John Paul Jones: A matter of Fame and Glory
The Revolutionary War had moved into the South, where at present Lord Cornwallis was boldly striding through South Carolina. And here, John Paul Jones stood—stuck in New Hampshire waiting for the completion of his new ship, America—which only the good Lord and John Langdon knew how long before she would actually sail.
John Paul Jones stepped slowly onto the ramp at Hackett’s Boat Yard on the Piscataqua River and paused, momentarily spellbound. The cool spring day had nothing to do with goose bumps prickling the length of his spine, that tantalizing sensation being a result of a much deeper more visceral pleasure causing him to suck in a ragged breath. She was beautiful—absolutely beautiful—all two hundred twenty feet of her. Although far from completion, her proud lines already boasted of grace and speed. He moved closer, taking care to memorize every detail: the exquisite choice of lumber, intricate craftsmanship and sleekness of her hull. Reaching up, he gently caressed her side, his fingers lingering in a lover’s touch … for she was exactly that to him.
As he strolled slowly along the length of his ship, renewed pride swelled. “Unqualified perfection,” he whispered, eyeing her figurehead: ‘Liberty’, a satisfied grin tugging his lips. He paced the full length of his ship, casting a distracted glance skyward at a screeching gull, but immediately returned to the beauty at hand. Rounding the stern he stopped short, awestruck by her exquisitely detailed carvings: Oppression and Tyranny chained under a Liberty Cap, and her name … America. Oh what I will do with this bold ship riding beneath me. I will terrorize British waters—bring back valuable prizes. The name of John Paul Jones will once again strike fear and respect.
Resting his hand on the finely carved letters of her nameplate, a flicker of disquiet settled across his features. It had been a long, hard journey up to this point in his life, and he wanted more. He had been raised on a large estate in Scotland, the son of a talented landscaper—yet it meant nothing. He wanted fame, glory, and to be looked upon with admiration and praise. He gazed at America, speaking in soft conversation as if her lover. “If I had only had you under me, rather than the old merchantman, Bonhomme Richard, the glory of capturing his Britannic Majesty’s Ship, Serapis, would have been far greater.”
Riding high on those laurels, John Paul had hoped to be made admiral by the Continental Congress. However, they refused to create an outcry by favoring one captain over another. “I did not gain flag rank but …” he paused, running a hand lovingly along America’s side, “You, my beauty, are my consolation prize.” His hand abruptly ceased motion; his smile fading as he suddenly realized who was in charge of building this ship, and why it was so slow to reach completion.
John Langdon was America’s builder, a man he neither liked nor respected. They had had violent, ongoing disagreements over the correct rigging for the Ranger in the fall of 1777. “I may have been forceful in my opinions at the time, but who knows better than I how a ship’s rigging should be constructed?” He cursed softly, regretting what that discretion had now cost him.
Lord Cornwallis was presently striding across South Carolina, and here he stood … waiting for his new ship while honor and acclaim passed him by. John Paul gazed skyward, wracking his brain. Suddenly his eyes grew bright. A fast run to L’Orient for ammunition and field supplies would help thwart England’s thrashing of the South—as well as putting renewed fame and glory easily within his grasp. General Washington would leap at his offer and the Alliance would be his for the asking.
“The Alliance is fast and sleek—however, not nearly as pretty as you, my lady, America.” He caressed her side again, whispering softly. “And when I return, basking in the glory of yet another success, you will be ready.” Tipping his hat, he spun on his heel and headed up the ramp, whistling a bright tune.