Augustus C. Buell.

Paul Jones, founder of the American navy, a history online

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no seasoned timber of scantling sizes suitable for ships of
the line. Hence, if we build them — which few of our ship-
yards can do — we must put green timber in them, fresh cut



from the forests. Ships so built must be most perishable.
In short, every element of our situation seems to me to con-
demn the project of building ships of the line.

Even supposing all the above considerations to be laid
aside or overcome, we may yet survey the financial side. A
seventy-four-gun ship on modem lines must be at least of
1,600 to 1,650 tons burthen. My information as late as
two years ago, based upon Parliamentary estimates and
dockyard reports in England, is that a seventy-four, built
at Chatham in 1773, cost between £19 and £20 per ton,
when armed and equipped, ready to take on crew and sea-
stores. In the present state of our resources I do not be-
lieve we could do as well, notwithstanding our cheaper and
more plentiful supply of tim.ber ; at least of standing tim-
ber ; because the other elements of building, such as metal
for fastenings, armament, etc., would be much dearer than
in England. But supposing we could do as well, our
seventy-four-gun ship of 1,600 tons must cost at least
£28,500 to £30,000. Besides, as ships of that class must
mount at least twenty-four-pounders on their lower gun-
decks, where are we to get the guns ? And even so, we
would when done, have only a green timber ship for our
£30, 000 that must begin dry-rotting in her hull almost be-
fore her rigging is set up.

Nor would I go to the other extreme and counsel the flt-
ting-out of small vessels able only to harass the enemy's
commerce. That character of sea-warfare, important as it
is, may, I think, be left in the main to the enterprise or
cupidity, or both, of private individuals or associations
who will take out letters-of -marque and equip privateers.

Tou perceive that I now come to consider a class of ships
we do need ; that is, frigates. This class, rating from thir-
ty-two to thirty-six guns, can sustain long voyages which
the smaller craft cannot do. We can build a frigate in half
the time required for a seventy-four, and at little if any
more than half the cost. My latest knowledge of the cost
of a frigate built in England is one of thirty-six guns com-



missioned in 1774, of 820 tons, costing, ready for sea-stores,
£13,400. I am sure we could do as well as that here, and
besides, there is much timber on hand in our private ship-
yards, or at least the larger ones, both In New England and
on the Delaware, cut some time ago, seasoned, and intended
for large merchant vessels, that could be worked into the
frames, planking, and spars of thirty-two-gun, or even thir-
ty-six-gun, frigates.

I have the general plans and dimensions of the latest
thirty-six-gun, twelve-pounder frigate of the French Navy.
[This was La Terpsichore.] Her dimensions are as follows:

Length on the gun-deck 142 feet

" of keel for tonnage 123 "

Extreme breadth 37 "

Depth of hold 13 "

Burthen in tons 848 to 850

Main-deck battery. 26 long 12s

Quarter-deck battery 6 " 98

Forecastle battery 6 " 98

Complement, all hands 313

I would undertake to arrange for the building of such
a frigate here in Philadelphia, within sight of the place
where the Committee sits, and guarantee that her cost, ex-
cept the guns, but otherwise ready for crew and sea-stores,
should not exceed £15,000, and I think it could be kept
within £14, 500 by careful economy. It would be wise to
provide lor the building of at least six such frigates. I
would not counsel smaller ones, such as twenty-eights or
even thirty-twos ; because the drift of progress is to make
frigates heavier all the time, and anything inferior to the
twelve-pounder, thirty-six-gun frigate is now behind the
times. On the other hand, I would take a step further than
the English and French have yet gone in frigate design. I
would create a class of eighteen-pounder frigates to rate



thirty-eight or forty guns. Thus far eighteen-pounders
have not been mounted in single-decked ships. Take the
ship described above, add eight feet to her length, two feet
to her breadth, and one foot to her depth of hold. That
will give you a burthen of 1,000 tons or very nearly. She
will carry twenty-six long eighteens on her gun-deck and
fourteen long nines on quarter-deck and forecastle. By this
means we shall have a ship of frigate build and rate, but
one-half again stronger than any other frigate now afloat.
In addition to the six already proposed, to carry twelve-
pounders, it would be wise to provide for at least four of
the new class of eighteen-pounder frigates that I propose,
and, if possible, six.

We should, at the earliest moment, have a squadron of
four, five, or six frigates like the above — either or both
classes — constantly in British waters, harboring and refit-
ting in the ports of France, which nation must from self-
interest alone, lean toward us from the start, and must
sooner or later openly espouse our cause.

Keeping such a squadron in British waters, alarming their
coasts, intercepting their trade, and descending now and
then upon their least protected ports, is the only way that
we, with our slender resources, can sensibly affect our enemy
by sea- warfare.

Rates of insurance will rise ; necessary supplies from
abroad, particularly naval stores for the British dockyards,
will be cut off ; transports carrying troops and supply-ships
bringing military stores for land operations against us will
be captured, and last but not least, a considerable force of
their ships and seamen will be kept watching or searching
for our frigates.

In planning and building our new frigates I would keep
fast sailing, on all points, in view as a prime quality. But
no oflQcer of true spirit would conceive it his duty to use
the speed of his ship in escape from an enemy of like or
nearly like force. If I had an eighteen-pounder frigate of
the class above described, I should not consider myself justi-



fled in showing her heels to a forty-four of the present time,
or even to a fifty-gun ship built ten years ago.

A sharp battle now and then, or the capture and carrying
as prize Into a French port of one or two of their crack
frigates, would raise us more in the estimation of Europe,
where we now most of all need countenance, than could the
defeat or even capture of one of their armies on the land
here in America. And at the same time it would fill all
England with dismay. If we show to the world that we
can beat them afloat with an equal force, ship to ship, it
will be more than anyone else has been able to do in mod-
ern times, and it will create a great and most desirable sen-
timent of respect and favor towards us on the Continent of
Europe, where really, I think, the question of our fate must
ultimately be determined.

Beyond this, if by exceedingly desperate fighting, one of
our ships shall conquer one of theirs of markedly superior
force, we shall be hailed as the pioneers of a new power on
the sea with untold prospects of development, and the
prestige if not the substance of English dominion over
the ocean will be forever broken. Happy, indeed, will
be the lot of the American captain upon whom fortune
shall confer the honor of fighting that battle 1

The rest of this unique paper is an apology for its
length and an assurance that " the opinions offered
are based upon long and arduous experience at sea,
and drawn from diligent study of the modes and ef-
fects of maritime warfare."

Mr. Hewes says that this paper " summarily put
an end to consideration of ships of the line, and the
programme of new ships authorized by the Resolu-
tion of December 13, 1775, was, with a few changes,
laid down on the lines traced by Paul Jones." Six
twelve-poimder frigates, though rating thirty-two



instead of thirty-six gxms, were at once authorized •,
and the next year one eighteen-pounder frigate was
ordered to be built at Salisbury, Mass., and another
was contracted for at Amsterdam by our Commis-
sioners to France, Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane, to
be built in the shipyard of the Dutch East India

•These two ships, as originally ordered, were to be bmlt on the
lines and plans of La Terpsichore as expanded hj Paul Jones for an
eighteen-pounder frigate. But the one ordered built in New England,
which became the Alliance (built at Salisbury, on the Merrimac), was
actually laid down and constructed on the original lines of the French
frigate as furnished by Jones, with the single exception that her length
was increased by seven feet. When completed she was armed with
twenty-six long twelve-poundera on the gun-deck and ten smaller guns —
nines and sixes — on the quarter-deck and forecastle. The one contracted
for in Holland was laid down on Jones's expanded lines, but was further
lengthened by five feet. This vessel will receive attention later, in these
pages. She was known at first as the Indien, and after some vicissitudes
found her way into our navy as the South Carolina. She was planned
to carry thirty long eighteen-pounders and fourteen long nines. But a
Dutch officer named GUlon, who was employed by Silas Deane to super-
intend her construction, altered the battery-plan by substituting short
thirty-six-pounders for the long eighteens. These short guns were the
precursors of the "carronade" invented about twenty years later.
They were then known as "Swedish guns," from their origin in that




AsotiT the middle of December, 1775, the com-
mittee recommended the appointment of five cap-
tains, five first lieutenants, and eight junior lieuten-
ants. There had been earlier appointments by-
individual Colonies, but this was the first national
navy list — the foundation of the American Navy.
The senior captain, Ezek Hopkins, was nominated
commodore, and the four other captains were Dud-
ley Saltonstall, Nicholas Biddle, Abraham Whipple,
and John B. Hopkins. Paul Jones was placed at
the head of the list of lieutenants.

This arrangement had been the subject of heated
debate in the committee, between Mr. Adams, of
Massachusetts, and Mr. Hewes, of North Carolina.
Mr. Adams was the particular champion of Dudley
Saltonstall ; Mr. Hewes of Paul Jones. In his de-
scription of this debate, Mr. Hewes does not mince
words. He says :

The attitude of Mr. Adams was in keeping with the al-
ways imperious and often arrogant tone of the Massachusetts
people at that time. They contended that they had shed the
first blood, both their own and that of the enemy. They
urged that they had already yielded everything to Virginia
and Pennsylvania in the organization and command ol



the Army ; that they, representing the principal maritime
Colony, were entitled to the leading voice in the creation
of the Naval force. Mr. Adams went so far as to say that
Mr. Saltonstall, a native of the Colony and having com-
manded none other than Colonial vessels, stood on a differ-
ent footing from Paul Jones, who had never commanded
any but English ships with English crews, had no ac-
quaintance with Colonial seamen and, in fact, had not been
a resident of the Colonies more than about two years. As
between such antecedents, Mr. Adams declared there could
be no ground for debate. I then proposed to make six cap-
tains instead of five, thus placing Paul Jones at the foot of
that list instead of at the head of the lieutenants. To this
Mr. Adams demurred on the ostensible ground that there
would be no ship for him to command. I then perceived
that this was a cunning ruse of Mr. Adams who wished to
keep Jones in the grade of lieutenant so that Captain
fcJaltonstall, who was to command the Alfred if Mr. Adams
could bring it about, might have the benefit of Jones's ser-
vices as first lieutenant of that ship.

The Committee having adjourned, I felt it my duty to
apprise Mr. Jones of all the facts. I had some apprehen-
sion of an indignant protest from him, knowing his ex-
tremely sensitive spirit, but was most agreeably disap-
pointed at his reply. He said: "I am sorry Mr. Adams
holds a poor opinion of me ; but I am here to serve the
cause of human rights ; not to promote the fortunes of
Paul Jones. If, by devotion to the one I can secure the
other, well and good. But if either must wait, let it be
my fortunes. Do not debate the point further with Mr.
Adams. Let the Resolution go as it is. Leave me at the
head of the lieutenants' list. I will cheerfully enter upon
the duties of first lieutenant of the Alfred under Captain
Saltonstall. Time will make all things even. "

The next morning I had the satisfaction of relating all
this to Mr. Adams, and that he felt the implied rebuke was
plainly evident.



The resolution as agreed upon and reported from
the committee was passed by the Congress, Decem-
ber 22, 1775. By its provisions Ezek Hopkins was
made senior officer of the Colonial or Continental
Navy, then consisting of four ships — the Alfred,
Captain Dudley Saltonstall; the Columbus, Cap-
tain Abraham Whipple ; the Andrea Doria, Captain
Nicholas Biddle ; and the Cabot, Captain John B.
Hopkins. The first lieutenants, after Paul Jones,
weare Rhodes Arnold, Eli Stansbury, Hersted Hacker,
and Jonathan Pitcher. The junior lieutenants were
Benjamin Seabury, Joseph Olney, Elisha Warner,
Thomas Weaver, James McDougall, John Fanning,
Ezekiel Burrows, and Daniel Vaughan.

Of the captains in this list New England surely
had the lion's share. Mr. Adams succeeded in get-
ting for his section four out of five — the two Hop-
kinses, Saltonstall, and Whipple. Pennsylvania,
through the pertinacity of Eobert Morris, got one
— the brave and accomplished, but unfortunate,
Nicholas Biddle. Out of the total number — five
captains and thirteen lieutenants — but two names
live with any lustre whatever — Nicholas Biddle and
Paul Jones. What the career of Nicholas Biddle
might have been, had the fortunes of war been
kind to him, may be inferred from the fact that his
brave life ended almost before his career had be-
gun by the blowing up of his little thirty -two-gun
frigate, the Eandolph, in his desperate attempt to
measure strength with the British ship Yarmouth,
of exactly twice his force — sixty-four guns — about
sundown, March 7, 1778, off Barbados. Just before
his ship blew up, Biddle, satisfied by twenty minutes'


broadsiding that Ms little frigate was no match for
the English two-decker at that sort of work, was
wearing round to close with the enemy and lay him
on board ; and at the moment of the explosion he
was so near the accomplishment of his purpose that
several of the Yarmouth's crew were injured by frag-
ments of the Randolph's hull and spars that fell on
board the enemy. That the Randolph was well han-
dled and bravely defended is attested by the losses
in the Yarmouth while the little frigate was alive
and fighting. And for even this sad fragment of
our naval history the country is indebted to four
survivors of the Randolph's gallant crew who were
picked up by the Yarmouth herself, floating on a
piece of the Randolph's wreckage, five days after the

The story of these four survivors and the suffer-
ings they had endured while afloat from the evening
of March 7th to the morning of the 12th on a piece
of wreck, without food or water, so impressed the
humane Captain Vincent, of the Yarmouth, that he
did not treat them as prisoners of war, but shortly
afterward, when approaching the American coast,
hove to off Savannah and sent them ashore under a
flag of truce, not even exacting from them a parole.
One of them was a youth of not over twenty years,
son of a prominent and opulent South Carolina
merchant. He had been a volunteer midshipman
in the Randolph. His name, which will appear
more than once in these pages further on, was John

So much digression for the sake of Nicholas Bid-
die's memory needs no apology. The pity is that



fate made his story so soon told. Speaking' of the
" fiTe captains," long afterward, Paul Jones him-
self said : " Four of them were respectable skippers ;
and they all outlived the war ! One of them was the
kind of naval captain that the God of Battles makes.
That one was Nick Biddle — poor, brave Nick !— and
he died in hopeless battle with a foe double his own
strength — half of his hapless ship going' down and
the other haK going up by explosion of his maga-

Though sixth on the list, and only the senior lieu-
tenant, Paul Jones was the first of the pioneer
officers of our infant navy to receive his commission,
which was handed to him in the old Hall of Inde-
pendence, Philadelphia, by John Hancock in person,
shortly after noon, December 22, 1775. The other
officers, above and below him, received theirs at
different times as they reached Philadelphia or re-
ported at Independence Hall.

Immediately after receiving his commission, Paul
Jones, accompanied by Mr. Hancock, Eobert Morris,
Joseph Hewes, John Langdon, Philip Livingston,
Anthony Wayne, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Har-
rison, Charles Carroll, William Pinckney, and others
like them, to the number of twenty -five or twenty-
six, went on board the Alfred, which was moored
about a cable's length off Chestnut Street wharf
Captain Saltonstall had not yet arrived from Boston.
John Hancock directed Lieutenant Jones to take
command of the Alfred pro tempore and to " break
her pennant " — the naval phrase meaning to place a
man-of-war in commission. Obeying this order,
Paul Jones flung out the first American flag ever



shown on a regular man-of-war. This was not the
Stars and Stripes, but the " Pine-tree and Eattle-
snake " emblem with the motto " Don't Tread on
Me ! " Though he had the honor of hoisting it for
the first time aboard ship, Jones never fancied this
emblem. Some time later, in one of his journals,
he said of it :

I was always at loss to know by what queer fancy or by
whose notion that device was first adopted. For my own
part I could never see how or why a venomous serpent
could be the combatant emblem of a brave and honest folk
fighting to be free. Of course I had no choice but to
break the pennant as it was given to me. But I always
abhorred the device and was glad when it was discarded for
one much more symmetrical as well as appropriate, a year
and a half later.

The pioneer squadron of our new navy, as has
been remarked, consisted of four ships. Of these
the Alfred was the only one ready for commission
December 22, 1775. The other three were in various
stages of preparation the Doria, Nicholas Biddle's
ship, being the most advanced. As for the squad-
ron as a whole, the inexperience or incompetency of
the new officers, the almost resourceless condition
of the infant government, and the generally inchoate,
not to say chaotic, state of affairs, kept the little
fleet in port until February 17, 1776, when it cleared
Cape Henlopen and stood to the southward and
eastward, bound on an expedition against what was
then called Fort Nassau, New Providence Island, in
the Bahamas.

This cruise lasted from February 17th to April 8,
Vor,. 1—4 49


1776, when the squadron came to anchor in the
harbor of New London. Of its operations, the less
said the better. They consisted of a desultory
descent on New Providence Island in the latter part
of February and a running fight off the east end of
Long Island, April 6th, with the twenty-gun Brit-
ish sloop-of-war, Glasgow, in which the latter, all
things considered, had the better of the action. So
far as Paul Jones was concerned, his subordinate
position made it impossible for him to prevent the
errors or be responsible for the failures of the
cruise. Perhaps the most salutary as well as most
noteworthy result of the whole affair was the dis-
missal of the " Commander-in-Chief," Ezek Hopkins,
from the navy, by resolution of Congress, on Janu-
ary 2d, following, after a fair and exhaustive investi-
gation. Another result was the temporary retire-
ment of Captain Dudley Saltonstall from active
service ; though he was not dismissed, and received
another command a year or more afterward. On
the whole, the New England ^ro^e^es of John Adams
in our pioneer navy list reflected little credit on
their patron, and less on themselves.

Though this ill-assorted and luckless squadron
broke up in the spring of 1776 and resolved itself
into a series of courts-martial, votes of censure, and
dismissals from the service, its fate brought forth at
least one good result. It showed Congress that war
itself is wiser than statesmen in the selection of
warriors ; that the first effect of the blasts of battle
is to winnow the chaff and the wheat apart; and
that powder and ball are no respecters of political
influence or family connections. Incidentally it also



contributed to give Lieutenant Paul Jones an inde-
pendent command and freed him, as the sequel
proved, forever from the incubus of imbecile supe-
riors. His first command was indeed a small one,
but it was all his own, and, fortunately for his fame
and the glory of the American Navy, the order by
virtue of which he assumed it instructed him to re-
port directly to the head of naval authority, the
Marine Committee of the Congress. !Prom that mo-
ment to the end of his eventful career Paul Jones
was always the ranking officer on his station, and
never afterward served under the orders of any
senior. The command which he assumed on May
10, 1776, at Newport, was that of the Providence,
sloop -of- war, fourteen guns and one hundred and
seven men. He took with him, besides his two
negro boys, Cato and Seipio, nine men from the Al-
fred's crew, and as these, with three others he found
in the Providence, followed him through all his
fortunes and through almost inconceivable vicis-
situdes of their own for the rest of the Revolu-
tionary War, or until they fell in action, his history
would manifestly be incomplete without mention
of their names. They were John C. Robinson and
Richard Wallingford, of Philadelphia ; Henry Lunt,
Nathaniel Fanning, Henry Gardner, Owen Star-
buck, Samuel Stacey, and Charles Hill, of Massa-
chusetts, and Thomas Potter, of Baltimore, whom
he took from the Alfred. The three faithful fol-
lowers whom he found in the Providence were
Nathan Sargent, of Portsmouth, N. H. ; "William
Hichborn, of Salem, and Anthony Jeremiah, of Mar-
tha's Vineyard. All these were native Americans



except Eobinson, and one of them could surely "read
his title clear " to American birthright, because he
was a full-blooded Narragansett Indian ; like most
of the remnant of his race then lingering on Martha's
Vineyard, a sailor and a whaleman. This was An-
thony Jeremiah. So far as we can ascertain, no other
full-blooded American Indian has ever served in
our navy.

Jones sailed at once in the Providence to New
York, where he took in stores and shipped a crew of
regular seamen, the old crew of the sloop being, with
the exception of a dozen or so, landsmen — mainly
soldiers loaned from the army. Completing his out-
fit, Jones returned to Newport through the Sound —
being unable to get directly out of New York in con-
sequence of the blockade — and on the 14th of June,
1776, sailed on a general cruise ranging from Ber-
muda to the Banks of Newfoundland. All things
considered, and viewing success as the most im-
portant test of priority, this cruise of the little Prov-
idence, under command of Paul Jones, in the early
part of 1776, may, we think, be fairly described as
the first real, effective cruise of an American man-
of-war. It surely and beyond dispute was the first
one that reflected credit on our flag or hurt our

This cruise, in view of the small size and feeble
force of the ship, was remarkable alike in boldness,
pertinacity, and success. The seas traversed by the
Providence were full of English cruisers, all superior
in everything except in the resource and alertness
of her commander and the courage of her crew.
She captured sixteen vessels of various descrip-



tions, of which eight were manned and sent in, and
eight were destroyed at sea. The little sloop was

Online LibraryAugustus C. BuellPaul Jones, founder of the American navy, a history → online text (page 4 of 25)