A Seasoned Salt: Part 2

John’s first ship in the navy was the Alfred. Taking the Alfred to sea for the first time he raised an American flag onboard an American ship for the very first time. The fleet sailed for the Bahamas raiding British territories for military supplies. On his return John Paul was next given command of the Providence, which captured sixteen ships.

Though he was very successful, politics of high command kept him from advancing. Paul was given the ship Ranger and sailed for European waters. While in French waters the Ranger became the first American ship to be saluted by a foreign navy, Captain Lamotte-Piquet’s flagship fired a nine-gun salute honoring the Ranger. It was while in command of the Ranger that Paul captured the British Naval ship Drake, proving that the Royal Navy was far from invincible. The capture of the Drake was one of the few victories of the Americans early in the war, and became an important symbol to the Americans.

When he returned to France he was given a new ship. A French shipping magnate rebuilt a merchant ship which was no longer fit for the tea trade. The French navy donated 42 cannons for the ship, many of which had been condemned and were no longer safe to use. John Paul named the ship for a friend’s publication Poor Richard.

When Poor Richard left France it was at the head of a seven ship squadron, which included two French privateers. Just behind John Paul was a joint Spanish French invasion force headed towards England. Just a few days out one of the privateers, Monsieur, left the squadron to go on its own. The little squadron headed towards Ireland creating fear along the coast all through Ireland, Scotland, and Britain. The British immediately gave chase.

Sailing around Scotland into the North Sea the Poor Richard found and gave battle to the Serapis and its squadron of ships. It soon became obvious to Paul that in a fight of big guns he would lose, so he decided to come alongside and board the Serapis. This took about an hour of maneuvering; it was during this phase that the British captain of the Serapis asked asked Paul to surrender. Paul’s reply from the deck of his badly damaged ship, “I have not yet begun to fight,” has become famous throughout the navy. Eventually, Paul got his ship alongside the Serapis, after another two hours of battle ensued. The British tried to board the Poor Richard, but were pushed back. Sometime during this part of the battle the flag was shot away from the mast and the British captain call out. “Do you strike your colors?”

Paul relied, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike.”

The French ship Alliance joined the battle with two other ships from these two squadrons battling downwind of the Serapis and Poor Richard. Both before and after joining the other fight the Alliance fired rounds of broadsides (all cannons on one side of the ship) at the Serapis, but did as much damage to the Poor Richard as it did to the British. Eventually, a grenade from the marines landed in a powder magazine on the Serapis and her captain struck his colors, surrendering to Paul. The Poor Richard was sinking and could not be saved. So, Paul took command of the Serapis and sailed for the neutral port of Holland.

In part three the war ends and Paul becomes an admiral in the Russian navy, eventually dying in France, though his story does not end until more than 100 years later. See you next week.

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