- Historic Sites
“An Agreable Voyage”
In which John Jones, né Paul, invades both England and Scotland, despoils a countess, and defeats a British sloop—all in less than forty-eight hours
June 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 4
The Drake , getting no response to her signals for recall of her boat, hauled anchor and began to sail out of the harbor. Jones withdrew until the other ship was well away from shore, then waited. The breeze was light, and it was not until almost 6 P.M. that the Drake hailed her adversary, who had lured her all the way to the middle of the North Channel. Then for the first time the Ranger hoisted the Stars and Stripes. Surgeon Green recorded the suddenness with which Jones began the battle: “after the usual Compliments were pass’d we wore Ship & gave her a whole broadside, without receiving a Shot.”
Probably right up until the very last minute Captain Burden had been hoping that the stranger would flee or surrender without a fight. After the battle the London Advertiser tried to explain his lack of fervor by pointing out that he was “in years, and at that time very ill.” Burden’s men, however, fought fiercely. The two sloops of war were fairly matched. The Drake carried twenty cannons firing six-pound shot; the Ranger had eighteen nine-pounders. Perhaps 175 men were on the Drake , some of them volunteers from Belfast who had come aboard when they heard an American raider was nearby. Jones’s crew numbered less than 130 now, having lost several prize crews to take over earlier captures. Mackenzie may have a point in claiming that the British had a psychological advantage:
… the Drake belonged to a regularly established navy, whose ships were everywhere accustomed to conquer, whilst the equipping of the Ranger was among the earliest efforts of a new and imperfectly organized service.
But when Jones’s New Englanders were in the mood to fight, as they were now, victorious traditions were of little help to the men of H.M.S. Drake .
After the Ranger ’s opening broadside the two ships blasted away at each other for an hour and five minutes. The laconic Dr. Green described the action as “very warm.” At one point Jones saw that his gunners were firing mainly when the side of the ship was rolling down in the trough of the waves. They explained this was in order to drop their cannon balls low into the Drake ’s hull and sink her. But Jones had gone long enough with nothing to show for his daring stratagems—he wanted to keep the Drake afloat as a prize. So his gunners, following his instructions, began firing on the upward roll of the ship in order to tear up the enemy’s rigging. Their aim was accurate. Jones was later willing to pay them a high compliment despite their disloyal tendencies: “They gave the Drake three broadsides for two right along at that.… My supply of ammunition would never admit of actual target practice, so the precision of their fire was simply natural aptitude.”
When the battle had gone on without letup for at least an hour, Captain Burden was struck in the head by a musket ball fired by one of Wallingford’s marines from the Ranger ’s maintop. Almost at the same time his second officer, Lieutenant Dobbs, was mortally wounded. With sails utterly in shreds and the crew in desperate confusion, the Drake ’s third-in-command saw no choice but to shout the signal for surrender. In the captured boat from the Drake a group of Americans crossed to the maimed vessel and disarmed the English crew. The Ranger took the Drake in tow.
As the sun set over Ireland, at least seven men lay dead or dying. Three Americans had been killed in the maintop by British sharpshooters. One of these was Lieutenant Wallingford, who had made such a good impression on Lady Selkirk. In June her husband the Earl mentioned Wallingford in his reply to Jones’s letter to the Countess:
We were all sorry to hear afterwards that the younger officer in green uniform [the color of the marines] was killed in your engagement with the Drake , for he in particular showed so much civility and so apparent dislike at the business he was then on [taking the silver], that it is surprising how he should have been one of the proposers of it.
In addition to the deaths of Wallingford and two seamen, five Americans were wounded, while the British reported nineteen wounded. Jones later asserted that the number of enemy wounded was closer to forty.