Men are so simple and yield so readily to the desires of the moment that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions. — Machiavelli

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Famous Sea Fights

While American patriots were busy fighting the British on land, others, equally brave, were fighting them at sea. As soon as the war began, Congress gave seamen letters of marque, which were permissions to attack and seize any British vessel they met.

The bravest and best known of all the American seamen of this time was John Paul Jones. Although born in Scotland, he adopted this country for his own, and, when the War of Independence began, offered his services to Congress. He proved such an able seaman that in 1777 he was sent to France on an important errand. Although the French did not give him a large ship, as he had hoped, he boldly cruised around in a little American vessel called the Ranger, on which he hoisted the first American flag ever seen and saluted at sea.

Paul Jones sailed boldly along, capturing and sinking English vessels, and even running into the port of Whitehaven, where he tried to burn all the shipping. Then, as his boat was no longer good enough to continue fighting, he went back to France, in quest of a long-promised new ship. But after five months' weary delay, he was still ashore and waiting.

One day he read in "Poor Richard's Almanac": "If you would have your business done, go; if not, send." This saying seemed so true that he immediately set out for Paris. There he managed to talk to the French minister, who again promised him a fine ship. But when the young seaman saw this craft, five days later, he was sorely disappointed, for it was both old and clumsy.

Still, any kind of a ship was better than no ship at all; so Paul Jones named it Bonhomme Richard, a French translation of "Poor Richard." Then he set sail in it, accompanied by a few smaller vessels, and coasted along the North Sea. There Jones ran near the shore, where his visits were so dreaded that, we are told, an old Scotch minister at Kirkcaldy once prayed: "Now, dear Lord, don't you think it a shame for you to send this vile pirate to rob our folk of Kirkcaldy? You know that they are poor enough already, and have nothing to spare."

Still, Paul Jones was not so vile a pirate as the old minister supposed, for whenever he landed for provisions, he paid the poor people for the food and cattle he took. We are also told that, his men having once robbed a castle of its silver plate, Jones sent it all back, eight years later, with a polite note.

The Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis

But while Jones did not wish to harm the poor, he did want to damage the British navy as much as he could. He therefore cruised about until he met the Serapis, a British man-of-war, off Flamborough Head (1779). Here was waged one of the fiercest naval battles ever fought. Although Jones's ship was afire from the very beginning, his guns all disabled, the vessel shot away between decks and slowly sinking, he boldly lashed it fast to the Serapis. While doing so he heard one of his men swear, and turning to him, quietly said: "Don't swear, sir; in another moment we may all be in eternity."

By this time the smoke was so thick that the British captain could not see whether the American flag had been hauled down. He therefore shouted: "Have you struck your colors?" But Jones coolly answered: "I have not yet begun to fight." Such was Jones's pluck that the British commander finally yielded; but when he gave up his sword to Paul Jones, he haughtily said: "It is with great reluctance that I surrender my sword to a man who fights with a halter round his neck."

Paul Jones gave him back the weapon, politely saying: "Captain Pearson, you have fought like a hero, and I have no doubt that your sovereign will reward you for it in the most ample manner." These words came true, for after Captain Pearson had been duly exchanged, George III. called him to court and made him a knight.

As the Bonhomme Richard was sinking, Jones transferred his men and prisoners to the Serapis. Then he sadly watched his own ship settle down and vanish beneath the waves. The Serapis was next taken to France, where it was discovered that Captain Landais, the French commander of one of the smaller vessels in Jones's fleet, was insane. Paul Jones and his men had known this for some time, because Landais had disobeyed orders several times, and when the Bonhomme Richard was fighting against the Serapis, he had even used his cannon against it instead of attacking the enemy.

The news of Paul Jones's victory caused great rejoicings both in America and in France, and when the young captain returned to the latter country, he was invited to court with Franklin. King Louis XVI. heard Jones's account of the fight, and told him that his enemy, Captain Pearson had just been knighted, and had received a new ship. Paul Jones then gayly answered: "Well, he deserved the honor, and if I meet him in his new ship I'll make a lord of him."

This answer greatly amused the king; but at the same time it showed that Paul Jones, hero as he was, had one great fault that of boasting. When he came back to America, Congress honored him; but as the young sailor did not think his services were well enough appreciated in America, he left our country soon after the war was ended, and went to serve Russia.

Paul Jones was not the only hero on the seas at this time, for we are told the American privateers captured five hundred British vessels in three years, secured much booty, and did great harm to the shipping in several English ports.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell