Sign On With Me Said John Paul Jones The young American Republic was a threatened and risky experiment when John Paul Jones wrote his famous appeal to patriots to sail with him against the armed might of the British Empire. The actual words of his call are worth reading today:
"Sign on, young man, and sail with me. The stature of our homeland is no more than the measure of ourselves. Our will is to keep the torch of freedom burning for all. To this solemn purpose we call on the young, the brave, the strong and the free. Heed my call. Come to the sea. Come sail with me." Jones was no easy man to sail under. He announced his intention to steer in harm's way, and he carried out that mission to the letter. While the barely united colonies waged their desperate struggle on this side of the ocean, he sailed two hundred years ago to Europe, to carry the struggle to the chops of the English Channel and beyond-into the lions mouth. In doing so he aroused the world and gave confidence to friends of the American cause everywhere. It's worth noticing how he framed his appeal in those long-past dangerous days. The stature of the nation is measured not by its size or might. For Jones, an avid reader in history, knew that the greatest empire can be defeated, and ultimately destroyed. No, it is to be measured in the citizen's devotion to it-that defines the nation and gives it its standing and declares what it shall be. And he links the freedom at home to freedom in the world. Freedom in his eyes was not a thing that belonged to anyone, but a thing to be striven for, and the thing this nation, or any nation, should be dedicated to as the only legitimate basis for national authority. In this belief, which he spoke of on many other occasions, he carried truly the message of the founding fathers, who were then struggling to forge a nation on the principles of the newly adopted Declaration of Independence in the land he left behind him, which he sailed to defend. Finally, his call is to the young. As an old admiral now long retired in the service Jones helped to found, I like to think he meant the young in spirit. For the cause of freedom is always young. It has to be reborn, and fought for, in each generation. Its service demands people who respond to young ideas, and whose 16
spirits are not corroded and jaded or worn down by disappointments but ever alert to its young appeal. Freedom always looks weak, like a child, because it is always young, always trying to become something, always looking to the future-and nourished by the past. It's dangerous, we're told, to draw hard and fast lessons from history . Situations keep changing. But John Paul Jones was a rare commander, a man of action who was deeply aware of history, and who clearly felt he was living in history, even living for history. Perhaps that explains, or helps explain, his seemingly magic touch in overcoming invincible odds, and achieving things that live for all who follow his story today. Certainly his voice and his acts speak clearly to us across two hundred years, in the quite different world we sail in today. In this issue of SEA HISTORY we take a look at the ships John Paul Jones commanded, and at the reproduction of his beloved sloop Providence, which sails out of Newport, Rhode Island, today, manned by a very dedicated crew, and at the project to recover the remains of his most famous command, the Bon homme Richard, from the floor of the North Sea, where she sank after her immortal fight with the Serapis off Flambrough Head on England's East Coast. These are good works and good projects. Through research, and through art, through active sailing, and through recovering historic artifacts, we are not merely rummaging the past. These projects, which are the projects of the Ship Trust in this country today, help us understand how people kept the young idea of freedom alive in this time, and help us keep its torch alight today. Let me invite all who follow the sea and take an interest in its heritage to sign on for the Ship Trust of the National Maritime Historical Society, and so support its good projects which bring life to the message of John P<Jul Jones and other sailors who helped win the freedom we enjoy today.
Admiral Burke has written undying chapters in our naval history, in hisservice career. He earned the nickname "31-Knot Burke" in command of destroyers in the Pacific in World War II, and many decorations from a grateful nation. SEA HISTORY, FALL 1978