John Paul Jones

“Cease firing!” Jones yelled. He ordered Lieutenant Dale to take a boarding crew across to secure the enemy ship. Grabbing a stray line hanging from a yardarm, the lieutenant swung himself across to the quarterdeck of the Serapis. Midshipman John Mayrant followed with a party of men and was immediately run through the thigh with a pike; some of the British sailors had not gotten the word. Pearson’s first officer, Lieutenant John Wright, was also caught by surprise. Dale was just informing Pearson, “I have orders to send you on board the ship along side,” when Wright, breathless from running up the ladder, appeared and asked his captain whether the Americans had struck. Dale interjected, “No sir, the contrary, he has struck to us.” Wright was taken aback. He turned to Pearson. “Have you struck, sir?” Pearson quietly replied that he had. Wright could not hide his shame. “I have nothing more to say, sir,” the first lieutenant stammered. Collecting himself, he asked Pearson’s permission to go below and silence the remaining guns. With a grinding, wrenching crash, the mainmast of the Serapis toppled over the side, ripping with it the mizzen topmast. After Pearson had crossed over, Jones ordered his men to cut away the grappling hooks and tangled rigging and let the Serapis float free. If the Bonhomme Richard was going to sink or burn, Jones wished at least to save his prize. Aboard the Serapis, Dale backed the remaining sails and was puzzled when the British ship did not respond. He did not realize that the Serapis was anchored. Deciding to investigate, Dale jumped off the binnacle, where he had been sitting in a state of semi-shock, and promptly fell to the deck as his leg collapsed under him. His calf had been badly cut by an iron splinter. In the heat of the battle, he had not realized that he had been wounded. Captain Jones may have been lightly wounded, grazed by a piece of shrapnel, perhaps; in later years, Jones would refer vaguely to the blood he shed, but no record exists of any kind of serious injury. It is doubtful that he felt any sensation besides pure exultation as he stood, begrimed and haggard but erect, to greet Captain Pearson on the quarterdeck of the Bonhomme Richard. Against the Drake, he had been cheated out of the surrender ceremony by his opponent’s demise: mortally wounded in the battle, Captain Burden had been unable to hand over his sword in the ancient ritual of submission. Now Jones moment of triumph, of sweet vindication, had arrived. Pearson, the symbol of Britannic rule, his soot-stained face struggling to remain impassive, stood before Jones, holding out his sword. Jones took it. “Sir,” Jones said to Pearson, “you have fought like a hero, and I make no doubt that your sovereign will reward you in a most ample manner for it.” Fanning and gunner’s mate John Kilby both recalled hearing Pearson ask Jones the nationality of his crew. Mostly Americans, replied Jones.*[He was telling Pearson what he wanted to hear. In fact, Americans accounted for perhaps a third of the Bonhomme Richard‘s crew, though seventeen of twenty officers were Yankees.] “Then it was diamond cut diamond,” Pearson responded. The British captain did not want to hear that he had succumbed to Frenchmen or Spaniards; Americans were at least cousins, endowed with English virtues. Fanning reported that Pearson also said that it “pained” him to hand his sword to a man who “has a halter around his neck,” i.e., a pirate who would hang if caught. This blatant snub seems unlikely, though Pearson would be surly and haughty to Jones as a prisoner in port. Jones, for his part, tried to play the gentleman. according to Fanning, he asked Pearson to join him in his cabin for a glass of wine.”

Excerpted from “John Paul Jones”, author, Evan Thomas. Publisher: SIMON & SCHUSTER, Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY. 10020.

Islander. To Be Continued:

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