The U.S. in­vaded Bri­tain just once. It wasn’t a huge suc­cess.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - JA­COB BOGAGE ja­cob.bogage@wash­post.com

After mid­night, the 30 men be­gan pad­dling the two miles to shore. Then the wind died, and just be­fore sunup, Capt. John Paul Jones set foot once more on White­haven, the first and only time Amer­i­can forces ever at­tacked the Bri­tish Isles.

Jones — the Revo­lu­tion­ary War hero most fa­mous for the vow “I have not yet be­gun to fight!” — had grown up there, on the west coast of Eng­land. He was an ap­pren­tice at sea by age 13, and cap­tain of a mer­chant ves­sel at 21. By 23, he’d es­caped Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties who wanted him for mur­der. By 30, he com­manded the Ranger and her crew of 140 Amer­i­can sailors.

The ship’s mis­sion: an­tag­o­nize the Bri­tish. The Ranger launched from New Eng­land in 1777 to de­liver news of the Bri­tish sur­ren­der at Saratoga to France with hopes the vic­tory would per­suade King Louis XVI to lend troops to the cause of Amer­i­can lib­erty.

On the voy­age, the Ranger sunk a brig loaded with flax seed, a schooner with bar­ley and oats, and a mer­chant sloop from Dublin filled with beer. On clear days, Jones sailed along the friendly French coasts of the English Chan­nel. Spoil­ing for a fight, he sailed into the Ir­ish Sea.

That’s where he hatched his plan to take the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion to Bri­tain’s shores. He sum­moned all hands to hear his scheme.

The Ranger, un­der the cover of dark­ness, would an­chor at sea and launch two dinghies into White­haven har­bor, where about 200 ships sat docked at low tide. One crew would storm the Bri­tish gar­ri­son nearby and spike the can­nons. The other would set fire to the ships and the town. Both boats would slip back into the wa­ter be­fore sun­rise.

The Bri­tish, al­ready fight­ing an un­pop­u­lar war, would fi­nally feel the cost at home, Jones told the crew, which he later re­counted in his jour­nals.

Im­me­di­ately, his top lieu­tenants protested. Ezra Green, the sur­geon on board, ar­gued, “Noth­ing could be got by burn­ing poor peo­ple’s prop­erty,” he wrote in his di­ary.

Jones, who is buried in an elab­o­rate crypt on the cam­pus of the U.S. Naval Academy, was not a par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar cap­tain. He’d once flogged a sailor so bru­tally that the man died weeks later. In Tobago in 1772, he shot a mu­ti­neer­ing crew­man, and he ran away to his home in Fred­er­icks­burg, Va., to avoid a trial.

He spent the day on board the Ranger press­ing 30 men — none of them his top lieu­tenants — into the raid. The boats launched at 3 a.m. on April 23, 1778, and landed two hours later. Jones in­sisted he be the first ashore. In the name of the U.S. Navy, he’d in­vade his home town.

Jones’s crew took the Bri­tish fort with­out in­ci­dent, wrote the lo­cal news­pa­per, the Cum­ber­land Chron­i­cle and White­haven Pub­lic Ad­ver­tiser. The sec­ond boat, sent to the har­bor to sink the ships, veered off course.

The men from the sec­ond dinghy broke into a tav­ern. When Jones ar­rived, they were al­ready drunk, and they stag­gered back aboard their boat. One crew­man, Daniel Free­man, es­caped his com­rades and ran through the vil­lage to alert the fire brigade of the im­pend­ing de­struc­tion.

The groggy-eyed towns­peo­ple of White­haven sur­rounded the docks, where a coal ship smol­dered — the only boat ablaze in the har­bor. Jones posted guards at the end of the dock and threw ex­tra “can­dles” — pine cones cov­ered with can­vas, soaked in brim­stone and set alight — into the cargo hold.

If the coal caught fire, the blaze would spread, Jones wrote in his jour­nal. He stood with his pis­tol drawn at the dock as the crew piled into the dinghy and pad­dled in the morn­ing day­light to the await­ing Ranger, tak­ing can­non fire from the towns­peo­ple while in re­treat.

“The fire on board . . . was speed­ily ex­tin­guished, with­out dam­ag­ing any other ves­sel; thus were the ma­li­cious at­tempts of those dar­ing In­cen­di­aries frus­trated,” wrote Lloyd’s Evening-Post news­pa­per.

The raid was a fail­ure in­tol­er­a­ble to Jones. He sailed the Ranger north to Selkirk, home of the lo­cal lord, whom he planned to kid­nap, drafted a smaller posse of sober crew­men and rushed ashore be­fore noon the same day. But Lord Selkirk was nei­ther im­por­tant — Jones had con­fused him with an­other Bri­tish no­ble­man — nor home. In­stead, the crew was greeted by a preg­nant Lady Selkirk, who calmly handed over the estate’s sil­ver and tea set.

The raid and kid­nap­ping plot were fail­ures so grand that Jones nar­rowly avoided a mutiny, Green doc­u­mented in his di­ary.

But the op­er­a­tions rav­aged pub­lic opin­ion of the war in Bri­tain, ac­cord­ing to Tim McGrath, a Revo­lu­tion­ary War naval his­to­rian and au­thor of “Give Me a Fast Ship: The Con­ti­nen­tal Navy and Amer­ica’s Revo­lu­tion at Sea.”

Bri­tish gen­er­als assured Par­lia­ment that the Bri­tish main­land was safe from the likes of France and Spain, McGrath said. Then some pesky Amer­i­can buc­ca­neer landed in Eng­land.

“The pa­pers were fu­ri­ous,” McGrath said. The Lon­don Pub­lic Ad­ver­tiser and Lon­don Pub­lic Chron­i­cle pub­lished il­lus­tra­tions of Jones, who stood barely 5-foot-5, as a hulking Black­beard-es­que pi­rate.

“This guy came to shore,” McGrath said. “There’s a lot of angst in the news­pa­pers of ‘What the hell are we do­ing?’ The act it­self didn’t help win the war, but the re­ac­tion helped end the war.”

NA­TIONAL MU­SEUM OF THE MARINE CORPS

The print “Launch­ing of the White Haven Raid” de­picts John Paul Jones at­tack­ing the English sea­port in April 1778.

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