Thomas Chase: Last of Paul Jones’ Men

Image from the Revolutionary War and Beyond

The Last of Paul Jones’ Men.

To the Editor of the Whig & Courier:

During a recent visit to the County of Oxford, I found time to call on the venerable THOMAS CHASE, of Livermore, the last, probably, of Paul Jones’ men. Mr. Chase is now 88 years old, and, though the old hull is pretty much battered and decayed, his mind is clear, and his recollection of the stirring events of his youth, is distinct and vivid. He was born at Martha’s Vineyard; from which place he removed to L some fifty years ago, where he has since lived. He has ever enjoyed, and deservedly, the reputation of an industrious, intelligent, and thoroughly honest man. In fact, the name of “Uncle Chase” is the synonym of “honesty,” in the neighborhood where he lives.

He delights to tell the history of his early life — to relate the story of his numerous adventures and sufferings; but it is when he comes to speak of Paul Jones and his daring exploits — when he is describing, it may be, the engagement between the Richard and the Serapis, that his eye kindles and sparkles with unwonted brightness, and his voice, broken and almost inaudible before, becomes strong and clear, and he is ready to shoulder his crutch and show how ships were taken seventy years ago.

The outlines of his story, as near as I can recollect, are as follows: —

A Privateer came to the Vineyard in the early part of the Revolution, for the purpose of engaging a number of men to go out cruising on the coast. Chase, and about a dozen other young men joined them. After they had sailed they were, for the first time, informed that their destination was the coast of England. At this intelligence, they were a “good deal struck up,” though there were a few that were not displeased at the idea of going abroad, and among this number was Chase, who had a love of adulation and a strong desire to see foreign countries. —

They had not been long on the British coast before they discovered a British man-of-war, much too strong and powerful for them. As they were not noticed for sometime they had hopes of being able to escape, and tried to do so, — they were, however, seen, before they could get away, and were finally taken. In a few days the prisoners were put into another ship, and were shifted not less than three times in about four months. In one of the ships they suffered exceedingly — there were over 1400 souls, men, women, and children, Americans, French, &c. on board. The ship was dirty, the prisoners were dirty, sick and dying — large numbers died. At length the American prisoners were landed at Plymouth, and carried before two justices and a clerk and arraigned for treason. Witnesses were examined, and they were told that they would be committed to “Mill Prison,” on “suspicion of treason against his most Gracious Majesty, George the Third, and would there await their trial or His Majesty’s most Gracious pardon.” They were committed to this famous [or infamous] prison, and kept there twenty three months, during which time they underwent almost incredible privations and sufferings. At the end of twenty three months, (two years and a quarter after they were made prisoners) they were exchanged for British sea men and sent to France. They landed at a small town about ten miles below Nantes. Here they found a recruiting ship and were persuaded to enlist for the purpose of filling the crews required for the squadron, then fitting out at Le Orient, for John Paul Jones.

While at this place Mr. Chase very well recollects seeing John Adams on board the ship where he was. He was in his morning gown, walking the quarter deck when he saw him, and accompanied by his son, John Quincy Adams, then a boy some ten or twelve years old. Mr. Chase was one of the crew of the Alliance, Capt. Landais. His account of the celebrated engagement between the Bon Homme Richard, &c., the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough agrees in the main with that given by Mr. Cooper, though he differs with him in some respects. — He will not allow that the Alliance deserves all the left handed compliments paid to her by Mr. C. According to his account, it was the Alliance and not the Pallas, that disabled the Countess of Scarborough — that it was in consequence of the broadsides from the former that she struck — that the Pallas, coming up, rendered them valuable assistance, and was left in charge of the prize, while the Alliance went to the aid of Jones. And here, Mr. Chase says the Alliance also did good service — not to the enemy, as Mr. Cooper would have it, but to Jones.

When Jones sailed alongside of the Serapis, her commander hailed him — “who are you?’ Jones made no answer. The questions was repeated, “Who are you?” Tell me, or I’ll fire into you” “I will tell you when I get a little nearer!” roared Jones, in a voice that almost drowned the thunder of a simultaneous discharge of broadsides from the Richard and Serapis, which took place at that moment.

Chase was afterwards under Jones several months while he was in command of the Alliance, and became considerably acquainted with him. He was a man of great mechanical ingenuity, and an excellent worker of wood, and while at the Mill prison had beguiled many weary hours in whittling out some very curious wooden ladles, one of which he happened to have with him when Jones came to command the Alliance, and which so pleased Jones, that he gave him half a guinea for it for a punch ladle. He then employed him as a cabin joiner, and while in this capacity he saw a good deal of Jones, and had the vanity to believe he was quite a favorite.

Mr. Chase represents that Jones was liked by his own crew, but not generally by the crew of the Alliance. The crew of the Alliance were much attached to one of their Lieutenants, a Mr. Barkley of Boston, with whom Jones had a falling out, and who was sent below by Jones as the crew thought without sufficient cause. Jones tried to get him back, but he resolutely refused to stir without a Court Martial, Jones would not give him one and he did not go upon deck until Landais was reinstated.

He says Jones was a stern man — brave impetuous — a good man when the crew did well, but the devil if they did otherwise. He wanted everything done in its proper time and way, and everything in its place, and would have it. If his men did well, and took hold right he was kind and pleasant. He had a voice like a cannon, but which in ordinary conversation was rather thick and grum. He was of light complexion, and something, perhaps, below the medium stature. Chase speaks highly of his talents as a naval Commander, and says he always “liked Jones.”

En passant,]our friend is one of six revolutionary veterans (they are all Whigs,) now living in the fine old Whig town of Livermore. A year ago his son endeavored to persuade him to vote the anti-slavery ticket. “No, said he, “I was a Whig of ’76 — I am a Whig now — I have always been a Whig — I believe I shall die a Whig.”

X.

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine) Sep 19, 1843

The Expedition:

Richard “Dick” Swete’s goal was to find, and preserve, all of John Paul Jones’ ships. A historian and underwater archaeologist, he spent years researching Jones and the American Revolutionary naval battle between the HMS Serapis and the HMS Bon Homme Richard. Gathering a group of volunteers, his own modest income and a great deal of perseverance, Swete laid plans to find Serapis.

Find out more HERE

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