The British news papers reporting on “Pirate” Paul Jones gives me endless amusement, but they really highlight why John Paul Jones’ numerous half-failed and abandoned missions thanks to unruly crews and weather mishaps were actually still a resounding success. He aimed to strike fear into England by hitting them where they were not (which was their very own coast) and, despite his first attack being a technical failure because he did not complete what he set out to do, it convinced the British that their Navy could not defend their own ports and that the war was not some distant, far-off thing. His actions forced the Royal Navy to spread their ships out even thinner in order to guard themselves, fight against both France and the Colonists, and escort merchant ships all at the same time. His mere presence near the British Isle would start to send all of England into a panic anytime he was sighted. If rumor happened that he was planning another attack, the Navy would scramble to try and predict where he might hit them next so they could try and fend him off. The British were always wondering “when and where will the Pirate Paul Jones strike next?” He brought terror to the British by bringing the war to their own soil and the newspapers only added fuel to the flames, painting Paul Jones into a merciless, blood-thirsty, pirate who would even kill his own kin. He was literally turned into a Boogy Man. Mothers began to invoke his name in order to get their children to behave. John Paul Jones was one of the most hated and wanted men in all of England and just existing dumped fuel onto the flames of the Anti-War movement in England.
A fun example of the newspapers blowing Jones out of proportion that Evan Thomas uses in his biography is a spin on a story from the Battle of Flamborough Head. The actual story is that someone on his ship, not able to find Jones or the 1st Mate and, being the Gunner’s Mate, figured that he was now Captain, called for Quarters and that the colors be struck. Someone went to strike down the flag and Jones, livid, tried to shoot the man but his pistol wasn’t loaded so he just chucked it at the guy’s head and struck him in the back of the skull, causing him to collapse. Now, the newspapers told it quite differently. Embellishing off a story told by a group of British Sailors who had been set free from the hold of Jones’ ship during the battle to save them from drowning, they wrote:
“During the engagement, Paul Jones (who was dressed in a short jacket and long trousers with about twelve charged pistols slung in a belt around his middle and a cutlass in his hand) shot seven of his men for deserting their quarters, and to his nephew, whom he thought a little dastardly, he said that damn his eyes he would not blow his brains out, but he would pepper his shins, and actually had the barbarity to shoot at the lad’s legs, who is a lieutenant in his ship.”
Another thing is that the image that circulated in the British Newspapers depicting the Pirate Paul Jones was this one:
They really did everything they could to paint him into a nightmare. And as a result, he would later be able to stroll into London and no one would recognize him because he looked nothing like the newspapers described him. He was short, clean shaven, impeccably dressed, and incredibly well-mannered. When he arrived to deliver secret letters to John Adams, it wasn’t until he’d already left that the people realized that the famous Pirate Paul Jones had been right beneath their noses. It’s probably also why so many people were disappointed when they met him. He had reached Legendary status, stories and rumors flying around about him and the kind of person he was… but he was nothing like the rumors. Nothing at all. But it didn’t matter because the image that was conjured up about him was exactly what he wanted.