Twelve Naval Captains: Being a Record of Certain Americans Who Made Themselves Immortal Twelve Naval Captains: Being a Record of Certain Americans Who Made Themselves Immortal

Twelve Naval Captains: Being a Record of Certain Americans Who Made Themselves Immortal

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American history presents no more picturesque figure than Paul Jones, and the mere recital of his life and its incidents is a thrilling romance. A gardener's boy, he shipped before the mast at twelve years of age, and afterward rose to be the ranking officer in the American navy. His exploits by land and sea in various parts of the world; his intimacy with some of the greatest men of the age, and his friendships with reigning sovereigns of Europe; his character, of deep sentiment, united with extraordinary genius and extreme daring,—place him among those historical personages who are always of enchanting interest to succeeding ages. Paul Jones himself foresaw and gloried in this posthumous fame, for, with all his great qualities, he had the natural vanity which so often accompanies the self-made man. He lacked the perfect self-poise of Washington, who, having done immortal things, blushed to have them spoken of, and did not deign to appeal to posterity. Paul Jones was continually appealing to posterity. But his vanity was that of an honest man, and he was often stung to assertiveness by the malignities of his enemies. That these malignities were false, and that he was a man of lofty ideals and admirable character, is shown by the friends he made and kept. Dr. Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Morris, and Lafayette lived upon terms of the greatest intimacy with him; Washington esteemed him,—and the goodwill of such men places any man in the category of the upright.

Nothing in the family and circumstances of Paul Jones indicated the distinction of his later life. His father, John Paul, was a gardener, at Arbigland, in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, where Paul Jones was born in 1747. He was named John Paul, for his father; but upon his taking up his residence in Virginia, in his twenty-seventh year, he added Jones to his name,—for some reason which is not now and never has been understood,—and as Paul Jones he is known to history. The Pauls were very humble people, and Paul Jones's childhood was like the childhood of other poor men's sons. Boats were his favorite and only playthings, and he showed from the beginning that he had the spirit of command. He organized his playfellows into companies of make-believe sailors, which he drilled sternly. The tide rushes into the Solway Firth from the German ocean so tremendously that it often seems like a tidal wave, and the boy Paul Jones had sometimes to run for his life when he was wading out commanding his miniature ships and crews. Close by his father's cottage is the sheltered bay of the Carsethorn, where, in the old days, ships for Dumfries loaded and unloaded. Deep water is so close to the shore that as the ships worked in and out their yardarms seemed to be actually passing among the trees that cling stubbornly to the rocky shore. It was the delight of the boy Paul Jones to perch himself on the highest point of the promontory, and to screech out his orders to the incoming and outgoing vessels; and the shipmasters soon found that this bold boy was as good as a pilot any day, and if they followed his directions they would always have water enough under the keel.

25 December
Library of Alexandria

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