John Paul Jones

USS Ranger before the Whitehaven Raid of 1778

On the French coast

Although the journey from America to France seemed to have gone well enough and the crew seemed content on arrival there, Jones was set to have problems from then until the attack on Whitehaven. Firstly, the despatches he carried to France had already been delivered by another ship. He had expected to become Captain of a new frigate l’Indiene but this fell through. The crew had also expected to be rid of him at this point. He was not one of them, but a Scot, and because of this they disliked him. He also expected naval discipline, something they were not used to, and thus, as was Naval practice, he stayed aloof of the other officers. This gave them chance to conspire against him. David Freeman later described John Paul Jones as a passionate man with whom the crew was dissatisfied. I’m guessing that this would indicate any mistakes would see his temper rise against the crew.

Although they arrived in France on December the 2nd they didn’t set out on their mission until the 10th April. John Paul Jones spent much time hob-nobbing with the French whilst his crew had to work on the ship. To be fair, he paid for provisions and a lot of brandy for the crew and even had new hammocks made. The work done on the ship no-doubt improved its sailing ability. Jones had probably gained a great knowledge of ships from his formative time at Whitehaven, which had a large shipbuilding industry producing some of the finest ships of the period. He had the hull careened twice, and removed the masts, shortened them and moved them further aft. He also had better sails made, changed the rigging and increased and altered the distribution of the ballast. This was partly enforced by the fact that when he first left Quiberon bay the ship almost capsized and caught fire in a storm and had to return after a short but worthless journey.

the French coast sailed by Jones and Ranger

After this a boy had to be sent ashore with small-pox. At Cameret 8 men deserted but 7 were captured by police and put in irons. Jones was also forced to dismiss his friend Matthew Parke, intended as commander of the marines for L’Indien, as the crew didn’t want to share prize money with an extra officer. However, he did take on Jean Meijer of the Swedish army who became a vital ally.

Heading for Whitehaven

So by the time Ranger got underway for its mission the crew was homesick and disgruntled. The French escort left them earlier than expected which annoyed the Captain. The first ship they encountered was Dolphin carrying flaxseed from Ostend to Wexford. This wasn’t worth enough to waste his men taking her as a prize, so after taking the crew prisoner he scuttled it, but this meant no profit for his crew. The next ship Lord Chatham was a different matter - the cargo included a hundred hogshead of English porter (dark malt beer) bound for Dublin. This was taken and returned as a prize to Brest.

Once they reached his home waters of the Solway Firth Captain Jones piloted the Ranger himself. On 17th April 1778, Good Friday, John Paul Jones was all prepared for his attack on Whitehaven. As he approached the wind suddenly increased and changed direction. The water became too choppy for the small boats to make a landing and there was a danger of USS Ranger being blown aground. After abandoning the attack it took all his efforts to manoeuvre the ship away from danger and towards the Scottish side of the Solway.

The following day, as we know, he encountered Hussar from Whitehaven, which escaped from his grasp. The day after that Ranger captured the crew of a schooner heading for Irvine in Scotland carrying oats and barley but again they sunk her, gaining no prize. Jones was going to attack a merchant fleet in Loch Ryan but again winds prevented him. He chased a cutter into the Clyde but it escaped and he then sank a sloop heading for Dublin just to stop his whereabouts being known.

A daring attempt was then made to attack H.M.S. Drake in Belfast Lough. The plan was so bungled that the Drake wasn’t even aware the attack had happened and bad weather again forced Ranger to shelter off the Scottish shore.

At one point a mutiny was attempted. The crew supported by most of the officers had decided to throw John Paul Jones overboard or at least put him in irons. It all erupted as Master Cullam charged the Captain as a signal to overthrow the ship – and came to an abrupt halt as John Paul Jones put a pistol to Cullam’s head. Fortunately, Lieutenant Jean Meijer had heard of the plot from another Swede called Shoondelin and had tipped off Jones who was thus prepared.

So, by the eve of the attack on Whitehaven, the crew’s only reward was 2 fruit boats and the Lord Chatham since leaving America nearly 6 months before. They had suffered almost constant bad weather and misfortune with a lot of hard work and no-doubt an occasional outburst of the Captain’s temper. This was a far cry from the recruitment poster for the Ranger that had promised "an agreeable Voyage in this pleasant Season of the Year…" where gentlemen could "...make their Fortune…"

Now, this Scot wanted to attack the English mainland and burn the shipping for no profit. As Lieutenant Wallingford stated "Nothing could be got by burning poor people’s property".

Jones then explained that they had been promised by congress compensation for his crew for every ship destroyed as if they had been captured. He hoped that the raid would bring an end to the British firing of settlements in America – although knowing the British it would more likely have lead to like-for-like reprisals.

previous    back to index    next

Return to Home page

W&WL 2007