Much has been written about the naval hero John Paul Jones. His immortal words, “I have not yet begun to fight,” still inspire seamen over two centuries later. “Jones went on to establish himself as one of the great naval commanders in history; he is remembered, along with John Barry, as a ‘Father of the American Navy.’ He is buried in a crypt in the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland, where a Marine honor guard stands at attention in his honor whenever the crypt is open to the public.” (history.com)
But his true mettle and daring as a naval officer were revealed a year and a half before his famous battle between Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis.
On April 22nd, 1778 he took the fight to the British on their own soil.
He had sailed to France aboard the frigate Ranger, one of the first warships built by the fledgling nation, in order to take possession of another vessel being built by the French. Tensions with England had compelled France to back out of the agreement, so Jones was left with only the Ranger.
Undaunted, he sailed toward England, looking for a fight.
On the night of April 22nd, two boats with 32 people aboard slipped into the fishing village of Whitehaven. The marine landing party took two small forts protecting the harbor and set some of the ships afire before returning to Ranger. His crew landed again at Kirkcudbright Bay in a failed attempt to abduct the Earl of Selkirk (his plan was to exchange him for American prisoners being held by the British).
It was the first attack on British soil since the Norman conquest in 1066 (suite101.com).
It is not difficult to imagine the shock that rippled throughout the British Empire after the raid. New defenses were constructed. Ports all along the seaboard were put on alert for other American raids. For the first time since the Declaration of Independence, the struggle in a far away land had suddenly become local.
John Paul Jones’ raid on Whitehaven is akin to Doolittle’s raid on Japan in 1942. The tactical significance of both was minimal. But the strategic impact was tremendous.
After the Whitehaven raid, the British warship Drake put to sea to take on the Ranger. James Fennimore Coopers sets the scene in his biography of John Paul Jones: “He was the narrow waters of the most powerful naval power on earth, with the three kingdoms in plain view. Alarm smokes were raised on each side of the channel, in great numbers, showing that his foes were up and doing. He had already given occasion for extraordinary activity, and an enemy that had enjoyed time to get perfectly ready, and which, to say the least, was always his equal in force, was coming out from her moorings purposely to engage him. This, according to a favorite expression of Jones himself, was literally going into ‘harm’s way.'”
Jones and the Ranger defeated Drake in short order, and later sailed – with Drake in company – to Brest, France. He eventually left the Ranger to take command of another – the Bonhomme Richard – the vessel in which he sailed into naval immortality.
What can one man do? He can do plenty.
John Paul Jones is our hero of the week.
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