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November 12, 2008



I agree with your views about the JPJ biography, which I started reading with keen enthusiasm that gradually fizzled out as I realized that, apart from the Bonhomme-Richard/Serapis fight, Jones seems to have spent the remainder of his career bitching about how everyone else was being favored over him.

But I also learned that he lived in Fredericksburg VA for a while, so at least that was something.

Mr. Peperium

As in the case of Little Mac, I am always hesitant to pile on historical characters. Maybe I've spent so much time in line at confession mulling over my own sins that I've developed a sympathy for the sins of others--at least the others I meet in books. But in the case of JP Jones, as with the Young Napoleon, It's hard not to find fault.

One mitigating circumstance is the state of the "American Navy" at the time. There never seemed to be enough ships to go around and seniority did impede the rise of talents like Jones. With fewer opportunities to fight than on land, it was harder to distinguish the Good from the Bad. And as a Scot he was seen as a foreigner. Come t think of it, as a Catholic I can't help but be put off by his Masonic ties, too (the same applies to Washington, etc.)

But even with all those caveats, it's still creepy.

Old Dominion Tory

After pondering your thoughts on Captain Jones' associations, I must admit that I am not at all sorry that the American offensive against Quebec failed (all due respect to Charles Carroll, Dan Morgan, and General Montgomery). I can jolly well imagine the damage, social and cultural as well as economic, that some of the more rapacious denizens of the American side, those following in the wake of an American army, would have wreaked upon La Belle Province had the Americans been successful.
As to Jones, he was not unlike so many of his contemporaries: courageous to the point of impetuousness and prickly to the point of sheer bloody-mindedness on matters of preferment and honor. Think of John Adams' jealousy of the lofty reputations of Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington as well as how Washington's immediate military family harbored many--shall we say?--competitive personalities. Why did Benedict Arnold go over to the other side if not because he felt somewhat slighted and underappreciated.

Mr. Peperium

Yes, ODT, points well taken. Over coffee five minutes ago I just read of the Baron de Steuben's encounter with Gates' Inspector General when the Northern Army merged with Washington's at White Plains after the Battle of Monmouth. (Thanks for the recommendation; Lockhart is a good, solid read) The Frenchman refused to serve under the Baron. The Baron, in his turn, was smarting from having just been removed from his temporary command of a wing of Washington's army. There was more than enough wounded pride to go around. But I still maintain that there is an unsettling hollowness about Jones' thirst for glory. I may be wrong; the hollowness may just be a function of Thomas' rapid treatment of Jones' life story; but I sense, as I said before, that there was no deeper motivation under the quest for reputation and promotion. Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, all had the capacity to put personal feelings aside for the Greater Good; think of Washington's forbearance with Charles Lee or Franklin in Paris or Adams at the Hague. Jones seems to have been incapable of that sort of sacrifice.

Again, it could be Thomas' book and not Jones who is at fault. I have always planned on delving into Samuel Eliot Morrison's biography of Jones and I admit Thomas' book has put me off that project. But I would like to see what a deeper historical mind could do with the subject.

Old Dominion Tory

Perhaps what caused Jones to be so restless was an absence of what Washington, Adams, and others undoubtedly had: a stable link to family or, at very least, a pride of place.
If Jones had settled back in Fredericksburg or made his way as a merchant in Annapolis and married a nice girl, he might have had the stability, the happiness, the satisfaction that seemed to ground so many of the Founders and give them such peace.
Just a thought.

Mr. Peperium

You're right; Thomas mentions that at one point Jones spoke of himself as never to be married. The good side of that arrangement for a soldier is that he has no one to think of but himself. The bad side for a man is that he has no one to think of but himself. Career becomes his everything. And unfortunately for Jones, he chose a naval career with a nation without a real navy.

Thomas (rightly) makes much of Jones' Masonic connections, saying they provided a sort of substitute family stability--along with the social connections he would have lacked otherwise. It gave him a badly needed sense of belonging--though the Masons also appealed to his vanity as a super secret, super-elite charmed circle to which only the elect could belong.

We do tend to forget that our Founders were all, or almost all, well-healed or at least happily married men. This is often mentioned with a sneer, but for me it adds luster: when they spoke of pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor the fortunes--along with the lives and honors--were real.

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