however John Paul Jones diary states that he
only gave them to those who asked for one with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, at the
time the American Minister to France, to whom he was particularly indebted at the time.
Elizabeth Cotton writes in her book that her friend, Mrs. Robert T. Newcomb, a direct
descendant of Willie and Mary Jones, heard her mother relate how her mother, a great
granddaughter of Willie Jones, speak many times of how her grandmother grew up, until she
was 14 years old at The Grove, with her Grandmother, Sarah Welsh Jones Burton,
Willies daughter. She heard often of letters received by Mrs. Willie Jones from John
Paul Jones. In fact, the famous man sent to little Sarah a gold brooch and a cap of
beautiful French lace. The brooch was always worn on important occasions, when she was
married to Hutchens Burton and to his inauguration as Governor of North Carolina on
December 7, 1825. Elizabeth Cotton has held in her hands the delicate lace and the brooch,
now owned by Mrs. Newcomb, which is small, almost square with a space in the center which
once held a lock of hair, long since gone, that of John Paul Jones. Prior to the
publication of Elizabeth Cottons book, this information was not available to anyone.
It was part of the familys oral history, with the backup of the objects, again
identified by oral history. Would the women of those successive generations consistently
lie about the provenance? It seems most unlikely.
Finally, I want to quote a paragraph from A Genealogical History by Colonel
Cadwallader Jones, C.S.A. of Columbia, South Carolina, Grandson of General Allan Jones,
published in 1899, the year of his death. He writes:
Willie Jones lived at the The Grove near Halifax. These old mansions,
grand in their proportions, were the home of abounding hospitality. In connection, I may
mention that when John Paul visited Halifax, then a young sailor and a stranger, he made
the acquaintance of those grand old patriots, Allan and Willie Jones; he a young man but
an old tar, with a bold frank sailor bearing that attracted their attention. He became a
frequent visitor at their houses, where he was always welcome. He soon grew fond of them,
and as a mark of his esteem and admiration he adopter their name saying that if he
lived he would make them proud of it. Thus John Paul became John Paul Jones - it was
his fancy. He named his ship Bonhomme Richard in compliment to Benjamin Franklin and his
Richards Almanac He named himself Jones in compliment to Allan and
Willie Jones. When the first notes of War sounded he obtained letters from these brothers
to Joseph Hewes, member of Congress from North Carolina, and through his influence
received his first commission in the navy. I am the oldest living descendent of General
Allan Jones. I remember my Aunt, Mrs. Willie Jones, who survived her husband many years,
and when a boy I heard these fact spoken of often in both families.
So, this is the family legend, or perhaps it should be called a tradition
which takes exception to what Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, the author of what is
considered the definitive biography of this wonderful character, says about his surname
Jones. I have tried to present some of the arguments in favor of our legend, but run into
the problem that , in spite of oral history, historians have a difficult time putting
their names to statements that cannot be backed up by documentation. The family stands by
tradition and oral history, believing that memories, such as is demonstrated by
Cadwallader Jones, Mrs. Robert Newcomb and others not mentioned in this paper but which
appear in Elizabeth Cottons book, are too consistent in detail to dismiss as
unworthy of mention in serious historical dissertations.
John Paul Jones was a giant figure in the Naval History of our country. During his
career he was the first to put onto paper the beginnings of the regulations which regulate
how the Navy operates today. The battle which brought him fame, between his Bonhomme
Richard and the British Serapis is worthy of describing briefly, because it illustrates
what a feisty character he was.
Commodore Jones had, for some weeks, in the summer and early fall of 1779 been cruising
the coasts of England, accompanied by three other ships, one of which, the Alliance, was
captained by a French Captain named Landais, who, because of differing views wanted
nothing more than to see Jones destroyed. The small force had been very successful, taking
a number of prizes and in general, terrorizing the British countryside. In the early
afternoon of the 23rd of September, 1779 as they were sailing north in light winds, they
sighted a fleet of 41 sail approaching Flamborough Head, a convoy from the Baltic escorted
by the British frigate Serapis (44 guns) and the sloop of war Countess of Scarborough (20
guns). The Commodore realized that a long sought opportunity had arrived!
The H.M.S. Serapis was commanded by Captain Richard Pearson RN, was a new
copper-bottomed frigate rated at 44 guns, but with 50; a main battery of 20
eighteen-pounders on a lower gun deck (compared with Richards 6); 20 nine-pounders
on an upper covered gun deck (compared with Richards 28 twelve-pounders), and 10
six-pounders on the quarterdeck (where Richard had 6 nine-pounders), making the Serapis a
far stronger ship that the Richard.
Upon sighting the Richard, the convoy cracked on sail and headed north to take refuge
under the guns of Scarborough Castle. Serapis changed course to get between the Richard
and the other American ships and the convoy, not flinching at the opportunity to engage a
superior number of ships. Because of light winds, Jones realized that he would have to
take or sink the two escorts in order to get at the convoy. He readied the ship for action
and at 6:00 signaled his ships to action. The Alliance would have none of it and hauled to
sea and his other ship, the Pallas veered off leaving the Richard alone to face the
Serapis. The Pallas redeemed herself later by engaging and taking the Countess of
Scarborough. Jones fourth ship, the Vengeance simply sailed around watching.
The battle started with the Serapis and the Richard firing broadsides at each other,
both maneuvering to gain position for additional broadsides. Two of Joness
eighteen-pounders exploded and put the others out of commission, killing many gunners and
blowing up part of the deck above. The Commodore realized that he would not prevail in a
gun to gun duel and that he would have to attempt to board and grapple. In the subsequent
maneuvering the two ships collided, Serapiss bowsprit against the Richards
mizzen. At this point, Jones himself lashed the two ships together, and they pirouetted
around and ended up side by side, bow to stern and stern to bow. It was at this moment
that Captain Pearson called out Has your ship struck? and Paul Jones made the
I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT.
Because the ships were tightly side by side, the continuing cannon fire was effective
in doing great damage to the ships, but less effective in killing the crews, however the
American Marines in the rigging of the Richard were extremely effective with their
musketry and grenades, making the deck of the Serapis a death trap. The battle raged on,
and the Alliance, as mentioned, captained by the not so loyal Landais circled and fired
several broadsides, not at the Serapis, but at the Bonhomme Richard, killing several men
and putting a hole in the hull. This could not have been accidental as all the proper
signals were flying.
The battle continued, Commodore Jones himself manning one of the last nine-pounders,
was begged by one of his sailors to strike, but he cried no, I will sink, I will
never strike! At about 10:30, the battle having raged on since 6:30, one of the
marines in the rigging dropped a grenade into an open hatch of the Serapis and ignited a
store of powder killing at least twenty men, and the mainmast of the Serapis began to go.
At this Captain Pearson lost his nerve and struck his colors, thus ending the long ordeal.
Commodore Jones and his crew took over and, believe it or not, Captain Pearson was invited
into Commodore Joness cabin for a glass of wine! War was conducted differently in
those days. Two days later the Bonhomme Richard, mortally wounded, sank.
His fame was instantaneous, a Sword of gold presented by King Louis XVI, letters of
congratulation from Franklin and Washington, and from Congress a vote of thanks and a gold
medal. He subsequently fought as a mercenary for Catherine the Great of Russia and ended
his days in Paris, all but forgotten by the country he so bravely served. He died on July
18, 1792 and was buried in a paupers grave.
It wasnt until 1899 that through the efforts of General Horace Porter, Ambassador
to France, a search for his unmarked grave was started. It wasnt until 1905 that his
grave, finally identified, was opened and his body exhumed and identified. President
Theodore Roosevelt sent four cruisers to bring his body home, knowing the propaganda value
for the Navy. It was placed in a temporary vault in Annapolis where it remained until it
was interred in the crypt of the chapel of the Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland.
Congress, after all those years, finally appropriated funds for a marble sarcophagus with
surroundings reminiscent of Napoleons tomb. An appropriate ending for one of our
Countrys most enduring heroes.
A Little About the Author of this Paper,
Halcott Green Grant
Columbia, South Carolina in 1927, and moved with his family to Weston, Massachusetts in
Attended Noble and Greenough School in Dedham,
Massachusetts, graduating in the winter of 1945 and entered Harvard College for a term
prior to entering the Navy just before V-J day. He graduated from Harvard with the class
Worked for United-Carr Fastener Corporation for
17 years in their sales department. Then became a Manufacturers Representative, first with
an existing firm, and later forming his own company, Grant Associates, representing firms
in the custom manufacturing business. In 1997 his son Robert bought the business and is
currently running it successfully.
Cornelia Paine was sent by her father, Robert T.
Paine, of Redlands, to Boston to attend the Katherine Gibbs School, during which time she
met Halcott; they were married in 1953 and had 5 children, 4 boys and a girl..
(Incidentally, Cornelias Grandfather,
Charles Treat Paine, and her Great Grandfather, Charles Russell Paine, were both past
Presidents of the Fortnightly Club.)
After selling his business in 1997, they moved
from Weston, Massachusetts, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, before coming to Redlands in
2000. They live on the property where Cornelias family have lived for several
Halcott served as a Trustee and President of the
Meadowbrook School in Weston, a small private primary school , as a member of the Weston
Town Building Committee and as a member of the Town of Weston Finance Committee for 7
He is a member of the Society of Colonial Wars in
Massachusetts and a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, founded in 1791. He
currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Redlands Symphony Association.