THE FORTNIGHTLY CLUB
OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

MEETING #1683

4:00 P.M.

April 24, 2003


A Family Legend

grant03.jpg (24272 bytes)

by Halcott G. Grant

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


 

SYNOPSIS

 

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 Sailor’s Biography” printed in 1959, relegates this theory to his appendices and states that he doesn’t think it true.

Evidence to support the oral history of the “North Carolina Position” and the family tradition is contained in two books printed after Morison’s biography: Elizabeth Cotton’s “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 don’t 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, can’t be given the same weight in reconstructing the past.

The paper ends with a short description of the momentous Naval battle between the United States’s Bonhomme Richard and Britain’s 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 didn’t 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 mariner’s 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 West Indies.

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 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 spring.

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 Mungo’s 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 Mungo’s father heard about his son’s 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 ship’s 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 doesn’t seem to be any record of our hero’s 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 wouldn’t 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 captain’s 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 seaman’s 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 wasn’t necessary. However, there was no authority in Tobago to try an Admiralty case and his friends in Tobago felt he wouldn’t 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 Stewart Mawey.

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 John’s 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 John’s 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 Morison’s “John Paul Jones, A Sailor’s 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 Willie’s daughter’s 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 gentlemen’s correspondence is included in Elizabeth Cotton’s volume, signing on to the premise put forward.

Margaret Devereux, my mother’s 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 father’s house “The Castle”. Allen and Willie were successful planters in the area and after their marriages, among the social leaders.

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 it’s 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 it’s 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 60’s and into the 70’s 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. Willie’s 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 Carolina Constitution.

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 “Have-nots”.

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 sides.

They were close personally and socially until a rift occurred between them at some point during the 1780’s or the 1790’s which split them and their families apart. The exact cause doesn’t 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 conversation:

“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 Allan’s 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 the British.

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 Morison’s total rejection of the validity of North Carolina’s 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 Morison’s “A Sailor’s 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 museum’s 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 Morison’s position.

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:

  1. No letters exist. We know that all of the Willie and Allan Jones correspondence were lost when a fire destroyed Willie’s granddaughter’s house in Virginia in the late 1860s.

  2. 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 Allan’s survive, yet family members have stated they remember seeing letters from John Paul to Mrs. Allan Jones. Admittedly, there is no documentary evidence.

  3. 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, Willie’s 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 Cotton’s book, this information was not available to anyone. It was part of the family’s 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 “Richard’s 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 Cotton’s 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 Richard’s 6); 20 nine-pounders on an upper covered gun deck (compared with Richard’s 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 Jones’s 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, Serapis’s bowsprit against the Richard’s 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 immortal reply,

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 Jones’s 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 pauper’s grave.

It wasn’t until 1899 that through the efforts of General Horace Porter, Ambassador to France, a search for his unmarked grave was started. It wasn’t 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 Napoleon’s tomb. An appropriate ending for one of our Country’s most enduring heroes.

A Little About the Author of this Paper,
Halcott Green Grant

Born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1927, and moved with his family to Weston, Massachusetts in 1930.

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 of 1948.

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, Cornelia’s 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 Cornelia’s family have lived for several generations.

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 years.

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.


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