"Boston Harbor, a tea-pot to-night! Hurrah for Griffin's Wharf."
In wild excitement the meeting adjourned, and the people crowded out into the streets. Other Indians were seen running down the streets in the direction of Griffin's Wharf, where the tea-ships were moored, and thither the people turned their steps.
On reaching the wharf, a scene of wild confusion was witnessed. The three tea-ships lay side by side at the wharf. Their decks were crowded with men, many of them wearing the Indian disguise. The hatches were off the hatchways; and the chests of tea were being rapidly passed up, broken open, and thrown overboard. There was little noise, as the workers seemed to be well disciplined, and went about their work in the bright moonlight with systematic activity. In about three hours the work was done. Three hundred and forty-two chests of tea had been thrown overboard, and the rioters dispersed quietly to their homes.
The incident of the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor was the last of the petty incidents that led up to the American Revolution. Following quick upon it came Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill,—then the great conflict was fairly under way, and the Colonies were fighting for liberty. What part the sailors of the colonies took in that struggle, it is the purpose of this book to recount.
THE BEGINNING OF THE NAVY. — LEXINGTON AND CONCORD. — A BLOW STRUCK IN MAINE. — CAPTURE OF THE "MARGARETTA." — GEN. WASHINGTON AND THE NAVY. — WORK OF CAPT. MANLY.
In treating of the history of the navy during the war of the Revolution, we must always bear in mind the fact, that, during the greater part of that war, there was no navy. Indeed, the subject presents much the same aspect as the celebrated chapter on snakes in Ireland, which consisted of exactly six words, "There are no snakes in Ireland." So many of the episodes and incidents of the Revolutionary war that we chronicle as part of the naval history of that struggle are naval only in that they took place on the water. The participants in them were often longshoremen, fishermen, or privateersmen, and but seldom sailors enrolled in the regular navy of the united colonies. Nevertheless, these irregular forces accomplished some results that would be creditable to a navy in the highest state of efficiency and discipline.
The expense of building vessels-of-war, and the difficulty, amounting even to impossibility, of procuring cannon for their armament, deterred the Colonies from equipping a naval force. All the energies of the revolutionists were directed towards organizing and equipping the army. The cause of independence upon the ocean was left to shift for itself. But, as the war spread, the depredations of British vessels along the coast became so intolerable that some colonies fitted out armed vessels for self-protection. Private enterprise sent out many privateers to prey upon British commerce, so that the opening months of the year 1776 saw many vessels on the ocean to support the cause of the Colonies. To man these vessels, there were plenty of sailors; for even at that early day New England had begun to develop that race of hardy seamen for which she is still noted in this day of decadence in the American marine. There was, however, a sad lack of trained officers to command the vessels of the infant navy. Many Americans were enrolled on the lists of the ships flying the royal banner of England, but most of these remained in the British service. The men, therefore, who were to command the ships of the colonies, were trained in the rough school of the merchant service, and had smelt gunpowder only when resisting piratical attacks, or in serving themselves as privateers.
For these reasons the encounters and exploits that we shall consider as being part of the naval operations of the Revolutionary war were of a kind that would to-day be regarded as insignificant skirmishes; and the naval officer of to-day would look with supreme contempt upon most of his brethren of '76, as so many untrained sea-guerillas. Nevertheless, the achievements of some of the seamen of the Revolution are not insignificant, even when compared with exploits of the era of Farragut; and it must be remembered that the efforts of the devoted men were directed against a nation that had in commission at the opening of the war three hundred and fifty-three vessels, and even then bore proudly the title conferred upon her by the consent of all nations,—"The Mistress of the Seas."
It was on the 19th of April, 1775, that the redoubtable Major Pitcairn and his corps of scarlet-coated British regulars shot down the colonists on the green at Lexington, and then fled back to Boston followed by the enraged minute-men, who harassed the retreating redcoats with a constant fire of musketry. The news of the battle spread far and wide; and wherever the story was told, the colonists began arming themselves, and preparing for resistance to the continually increasing despotism of the British authorities.
On the 9th of May, a coasting schooner from Boston put into the little seaport of Machias on the coast of Maine. The people of the little town gathered at the wharf, and from the sailors first heard the story of Lexington and Concord. The yoke of the British Government had rested lightly on the shoulders of the people of Machias. Far from the chief cities of the New World, they had heard little of the continued dissensions between the Colonies and the home Government, and they heard the story of the rebellion with amazement. But however unprepared they might have been for the news of the outbreak, their sympathies went warmly out to their struggling brethren, and they determined to place themselves shoulder to shoulder with the Massachusetts colonists in the fight against the oppression of the British. Their opportunity for action came that very night.
As the sturdy young colonists stood on the deck listening to the stories of the newly arrived sailors, they could see floating lightly at anchor near the wharf a trimly rigged schooner flying the ensign of the British navy. This craft was the "Margaretta," an armed schooner acting as convoy to two sloops that were then loading with ship-timber to be used in the service of the king.
The Boston sailors had not yet finished their narrative of the two battles, when the thought occurred to some of the adventurous listeners that they might strike a retaliatory blow by capturing the "Margaretta." Therefore, bidding the sailors to say nothing to the British of Lexington and Concord, they left the wharf and dispersed through the town, seeking for recruits. That same evening, sixty stalwart men assembled in a secluded farm-house, and laid their plans for the destruction of the schooner. It was then Saturday night, and the conspirators determined to attack the vessel the next morning while the officers were at church. All were to proceed by twos and threes to the wharf, in order that no suspicion might be aroused. Once at the water-side, they would rush to their boats, and carry the schooner by boarding.
Sunday morning dawned clear, and all seemed propitious for the conspirators. The "Margaretta" had then been in port for more than a week, and her officers had no reason to doubt the loyalty and friendship of the inhabitants: no whisper of the occurrences in Massachusetts, nor any hint of the purposes of the people of Machias, had reached their ears. Therefore, on this peaceful May morning, Capt. Moore donned his full-dress uniform, and with his brother officers proceeded to the little church in the village.
Every thing then seemed favorable to the success of the adventure. The "Margaretta," manned by a sleepy crew, and deserted by her officers, lay within easy distance of the shore. It seemed as though the conspirators had only to divide into two parties; and while the one surrounded the church, and captured the worshipping officers, the others might descend upon the schooner, and easily make themselves masters of all.
But the plot failed. History fails to record just how or why the suspicions of Capt. Moore were aroused. Whether it was that the wary captain noticed the absence of most of the young men of the congregation, or whether he saw the conspirators assembling on the dock, is not known. But certain it is that the good dominie in the pulpit, and the pious people in the pews, were mightily startled by the sudden uprisal of Capt. Moore, who sprang from his seat, and, calling upon his officers to follow him, leaped through the great window of the church, and ran like mad for the shore, followed by the rest of the naval party.
There was no more church for the good people of Machias that morning. Even the preacher came down from his pulpit to stare through his horn-rimmed glasses at the retreating forms of his whilom listeners. And, as he stood in blank amazement at the church door, he saw a large party of the missing young men of his congregation come dashing down the street in hot pursuit of the retreating mariners. In their hands, the pursuers carried sabres, cutlasses, old flint-lock muskets, cumbrous horse-pistols, scythes, and reaping-hooks. The pursued wore no arms; and, as no boat awaited them at the shore, their case looked hopeless indeed. But the old salt left in charge of the schooner was equal to the occasion. The unsabbath-like tumult on the shore quickly attracted his attention, and with unfeigned astonishment he had observed his commander's unseemly egress from the church. But, when the armed band of colonists appeared upon the scene, he ceased to rub his eyes in wonder, and quickly loaded up a swivel gun, with which he let fly, over the heads of his officers, and in dangerous proximity to the advancing colonists. This fire checked the advance of the conspirators; and, while they wavered and hung back, a boat put off from the schooner, and soon took the officers aboard. Then, after firing a few solid shot over the town, merely as an admonition of what might be expected if the hot-headed young men persisted in their violent outbreaks, the "Margaretta" dropped down the bay to a more secluded anchorage.
The defeated conspirators were vastly chagrined at the miscarriage of their plot; but, nothing daunted, they resolved to attempt to carry the schooner by assault, since strategy had failed. Therefore, early the next morning, four young men seized upon a sloop, and, bringing her up to the wharf, cheered lustily. A crowd soon gathered, and the project was explained, and volunteers called for. Thirty-five hardy sailors and woodmen hastily armed themselves with muskets, pitchforks, and axes; and, after taking aboard a small supply of provisions, the sloop dropped down the harbor toward the "Margaretta." The captain of the threatened schooner had observed through his spy-glass the proceedings at the wharf, and suspected his danger. He was utterly ignorant of the reason for this sudden hostility on the part of the people of Machias. He knew nothing of the quarrel that had thus provoked the rebellion of the colonies. Therefore, he sought to avoid a conflict; and, upon the approach of the sloop, he hoisted his anchor, and fled down the bay.
The sloop followed in hot haste. The Yankees crowded forward, and shouted taunts and jeers at their more powerful enemy who thus strove to avoid the conflict. Both vessels were under full sail; and the size of the schooner was beginning to tell, when, in jibing, she carried away her main boom. Nevertheless, she was so far ahead of the sloop that she was able to put into Holmes Bay, and take a spar out of a vessel lying there, before the sloop overtook her. But the delay incident upon changing the spars brought the sloop within range; and Capt. Moore, still anxious to avoid an encounter, cut away his boats, and stood out to sea. With plenty of sea room, and with a spanking breeze on the quarter, the sloop proved to be the better sailer. Moore then prepared for battle, and, as the sloop overhauled him, let fly one of his swivels, following it immediately with his whole broadside, killing one man. The sloop returned the fire with her one piece of ordnance, which was so well aimed as to kill the man at the helm of the "Margaretta," and clear her quarter-deck. The two vessels then closed, and a hand-to-hand battle began, in which muskets, hand-grenades, pikes, pitchforks, and cutlasses were used with deadly effect. The colonists strove to board their enemy, but were repeatedly beaten back. If any had thought that Capt. Moore's continued efforts to avoid a conflict were signs of cowardice, they were quickly undeceived; for that officer fought like a tiger, standing on the quarter-deck rail, cheering on his men, and hurling hand-grenades down upon his assailants, until a shot brought him down. The fall of their captain disheartened the British; and the Americans quickly swarmed over the sides of the "Margaretta," and drove her crew below.
This victory was no mean achievement for the colonists. The "Margaretta" was vastly the superior, both in metal and in the strength of her crew. She was ably officered by trained and courageous seamen; while the Yankees had no leaders save one Jeremiah O'Brien, whom they had elected, by acclamation, captain. That the Americans had so quickly brought their more powerful foe to terms, spoke volumes for their pluck and determination. Nor were they content to rest with the capture of the schooner. Transferring her armament to the sloop, O'Brien set out in search of prizes, and soon fell in with, and captured, two small British cruisers. These he took to Watertown, where the Massachusetts Legislature was then in session. The news of his victory was received with vast enthusiasm; and the Legislature conferred upon him the rank of captain, and ordered him to set out on another cruise, and particularly watch out for British vessels bringing over provisions or munitions of war to the king's troops in America.
But by this time Great Britain was aroused. The king saw all America up in arms against his authority, and he determined to punish the rebellious colonists. A naval expedition was therefore sent against Falmouth, and that unfortunate town was given to the flames. The Legislature of Massachusetts then passed a law granting commissions to privateers, and directing the seizure of British ships. Thereafter the hostilities on the ocean, which had been previously unauthorized and somewhat piratical, had the stamp of legislative authority.
Petty hostilities along the coast were very active during the first few months of the war. The exploits of Capt. O'Brien stirred up seamen from Maine to the Carolinas, and luckless indeed was the British vessel that fell into their clutches. At Providence two armed American vessels re-took a Yankee brig and sloop that had been captured by the British. At Dartmouth a party of soldiers captured a British armed brig. In addition to these exploits, the success of the American privateers, which had got to sea in great numbers, added greatly to the credit of the American cause.
The first order looking toward the establishment of a national navy was given by Gen. Washington in the latter part of 1775. The sagacious general, knowing that the British forces in Boston were supplied with provisions and munitions of war by sea, conceived the idea of fitting out some swift-sailing cruisers to intercept the enemy's cruisers, and cut off their supplies. Accordingly, on his own authority, he sent out Capt. Broughton with two armed schooners belonging to the colony of Massachusetts. Broughton was ordered to intercept two brigs bound for Quebec with military stores. This he failed to do, but brought in ten other vessels. Congress, however, directed the release of the captured ships, as it was then intended only to take such vessels as were actually employed in the king's service.
By this time Congress had become convinced that some naval force was absolutely essential to the success of the American cause. In October, 1775, it therefore fitted out, and ordered to sea, a number of small vessels. Of these the first to sail was the "Lee," under command of Capt. John Manly, whose honorable name, won in the opening years of the Revolution, fairly entitles him to the station of the father of the American navy.
With his swift cruiser, Manly patrolled the New England coast, and was marvellously successful in capturing British storeships. Washington wrote to Congress, "I am in very great want of powder, lead, mortars, and, indeed, most sorts of military stores." Hardly had the letter been forwarded, when Manly appeared in port with a prize heavy laden with just the goods for which the commander-in-chief had applied. A queer coincidence is on record regarding these captured stores. Samuel Tucker, an able Yankee seaman, later an officer in the American navy, was on the docks at Liverpool as a transport was loading for America. As he saw the great cases of guns and barrels of powder marked "Boston" being lowered into the hold of the vessel, he said to a friend who stood with him, "I would walk barefoot one hundred miles, if by that means these arms could only take the direction of Cambridge." Three months later Tucker was in Washington's camp at Cambridge, and there saw the very arms he had so coveted on the Liverpool docks. They had been captured by Capt. Manly.
Manly's activity proved very harassing to the British, and the sloop-of-war "Falcon" was sent out to capture the Yankee. She fell in with the "Lee" near Gloucester, just as the latter was making for that port with a merchant schooner in convoy. Manly, seeing that the Englishman was too heavy for him, deserted his convoy and ran into the port, where he anchored, out of reach of the sloop's guns. Capt. Lindzee of the "Falcon" stopped to capture the abandoned schooner, and then taking his vessel to the mouth of the port, anchored her in such a way as to prevent any escape for the "Lee." He then prepared to capture the Yankee by boarding. The "Falcon" drew too much water to run alongside the "Lee" at the anchorage Manly had chosen; and the Englishman therefore put his men in large barges, and with a force of about forty men set out to capture the schooner. Manly saw the force that was to be brought against him, and sent his men to quarters, preparing for a desperate resistance. The schooner was lying near the shore; and the townspeople and militia gathered by the water-side, with guns in their hands, prepared to lend their aid to the brave defenders of the "Lee." As the three barges drew near the schooner, Manly mounted the rail, and hailed them, warning them to keep off lest he fire upon them.
"Fire, and be hanged to you," was the response of the lieutenant in command of the assailants. "We have no fear of traitors."
So saying, the British pressed on through a fierce storm of musketry from the deck of the schooner and from the shore. They showed no lack of courage. The lieutenant himself brought his boat under the cabin windows, and was in the act of boarding, when a shot from the shore struck him in the thigh, and he was carried back to the man-of-war. Capt. Lindzee, who had watched the progress of the fight from the deck of the "Falcon," was greatly enraged when his lieutenant was thus disabled; and he hastily despatched re-enforcements to the scene of action, and directed the gunners on the "Falcon" to commence a cannonade of the town.
"Now," said he with an oath, "my boys, we will aim at the Presbyterian church. Well, my brave fellows, one shot more, and the house of God will fall before you."
But the British were fairly outfought, and the outcome of the battle was disastrous to them. A newspaper of the period, speaking of the fight says, "Under God, our little party at the water-side performed wonders; for they soon made themselves masters of both the schooners, the cutter, the two barges, the boat, and every man in them, and all that pertained to them. In the action, which lasted several hours, we have lost but one man; two others wounded,—one of whom is since dead, the other very slightly wounded. We took of the man-of-war's men thirty-five; several are wounded, and one since dead; twenty-four are sent to headquarters. The remainder, being impressed from this and neighboring towns, are permitted to return to their friends. This morning Capt. Lindzee warped off with but one-half of his men, with neither a prize-boat nor tender, except a small skiff the wounded lieutenant returned in."
The work done by the small armed schooners of which the "Lee" was a type encouraged Congress to proceed with the work of organizing a regular navy; and by the end of 1775 that body had authorized the building of thirteen war-vessels carrying from twenty-four to thirty-two guns each. But as some naval force was obviously necessary during the construction of this fleet, five vessels were procured, and the new navy was organized with the following roster of officers:—
Esek Hopkins Commander-in-chief. Dudley Saltonstall Captain of the "Alfred." Abraham Whipple Captain of the "Columbus." Nicholas Biddle Captain of the "Andrea Doria." John B. Hopkins Captain of the "Cabot."
A long list of lieutenants was also provided, among whom stands out boldly the name of John Paul Jones. John Manly, whose dashing work in the schooner "Lee" we have already noticed, was left in command of his little craft until the thirty-two-gun ship "Hancock" was completed, when he was put in charge of her.
It may possibly have occurred to some of my readers to wonder what flag floated from the mastheads of these ships. There is much confusion upon this point, and not a little uncertainty. There were three classes of American armed vessels on the seas. First were the privateers, that sailed under any flag that might suit their purpose. Next came the vessels fitted out and commissioned by the individual colonies; these usually floated the flag of the colony from which they hailed. Last came the vessels commissioned by Congress, which at the outset floated many banners of diverse kinds. It fell to the lot of Lieut. Paul Jones, however, to hoist the first authorized American flag over a regularly commissioned vessel-of-war. This flag was of bunting, showing a pine-tree on a plain white ground, with the words "Liberty Tree" and "Appeal to God" prominently displayed. This flag was chiefly used until the adoption of the stars and stripes. The "rattlesnake flag," with a reptile in the act of striking, and the legend "Don't tread on me," was largely used by the privateers.
The year 1775 closed with but little activity upon the ocean. The ships of the regular navy were late in getting into commission, and an early winter impeded their usefulness. Some little work was done by privateers and the ships of the different colonies, and the ships of the British navy were kept fully occupied in guarding against the operations of these gentry. The man-of-war "Nautilus" chased an American privateer into a little cove near Beverly, and in the heat of the chase both vessels ran aground. The people on shore put off to the privateer, and quickly stripped her of her cordage and armament, and with the guns built a small battery by the water-side, from which they opened a telling fire upon the stranded "Nautilus." The man-of-war returned in kind, and did some slight damage to the town; but when the tide had risen she slipped her cables and departed. Such desultory encounters were of frequent occurrence, but no naval battles of any importance took place until the spring of 1776.
EVENTS OF 1776. — THE FIRST CRUISE OF THE REGULAR NAVY. — THE "LEXINGTON" AND THE "EDWARD." — MUGFORD'S BRAVE FIGHT. — LOSS OF THE "YANKEE HERO." — CAPT. MANLY, AND THE "DEFENCE." — AMERICAN VESSELS IN EUROPEAN WATERS. — GOOD WORK OF THE "LEXINGTON" AND THE "REPRISAL." — THE BRITISH DEFEATED AT CHARLESTON.
The year 1776 witnessed some good service done for the cause of liberty by the little colonial navy. The squadron, under the command of Ezekiel Hopkins, left the Delaware in February, as soon as the ice had left the river, and made a descent upon the island of New Providence, where the British had established a naval station. The force under Hopkins consisted of seven vessels-of-war, and one despatch-boat. The attack was successful in every way, a landing party of three hundred marines and sailors which was sent ashore meeting with but little resistance from the British garrison. By this exploit, the Americans captured over a hundred cannon, and a great quantity of naval stores.
After this exploit, Hopkins left New Providence, carrying away with him the governor and one or two notable citizens, and continued his cruise. His course was shaped to the northward, and early in April he found himself off the shore of Long Island. He had picked up a couple of insignificant British vessels,—one a tender of six guns, and the other an eight-gun bomb-brig. But his cruise had been mainly barren of results; and his crew, who had looked forward to sharp service and plenty of prize-money, were beginning to grumble. But their inactivity was not of long duration; for before daylight on the morning of April 6, the lookout at the masthead of the "Alfred" sighted a large ship, bearing down upon the American squadron. The night was clear and beautiful, the wind light, and the sea smooth; and so, although it lacked several hours to daylight, the commanders determined to give battle to the stranger. Soon, therefore, the roll of the drums beating to quarters was heard over the water, and the angry glare of the battle lanterns on the gun-decks made the open ports of the war-ships stand out like fiery eyes against the black hulls. The Englishman, who proved later to be the "Glasgow," twenty guns, carrying one hundred and fifty men, might easily have escaped; but, apparently undaunted by the odds against him, he awaited the attack. The little "Cabot" was the first American ship to open fire on the enemy. Her attack, though sharp and plucky, was injudicious; for two of the Englishman's heavy broadsides were enough to send her out of the battle for repairs. The "Glasgow" and the "Alfred" then took up the fight, and exchanged repeated broadsides; the American vessel suffering the more serious injuries of the two. After some hours of this fighting, the "Glasgow" hauled away, and made good her escape, although she was almost surrounded by the vessels of the American squadron. It would seem that only the most careless seamanship on the part of the Americans could have enabled a twenty-gun vessel to escape from four vessels, each one of which was singly almost a match for her. It is evident that the Continental Congress took the same view of the matter, for Hopkins was soon after dismissed from the service.
This action was little to the credit of the sailors of the colonial navy. Fortunately, a second action during the same month set them in a better light before the people of the country. This was the encounter of the "Lexington," Capt. Barry, with the British vessel "Edward," off the capes of Virginia. The two vessels were laid yard-arm to yard-arm; and a hot battle ensued, in which the Americans came off the victors. The career of this little American brig was a rather remarkable one. The year following her capture of the "Edward," she was again off the capes of the Delaware, and again fell in with a British ship. This time, however, the Englishman was a frigate, and the luckless "Lexington" was forced to surrender. Her captor left the Americans aboard their own craft, and, putting a prize crew aboard, ordered them to follow in the wake of the frigate. That night the Americans plotted the recapture of their vessel. By a concerted movement, they overpowered their captors; and the "Lexington" was taken into Baltimore, where she was soon recommissioned, and ordered to cruise in European waters.
Shortly after the battle between the "Lexington" and the "Edward," there was fought in Massachusetts Bay an action in which the Americans showed the most determined bravery, and which for the courage shown, and losses suffered on either side, may well be regarded as the most important of the naval battles of that year. Early in May, a merchant seaman named Mugford had succeeded, after great importunity, in securing the command of the armed vessel "Franklin," a small cruiser mounting only four guns. The naval authorities had been unwilling to give him the command, though he showed great zeal in pressing his suit. Indeed, after the appointment had been made, certain damaging rumors concerning the newly appointed captain reached the ears of the marine committee, and caused them to send an express messenger to Boston to cancel Mugford's commission. But the order arrived too late. Mugford had already fitted out his ship, and sailed. He had been but a few days at sea, when the British ship "Hope," of four hundred tons and mounting six guns, hove in sight. More than this, the lookout reported that the fleet of the British commodore Banks lay but a few miles away, and in plain sight. Many a man would have been daunted by such odds. Not so Capt. Mugford. Mustering his men, he showed them the British ship, told them that she carried heavier metal than the "Franklin," told them that the British fleet lay near at hand, and would doubtless try to take a hand in the engagement; then, having pointed out all the odds against them, he said, "Now, my lads, it's a desperate case; but we can take her, and win lots of glory and prize-money. Will you stand by me?"
The jackies wasted no time in debate, but, cheering lustily for the captain, went to their posts, and made ready for a hot fight. The naval discipline of the present day was little known, and less observed, at that time in the American navy. The perfect order which makes the gun-deck of a ship going into action as quiet and solemn as during Sunday prayers then gave place to excited talk and bustle. The men stood in crews at the four guns; but most of the jackies were mustered on the forecastle, ready to board. All expected a desperate resistance. Great was their surprise, then, when they were permitted to take a raking position under the stern of the "Hope," and to board her without a shot being fired. But as Mugford, at the head of the boarders, clambered over the taffrail, he heard the captain of the "Hope" order the men to cut the topsail halliards and ties, with the intention of so crippling the ship that the British squadron might overhaul and recapture her.
"Avast there!" bawled Mugford, seeing through the plot in an instant, and clapping a pistol to the head of the captain; "if a knife is touched to those ropes, not a man of this crew shall live."
This threat so terrified the captured sailors, that they relinquished their design; and Mugford, crowding all sail on his prize, soon was bowling along before a stiff breeze, with the British squadron in hot pursuit. An examination of the ship's papers showed her to be the most valuable prize yet taken by the Americans. In her hold were fifteen hundred barrels of powder, a thousand carbines, a great number of travelling carriages for cannon, and a most complete assortment of artillery instruments and pioneer tools. While running for Boston Harbor, through the channel known as Point Shirley gut, the vessel grounded, but was soon floated, and taken safely to her anchorage. Her arrival was most timely, as the American army was in the most dire straits for gunpowder. It may well be imagined that there was no longer any talk about revoking Capt. Mugford's commission.
Mugford remained in port only long enough to take a supply of powder from his prize; then put to sea again. He well knew that the British fleet that had chased him into Boston Harbor was still blockading the harbor's mouth, but he hoped to evade it by going out through a circuitous channel. Unluckily, in thus attempting to avoid the enemy, the "Franklin" ran aground, and there remained hard and fast in full view of the enemy. He had as consort the privateer schooner "Lady Washington," whose captain, seeing Mugford's dangerous predicament, volunteered to remain near at hand and assist in the defence.
Mugford knew that his case was desperate, and made preparations for a most determined resistance. Swinging his craft around, he mounted all four of his guns on that side which commanded the channel in the direction from which the enemy was expected. Boarding-nettings were triced up, and strengthened with cables and cordage, to make an effective barrier against the assaults of boarders. The men were served with double rations of grog, and set to work sharpening the cutlasses and spears, with which they were well provided. The work of preparation was completed none too soon; for about nine o'clock Mugford heard the rattle of oars in rowlocks, and saw boats gliding towards the "Franklin" through the darkness.
"Boat ahoy!" he challenged. "Keep off, or I shall fire into you."
"Don't fire," was the response; "we are friends from Boston coming to your aid."
"We want none of your aid," cried Mugford with an oath. Then, turning to his crew, he shouted, "Let them have it, boys."
The roar of the cannon then mingled with the rattle of the musketry, the cries of the wounded, and the shouts and curses of the combatants, as the British strove to clamber up the sides of the "Franklin." Not less than two hundred men were engaged on the side of the British, who advanced to the fray in thirteen large barges, many of them carrying swivel guns. Several boats dashed in close under the side of the "Franklin," and their crews strove manfully to board, but were beaten back by the Yankees, who rained cutlass blows upon them. The long pikes with which the Americans were armed proved particularly effective. "One man with that weapon is positive of having killed nine of the enemy," says a newspaper of that day.
Unhappily, however, the heroic Mugford, while urging on his men to a more vigorous resistance, was struck by a musket-ball, which inflicted a mortal wound. At the moment the wound was received, he was reaching out over the quarter to catch hold of the mast of one of the barges, in the hope of upsetting her. As he fell to the deck, he called his first lieutenant, and said, "I am a dead man. Do not give up the vessel; you will be able to beat them off." Nearly forty years after, the heroic Lawrence, dying on the deck of the "Chesapeake," repeated Mugford's words, "Don't give up the ship."
For about half an hour the battle raged fiercely. The British, beaten back with great loss, returned again and again to the attack. The boats would come under the lee of the "Franklin;" but, not being provided with grappling-irons, the British were forced to lay hold of the gunwales of the enemy with their hands, which the Americans promptly lopped off with their cutlasses. Shots from the swivel guns of the Yankee soon stove in two of the boats of the enemy, which sunk, carrying down many of their crew. After nearly an hour of this desperate fighting, the British withdrew, having lost about seventy men. The only loss sustained by the Americans was that of their brave commander Mugford.
About a month after this battle, there occurred off the coast of Massachusetts a battle in which the Americans, though they fought with the most undaunted bravery, were forced to strike their colors to their adversary. The American was the privateer "Yankee Hero" of Newburyport. She sailed from that place for Boston on the 7th of June with only forty men aboard, intending to ship her full complement of one hundred and twenty at Boston. As the "Hero" rounded Cape Ann, she sighted a sail on the horizon, but in her short-handed condition did not think it worth while to give chase. The stranger, however, had caught sight of the "Hero;" and, a fresh southerly breeze springing up, she began to close with the American. As she came closer, Capt. Tracy of the "Yankee Hero" saw that she was a ship-of-war. Despite the desperate efforts of the Americans to escape, their pursuer rapidly overhauled them, and soon coming up within half a mile, opened fire with her bow chasers. The brig returned the fire with a swivel gun, which had little effect. Seeing this, Capt. Tracy ordered the firing to cease until the ships should came to close quarters. The stranger rapidly overhauled the privateer, keeping up all the time a vigorous fire. Tracy with difficulty restrained the ardor of his men, who were anxious to try to cripple their pursuer. When the enemy came within pistol-shot, Tracy saw that the time for action on his part had come, and immediately opened fire with all the guns and small-arms that could be brought to bear. The only possible chance for escape lay in crippling the big craft with a lucky shot; but broadside after broadside was fired, and still the great ship came rushing along in the wake of the flying privateer. Closer and closer drew the bulky man-of-war, until her bow crept past the stern of the "Yankee Hero," and the marines upon her forecastle poured down a destructive volley of musketry upon the brig's crowded deck. The plight of the privateer was now a desperate one. Her heavy antagonist was close alongside, and towered high above her, so that the marines on the quarter-deck and forecastle of the Englishman were on a level with the leading blocks of the Yankee. From the depressed guns of the frigate, a murderous fire poured down upon the smaller craft. For an hour and twenty minutes the two vessels continued the fight, pouring hot broadsides into each other, and separated by less than a hundred feet of water. The brisk breeze blowing carried away the clouds of smoke, and left the men on the deck of the Yankee no protection from sharp-shooters on the enemy's deck. Accordingly, the execution was frightful. Tracy, from his post on the quarter-deck, saw his men falling like sheep, while the continual volleys of the great ship had so cut the cordage of the weaker vessel that escape was impossible. At last a musket-ball struck Capt. Tracy in the thigh, and he fell bleeding to the deck. For a moment his men wavered at their guns; but he called manfully to them, from where he lay, to fight on boldly for the honor of the "Yankee Hero." Two petty officers had rushed to his assistance; and he directed them to lay him upon a chest of arms upon the quarter-deck, whence he might direct the course of the battle. But, strong though was his spirit, his body was too weak to perform the task he had allotted it; and, growing faint from pain and loss of blood, he was carried below.
He lay unconscious for a few minutes, but was recalled to his senses by the piteous cries of wounded men by whom he was surrounded. When he came to himself, he saw the cabin filled with grievously wounded people, bleeding and suffering for lack of surgical aid. The firing of the privateer had ceased, but the enemy was still pouring in pitiless broadsides. Enraged at this spectacle, Capt. Tracy ordered his men to re-open the conflict, and directed that he be taken in a chair to the quarter-deck. But, on getting into the chair, he was suddenly seized with a fainting spell, and gave orders, by signs, that the colors be struck.
When the inequality of the two enemies is considered, this action appears to be a most notable reason for pride in the powers of the Americans. The "Yankee Hero" was a low single-decked vessel of fourteen guns, while her captor was the British frigate of thirty-two guns. Yet the little American vessel had held her own for two hours, and by good gunnery and skilful manoeuvring had succeeded in doing almost as much damage as she had suffered.
In reading of the naval engagements of the Revolution, one is impressed with the small sacrifice of life that attended the most protracted conflicts. Thus in the action just recorded only four men were killed upon the defeated ship, although for more than an hour the two vessels had exchanged broadsides a distance of less than a hundred feet apart. The execution done on the British frigate has never been recorded, but was probably even less.
Only the most fragmentary account can be given of any naval actions in the year 1776, except those in which America's great naval hero Paul Jones took part. Of the trivial encounters that go to complete the naval annals of the year, only the briefest recountal is necessary. The work of the little brig "Andrea Doria," Capt. Biddle, deserves a passing mention. This little fourteen-gun craft had the most wonderful luck in making prizes. Besides capturing two transports loaded with British soldiers, she took so many merchantmen, that on one cruise she brought back to port only five of her original crew, the rest having all been put aboard prizes.
On the 17th of June, the crew of the Connecticut cruiser "Defence," a fourteen-gun brig, heard the sound of distant cannonading coming faintly over the water. All sail was crowded upon the brig, and she made all possible speed to the scene of conflict. About nightfall, she fell in with four American schooners that had just been having a tussle with two heavy British transports. Three of the American vessels were privateers, the fourth was the little cruiser "Lee" in which Capt. John Manly had done such brilliant service. The four schooners had found the transports too powerful for them, and had therefore drawn off, but were eager to renew the fray with the help of the "Defence." Accordingly the "Defence" led the way to Nantasket Roads, where the transports lay at anchor. Capt. Harding wasted little time in manoeuvring, but, laying his vessel alongside the larger of the two transports, summoned her commander to strike.
"Ay, ay—I'll strike," was the response from the threatened vessel; and instantly a heavy broadside was poured into the "Defence." A sharp action followed, lasting for nearly an hour. The "Defence" bore the brunt of the conflict, for the four schooners did not come to sufficiently close quarters to be of much assistance against the enemy. The gunnery of the Americans proved too much for the enemy, however; and after losing eighteen men, together with a large number wounded, the British surrendered. The American vessel was a good deal cut up aloft, and lost nine of her men. The next morning a third transport was sighted by the "Defence," and speedily overhauled and captured. More than five hundred British soldiers were thus captured; and the British thenceforward dared not treat the Americans as rebels, lest the colonial army authorities should retaliate upon the British prisoners in their hands.
It was in the year 1776 that the first naval vessel giving allegiance to the American Colonies showed herself in European waters. This vessel was the "Reprisal," Capt. Wickes, a small craft, mounting sixteen guns. Early in the summer of '76, the "Reprisal" made a cruise to Martinique, taking several prizes. When near the island, she encountered the British sloop-of-war "Shark," and a sharp battle ensued. In size and weight of metal, the two vessels were about evenly matched; but the "Reprisal" had been sending out so many prize-crews, that she was short eighty men of her full crew. Therefore, when, after a brisk interchange of broadsides, the British sloop sheered off, and left the "Reprisal" to continue her course, Capt. Wickes rejoiced in his escape as being almost equal to a victory.
After completing this cruise, the "Reprisal" was ordered to France for the purpose of conveying thither from Philadelphia Benjamin Franklin, the ambassador sent from the Colonies to interest the French in the cause of American liberty. While on the way over, she took two or three prizes, which were sold in France. After landing her distinguished passenger, she cruised about in the proverbially tempestuous Bay of Biscay, where she forced several British vessels to strike to the American flag, then first seen in those waters. On returning to France to sell his newly captured prizes, Capt. Wickes found trouble in store for him. The British ambassador at Paris had declared that the American cruiser was a detestable pirate; and that for France to permit the pirate to anchor in her harbors, or sell his prizes in her markets, was equal to a declaration of war against England. Wickes was, therefore, admonished to take his ships and prisoners away. But even in that early day Yankee wit was sharp, and able to extricate its possessor from troublesome scrapes. Wickes knew that there were plenty of purchasers to be had for his prizes: so, gathering a few ship-owners together, he took them out to sea beyond the jurisdiction of France, and there sold them to the highest bidder.
The money thus obtained Wickes used in purchasing vessels suitable for armed cruisers. While these were fitting out, the "Lexington" and the "Dolphin" arrived in France, and soon joined the "Reprisal" in a cruise around the British Islands. The little squadron fairly swept the Channel and the Irish Sea of merchantmen. The excitement in England ran high, and the admiralty despatched all the available men-of-war in search of the marauders. But the swift-sailing cruisers escaped all pursuers. Once indeed the "Reprisal" came near falling into the hands of the enemy, but escaped by throwing overboard every thing movable, sawing away her bulwarks, and even cutting away her heavy timbers.
The result of this cruise so aroused England, that France no longer dared to harbor the audacious Yankee cruisers. The "Lexington" and "Reprisal" were, therefore, ordered to leave European waters forthwith. The "Lexington" complied first, and when one day out from the port of Morlaix encountered the British man-of-war cutter "Alert." The "Alert" was the smaller of the two vessels, but her commander had in him all that pluck and those sterling seamanlike qualities that made the name of England great upon the ocean. A stiff breeze was blowing, and a heavy cross sea running, when the two vessels came together. The gunners sighted their pieces at random and fired, knowing little whether the shot would go plunging into the waves, or fly high into the air. As a result, they carried on a spirited cannonade for upwards of two hours, with the sole effect of carrying away the top hamper of the "Alert," and exhausting most of the powder on the American craft.
Finding his ammunition rapidly giving out, the captain of the "Lexington" clapped on all sail, and soon showed his crippled antagonist a clean pair of heels. But so great was the activity of the crew of the "Alert" that they repaired the damage done aloft, and in four hours overtook the "American," and opened fire upon her The battle now became one-sided; for the "Lexington," being short of powder, could make little resistance to the brisk attack of her persevering adversary. In less than an hour she was forced to strike her flag.
The fate of the "Reprisal" was even harder than that of her consort. While crossing the Atlantic on her way back to the coast of America, she was overtaken by a furious gale. With furled sails and battened hatches, the little craft made a desperate fight for life. But the fierce wind carried away her masts and spars, and the tossing waves opened her seams, so that it became apparent to all on board that the fate of the gallant craft, that had so nobly defended the cause of American liberty, was sealed. As the water rose higher and higher in the hold, the officers saw that it was no longer a question of the possibility of saving the ship, but that their lives and those of the crew were in the greatest danger. Boats were lowered; but the angry white-capped waves tossed them madly aloft, and, turning them over and over, sent the poor fellows that manned them to their long account. All hands then set to work at the construction of a huge raft; and just as the ship's stern settled, it was pushed off, and all that could reach it clambered on. A few poor fellows clung to the sinking ship; and their comrades on the raft saw them crowd on the forecastle, and heard their despairing cries as the good ship threw her prow high in the air, and sunk stern foremost to the placid depths of the stormy ocean. But those on the raft were not destined to escape the fate of their comrades. The haggard sufferers were doomed to see the frail structure on which their lives depended go slowly to pieces before the mighty power of the remorseless sea. Bit by bit their foothold vanished from beneath them. One by one they were swept off into the seething cauldron of the storm. At last but one man remained, the cook of the ill-fated vessel, who floated about for three days on a piece of wreckage, until, half-starved and nearly crazed, he was picked up by a passing vessel, and told the tale of the wreck. So ended the career of the patriotic and gallant Capt. Wickes and his crew, and such is the fate that every stout fellow braves when he dons his blue jacket and goes to serve his country on the ocean.
In addition to the exploits of the American cruisers upon the high seas, certain operations of the British navy along the American coast, during the year 1776, demand attention. Of these the most important was the attack by Sir Peter Parker upon Charleston, in September of that year,—an attack made memorable by the determined courage of the Americans, the daring exploit of Sergt. Jasper, and the discovery of the remarkable qualities of palmetto logs as a material for fortifications.
Charleston was then a town of but a few thousand inhabitants; but, small as it was, it had become particularly obnoxious to the British on account of the strong revolutionary sentiment of its people, and their many open acts of defiance of King George's authority. When the offensive Stamp Act first was published, the people of Charleston rose in revolt; and the stamps for the city being stored in an armed fortress in the bay, known as Castle Johnson, a party of a hundred and fifty armed men went down the bay, surprised the garrison, captured the castle, and, loading its guns, defied the authorities. Not until the promise had been made that the stamps should be sent back to England, did the rebellious Carolinians lay down their arms. Nor was their peace of long duration. When the news of the battle of Lexington reached the little Southern seaport, the people straightway cast about for an opportunity to strike a blow against the tyranny of England. The opportunity soon offered itself. An English sloop laden with powder was lying at St. Augustine, Fla. Learning this, the people of Charleston fitted out a vessel, which captured the powder-ship, and, eluding a number of British cruisers, returned safely to Charleston with fifteen thousand pounds of gunpowder for the colonial army. Soon after the colonial troops took possession of the forts in the harbor, and Charleston became a revolutionary stronghold.
Therefore, when the war authorities of Great Britain prepared to take active, offensive measures against the seaport cities of the rebellious colonies, Charleston was one of the first points chosen for attack. It was on the 4th of June, 1776, that the British fleet, under the command of the veteran admiral, Sir Peter Parker, appeared off Charleston bar. The colonists had learned of its approach some time before; and the town was crowded with troops, both regular and volunteer. Two forts, Johnson and Sullivan, were erected at points commanding the entrance to the harbor. Troops were thrown out to oppose the advance of landing parties. The wharves were covered with breastworks, and the streets leading up from the water-side were barricaded. There was a great scarceness of lead for bullets; and to supply that need the leaden sashes, in which window-panes were at that time set, were melted down. When the fleet of the enemy appeared in the offing, Charleston was quite ready to give the invaders a warm reception.
Fort Sullivan was the chief work in the harbor, and against this Parker began a vigorous cannonade early on the morning of the 28th of June. The fort had been built of logs of palmetto wood, and was looked upon with some distrust by its defenders, who did not know how well that material could withstand cannon-shot; but the opening volley of the fleet re-assured them. The balls penetrated deep in the soft, spongy wood without detaching any of the splinters, which, in a battle, are more dangerous than the shot themselves. The fort soon replied to the fire of the fleet; and the thunder of three hundred cannon rang out over the bay, while dense clouds of sulphurous smoke hid the scene from the eager gaze of the crowds of people on the housetops of the city.
When the stately ships of the British squadron swung into line before the little wooden fort, there was hardly a sailor who did not take his station without a feeling of contempt for the insignificant obstacle that they were about to sweep from their path. But as the day wore on, and the ceaseless cannonade seemed to have no effect on the bastions of the fort, the case began to look serious.
"Mind the commodore, and the fifty-gun ships," was the command Moultrie gave to the gunners in the fort when the action commenced, and right well did they heed the injunction. The quarter-decks of the ships-of-the-line were swept clean of officers. The gunners in the fort soon found that the fire of the enemy was doing little or no execution, and they sighted their guns as coolly as though out for a day's target practice. The huge iron balls crashed through the hulls of the ships, or swept their decks, doing terrific execution. The cable of the "Bristol" was shot away, and she swung round with her stern to the fort. In this position she was raked repeatedly; her captain was killed, and at one time not an officer remained on her quarter-deck except the admiral Sir Peter Parker. When the conflict ceased, this ship alone contained forty killed and seventy-one wounded men. The other ships suffered nearly as severely. The twenty-eight-gun ship "Actaeon" grounded during the course of the engagement; and when, after ten hours' fruitless cannonading, the British abandoned the task of reducing the fort, and determined to withdraw, she was found to be immovable. Accordingly Admiral Parker signalled to her officer to abandon the ship, and set her on fire. This was accordingly done; and the ship was left with her colors flying, and her guns loaded. This movement was observed by the Americans, who, in spite of the danger of an explosion, boarded the ship, fired her guns at the "Bristol," loaded three boats with stores, and pulled away, leaving the "Actaeon" to blow up, which she did half an hour later.
While the battle was at its hottest, and the shot and shell were flying thick over the fort, the flagstaff was shot away; and the flag of South Carolina, a blue ground, bearing a silver crescent, fell on the beach outside the parapet. Sergt. William Jasper, seeing this, leaped on the bastion, walked calmly through the storm of flying missiles, picked up the flag, and fastened it upon a sponge-staff. Then standing upon the highest point of the parapet, in full view of the ships and the men in the fort, he calmly fixed the staff upright, and returned to his place, leaving the flag proudly waving. The next day the governor of the colony visited the fort, and seeking out the brave sergeant, handed him a handsome sword and a lieutenant's commission. But Jasper proved to be as modest as he was brave; for he declined the proffered promotion, with the remark,—
"I am not fit to keep officers' company; I am but a sergeant."
The complete failure of the attack upon Charleston was a bitter pill for the English to swallow. They had brought against the raw, untrained forces of the colony some of the finest ships of the boasted navy of Great Britain. They had fought well and pluckily. The fact that Sir Peter Parker was in command was in itself a guaranty that the attack would be a spirited one; and the tremendous loss of life in the fleet affords convincing proof that no poltroonery lurked among the British sailors. The loss of the British during the engagement, in killed and wounded, amounted to two hundred and twenty-five men. The Americans had ten men killed and twenty-two wounded. Moultrie, the commandant of the fort, says that after the battle was over they picked up more than twelve hundred solid shot of different sizes, and many thirteen-inch shells. Most of the shells that fell within the fort fell into a large pool of water, which extinguished their fuses, thus robbing them of their power for evil.
In his report of this battle, Admiral Parker fell into a queer error. He reports that a large party of men entering the fort met a man going out, whom they straightway hanged to a neighboring tree, in full view of the fleet. From this the admiral concluded that there was an incipient mutiny in the fort, and the ringleader was hanged as an example. Col. Moultrie, however, explained this by stating that the man hanging in the tree was simply the coat of a soldier, which had been carried away by a cannon-shot, and left hanging in the branches.
THE CAREER OF PAUL JONES. — IN COMMAND OF THE "PROVIDENCE." — CAPTURE OF THE "MELLISH." — EXPLOITS WITH THE "ALFRED." — IN COMMAND OF THE "RANGER." — SWEEPING THE ENGLISH CHANNEL. — THE DESCENT UPON WHITEHAVEN.
We have already spoken of the farcical affair between the fleet under Ezekiel Hopkins and the English frigate "Glasgow," in which the English vessel, by superior seamanship, and taking advantage of the blunders of the Americans, escaped capture. The primary result of this battle was to cause the dismissal from the service of Hopkins. But his dismissal led to the advancement of a young naval officer, whose name became one of the most glorious in American naval annals, and whose fame as a skilful seaman has not been tarnished by the hand of time.
At the time of the escape of the "Glasgow," there was serving upon the "Alfred" a young lieutenant, by name John Paul Jones. Jones was a Scotchman. His rightful name was John Paul; but for some reason, never fully understood, he had assumed the surname of Jones, and his record under the name of Paul Jones forms one of the most glorious chapters of American naval history. When given a lieutenant's commission in the colonial navy, Jones was twenty-nine years old. From the day when a lad of thirteen years he shipped for his first voyage, he had spent his life on the ocean. He had served on peaceful merchantmen, and in the less peaceful, but at that time equally respectable, slave-trade. A small inheritance had enabled him to assume the station of a Virginia gentleman; and he had become warmly attached to American ideas and principles, and at the outbreak of the Revolution put his services at the command of Congress. He was first offered a captain's commission with the command of the "Providence," mounting twelve guns and carrying one hundred men. But with extraordinary modesty the young sailor declined, saying that he hardly felt himself fitted to discharge the duties of a first lieutenant. The lieutenant's commission, however, he accepted; and it was in this station that with his own hands he hoisted the first American flag to the masthead of the "Alfred."
The wretched fiasco which attended the attack of the American fleet upon the "Glasgow" was greatly deplored by Jones. However, he refrained from any criticism upon his superiors, and sincerely regretted the finding of the court of inquiry, by which the captain of the "Providence" was dismissed the service, and Lieut. Paul Jones recommended to fill the vacancy.
The duties which devolved upon Capt. Jones were manifold and arduous. The ocean was swarming with powerful British men-of-war, which in his little craft he must avoid, while keeping a sharp outlook for foemen with whom he was equally matched. More than once, from the masthead of the "Providence," the lookout could discover white sails of one or more vessels, any one of which, with a single broadside, could have sent the audacious Yankee to the bottom. But luckily the "Providence" was a fast sailer, and wonderfully obedient to her helm. To her good sailing qualities, and to his own admirable seamanship, Jones owed more than one fortunate escape. Once, when almost overtaken by a powerful man-of-war, he edged away until he brought his pursuer on his weather quarter; then, putting his helm up suddenly, he stood dead before the wind, thus doubling on his course, and running past his adversary within pistol-shot of her guns, but in a course directly opposite to that upon which she was standing. The heavy war-ship went plunging ahead like a heavy hound eluded by the agile fox, and the Yankee proceeded safely on her course.
Some days later the "Providence" was lying to on the great banks near the Isle of Sables. It was a holiday for the crew; for no sails were in sight, and Capt. Jones had indulgently allowed them to get out their cod-lines and enjoy an afternoon's fishing. In the midst of their sport, as they were hauling in the finny monsters right merrily, the hail of the lookout warned them that a strange sail was in sight. The stranger drew rapidly nearer, and was soon made out to be a war vessel. Jones, finding after a short trial that his light craft could easily outstrip the lumbering man-of-war, managed to keep just out of reach. Now and then the pursuer would luff up and let fly a broadside; the shot skipping along over the waves, but sinking before they reached the "Providence." Jones, who had an element of humor in his character, responded to this cannonade with one musket, which, with great solemnity, was discharged in response to each broadside. After keeping up this burlesque battle for some hours, the "Providence" spread her sails, and soon left her foe hull down beneath the horizon.
After having thus eluded his pursuer, Jones skirted the coast of Cape Breton, and put into the harbor of Canso, where he found three British fishing schooners lying at anchor. The inhabitants of the little fishing village were electrified to see the "Providence" cast anchor in the harbor, and, lowering her boats, send two crews of armed sailors to seize the British craft. No resistance was made, however; and the Americans burned one schooner, scuttled a second, and after filling the third with fish, taken from the other two, took her out of the harbor with the "Providence" leading the way.
From the crew of the captured vessel, Jones learned that at the Island of Madame, not far from Canso, there was a considerable flotilla of British merchantmen. Accordingly he proceeded thither with the intention of destroying them. On arriving, he found the harbor too shallow to admit the "Providence;" and accordingly taking up a position from which he could, with his cannon, command the harbor, he despatched armed boats' crews to attack the shipping. On entering the harbor, the Americans found nine British vessels lying at anchor. Ships and brigs, as well as small fishing schooners, were in the fleet. It was a rich prize for the Americans, and it was won without bloodshed; for the peaceful fishermen offered no resistance to the Yankees, and looked upon the capture of their vessels with amazement. The condition of these poor men, thus left on a bleak coast with no means of escape, appealed strongly to Jones's humanity. He therefore told them, that, if they would assist him in making ready for sea such of the prizes as he wished to take with him, he would leave them vessels enough to carry them back to England. The fishermen heartily agreed to the proposition, and worked faithfully for several days at the task of fitting out the captured vessels. The night before the day on which Jones had intended leaving the harbor, the wind came on to blow, and a violent storm of wind and rain set in. Even the usually calm surface of the little harbor was lashed to fury by the shrieking wind. The schooner "Sea-Flower"—one of the captured prizes—was torn from her moorings; and though her crew got out the sweeps, and struggled valiantly for headway against the driving storm, she drifted on shore, and lay there a total wreck. The schooner "Ebenezer," which Jones had brought from Canso laden with fish, drifted on a sunken reef, and was there so battered by the roaring waves that she went to pieces. Her crew, after vainly striving to launch the boats, built a raft, and saved themselves on that.
The next day the storm abated; and Capt. Jones, taking with him three heavily laden prizes, left the harbor, and turned his ship's prow homeward. The voyage to Newport, then the headquarters of the little navy, was made without other incident than the futile chase of three British ships, which ran into the harbor of Louisbourg. On his arrival, Jones reported that he had been cruising for forty-seven days, and in that time had captured sixteen prizes, beside the fishing-vessels he burned at Cape Breton. Eight of his prizes he had manned, and sent into port; the remainder he had burned. It was the first effective blow the colonists had yet struck at their powerful foe upon the ocean.
Hardly had Paul Jones completed this first cruise, when his mind, ever active in the service of his country, suggested to him a new enterprise in which he might contribute to the cause of American liberty. At this early period of the Revolution, the British were treating American prisoners with almost inconceivable barbarity. Many were sent to the "Old Jersey" prison-ship, of whose horrors we shall read something later on. Others, to the number of about a hundred, were taken to Cape Breton, and forced to labor like Russian felons in the underground coal-mines. Jones's plan was bold in its conception, but needed only energy and promptitude to make it perfectly feasible.
He besought the authorities to give him command of a squadron, that he might move on Cape Breton, destroy the British coal and fishing vessels always congregated there, and liberate the hapless Americans who were passing their lives in the dark misery of underground mining. His plan was received with favor, but the authorities lacked the means to give him the proper aid. However, two vessels, the "Alfred" and the "Providence," were assigned to him; and he went speedily to work to prepare for the adventure. At the outset, he was handicapped by lack of men. The privateers were then fitting out in every port; and seamen saw in privateering easier service, milder discipline, and greater profits than they could hope for in the regular navy. When, by hard work, the muster-roll of the "Alfred" showed her full complement of men shipped, the stormy month of November had arrived, and the golden hour for success was past.
Nevertheless, Jones, taking command of the "Alfred," and putting the "Providence" in the command of Capt. Hacker, left Newport, and laid his course to the northward. When he arrived off the entrance to the harbor of Louisbourg, he was so lucky as to encounter an English brig, the "Mellish," which, after a short resistance, struck her flag. She proved to be laden with heavy warm clothing for the British troops in Canada. This capture was a piece of great good fortune for the Americans, and many a poor fellow in Washington's army that winter had cause to bless Paul Jones for his activity and success.
The day succeeding the capture of the "Mellish" dawned gray and cheerless. Light flurries of snow swept across the waves, and by noon a heavy snowstorm, driven by a violent north-east gale, darkened the air, and lashed the waves into fury. Jones stood dauntless at his post on deck, encouraging the sailors by cheery words, and keeping the sturdy little vessel on her course. All day and night the storm roared; and when, the next morning, Jones, wearied by his ceaseless vigilance, looked anxiously across the waters for his consort, she was not to be seen. The people on the "Alfred" supposed, of course, that the "Providence" was lost, with all on board, and mourned the sad fate of their comrades. But, in fact, Capt. Hacker, affrighted by the storm, had basely deserted his leader during the night, and made off for Newport, leaving Jones to prosecute his enterprise alone.
Jones recognized in this desertion the knell of the enterprise upon which he had embarked. Nevertheless, he disdained to return to port: so sending the "Mellish" and a second prize, which the British afterwards recaptured, back to Massachusetts, he continued his cruise along the Nova Scotia coast. Again he sought out the harbor of Canso, and, entering it, found a large English transport laden with provisions aground just inside the bar. Boats' crews from the "Alfred" soon set the torch to the stranded ship, and then, landing, fired a huge warehouse filled with whale-oil and the products of the fisheries. Leaving the blazing pile behind, the "Alfred" put out again into the stormy sea, and made for the northward.
As he approached Louisbourg, Jones fell in with a considerable fleet of British coal-vessels, in convoy of the frigate "Flora." A heavy fog hung over the ocean; and the fleet Yankee, flying here and there, was able to cut out and capture three of the vessels without alarming the frigate, that continued unsuspectingly on her course. Two days later, Jones snapped up a Liverpool privateer, that fired scarcely a single gun in resistance. Then crowded with prisoners, embarrassed by prizes, and short of food and water, the "Alfred" turned her course homeward.
Five valuable prizes sailed in her wake. Anxiety for the safety of these gave Jones no rest by day or night. He was ceaselessly on the watch lest some hostile man-of-war should overhaul his fleet, and force him to abandon his hard-won fruits of victory. All went well until, when off St. George's Bank, he encountered the frigate "Milford,"—the same craft to whose cannon-balls Jones, but a few months before, had tauntingly responded with musket-shots.
It was late in the afternoon when the "Milford" was sighted; and Jones, seeing that she could by no possibility overtake his squadron before night, ordered his prizes to continue their course without regard to any lights or apparent signals from the "Alfred." When darkness fell upon the sea, the Yankees were scudding along on the starboard tack, with the Englishman coming bravely up astern. From the tops of the "Alfred" swung two burning lanterns, which the enemy doubtless pronounced a bit of beastly stupidity on the part of the Yankee, affording, as it did, an excellent guide for the pursuer to steer by. But during the night the wily Jones changed his course. The prizes, with the exception of the captured privateer, continued on the starboard tack. The "Alfred" and the privateer made off on the port tack, with the "Milford" in full cry in their wake. Not until the morning dawned did the Englishman discover how he had been tricked.
Having thus secured the safety of his prizes, it only remained for Jones to escape with the privateer. Unluckily, however, the officer put in charge of the privateer proved incapable, and his craft fell into hands of the British. Jones, however, safely carried the "Alfred" clear of the "Milford's" guns, and, a heavy storm coming up, soon eluded his foe in the snow and darkness. Thereupon he shaped his course for Boston, where he arrived on the 5th of December, 1776. Had he been delayed two days longer, both his provisions and his water would have been exhausted.
For the ensuing six months Jones remained on shore, not by any means inactive, for his brain was teeming with great projects for his country's service. He had been deprived of the command of the "Alfred," and another ship was not easily to be found: so he turned his attention to questions of naval organization, and the results of many of his suggestions are observable in the United States navy to-day. It was not until June 14, 1777, that a command was found for him. This was the eighteen-gun ship "Ranger," built to carry a frigate's battery of twenty-six guns. She had been built for the revolutionary government, at Portsmouth, and was a stanch-built, solid craft, though miserably slow and somewhat crank. Jones, though disappointed with the sailing qualities of the craft, was nevertheless vastly delighted to be again in command of a man-of-war, and wasted no time in getting her ready for sea.
It so happened, that, on the very day Paul Jones received his commission as commander of the "Ranger," the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes for the national flag. Jones, anticipating this action, had prepared a flag in accordance with the proposed designs, and, upon hearing of the action of Congress, had it run to the masthead, while the cannon of the "Ranger" thundered out their deep-mouthed greetings to the starry banner destined to wave over the most glorious nation of the earth. Thus it happened that the same hand that had given the pine-tree banner to the winds was the first to fling out to the breezes the bright folds of the Stars and Stripes.
Early in October the "Ranger" left Portsmouth, and made for the coast of France. Astute agents of the Americans in that country were having a fleet, powerful frigate built there for Jones, which he was to take, leaving the sluggish "Ranger" to be sold. But, on his arrival at Nantes, Jones was grievously disappointed to learn that the British Government had so vigorously protested against the building of a vessel-of-war in France for the Americans, that the French Government had been obliged to notify the American agents that their plan must be abandoned. France was at this time at peace with Great Britain, and, though inclined to be friendly with the rebellious colonies, was not ready to entirely abandon her position as a neutral power. Later, when she took up arms against England, she gave the Americans every right in her ports they could desire.
Jones thus found himself in European waters with a vessel too weak to stand against the frigates England could send to take her, and too slow to elude them. But he determined to strike some effective blows for the cause of liberty. Accordingly he planned an enterprise, which, for audacity of conception and dash in execution, has never been equalled by any naval expedition since.
This was nothing less than a virtual invasion of England. The "Ranger" lay at Brest. Jones planned to dash across the English Channel, and cruise along the coast of England, burning shipping and towns, as a piece of retaliation upon the British for their wanton outrages along the American coast. It was a bold plan. The channel was thronged with the heavy frigates of Great Britain, any one of which could have annihilated the audacious Yankee cruiser. Nevertheless, Jones determined to brave the danger.
At the outset, it seemed as though his purpose was to be balked by heavy weather. For days after the "Ranger" left Brest, she battled against the chop-seas of the English Channel. The sky was dark, and the light of the sun obscured by gray clouds. The wind whistled through the rigging, and tore at the tightly furled sails. Great green walls of water, capped with snowy foam, beat thunderously against the sides of the "Ranger." Now and then a port would be driven in, and the men between decks drenched by the incoming deluge. The "Ranger" had encountered an equinoctial gale in its worst form.
When the gale died away, Jones found himself off the Scilly Islands, in full view of the coast of England. Here he encountered a merchantman, which he took and scuttled, sending the crew ashore to spread the news that an American man-of-war was ravaging the channel. Having alarmed all England, he changed his hunting-ground to St. George's Channel and the Irish Sea, where he captured several ships; sending one, a prize, back to Brest. He was in waters with which he had been familiar from his youth, and he made good use of his knowledge; dashing here and there, lying in wait in the highway of commerce, and then secreting himself in some sequestered cove while the enemy's ship-of-war went by in fruitless search for the marauder. All England was aroused by the exploits of the Yankee cruiser. Never since the days of the Invincible Armada had war been so brought home to the people of the tight little island. Long had the British boastfully claimed the title of monarch of the seas. Long had they sung the vainglorious song,—
"Britannia needs no bulwarks, No towers along the steep; Her march is o'er the mountain waves, Her home is on the deep."
But Paul Jones showed Great Britain that her boasted power was a bubble. He ravaged the seas within cannon-shot of English headlands. He captured and burned merchantmen, drove the rates of insurance up to panic prices, paralyzed British shipping-trade, and even made small incursions into British territory.
The reports that reached Jones of British barbarity along the American coast, of the burning of Falmouth, of tribute levied on innumerable seaport towns,—all aroused in him a determination to strike a retaliatory blow. Whitehaven, a small seaport, was the spot chosen by him for attack; and he brought his ship to off the mouth of the harbor late one night, intending to send in a boat's crew to fire the shipping. But so strong a wind sprung up, as to threaten to drive the ship ashore; and Jones was forced to make sail, and get an offing. A second attempt, made upon a small harbor called Lochryan, on the western coast of Scotland, was defeated by a like cause.
But the expedition against Lochryan, though in itself futile, was the means of giving Jones an opportunity to show his merits as a fighter. Soon after leaving Lochryan, he entered the bay of Carrichfergus, on which is situated the Irish commercial city of Belfast. The bay was constantly filled with merchantmen; and the "Ranger," with her ports closed, and her warlike character carefully disguised, excited no suspicion aboard a trim, heavy-built craft that lay at anchor a little farther up the bay. This craft was the British man-of-war "Drake," mounting twenty guns. Soon after his arrival in the bay, Jones learned the character of the "Drake," and determined to attempt her capture during the night. Accordingly he dropped anchor near by, and, while carefully concealing the character of his craft, made every preparation for a midnight fight. The men sat between decks, sharpening cutlasses, and cleaning and priming their pistols; the cannon were loaded with grape, and depressed for work at close quarters; battle lanterns were hung in place, ready to be lighted at the signal for action.
At ten o'clock, the tramp of men about the capstan gave notice that the anchor was being brought to the catheads. Soon the creaking of cordage, and the snapping of the sails, told that the fresh breeze was being caught by the spreading sails. Then the waves rippled about the bow of the ship, and the "Ranger" was fairly under way.
It was a pitch-dark night, but the lights on board the "Drake" showed where she was lying. On the "Ranger" all lights were extinguished, and no noise told of her progress towards her enemy. It was the captain's plan to run his vessel across the "Drake's" cable, drop his own anchor, let the "Ranger" swing alongside the Englishman, and then fight it out at close quarters. But this plan, though well laid, failed of execution. The anchor was not let fall in season; and the "Ranger," instead of bringing up alongside her enemy, came to anchor half a cable-length astern. The swift-flowing tide and the fresh breeze made it impossible to warp the ship alongside: so Jones ordered the cable cut, and the "Ranger" scudded down the bay before the ever-freshening gale. It does not appear that the people on the "Drake" were aware of the danger they so narrowly escaped.
The wind that had aided the tide in defeating Jones's enterprise blew stronger and stronger, and before morning the sea was tossing before a regular north-east gale. Against it the "Ranger" could make no headway: so Jones gave his ship her head, and scudded before the wind until within the vicinity of Whitehaven, when he determined to again attempt to destroy the shipping in that port. This time he was successful. Bringing the "Ranger" to anchor near the bar, Capt. Jones called for volunteers to accompany him on the expedition. He himself was to be their leader; for as a boy he had often sailed in and out of the little harbor, knew where the forts stood, and where the colliers anchored most thickly. The landing party was divided into two boat-loads; Jones taking command of one, while Lieut. Wallingford held the tiller of the other boat. With muffled oars the Americans made for the shore, the boats' keels grated upon the pebbly shore, and an instant later the adventurers had scaled the ramparts of the forts, and had made themselves masters of the garrisons. All was done quietly. The guns in the fortifications were spiked; and, leaving the few soldiers on guard gagged and bound, Jones and his followers hastened down to the wharves to set fire to the shipping.
In the harbor were not less than two hundred and twenty vessels, large and small. On the north side of the harbor, near the forts, were about one hundred and fifty vessels. These Jones undertook to destroy. The others were left to Lieut. Wallingford, with his boat's crew of fifteen picked men.
When Jones and his followers reached the cluster of merchantmen, they found their torches so far burned out as to be useless. Failure stared them in the face then, when success was almost within their grasp. Jones, however, was not to be balked of his prey. Running his boat ashore, he hastened to a neighboring house, where he demanded candles. With these he returned, led his men aboard a large ship from which the crew fled, and deliberately built a fire in her hold. Lest the fire should go out, he found a barrel of tar, and threw it upon the flames. Then with the great ship roaring and crackling, and surrounded by scores of other vessels in danger from the flames, Jones withdrew, thinking his work complete.
Many writers have criticised Paul Jones for not having stayed longer to complete the destruction of the vessels in the harbor. But, with the gradually brightening day, his position, which was at the best very dangerous, was becoming desperate. There were one hundred and fifty vessels in that part of the harbor; the crews averaged ten men to a vessel: so that nearly fifteen hundred men were opposed to the plucky little band of Americans. The roar of the fire aroused the people of the town, and they rushed in crowds to the wharf. In describing the affair Jones writes, "The inhabitants began to appear in thousands, and individuals ran hastily toward us. I stood between them and the ship on fire, with my pistol in my hand, and ordered them to stand, which they did with some precipitation. The sun was a full hour's march above the horizon; and, as sleep no longer ruled the world, it was time to retire. We re-embarked without opposition, having released a number of prisoners, as our boats could not carry them. After all my people had embarked, I stood upon the pier for a considerable space, yet no person advanced. I saw all the eminences round the town covered with the amazed inhabitants."
As his boat drew away from the blazing shipping, Jones looked anxiously across the harbor to the spot to which Lieut. Wallingford had been despatched. But no flames were seen in that quarter; for, Wallingford's torches having gone out, he had abandoned the enterprise. And so the Americans, having regained their ship, took their departure, leaving only one of the enemy's vessels burning. A most lame and impotent conclusion it was indeed; but, as Jones said, "What was done is sufficient to show that not all the boasted British navy is sufficient to protect their own coasts, and that the scenes of distress which they have occasioned in America may soon be brought home to their own doors."
CAREER OF PAUL JONES CONTINUED. — HIS DESCENT UPON THE CASTLE OF LORD SELKIRK — THE AFFAIR OF THE PLATE. — THE DESCENT UPON WHITEHAVEN. — THE BATTLE WITH THE "DRAKE."-LIEUT. SIMPSON'S PERFIDY.
We now come to the glorious part of the career of Paul Jones upon the ocean. Heretofore he has been chiefly occupied in the capture of defenceless merchantmen. His work has been that of the privateer, even if not of the pirate that the British have always claimed he was. But the time came when Jones proved that he was ready to fight an adversary of his mettle; was willing to take heavy blows, and deal stunning ones in return. His daring was not confined to dashing expeditions in which the danger was chiefly overcome by spirit and rapid movements. While this class of operations was ever a favorite with the doughty seaman, he was not at all averse to the deadly naval duel.
We shall for a time abandon our account of the general naval incidents of the Revolution, to follow the career of Paul Jones to the end of the war. His career is not only the most interesting, but the most important, feature of the naval operations of that war. He stands out alone, a grand figure in naval history, as does Decatur in the wars with the Barbary pirates, or Farragut in the war for the Union. The war of 1812 affords no such example of single greatness in the navy. There we find Perry, McDonough, and Porter, all equally great. But in '76 there was no one to stand beside Paul Jones.
When the "Ranger" left the harbor of Whitehaven, her captain was heavy hearted. He felt that he had had the opportunity to strike a heavy blow at the British shipping, but had nevertheless inflicted only a trifling hurt. Angry with himself for not having better planned the adventure, and discontented with his lieutenant for not having by presence of mind prevented the fiasco, he felt that peace of mind could only be obtained by some deed of successful daring.
He was cruising in seas familiar to him as a sailor. Along the Scottish shores his boyhood hours had been spent. This knowledge he sought to turn to account. From the deck of his ship, he could see the wooded shores of St. Mary's Island, on which were the landed estates of Lord Selkirk, a British noble, of ancient lineage and political prominence. On the estate of this nobleman Paul Jones was born, and there he passed the few years of his life that elapsed before he forsook the land for his favorite element.
Leaning against the rail on the quarter-deck of the "Ranger," Jones could see through his spy-glass the turrets and spires of Lord Selkirk's castle. As he gazed, there occurred to him the idea, that if he could send a landing party ashore, seize the castle, capture the peer, and bear him off into captivity, he would not only strike terror into the hearts of the British, but would give the Americans a prisoner who would serve as a hostage to secure good treatment for the hapless Americans who had fallen into the hands of the enemy.
With Jones, the conception of a plan was followed by its swift execution. Disdaining to wait for nightfall, he chose two boats' crews of tried and trusty men, and landed. The party started up the broad and open highway leading to the castle. They had gone but a few rods, however, when they encountered two countrymen, who stared a moment at the force of armed men, and then turned in fear to escape.
"Halt!" rang out the clear voice of the leader of the blue-jackets; and the peasants fell upon their faces in abject terror. Jones directed that they be brought to him; and he questioned them kindly, setting their minds at rest, and learning from them much of the castle and its inmates. Lord Selkirk was away from home. This to Jones was bitter news. It seemed as though some evil genius was dogging his footsteps, bringing failure upon his most carefully planned enterprises. But he was not a man to repine over the inevitable, and he promptly ordered his men to the right about, and made for the landing-place again.
But the sailors were not so unselfish in their motives as their captain. They had come ashore expecting to plunder the castle of the earl, and they now murmured loudly over the abandonment of the adventure. They saw the way clear before them. No guards protected the house. The massive ancestral plate, with which all English landed families are well provided, was unprotected by bolts or bars. They felt that, in retreating, they were throwing away a chance to despoil their enemy, and enrich themselves.
Jones felt the justice of the complaint of the sailors; but only after a fierce struggle with his personal scruples could he yield the point. The grounds of the Earl of Selkirk had been his early playground. A lodge on the vast estate had been his childhood's home. Lady Selkirk had shown his family many kindnesses. To now come to her house as a robber and pillager, seemed the blackest ingratitude; but, on the other hand, he had no right to permit his personal feelings to interfere with his duty to the crew. The sailors had followed him into danger many a time, and this was their first opportunity for financial reward. And, even if it was fair to deny them this chance to make a little prize-money, it would hardly be safe to sow the seeds of discontent among the crew while on a cruise in waters infested with the enemy's ships. With a sigh Jones abandoned his intention of protecting the property of Lady Selkirk, and ordered his lieutenant to proceed to the castle, and capture the family plate. Jones himself returned to the ship, resolved to purchase the spoils at open sale, and return them to their former owner.
The blue-jackets continued their way up the highway, and, turning aside where a heavy gate opened into a stately grove, demanded of an old man who came, wondering, out of the lodge, that he give them instant admittance. Then, swinging into a trot, they ran along the winding carriage-drive until they came out on the broad lawn that extended in front of the castle. Here for the first time they were seen by the inmates of the castle; and faint screams of fear, and shouts of astonishment, came from the open windows of the stately pile. The men-servants came rushing out to discover who the lawless crowd that so violated the sanctity of an English earl's private park could be; but their curiosity soon abated when a few stout blue-jackets, cutlass and pistol in hand, surrounded them, and bade them keep quiet. The lieutenant, with two stout seamen at his back, then entered the castle, and sought out the mistress, who received him with calm courtesy, with a trace of scorn, but with no sign of fear.
Briefly the lieutenant told his errand. The countess gave an order to a butler, and soon a line of stout footmen entered, bearing the plate. Heavy salvers engraved with the family arms of Lord Selkirk, quaint drinking-cups and flagons curiously carved, ewers, goblets, platters, covers, dishes, teapots, and all kinds of table utensils were there, all of exquisitely artistic workmanship, and bearing the stamp of antiquity. When all was ready, the lieutenant called in two of the sailors from the lawn; and soon the whole party, bearing the captured treasure, disappeared in the curves of the road.
This incident, simple enough in reality, the novelist Fenimore Cooper has made the germ of one of his exquisite sea-tales, "The Pilot." British historians have made of it an example by which to prove the lawlessness and base ingratitude of Paul Jones. As may readily be imagined, it stirred up at the time the most intense excitement in England. Jones became the bugbear of timid people. His name was used to frighten little children. He was called pirate, traitor, free-booter, plunderer. It was indeed a most audacious act that he had committed. Never before or since had the soil of England been trodden by a hostile foot. Never had a British peer been forced to feel that his own castle was not safe from the invader. Jones, with his handful of American tars, had accomplished a feat which had never before been accomplished, and which no later foeman of England has dared to repeat. It is little wonder that the British papers described him as a bloodthirsty desperado.
A few weeks later, the captured plate was put up for sale by the prize agents. Capt. Jones, though not a rich man, bought it, and returned it to the countess. Lord Selkirk, in acknowledging its receipt, wrote,—
"And on all occasions, both now and formerly, I have done you the justice to tell that you made an offer of returning the plate very soon after your return to Brest; and although you yourself were not at my house, but remained at the shore with your boat, that you had your officers and men in such extraordinary good discipline, that your having given them the strictest orders to behave well,—to do no injury of any kind, to make no search, but only to bring off what plate was given them,—that in reality they did exactly as was ordered; and that not one man offered to stir from his post on the outside of the house, nor entered the doors, nor said an uncivil word; that the two officers stayed not one-quarter of an hour in the parlor and in the butler's pantry while the butler got the plate together, behaved politely, and asked for nothing but the plate, and instantly marched their men off in regular order; and that both officers and men behaved in all respects so well, that it would have done credit to the best-disciplined troops whatever."
But the British took little notice of the generous reparation made by Capt. Jones, and continued to hurl abuse and hard names at him.
Jones was vastly disappointed at his failure to capture the person of Lord Selkirk. The story of the sufferings of his countrymen in British prisons worked upon his heart, and he longed to take captive a personage whom he could hold as hostage. But, soon after leaving St. Mary's Isle, he fell in again with the British man-of-war "Drake;" and as a result of this encounter he had prisoners enough to exchange for many hapless Americans languishing in hulks and prisons.
After the wind and tide had defeated the midnight attempt made by Jones to capture the "Drake," that craft had remained quietly at her anchorage, little suspecting that the bay of Carrickfergus had held so dangerous a neighbor. But soon reports of the "Ranger's" depredations began to reach the ears of the British captain. The news of the desperate raid upon Whitehaven became known to him. He therefore determined to leave his snug anchorage, and go in search of the audacious Yankee. Just as the captain of the "Drake" had reached this determination, and while he was making sail, the "Ranger" appeared off the mouth of the harbor.
The "Drake" promptly sent out a boat to examine the strange craft, and report upon her character. Jones saw her coming, and resolved to throw her off the scent. Accordingly, by skilful seamanship, he kept the stern of the "Ranger" continually presented to the prying eyes in the British boat. Turn which way they might, be as swift in their manoeuvres as they might, the British scouts could see nothing of the "Ranger" but her stern, pierced with two cabin windows, as might be the stern of any merchantman. Her sides, dotted with frowning ports, were kept securely hidden from their eyes.
Though provided with spy-glasses, the people in the boat were totally deceived. Unsuspectingly they came up under the stern of the "Ranger," and demanded to come on board. As the officer in command clambered up a rope, and vaulted the taffrail to the quarter-deck, he saw Paul Jones and his lieutenants, in full uniform, standing before him.
"Why,—why, what ship's this?" stammered the astonished officer.
"This is the American Continental ship 'Ranger,' and you are my prisoner," responded Jones; and at the words a few sailors, with cutlasses and pistols, called to the men in the boat alongside, to come aboard and give themselves up.
From his captives Jones learned that the news of the Whitehaven raid had reached the "Drake" only the night before; and that she had been re-enforcing her crew with volunteers, preparatory to going out in search of the "Ranger." As he stood talking to the captured British naval officer, Jones noticed slender columns of smoke rising from the woods on neighboring highlands, where he knew there were no houses.
"What does that mean?" he asked.
"Alarm fires, sir," answered the captive; "the news of your descent upon Whitehaven is terrifying the whole country."
Soon, however, the attention of the Americans was diverted from the signal-fires to the "Drake." An appearance of life and bustle was observable about the boat. The shrill notes of the boatswain's whistle, and the tramp of men about the capstan, came faintly over the waters. The rigging was full of sailors, and the sails were being quickly spread to catch the fresh breeze. Soon the ship began to move slowly from her anchorage; she heeled a little to one side, and, responsive to her helm, turned down the bay. She was coming out to look after her lost boat.
Jones determined to hold his ground, and give battle to the Englishman. He at once began to prepare for battle in every way possible without alarming the enemy. The great guns were loaded and primed. Cutlasses and pistols were brought up from the armorer's room, and placed in convenient locations on the main deck, so that the boarders might find them when needed. The powder-monkeys, stripped for action, and the handlers and cartridge-makers entered the powder-magazine, and prepared to hand out the deadly explosive. The cook and his assistant strewed sawdust and ashes about the decks, to catch the blood, and keep the men from slipping. Every one was busy, from the captain down to the galley-boy.
There was plenty of time to prepare; for the tide was out, and the "Drake," beating down a narrow channel, made but slow headway. The delay was a severe strain upon the nerves of the men, who stood silent and grim at their quarters on the American ship, waiting for the fight to begin. At such a moment, even the most courageous must lose heart, as he thinks upon the terrible ordeal through which he must pass. Visions of home and loved ones flit before his misty eyes; and Jack chokes down a sob as he hides his emotion in nervously fingering the lock of his gun, or taking a squint through the port-holes at the approaching enemy.