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Letter from Lieutenant John Paul Jones to Joseph Hewes: Account of the action with the Glasgow man-of-war



Alfred, New-London Harbour, April 14, 1776.

SIR: When, agreeable to your request, I undertook to write you an account of our proceedings in the fleet, I did not Imagine that I should have been so stinted in point of time. I owed you a much earlier account; but since our arrival here, the repairs and business of the ship have required my constant attention. I will endeavour to be more punctual hereafter; in the meanwhile, hope you will excuse this omission till I can account for it personally. I pass over what was prior to our arrival at the Capes of Delaware, where we were met by the Hornet sloop, and Wasp schooner, from Maryland.

On the 17th of February, the fleet put to sea with a smart northeast wind. In the night of the 19th, (the gale having increased.) we lost company with the Hornet, and Fly tender. We continued steering to the southward, without seeing a single sail, or meeting with anything remarkable, till the 1st of March, when we anchored at Abaco, one of the Bahama Islands, having previously brought to a couple of New-Providence sloops, to take pilots out of them. By these people we were informed that there was a large quantity of powder, with a number of cannon, in the two forts of New-Providence. In consequence of this intelligence, the Marines and Landsmen, to the number of three hundred and upwards, under the command of Captain Nicholas, were embarked in the two sloops. It was determined that they should keep below deck until the sloops were got in close to the fort, and they were then to land instantly, and take possession before the Island could he alarmed. This, however, was rendered abortive, as the forts fired an alarm on the approach of our fleet. We then ran in, and anchored at a small key three leagues to windward of the town, and from thence the Commodore despatched the Marines, with the sloop Providence and schooner Wasp, to cover their landing. They landed without opposition, and soon took possession of the eastern garrison, (Fort Montague,) which, after firing a few shot, the Islanders abandoned. The next morning the Marines marched for the town and were met by a messenger from the Governour, who told Captain Nicholas that "the western garrison (Fort Nassau) was ready for his reception, and that he might march his force in as soon as he pleased." This was effected without firing a gun on our side; but the Governour had sent off one hundred and fifty barrels of powder the night before.

Enclosed you have an inventory of the cannon, stores, &C˙, which we took possession of, and brought off in the; fleet. We continued at New-Providence till the 17th ultimo, and then brought off the Governour and two more gentlemen prisoners. Our course was now directed back for the Continent, and, after meeting with much bad weather, on the 5th instant, off Block-Island, we took the Hawke schooner, of six guns, one of Captain Wallace' s tenders, and the bomb-brig Bolton, of eight guns and two howitzers. The next morning we fell in with the Glasgow man-of-war, and a hot engagement ensued, the particulars of which I cannot communicate better than by extracting the minutes which I entered on the Alfred' s log-book.

"At two A˙ M˙, cleared ship for action. At half past two, the Cabot, being between us and the enemy, began to engage, and soon after we did the same. At third glass the enemy bore away, and by crowding all sail, at length got a considerable way ahead, made signals for the rest of the English fleet, at Rhode-Island, to come to her assistance, and steered directly for the harbour. The Commodore then thought it imprudent to risk the prizes, &c˙, by pursuing farther; therefore, to prevent our being decoyed into their hands, at half past six made the signal to leave off chase, and haul by the wind to join our prizes. The Cabot was disabled at the second broadside, the Captain being dangerously wounded, the Master and several men killed. The enemy' s whole fire was then directed at us, and an unlucky shot having carried away our wheel-block and ropes, the ship broached to, and gave the enemy an opportunity of


raking us with several broadsides, before we were again in condition to steer the ship, and return the fire. In the action we received several shot under water, which made the ship very leaky; we had besides, the mainmast shot through, and the upper works and rigging very considerably damaged; yet it is surprising that we lost only the Second Lieutenant of Marines and four men, one of whom, (Martin Gillingwater,) a Midshipman, prisoner, was in the cock-pit, and had been taken in the bomb-brig Bolton yesterday. We had no more than three men dangerously, and four slightly, wounded."

I have the pleasure of assuring you that the Commander-in-Chief is respected through the fleet, and I verily believe that the officers and men, in general, would go any length to execute his orders. It is with pain that I confine this plaudit to an individual; I should be happy in extending it to every Captain and officer in the service. Praise is certainly due to some; but, alas, there are exceptions.

It is certainly for the interest of the service that a cordial interchange of civilities should subsist between superior and inferior officers; and, therefore, it is bad policy in superiors to behave towards their inferiors. Indiscriminately, as though they were of a lower species. Men of liberal minds, who have been long accustomed to command, can ill brook being thus set at nought by others, who pretend to claim the monopoly of sense. The rude, ungentle treatment which they experience, creates such heart-burnings as are nowise consonant with that cheerful ardour and spirit which ought ever to be the characteristick of an officer; and, therefore, whoever thinks himself hearty in the service, is widely mistaken when he adopts such a line of conduct in order to prove it; for to be well obeyed, it is necessary to be esteemed.

The fleet having been reinforced with two hundred men lent from the Army, is now in condition for another enterprise, and we expect to embrace the first wind for Rhode-Island, where I hope we shall meet with better success, as we understand that the Scarborough is now there. It is proposed to clean the ships at Providence, so that our detention there will admit of a return of letters from Philadelphia.

Meantime, with a grateful sense of past favours, I have the honour to be, with much esteem, sir, your very obliged, most humble servant,


To the Honourable Joseph Hewes, Philadelphia.