To British aristocracy, John Paul Jones was a thieving rebel and a Scotch-borne traitor to the Empire. To seacoast citizens of the British Isles, Jones was portrayed as Blackbeard the pirate, a renegade rogue cutthroat. “Chap-books depicted Paul Jones as a buccaneer, armed to the teeth, in highly colored pictures, bloody and terrifying. Mothers frightened their children with the bare mention of his name.”
To American colonial ladies, however, he evoked images of a dashing, swashbuckling Patriot corsair. But Jones’ actual character didn’t always match up to his storybook images. When first meeting the famous “Chevalier Jones” in Paris, Abigail Adams wrote to her sister feelings of being charmed, yet “disappointed:”
Chevalier Jones you have heard much of. He is a most uncommon Character. I dare Say you would be as much dissapointed in him as I was. From the intrepid Character he justly Supported in the American Navy, I expected to have seen a Rough Stout warlike Roman. Instead of that, I should sooner think of wraping him up in cotton wool and putting him into my pocket, than sending him to contend with Cannon Ball.
He is small of stature, well proportioned, soft in his Speach easy in his address polite in his manners, vastly civil, understands all the Etiquette of a Ladys Toilite as perfectly as he does the Masts Sails and rigging of a Ship. Under all this appearence of softness he is Bold enterprizing ambitious and active.
He has been here often, and dined with us several times. He is said to be a Man of Gallantry and a favorite amongst the French Ladies: whom he is frequently commending for the neatness of their persons their easy manners and their taste in dress. He knows how often the Ladies use the Baths, what coulour best suits a Ladys complextion, what Cosmecticks are most favourable to the skin.
The Complex Character of John Paul Jones
The real John Paul Jones had a complex character and it would be a big mistake to think that he was a totally effeminate fop by what Abigail Adams wrote. Sure, he knew how to appeal to the ladies and he did it very well throughout his lifetime (and more than a few times this womanizing got him into some really serious trouble). However, he was also an incredibly brave and skillful seafaring battle captain and in every way, “an absolute nautical bad ass.” Totally fearless in battleship combat.
Another trait deemed as positive, aside from Jones’ valiant charm, was that he wasn’t very materialistic, which was exceptionally uncommon for the time. Jones wrote, “Personal gain was never the reason for my public actions; I had more noble motives. And far from making my fortune from the Revolution … I consecrated to this great cause the 10 best years of my life.” Jones was a self-made man with a high sense of honor and he truly felt that he was fighting for freedom from despotism, as he wrote many times.
Then again, those positive features were counterbalanced with qualities that kept Jones from advancing or receiving recognition as he should have, perhaps stemming from his poor childhood and feelings of inferiority that he possibly still harbored inside. Jones was argumentative and had a quick temper, which resulted in a couple of incidents in which Jones either threatened to or was actually charged with killing a mutinous member of his crew. That’s why he fled to Virginia and added the fake name (even back then) of “Jones” to the end of his name. Many members of his various crews disliked, even hated him because he demanded strict adherence to his own shipboard standards and procedures – and because he wasn’t materialistic. In fact, Jones put down more than a couple mutinies by his own crews on his own ships. That clash of values between Jones and his crew would come to a head with one particular upcoming assignment.
He also hated to be patronized by arrogant nobles, again possibly harkening back to his youth watching his father, a master gardener at Arbigland estate, being disrespected by the estate owner William Craik. Another dominant character flaw was that Jones almost constantly complained about any perceived unfair treatment or biased P.R. that he thought he was receiving, and therefore Jones took an active interest in his own self-promotion and in guarding his own hard-earned reputation. His sensitivity to bad press and criticism guided his shore side activities, when he wasn’t at sea fighting incredibly epic battles.
Nonetheless, the only personality trait that mattered to members of the Continental Congress was that John Paul Jones was a rough-and-tumble American master ship’s captain. He broke enemy blockades, and ultimately captured “some sixty vessels from the foremost of naval powers … destroyed more than a million dollars’ worth of property on the sea, and took hundreds of prisoners.” By 1778, the Congressional Marine Committee thought Jones also had the potential to wreak havoc and panic in the seacoast towns of the British Isles.
John Paul Jones was all of that and much more. He was a complicated hero of the Revolutionary War who deserves all of the fame and glory that he only started to earn during his brief lifetime. His life story up to the time he set to sea as a poor kid named John Paul Jr. from Kirkbean, west Scotland, is aptly told in the former Journal of the American Revolution article by Michael Shellhammer “The Real Immortal Words of John Paul Jones.” So I won’t repeat what has already been so well described. Instead, we’ll focus on a little-known incident that Jones and his (unruly, of course) crew encountered while out generally terrorizing the enemy – or trying to, with mixed results. The surprising, little-known story and aftermath showcases many of Jones’ character traits that have been described here.
Jones’ Daring Two-Pronged Plan
By October 1776, John Paul Jones had already proven himself many times off the American coast as a fearless warrior, fighting battles with other British ships (and with his own surly American crews). He was promoted to the rank of captain in the Continental Navy, and in early 1778 sent to France commanding the eighteen-gun sloop-of-war Ranger. Just recently built in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the Ranger was set to receive still more upgrades in France to Jones’ specifications, such as adding deck weapons of blunderbusses and swivel guns. Then, once fitted out, Jones would be setting sail into the Atlantic with “unlimited orders” from the American commissioners in Paris. The commissioners just assumed Jones would cruise around creating mayhem and destruction to British ships whenever he happened upon them.
But John Paul Jones had two specific goals that he wanted to accomplish. First, he wanted to execute hit-and-run raids on coastal enemy fleets. Aside from the obvious damage to local shipping, it would create a civilian panic along the coastlines of England, Scotland or Ireland, and therefore force British war officials to divert some of their maritime resources from American shores to protecting their own homeland. Secondly, he wanted to kidnap an important official of the British Empire and hold him for ransom until imprisoned Americans were freed from British jails or impressment.
In a later account penned for King Louis XVI, Jones wrote,
I had not communicated my plan to this end to the American ministers residing in Paris. I proposed to descend on some part of England and there destroy merchant shipping. My plan was also to take someone of particular distinction as a prisoner and to hold him as hostage to guarantee the lives and exchange of Americans then imprisoned in England.
The Botched Raid on Whitehaven
On April 10, 1778 Capt. John Paul Jones had just set sail out of Brest, France aboard Ranger when he, of course, was faced with a mutiny by his indignant, flea-infested crew. The “restless and sullen” crew of Ranger hadn’t signed on to get killed in battles for glory. They had fully been expecting loot or “prize money” as it was called, when they captured merchant ships. Jones later wrote, “Their object, they said, was gain not honor.” Of course, Jones hadn’t been paid yet either from the sale of the loot collected so far, and the crews were paid from what Jones was paid. On the other hand, those were unimportant details now and the crew united for the mutiny.
Jones, however, ended the mutiny quickly when he placed his pistol against the head of David Cullam, the mutinous instigator. The steely iron nerve of their captain probably made the crew think that the rumors they’d heard about Jones having put down an earlier mutiny by running the mutineer through with a sword were true (they were!).
So with that understanding out of the way, Ranger and John Paul Jones began their usual assigned business of capturing and sinking British brigs, schooners and sloops in the Irish Sea, between Wales, England and Ireland. Jones saw the opportunity to attack the twenty-gun British frigate Drake. Unfortunately, at a strategic moment the key anchor detail mate-in-charge on Ranger failed because he “had drunk too much brandy.”
By Thursday, April 23 and with winds logged as “Fresh Gales and Squally,” Jones put into action the first part of his own two-part plan – that of launching a slash-and-burn raiding party against British ships tied up in an English port town. He picked the English seaport of Whitehaven, located in John Paul Jones’ old childhood neck-of-the-woods and where his seafaring career first began. However, before Jones could inflict devastation, a member of his crew jumped ship, deserted (surprise) and warned residents of the danger. At least Jones and select crewmen were able to spike the coastal defense guns and set one coal ship on fire, hoping the blaze would spread quickly to the other wooden vessels. Nevertheless, the locals were able to put the fire out quickly.
No problem, because now on to Part Two of John Paul Jones’ Daring Plan,
The Home Invasion and Kidnapping
When Jones had been growing up in Kirkbean, near the Craik estate in the County of Kirkcudbright, the most famous and powerful English noble he’d ever known of was the Earl of Selkirk. In young Jones’ limited world, he probably thought the Earl and the King were on a first name basis, when in actuality nothing could be further than the truth. Lord Selkirk (Dunbar Hamilton Douglas) was the 4th Earl of Selkirk and had been rector of Glasgow University for a couple years. Otherwise, his job was just being a “representative peer” in the British House of Lords. His wife was Lady Selkirk (Helen Hamilton Douglas). Family records show that Lord Selkirk was a decent guy and didn’t really put much value in his “peerage”.
Jones didn’t know any of that and either way, he was on course to execute his most daring undertaking to date. The exploit that would make his name known throughout the Empire: the kidnapping of a British noble. And then, instead of accepting the expected ransom money like some loathsome pirate, Jones would nobly refuse it in lieu of freeing unjustly-imprisoned Americans. Although his crew would be enraged, Jones’ chivalrous honor would make him a world-wide legend.
According to the log of Ranger for Thursday, April 24, at about 12:00 noon and with winds “Light Airs and hazey Weather,” Jones guided the vessel the twenty miles across the Firth of Solway, water that he knew well from his youthful sailing days. The Earl’s Georgian manor house then came into view through the fog sitting up on a hill near the bay of St. Mary’s Isle. Captain Jones and twelve armed crew men, surprisingly obedient and probably expecting a treasure trove of Selkirk booty, beached their “Cutter” on the sand and started up the path leading to the manor house. Armed with cutlasses and muskets, the landing party probably looked a lot more like the pirates that the British press was calling Jones and his deck hands. On the contrary, Jones knew that his noble intentions, once known, would overshadow any bad news reports.
Suddenly, the first potential derailing of his plan happened. Jones and the crew ran into the estate gardener on the path! In an example of typical quick thinking, Jones, even though bleary from lack of sleep, said they needed to see the Earl because they were a British press gang there to “impress” (beat into unconsciousness and drag away to His Majesty’s Royal Navy) the young men on the isle. Jones then knew the gardener would do exactly what he did: he took off running to warn all of the able-bodied men. The bad part was that just before turning and running, the gardener told Jones that unfortunately the Earl was not at home.
Jones was dejected and told his men that they should all head back to the ship, when his men (predictably) said, “Hold on a minute. Not so fast.” David Cullum, one of the men who had come ashore with Jones (and the one Jones had just threatened to blow his brains out for mutiny) informed Jones that he and the others were not going back without some of the treasures they were sure were in the Selkirk mansion.
That put Jones in an awkward spot. He knew his men wanted to “pillage, burn, and plunder all they could.” Of course, who wouldn’t? Captain Jones figured if he said no, the loyal crew would kill him on the spot, then pillage, burn, and plunder anyway. Aside from the probable destruction and death the crew would bring to the lord’s manor house and occupants, Jones’ reputation would also be in smoking ruins. He quickly came up with the only viable plan he had open to him. While he waited down on the path and out of sight (he didn’t want to add to the pirate reputation he was being accused of), he would go ahead and allow the crewmen to loot – but with strict instructions that he laid down for the home invasion. The rules decreed by Jones, similar to those for trick-or-treating, were these:
- Only two men, the officers (Master Callum and Lieutenant Wallingford) were to knock on the door, introduce themselves, and “politely demand” Lord Selkirk’s family silver plate.
- The other (dirty, dangerous and despicable) men were to wait politely nearby.
- Callum and Wallingford were to be “accepting what was given to them without further inquiry, returning without further search.”
Lady Helen Hamilton (Lady Selkirk), warned of the press gang, had sent the women and children to hide out on the third floor. She looked at the men outside; as she later wrote her husband, each of them was armed with “a musket, a bayonet, two large pistols and a hanger… ” Pirates, she must’ve thought! She may have been relieved when Lieutenant Wallingford (whom she described as “a civil young man in a green uniform, an anchor on his buttons”) politely introduced himself and said they were crewmen under orders from Captain Jones and his “frigate belonging to the States of America.” Wallingford said since the “Lord of the House” was not present, he was demanding “all your plate.” “Upon the whole,” Lady Selkirk wrote confidentially, “I must say they behaved civilly.”
The silver plate was collected into a bag of (according to Dr. Ezra Green, surgeon on Ranger) “… as near as I can judge 160lb. weight of Silver.”
The band of gleeful blackguards came ambling down the sandy path to Captain Jones. Apparently, no one in the Selkirk household had been molested or killed, the manor house still stood, and the crew took some silver booty … and Jones’ reputation was still somewhat intact. Everyone was happy. The men got to Ranger and “all sail was made to run down the Firth.”
The Selkirk Raid Aftermath
Yet still, Jones’ reputation (at least in the British Isles) had a growing stain. As news of vessel attacks, a fire raid on a British coast dock, and a home invasion, robbery, and an attempted abduction spread, the citizens, already jittery from rumors of a French invasion, were in full panic mode.
The alarms started flashing all the way to London. William Fraser, the British Undersecretary of State for the Northern Department, received an urgent dispatch from Philip Stephens, the Secretary of the Admiralty, complaining that, “the rebel privateer which plundered Lord Selkirk’s house has thrown the whole western coast into consternation.” Four heavily-gunned frigates and men-of-war were dispatched to the Irish Sea to search for John Paul Jones, the privateer marauder.
Though Lady Selkirk wrote to her husband that the thieves “behaved civilly”, she ironically has less kind words about their captain,
It was immediately known that this Paul Jones is one John Paul, born at Arbigland, who once commanded a Kirkcudbright vessel belonging to Mr. Muir and others, a great villain as ever was born, guilty of many crimes and several murders by ill usage, was tried and condemned for one, escaped, and followed a piratical life, till he engaged with the Americans.
The Selkirk-Jones Pen-Pal Letters
The complex character of John Paul Jones soon showed itself again, just two weeks after the silver pilfering at the Selkirk’s place. As a naval captain, Jones was probably bothered by his own abdication of duty in allowing his unruly crew to rob Lord and Lady Selkirk of their family plate while he stood by at a distance. Jones was probably even much more bothered by how the whole episode would play out in the world press.
Jones wrote a letter to “the right honorable the Countess Selkirk” from aboard Ranger at Brest, France on May 8, 1778 (and was sure to send copies of it to Benjamin Franklin, the American commissioner in Passy, France, and to the Marine Committee of Congress). In the strange letter, he started off by saying he was glad her husband wasn’t home because (instead of saying he was ready to drag Lord Selkirk off as a war hostage), he wrote, “I wished to make him the happy instrument” for a POW exchange. That’s nice.
Jones also reiterated that looting the Selkirk silver hadn’t been part of the plan. He wrote that he had to allow it since his “volunteers” were “expressing their discontent” of how it was so unfair the British soldiers in America got to loot but his men could not. That’s when he disclosed to Lady Selkirk that he was planning on buying the silver back and returning it to her. “I have gratifyed my Men, and, When the Plate is sold, I shall become the purchaser, and will gratify my own feelings by restoring it to you.”
He then threw in some extremely vivid details emphasizing the fact that it was good that Lord Selkirk was not aboard Ranger the very next evening following the silver heist. Jones and his vessel were attacked by the “British ship of war Drake” and Jones proceeded to describe “the awful pomp, and dreadful carnage,” to probably paint for the Lady a breathtaking scene of bravery, danger and glory.
Jones then found the opportune time to make a pass at Lady Selkirk by subtly adding, “Nor am I in pursuit of Riches. My fortune is liberal enough, having no wife nor family” and throwing in a reference to “your gentle bosom.” He clinched it by saying, “I wage No War with the Fair. I acknowledge their power and bend before it with profound submission!” He ended the letter with the friendly equivalent of “Drop me a line if you want to talk.”
Lord Selkirk Gets Home and Reads Jones’ Letter to His Wife
His Lordship was not amused. He dashed off a letter to “Monsieur J.P. Jones” and in it spared few words, short of calling Jones a complete idiot. But first he warned Jones, as would happen in a modern get-even film, that had something happened to his family or “my Wife, then well advanced in her pregnancy,” then “no quarter of the Globe should have secured you.”
Lord Selkirk then went on to recite why he had been such a poor choice to kidnap. First of all, King George III didn’t even know him, since he had a “useless Scotch Title.” “With regard to the King’s Ministers, I neither have nor can have an interest with them, as I have generally disapproved of most of their measures, and in particular of almost their whole conduct in the unhappy and illjudged American War.” In the final blow, Lord Selkirk revealed that he had always “been very friendly to the Constitutions and Just Liberties of America.” Whoops.
Over the next couple years occasional letters went back and forth between Jones and Lord Selkirk or through a third party. Selkirk eventually admitted he was grateful to Jones for the good discipline of his crew and for Jones’ apparent honorable nature in trying to return the family’s silver plate.
By February 12, 1784, Jones was able to write to Lord Selkirk from Paris to tell him that the transfer arrangements were being made to transport “your Plate” to “your Estate in Scotland.” Then, Jones being Jones, added at the end of the letter, “As you were so obliging as to say to Mr. Alexander, ‘that my People beheaved with such decency at your House’, I ask the favor of you to annonce that circumstance to the Public.”
In a letter a year and one half later, dated August 4, 1785, a thankful Lord Selkirk acknowledged that the family silver had indeed arrived at Dumfries, very nearby “and I dare say quite safe.” He added, “I intended to have put an article in the News-Papers about your having returned it; but before I was informed of its being arrived, some of your friends, I suppose, had Put it in the Dumfries News-Paper; whence it was immediately copied into the Edinburgh Papers and thence into the London ones.” Imagine that.
Although someone beat His Lordship in announcing to the press that after seven years, John Paul Jones had returned every bit of the silver collection, Selkirk offered the best gesture of thank you that he knew “Monsieur Le Chevalier Paul-Jones” would appreciate the most. He would instruct that London newspapers print Selkirk’s accurate and honorable story of what happened that day at his Scottish estate on St. Mary’s Isle. He ended the letter to Jones,
Some of the English News-Papers, at that time, having put in confused accounts of your expedition to White-haven and Scotland, I ordered a proper one of what happened in Scotland to be put in the London News-Papers … by which the good conduct and civil behavior of your officers and men was done justice to and attributed to your orders, and the good discipline you maintained over your people.
I am, Sir your most humble Servant,
A few months after the successful publication of Lord Selkirk’s corrected account of John Paul Jones’ estate raid, Jones received a letter from Charles Hector, comte d’Estaing, the famous French general and admiral who spent much time in America during the Revolutionary War. D’Estaing had just finished reading Jones’ memoir written for King Louis XVI. In a letter d’Estaing wrote to Jones, he summarized, “This lesson of military and naval heroism has, by your conduct to Lord and Lady Selkirk, also become one of generosity.”
John Paul Jones was probably quite happy with the letter from d’Estaing, and possibly considered making it available to global news outlets.
 Anna De Koven (Mrs. Reginald de Koven), The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, Vol. I (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1913), preface vii; Evan Thomas, John Paul Jones – Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (New York, Simon & Shuster, 2003), 136.
 Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cranch, December 3, 1784, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-06-02-0002 (accessed March 3, 2017).
 https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/01/the-real-immortal-words-of-john-paul-jones/ (accessed March 3, 2017).
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution – Presented to King Louis XVI of France,” translated and edited by Gerard W. Gawalt (Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1979), 73.
 If the name “Craik” sounds familiar, it’s possibly because of William Craik’s well-known womanizing. In a strange twist in fate, William Craik had an illegitimate son named James Craik, born in the same parish as John Paul Jones. James Craik went on to become George Washington’s lifelong doctor and was at Washington’s deathbed. Rumors in Kirkbean were that John Paul Jones himself was an illegitimate son of William Craik, as well.
 John Paul Jones – Commemmoration at Annapolis – April 14, 1906, compiled by Charles W. Stewart, Superintendent Library and Naval War Records (Washington D.C., Government Printing Office, 1907), 29.
 He added the dubious name of “Jones” to his name while in Virginia, running from law enforcement.
 https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/01/the-real-immortal-words-of-john-paul-jones/ (accessed March 7, 2017).
 The hull was pierced for twenty guns, but Ranger only had eighteen installed.
 John Paul Jones – Commemmoration at Annapolis, 168.
 Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and Silas Deane. At the time they issued Jones “unlimited orders,” John Adams was enroute to Paris to relieve Silas Deane.
 This idea had been first proposed to him by Robert Morris of the Congressional Marine Committee in a letter to Jones dated February 5, 1777. Library of Congress, A Calendar of John Paul Jones Manuscripts in the Library of Congress, February 5, 1777, https://books.google.com/books?id=q2JCOi7n9RQC&pg=PA235&lpg=PA235&dq=Robert+Morris+to+John+Paul+Jones+Feb.+5,+1777&source=bl&ots=OFYX2E0cQX&sig=GBo6qyovVmauiUTn5X3v8D2Z1Cw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwinru7tvcrSAhUHWCYKHYc2DbIQ6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q=Robert%20Morris%20to%20John%20Paul%20Jones%20Feb.%205%2C%201777&f=false (accessed March 9, 2017).
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution,” 16.
 Thomas, John Paul Jones, 105.
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution,” 17.
 From the captain’s log of Ranger, Thursday, April 23, 1778. John Paul Jones and the Ranger, and the Log of the Ranger, ed., Joseph G. Sawtelle (Portsmith, NH, The Portsmith Marine Society, publication 20, 1994), 142.
 Although the raid ultimately did little damage, it started a panic of sorts by civilians. Rumors of an expected French invasion were given traction aside from just the shock of an actual raid on English soil happening. A raid supposedly hadn’t occurred since the seventeenth century when a town on the southeast corner of England had been burned by Dutch raiders.
 From the captain’s log of Ranger, Thursday, April 23, 1778; 142. The log entry mistakingly calls the Earl of Selkirk “Lord Murray.”
 St. Mary’s Isle was not really an island, but rather a peninsula in Kirkcudbright Bay.
 From the Log of Ranger, Thursday, April 23, 1778; 142.
 Jones later recalled that he’d gone years with only a few hours’ sleep per night from fear of his crews, even with a guard posted at his cabin door.
 The gardener told Jones that Lord Selkirk was at Edinburgh; the Lord was actually at Buxton, Derbyshire, family records show.
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution,” 19.
 “Family silver plate” didn’t mean a single plate. It was a term meaning any and all silver items owned by the family.
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution,” 19-20.
 Lady Selkirk to Lord Selkirk, April 24, 1778 in De Koven, The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, 310.
 Ibid, 309. Lady Selkirk incorrectly heard or wrote that Jones’ ship was a “frigate.” It was a sloop-of-war.
 Ibid, 310.
 “Diary of Dr. Ezra Green, Surgeon During the Cruise of the Continental Ship of War Ranger, From Nov. 1, 1777 to Sept. 27, 1778, From the original in the possession of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.” Appendix A, John Paul Jones and the Ranger, 204.
 Thomas, John Paul Jones, 127.
 Philip Stephens to William Fraser, May 5, 1778, Admiralty Records, Public Records Office, Kew Gardens, England; and in Thomas, John Paul Jones, 133.
 De Koven, The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, 310-311.
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution,” 90-92; also John Paul Jones – Commemmoration at Annapolis, 123-125.
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution,” 90.
 Ibid, 91.
 Ibid, 92.
 Lord Selkirk to J.P. Jones, June 9, 1778; John Paul Jones – Commemmoration at Annapolis, 127.
 Ibid, 129.
 Ibid, 128.
 Ibid, 127-128.
 Ibid, 128.
 “John Paul Jones’ Memoir of the American Revolution,” 95.
 Ibid, 96.
 Ibid, 98.
 Ibid, 99.
 Ibid, 99.
 Ibid, 104.