Jones Raids Britain

Though Paul Jones’s landing at Whitehaven did comparatively little real damage, writes Louis C. Kleber, ‘the shock to official and public sensitivities... was enormous’.

Louis Kleber | Published in History Today

‘We are in a bustle here from the insolent attack of the Provincial Privateer’s men. I hope it will rouse us from our lethargy.’

Letter from Whitehaven, April 26th, 1778.

In April 1778, British armies continued to press the struggle with the rebellious American Colonies. Although General Burgoyne had surrendered his army to the Americans under General Washington at Saratoga a few months before, British confidence in putting down the revolution remained at a high level. Sir William Howe’s troops occupied Philadelphia, the very city where the ‘United States of America’ had declared their right to be independent and formed a precarious union.

Battles might rage in America, but England appeared safe behind the screen of the Royal Navy. Thus, the Cumberland seaport of Whitehaven slept completely at ease. The war was thousands of miles away, and the night of April 22nd seemed no different from the rest. It is doubtful if any citizen gave thought to the twelve-year-old cabin boy who had sailed for Virginia many years before after being apprenticed to the merchant shipper, John Younger.

But he was not in Virginia now. John Paul Jones was on board and in command of the United States frigate Ranger, concealed in the darkness and lying just off St. Bees Head. It was to be a strange and dangerous homecoming, but in keeping with the audacious nature of Jones’s character.

Perhaps like other notable leaders of small physical stature, this fact drove him even harder in his determination to succeed at every undertaking. He had, for example, an intense admiration for good taste, manners and speech. Through his own enthusiastic diligence, he had acquired the attributes of a gentleman.

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