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John Paul Jones
Chapter XIII - 1778

THE next morning Captain Paul Jones woke up to find himself famous; almost overwhelmed with the flattering official and personal attentions of which he was the recipient. The very tangible proofs of his victory stood forth before the eyes of the world, and even those who had held off, sceptical as to the merits of the sailor, could not now deny him the praise he so richly deserved. The Duc de Chartres was the first to come aboard brimming with congratulations, and for the two days the Ranger lay in the harbour her decks were thronged with officers of the fleet and citizens, eager to rejoice with the conqueror, and satisfy themselves of the astounding fact that a British man-of-war lay inert and harmless in a French port.

Then the other side of the picture began to show, and realities had to be faced. The Ranger with her prizes had gone to the dockyard, and the problem of feeding and clothing three hundred men had to be met, with no money from the country he so brilliantly —and so inexpensively—served. The Congress still owed him over fifteen hundred pounds for the Providence and Al/red, whose crews he had paid out of his own pocket. Paul had to find means of paying as well as feeding those dependent on him. He had a letter for 12,000 livres from Congress, which he had not used, so, finding himself in straits for money, he drew upon the Commissioners for 24,000 livres, which would assist in refitting the Ranger and Drake, and contracted with a merchant by the name of Bersolle to supply provisions to his crews and prisoners. The three Commissioners, with that tender care for their own responsibilities and obligations, which seems to have been abnormally developed, promptly dishonoured this draft, putting Jones in a position of frightful embarrassment.

"Could I," he wrote them on May 27th, "suppose that my letters of the ninth and sixteenth current, the first advising you of my arrival and giving reference to the events of my expedition; the last advising you of my draft in favour of Monsieur Bersolle for 24,000 livres (and assigning reasons for that demand) had not made due appearance, I would hereafter, as I do now, enclose copies. Three posts have already arrived here from Paris since Comte d'Orvillers showed me the answer which he received from the minister to the letter which enclosed mine to you. Yet you remain silent. M. Bersolle has this moment informed me of the fate of my bills; the more extraordinary, as I have not yet made use of your letter of credit of the 10th January last, whereby I then seemed entitled to half the amount of my last draft, and I did not expect to be thought extravagant when on the 16th current I doubled that demand. Could this indignity be kept secret I should disregard it; and though it is already public in Brest and in the fleet, as it affects only my private credit I will not complain. I cannot, however, be silent when I find the public credit is involved in the same disgrace. I conceive this might have been prevented. To make me completely wretched, M. Bersolle had told me that he now stops his hand, not only of the necessary articles to refit the ship, but also of the daily provisions. I know not where to find to-morrow's dinner for the great number of mouths that depend on me for food. Are, then, the Continental ships of war to depend on the sale of their prizes for a daily dinner for their men? 'Publish it not in Gath.' My officers, as well as men, want clothes, and the prizes are precluded from being sold before farther orders arrive from the minister. I will ask you, gentlemen, if I have deserved all this? Whoever calls himself an American ought to be protected here. I am unwilling to think that you have intentionally involved me in this sad dilemma at a time when I ought to expect some enjoyment."

What a cruel predicament; if the other two Commissioners were indifferent to the fate of Jones and his crews, why did not Franklin do something for his friend? Certainly, with their opportunities, money could have been borrowed if the funds in hand were not sufficient. It was not hard to get the speculative French to gamble on the chance of the ultimate victory of the revolting colonists. Yet, incredible as it sounds, he was left for a month without the Commissioners relieving the impossible situation. "Two hundred prisoners of war, a number of sick and wounded, and a ship after a severe engagement, in want of stores and provisions. Yet," he tells the King in his journal, "during that time, by his personal credit with Comte d'Orvillers, the Duke de Chartres and the Intendant of Brest, he fed his people and prisoners, cured his wounded, and refitted both the Ranger and Drake for sea."

A piece of remarkable luck, due wholly to the friendship of those Frenchmen who liked him, and helped him to care for the starving and wounded creatures who fought so splendidly for a country that neither fed them nor cared for their welfare, who were only kept from starvation by the efforts of a Scotch- man and the generosity of his French sympathisers. The strange fatality which ruled Paul Jones's meteoric career decreed that he was never to taste the fruits of his triumphs without a lingering flavour of bitterness at the moment when life seemed brightest. Jealousy he had already experienced; calumny had assailed him in his early years, and was to attack him again. He was too brilliant a star in the stormy political firmament to shine unnoticed. Men liked and defended him, women loved him; he grasped offered opportunities, and those who sat inert, expecting fortune to pour her cornucopia of favours into their laps hated him with the envy of sordid spirits, the malice of the unsuccessful. Fame was his goal, ambition satisfied his payment. The poet might have sung of him when he wrote:-

"For glory is the soldier's gain,
The soldier's wealth is honour."

But he had obstacles to overcome which would have quenched hope in the breast of a less tenacious man, and at times only his fatalistic temperament carried him through the dark hours when failure seemed imminent.

In the crude, undisciplined state of the United States Navy, the insubordination of his crews, who could not seem to comprehend the idea that it was essential to act under orders as a machine, without reference to individual preference, was the great annoyance Jones had to contend with. He alludes to it in the journal he wrote for King Louis, which that undecided monarch read at his leisure in the Temple some years later.

"Almost on the instant of beginning the engagement between the Drake and the Ranger, the lieutenant (Simpson), having held up to the crew that, being Americans fighting for liberty, the voice of the people should be taken before the Captain's orders were obeyed, they rose in a mutiny; and that Captain Jones was in the utmost danger of being killed or thrown overboard." Though not mentioned in the official report, there is no occasion to doubt its truth, as while the Ranger waited a refit at Brest, Simpson, hoping to supersede the Captain, lost no opportunity of encouraging mutiny among the crew.

"As Lieutenant Simpson, while under arrest on board the Drake, had constant intercourse with the crew, they thereby became so insolent as to refuse duty, and all hands would go below repeatedly before the Captain's face. It was impossible to trifle at that time, as Comte d'Orvillers had assured Captain Jones, unless he could get the Drake ready to transport the prisoners to America before orders arrived from Court, they would in all probability be given up without exchange, to avoid immediate war with England. It therefore became impossible to suffer the lieutenant to remain any longer among them. Captain Jones had him removed to the ship called the Admiral, where the French confine even the first officers in the service. He had there a good chamber to himself and liberty to walk the deck."

What type of man Simpson was may be gathered from the fact that "the lieutenant endeavoured to desert out of the Admiral, and behaved so extravagant, that Count d'Orvillers, without the knowledge of Captain Jones, ordered him to the prison of the port, where he had a good chamber, and Captain Jones paid his expenses out of his own pocket." Jones displays a sort of contemptuous pity for Simpson, whom he considered weak and easily led by "land sharks," and described as having the "heart of a lion and the brain of a sheep."

Jones ultimately heard from the Commissioners that they were pleased with his victory, but all three, for the only time of the same mind, unanimously signed a letter dishonouring his draft!

"It is easy to comprehend the willingness of the two extremes of Massachusetts Puritan and Virginia cavalier to sign such a letter as that; but the signature of Benjamin Franklin is not so easily understood. However, it was there." The sordid meanness of those men, who sat comfortably in their arm-chairs while others fought their battles, was too much for fighting Paul. He was a hot champion of his adopted country, and demanded, "Is, then, our cause become so mendicant that men who victoriously defend it must take not only the chance of death in battle, but must also face the fate of beggary and even starvation after they have conquered?" He asks them, "Are the Continental ships of war to depend on the sale of their prizes for the daily dinner of their men?

"Has it come to this, that I and my truly poor, brave men must not only fight without pay, but also compel our enemy to feed us?"

The Captain was wrought to a pitch of fiery and just anger. He translated his letter to those nonchalant Commissioners, and put the French version into the hands of his friend de Chartres, who sent it to Maurepas, and he passed it on to Calonne. His friends persuaded Jones not to print it in the Journal de la Marine, one of the Brest weekly papers, as he threatened; goodness knows why, as the whole thing was a secret de Polichinelle; so, over-persuaded, he refrained from giving this well-deserved publicity to the attitude of the Commissioners. Adding insult to injury, these gentlemen informed Jones that he should have applied to a "fiscal agent" by the name of Schweighauser, "who is the person regularly authorised to act as Continental agent at Brest." Jones knew nothing of this "fiscal agent," and made no reference to his existence when he wrote to the men who were enjoying the luxurious quarters provided by Le Ray de Chaumont and the social gaieties of Paris, while he moved heaven and earth to get bread to put in the mouths of their starving countrymen. Having tried in vain to get some recognition, to say nothing of money, from them, Jones took matters into his own hands, as no one seemed able or willing to help him. He had an interview with Bersolle, and "offered to arrange for the hypothecation of the Baltic prize and cargo for the supplies his crew and prisoners needed." To this I3ersolle, who knew something of marine law and admiralty jurisprudence, demurred, as he told Jones that, without the concurrence of the American Commissioners, he would be unable to dispose of the ship, as he could not give a clear title, But Jones knew his ground, his reply showing him as something of a lawyer; and undoubtedly he did not act without advice from those high in French authority.

"In strict point of the law of nations you must consider me not in any way a servant of any master but Congress itself, so far as this purpose is concerned. You, as a subject of the King of France, have no legal knowledge that I am responsible to the Commissioners, because you can have no legal knowledge of any power on the part of the Commissioners in the international sense; as no edict recognising their diplomatic authority has been promulgated. You know them only as certain American persons residing in a quasi-official capacity near the Court of Versailles. You have no warrant to know them in any capacity that can supersede me here, because I now show you my original commission from the Congress, and my orders to command the Ranger, all on the first parchment, with no reference whatever to Commissioners, fiscal agents or any one else. You may therefore, for present purposes, look upon me as the direct naval representative of Congress here. If you doubt my point of law, consult the chancellor of His Most Gracious Majesty's dockyard here. If you find that my legal theory is right, then libel my merchant prize at once by the usual process of your local marine court, irrespective of any other consideration than the debt due, and let me know when the process is to be served on board. I will then arrange in advance to have my prize crew abandon the libelled ship, leaving her in possession of the bailiffs in admiralty. Then she can be adjudicated, condemned for violation of the port laws, and sold like any other merchant ship, in default, in a foreign port."

Bersolle, on consultation with the legal authorities, found Paul's law to be as sound as his seamanship, and, after certain preliminaries, the ship was sold at auction. By order of the Comte d'Orvillers, the stores were bid in by the naval storekeeper. Schweighauser, who shook in his boots if he came within a hundred yards of Jones, dared not bid in the ship, so had her "struck off" to a French ship-broker. After paying all claims due to Bersolle there was considerable money left over. The whole transaction had been quietly financed, by the kindness of d'Orvillers, through a banker, and the surplus money was used to clear off outstanding debts and feed the men. From whom Schweighauser derived his rank and title of "American" or "fiscal agent" is not known. To his great mortification he received not the slightest recognition. Nor were the Commissioners referred or deferred to, for, as Jones remarked, "I could not waste time discussing questions of authority when my crew and prisoners were starving."

"Though some call this a high-handed action, it never was disputed by the Commissioners or Congress." Unquestionably they were glad to have the decision taken out of their hands. Though the action served its purpose, and debts were paid and crews fed, it did not wash away the sting from the heart of a man whom procrastination placed in such an awkward position; also, alas! that it should be so, giving impetus to the rumour that he had been deprived of his command, and was in disgrace to the extent of his drafts not being honoured by the Commissioners. It was one of Paul's black moments, for an aspersion on his personal honour touched him on the raw.

From the first Paul had been suspicious about the whole proceeding, and, as soon as he had the leisure, set about to investigate. He soon ascertained that most of the "American Agents" in French ports were entirely in the pay and under the orders of Arthur Lee, through his "private secretaries." They were at all ports where prizes were likely to be brought in, and conspired with the French brokers "to bid in the prizes at a far smaller price than the real value.

"They made snap sales, and then divided with the ship-brokers the margin between the price paid for the prizes and their real value! Arthur Lee's signature to this letter (May 25) was natural, because he or his creatures had instigated the dishonouring of my draft. John Adams's signature could he explained by his very recent arrival in France and his consequent lack of information as to the kind of people to be dealt with. But Dr. Franklin's signature to it I never could account for, unless because his own honesty was so simple and pure that he could not comprehend or even imagine the existence of such villainy as that of Lee's spies and bandits in the guise of private secretaries and sea transport agents. I confess that towards the last of my inquiry, when the evidence at my hand left no room for a doubt of their guilt, and when also I had to admit the want of means to punish them legally, I could never see one of them without feeling the impulse of homicide come over me. Fortunately I held my hand. But to this day I cannot understand, even if I can excuse myself, why I spared the reptile life of Hezekiah Ford in the courtyard of the post inn at Brest, when he was at my mercy, and I had every justification to kill him."

Hezekiah Ford had lost no opportunity of keeping alive that mutinous feeling aboard the Ranger, which culminated in the arrest of Simpson and his subsequent court-martial. Jones, "loving a brave man as he did, was always lenient to Simpson, pardoning much of his insolence, which he knew to be the work of others." After Simpson had been imprisoned, Ford got up a petition, condemning Jones and praising Simpson, which he sent to the Commissioners. He induced seventy-eight of the crew to sign by telling them that it was the only way they would ever get their pay or prize money. It is more than likely they signed with small idea of what they were doing, as Ford was an artful scoundrel who twisted phrases to suit his own ends. Among the signers were two X's, the marks of the slave boys, Scipio and Cato, of whom their master thought so highly.

Hezekiah Ford had a narrow escape of his life when Jones unexpectedly learned of this document. Tucking three pistols in his belt, Paul took himself to the inn where Ford waited for the Paris diligence.

Without pausing or drawing a pistol, Jones, with one blow of that lightning arm, knocked Ford down, seized the coachman's whip and thrashed the scoundrel till he cried for mercy. Big, long-limbed though the man was, weighing half as much again as Paul Jones, he offered no resistance—just curled up and blubbered, like the underhand coward he was, while the onlookers, delighted at the fight, stood by at a respectful distance, for the Captain bore the reputation of being dangerous to meddle with when aroused. What became of Hezekiah after his bad quarter of an hour history does not relate. Six months later he was denounced as a spy and a traitor by the Virginia legislature; the resolution being certified by the governor of Virginia, was sent to Congress, and Congress, acting with extraordinary promptness, for Virginia had great influence, ordered Ford's dismissal from the service of the Commissioners. How, then, in face of this, did Lee dare to keep hand-in-glove with Ford? What the ultimate consequences might have been one cannot say, for very shortly Ford took French leave and all the private papers belonging to the Commissioners that he could put his hands on, and went to London, where he hoped to receive the reward of his treachery.

His tool, Simpson, had no pride, and wrote to Jones, begging him to use his influence to get the Commissioners to stop the court-martial with which he was threatened. He confessed, once for all, that he was not his (Jones's) equal in any kind of argument.

If I have been misguided to your detriment, I hope you will attribute it to lack of being able to see through the designs of others, and not to studied bad intentions of my own." He trusts Jones "will always think of him as an honest man," modestly requesting two favours: first, that Dr. Franklin shall order the Ranger to America, with him in command, "as it is well known that you iio not yourself purpose to return in the Ranger to America, having larger prospects of your own on this side of the water. Also, as you know, the crew of the Ranger was shipped for one year, to date from October 1st, 1777, when they were mustered on deck, and that year is nearly up. While many of them have gone off in French privateers by your permission, there is yet about sixty of the originals on board, and they all want to go home by the end of their term, which is their right, and it would not be right to try and hold them any longer," all of which is very commendable reasoning on Simpson's part, as he wanted the Ranger himself.

With his characteristic generosity to those beneath him, Jones used his influence with the Commissioners, and it may be added here that Simpson 's brief career was such as to justify this kindness, though the Ranger was taken in Charlestown harbour when that place was captured by Sir Henry Clinton in 1780.

Even with all disagreements at an end between Paul and his lieutenant, the obnoxious "private secretaries" kept disparaging rumours alive. To Stephen Sayre, "who, under the patronage of John Wilkes, had been a deputy sheriff" before he entered the employ of Lee, he traced these newly born slanders. But Sayre, a large, blustering man, with great tales of his prowess in the due/b, seems to have been suddenly bereft of those fire-eating propensities when unexpectedly confronted by Jones in a coffee house at Nantes. On the threshold Jones paused, looking for his man; he was unarmed, even without his sword. Calmly he walked up to the braggart, slapped his face soundly, calling him by the complimentary names of "liar" and "spy." In the profound pause that followed the bully made some attempt to grapple, but was no match for the agility of his assailant, who seized a heavy cane from one of the onlookers, and gave his traducer a thrashing he remembered to his 'dying day. Though the noise of the affray called the police to the spot, they saw the uniform, and as they were civil police and never arrested officers of either service, it ended there. The company bowed elegantly with their cocked hats and departed, with a douceur to drink to the health of the King and the brave Capitaine Paul.


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