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Paul Jones

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John Paul, known as Paul Jones, who sought restlessly for distinction all his life, was born the son of a peasant, in July, 1747, near the ocean on which he was to spend a large portion of his time. His father lived in Scotland, near the fishing hamlet of Arbigland, county of Kirkcudbright, on the north shore of Solway Firth, and made a living for the family of seven children by fishing and gardening. The mother, Jeanne Macduff, was the daughter of a Highlander, and in Paul Jones's blood the Scotch canniness and caution of his Lowland father was united with the wild love of physical action native to his mother's race.

Little is known of the early life of the fifth and famous child of the Scotch gardener. He went to the parish school, but not for long, for the sea called him at an early age. When he was twelve years old he could handle his fishing-boat like a veteran. His skill and daring were the talk of the village. One day James Younger, a ship-owning merchant from Whitehaven, then a principal seaport on the neighboring coast of England, visited Arbigland, in search of seamen for one of his vessels. It happened on that day that Paul Jones was out in his yawl when a severe squall arose. Mr. Younger and the villagers watched the boy bring his small sailing-boat straight against the northeaster into the harbor; and Mr. Younger expressed his surprise to Paul's father, who remarked: "That's my boy conning the boat, Mr. Younger. This isn't much of a squall for him." The result was that Mr. Younger took Paul back with him to Whitehaven, bound shipmaster's apprentice. A little while after that, Paul Jones made his first of a series of merchant-ship voyages to the colonies and the West Indies. He continued in Mr. Younger's employ for four years; when he was seventeen he made a round voyage to America as second mate, and was first mate a year later.

Paul left Mr. Younger's service in 1766 and acquired a sixth interest in a ship called King George's Packet, in which he went, as first mate, to the West Indies. The business instinct, always strong in him, received some satisfaction during this voyage by the transportation of blacks from Africa to Jamaica, where they were sold as slaves. The slave-trade was not regarded at that time as dishonorable, but Jones's eagerness to engage in "any private enterprise"—a phrase constantly used by him—was not accompanied by any keen moral sensitiveness. He was always in pursuit of private gain or immediate or posthumous honor, and his grand sentiments, of which he had many, were largely histrionic in type. After one more voyage he gave up the slave-trading business, probably because he realized that no real advancement lay in that line.

On the John O'Gaunt, in which Jones shipped for England, after leaving Jamaica, the captain, mate, and all but five of the crew died of yellow fever, and the ship was taken by Paul into Whitehaven. For this he received a share in the cargo, and in 1768, when he was twenty-one years old, the owners of the John (a merchantman sailing from the same port) gave him command, and in her he made several voyages to America....