Description

    William Whipple on the Sailing of John Paul Jones Historically important draft autograph letter, three pages, 7.75" x 12.5", Portsmouth, New Hampshire, July 21, 1777. Soon before this signer of the Declaration of Independence would lead troops off to victory at Saratoga, Whipple drafts a letter to fellow signer Robert Morris concerning the plans of John Paul Jones to sail in the Ranger to France in order to obtain a frigate to harass the British Navy in European waters. Whipple begins his letter by reporting to Morris in Philadelphia of difficulties in putting together crews to man the infant United States Navy: "Dear Sir I have the Pleasure to inform you that the Raleigh has at last drop'd down the River with about 150 men, & I thinking in a fair way of having her number completed in a very short time, tho I fear shall will not be so well manned as I could wish, owing to the state of Privateering which prevails & has off most of the seamen she has not more than 20 seamen besides the Officers who, fortunately, are all seamen." Whipple then turns to Jones: "The Ranger is get[t]ing ready with all Possible dispatch. Capt. Jones has strong inclination to Cruise across the Atlantic & I must confess I think favorably of his plan, more especially if a Frigate is, or may be procured for him in France in that case an enterprise may be found..." Whipple crosses out the next three lines and then continues: "that will draw the attention of the enemy in some manner. The Americans Coast to Protect their own, another reason that may be offered in favor of the Rangers going to Europe is, that she will be very sparingly fitted the [illeg.] of Canvas & Corday and every kind of Chandlery wd be a sufficient reason for fiting [sic] her out as sparingly as possible but I am apprehensive money necessary acutely are not to be had here at any Rate..." The next several lines have been crossed out and then he continues: "...but lest a Frigate could not be procured for him in France. Would it not be a good scheme to send a Frigate or two from hence, they might be ordered to cruise on the Coast of Europe till the latter end of Nov. then return home with as many stores as they can conveniently bring for the ships that are Building and convoy any ships that are ordered from thence with store[s.] if this plan or something like it is not adopted I do not see how the Navy will be supplied next year - if it shol'd be thot. proper to send a Frigate in company with the Ranger I think it w'd be for the good of the service to send the Raleigh as the two Captains seem Exceedingly well agreed and both of them well acquainted with the British Coast, these two Ships will be an over match for any single Frigate and sho'd they be so fortunate as to take one of the enemies ships of war I am satisfied they will have Prudence enough to take care of her; -- before this reaches you, you will have heard of the Capture & Recapture of the Fox. I heard several of her officers are just arrived here, in their way to Boston, they were Landed at some Eastern Port, from the [ship] Boston there is a great probability that the Hancoc[k?] is taken as the Rainbow a 44 gun ship was in chase of her when the Boston parted with her, and its said came up with her fast, I think manly & Min[?] are not altogether Blameless for continuing to cruise a month with their Prize after wrecking their ship so much as they must have done by means her what Capt. McNeal has to say in excuse for leaving the Hancock when a ship of much greater force was in present of her I know one But I suppose this matter will be inquired." Jones did indeed sail in the Ranger on November 1, 1777 arriving in France on February 14, 1778 at Quiberon -- exchanging gun salutes with Admiral La Motte Piquet, the first time that the American flag was officially recognized by a foreign government! Early in 1779, Jones' plans would come to fruition as Louis XVI granted him an old East Indiaman, the Duc de Duras, which he renamed Bon Homme Richard as a compliment to his patron, Benjamin Franklin. He cruised with two French privateers and four other ships commencing on August 14, 1779 to raid British shipping. On September 23, 1779, he encountered a large merchant fleet escorted by the H. M. S. Serapis in the North Sea. The two warships engaged in an intense battle, practically destroying the Bon Homme Richard. The Capatin of the Serapis reportedly asked if Jones was ready to surrender, to which Jones replied, "I have not yet begun to fight!" The fight continued in a pitched battle between two ships locked together when the Serapis, with half of her crew dead, struck her colors. Jones ship was so damaged from the fight that she was sunk the next morning. Whipple and Morris were both members of the Secret Committee of Congress and had authorized Jones to do this very mission: go to France and outfit a squadron to prey on British shipping in their 'own backyard,' so to speak. Jones was a promising, sometimes arrogant naval officer. (Congress had ordered "for the service of the United states three fast sailing good ships that will conveniently mount not exceeding 18 Sixpounders on One Deck... These ships are to be commanded by three Gentlemen mentioned in the Resolution, Captain Jones to have the preference...") While the overall strategic value of the battle with the Serapis and the other exploits of Jones and his compatriots can be debated, the psychological impact for Great Britain cannot. The year 1779 was one of stalemate in the North. The promising campaign to regain the South ran into trouble by the beginning of 1781. By the end of that year, Britain would have surrendered a second army to American forces, toppling the ministry of Lord North, ushering in a new government more eager to put this long, expensive war behind it and make peace. This piece bears the expected folds, with a couple of small holes from ink erosion, but overall the letter is in excellent condition, nicely matted with a profile portrait of Whipple. A museum-worthy document that is true history. From the collection of Bradley O'Leary. Accompanied by COA from PSA/DNA.

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    April, 2005
    13th Wednesday
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