The Magazine

'Deathless Fame'

How the British view America's first naval hero.

Jun 8, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 36 • By JOSEPH F. CALLO
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Arguably more important, but not explored, is the conclusion that Jones's attacks in Ranger against the British Isles had a strategic effect on the American Revolution that went beyond the victory of one relatively small Continental Navy ship over a comparable Royal Navy vessel. Those attacks enabled Jones to get inside the British military decision cycle, an achievement of inestimable value to the American cause in their War of Independence, and a point consistently missed by many analyses of Jones's career.

Walker's link between Jones's deployment in Ranger and its follow-up attack with a stronger force is established with a chapter describing Jones's efforts in France to secure a more powerful ship for a more telling blow against the British homeland. It was during those efforts with his French benefactors that Jones wrote one of his most character-revealing lines: "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."

Once again, the formidable noncombat problems that Jones had to overcome to pursue his implausible career are in evidence, as are speculations by Walker about the possible financial motivations driving the French, Jones, and his American civilian supervisors in Paris.

Towards the end of his chapter on Jones's efforts to mount a second attack against Britain's home shores, Walker has it right when he describes Jones's departure in 1779 in the Continental Navy Ship Bonhomme Richard and a mixed squadron of American and French ships. Alluding to a just-failed French invasion of England, he writes: "They were quite unaware, that far from being a mere sideshow, the enterprise upon which they had just set out would in the end turn into the main event."

Jones's orders from Benjamin Franklin were quite liberal, the best kind for an aggressive naval officer, and he took his small squadron up the Atlantic coast of Ireland, over the north tip of Scotland, and then down the Yorkshire coast, attacking British commerce along the way. In a reprise of his mission in Ranger, he roiled the country-
side by his presence, and despite the fact that his plans for major attacks against Leith, Edinburgh, and Newcastle were thwarted by circumstances.

In another similarity with his Ranger deployment, Jones experienced ongoing command problems. But this time the problems were not with the crew of his own ship but with the other captains in his squadron, particularly Pierre Landais in the American frigate Alliance. In this instance, as Walker points out, Jones's command problems were precipitated by an agreement, forced on him by his French benefactors, which authorized his captains to ignore any orders from Jones that they felt were not in their individual interest! That was a guarantee for discord throughout Jones's entire deployment in
Bonhomme Richard, and there were times when his deployment could well have foundered on that discord.

Still, the most significant parallel between Jones's mission in Bonhomme Richard and his previous attack against the British Isles was that it ended with a single-ship action. In the latter case, the battle was between Jones in Bonhomme Richard and the experienced British captain Richard Pearson in HMS Serapis. That action took place off Flamborough Head, not far from the port of Scarborough, and once again, the result was a decisive victory for Jones and the capture of his adversary.

The action was immortalized by Jones's improbable response when asked if he had struck his colors--"I have not yet begun to fight"--and this time the battle's outcome resonated, and not just in the American colonies and in Britain, but in the capitals of Europe as well.

After Jones's victory off Flamborough Head and the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the new United States entered a period when it actually had no navy at all. At that point Jones entered the navy of Catherine the Great as a rear admiral and led a Russian fleet to victory over a Turkish force at the Battle of the Liman in 1788.

In the end, Jones wound up back in France, where he had earlier become a celebrity of considerable magnitude. At that point, however, he was yesterday's hero, and he died alone in a modest rented apartment in Paris in 1792, was buried in a small cemetery outside the Paris city limits, and was forgotten for more than a century.

Notwithstanding this somewhat abridged view of the life of the man Theodore Roosevelt described as having earned "deathless fame," John Paul Jones: Maverick Hero deserves a place on the shelf of anyone with more than a passing interest in the Revolutionary

War, and in particular, anyone interested in the British perspective on the Continental Navy's best-known naval hero.

Joseph F. Callo is the author of John Paul Jones: America's First Sea Warrior.