Ranger, Brest, 8th May, 1778
It cannot be too much lamented that in the profession of Arms, the Officer of fine feelings, and of real Sensibility, should be under the necessity of winking at any action of Persons under his command, which his Heart cannot approve: – but the reflection is doubly severe when he finds himself Obliged, in appearance, to countenance such Action by his Authority.
This hard case was mine when on the 23rd of April last I landed on St Mary’s Isle. Knowing Lord Selkirk’s intrest with his King, and esteeming as I do his private Character; I wished to make him the happy Instrument of alleviating the horrors of hopeless captivity, when the brave are overpowered and made Prisoners of War.
It was perhaps fortunate for you Madam that he was from home; for it was my intention to have taken him on board the Ranger, and to have detained him till thro’ his means, a general and fair Exchange of Prisoners, as well in Europe as in America had been effected.
When I was informed by some Men whom I met at landing, that his Lordship was absent; I walked back to my Boat determining to leave the Island: by the way, however, some Officers who were with me could not forbear expressing their discontent; observing that in America no delicacy was shown by the English; who took away all sorts of moveable Property, setting Fire not only to Towns and to Houses of the rich without distinction; but no even sparing the wretched hamlets and Milch Cows of the poor and helpless at the approach of an inclement Winter. That party had been with me, as Volunteers, the same morning at White Haven; some complaisance therefore was their due. I had but a moment to think how I might gratify them, and at the same time do your Ladyship the least Injury. I charged the Two Officers to permit none of the Seamen to enter the House, or to hurt anything about it – To treat you, Madam, with the utmost Respect – to accept of the plate which was offered – and to come away without making a search or demanding anything else.
I am induced to believe that I was punctually Obeyed; since I am informed that the plate which they brought away is far short of the Inventory which accompanied it. I have gratified my Men; and when the plate is sold, I shall become the Purchaser, and I will gratify my own feelings by restoring it to you, by such conveyance as you shall be pleased to direct.
Had the Earl been on board the Ranger the following Evening he would have seen the awful Pomp and dreadful carnage of a Sea Engagement, both affording ample subject for the Pencil, as well as melancholy reflection for the contemplative mind. Humanity starts back from such scenes of horror, and cannot but execrate the vile Promoters of this detested War.
For They, t’was THEY unsheath’d the ruthless blade, And Heav’n shall ask the Havock it has made. The British Ship of War, Drake, mounting 20 guns, with more than her full complement of Officers and Men, besides a number of Volunteers, came out from Carrickfergus, in order to attack and take the American Continental Ship of War, Ranger, of 18 guns and short of her complement of Officers and Men. The Ships met, and the advantage was disputed with great fortitude on each side for ai n Hour and Five minutes, when the gallant Commander of the Drake fell, and Victory declared in favor of the Ranger. His amiable Lieutenancy lay mortally wounded besides near forty of the inferior officers and crew killed and wounded. A melancholy demonstration of the uncertainty of human prospects, and of the said reverse of fortune which an hour can produce. I buryed them in a spacious grave, with the Honors due to the memory of the brave.
Tho’ I have drawn my sword in the present generous Struggle for the rights of Men; yet I am not in Arms as an American, nor am I in pursuit of Riches. My Fortune is liberal enough, having no Wife nor Family, and having lived long enough to know that Riches cannot ensure Happiness. I profess myself a Citizen of the World, totally unfettered by the little mean distinctions of Climate or of Country, which diminish the benevolence of the Heart and set bounds to Philanthropy. Before this War begun I had at an early time of Life, withdrawn from the Sea service, in favor of “calm contemplation and Poetic ease.” I have sacrificed not only my favorite scheme of Life, but the softer Affections of the Heart and my prospects of Domestic happiness: – And I am ready to sacrifice Life also with cheerfulness – if that forfeiture could restore Peace and Goodwill among mankind.
As the feelings of your gentle Bosom cannot but be congenial with mine – let me entreat you Madam to use your soft persuasive Arts with your Husband to endeavor to stop this Cruel and destructive War, in which Britain can never succeed. Heaven can never countenance the barbarous and unmanly Practices of the Britons in America, which Savages would Blush at; and which if not discontinued will soon be retaliated in Britain by a justly enraged People. – Should your fail in this, (for I am persuaded you will attempt it; and who can resist the power of such an Advocate?) Your endeavours to effect a general Exchange of Prisoners, will be an Act of Humanity, which will afford you Golden feelings on a Death bed.
I hope this cruel contest will soon be closed; but should it continue, I wage no War with the Fair. I acknowledge their Power, and bend before it with profound Submission; let not therefore the Amiable Countess of Selkirk regard me as an Enemy. I am ambitious of her esteem and Friendship, and would do anything consistent with my duty to merit it.
The honor of a Line from your hand in Answer to this will lay me under a very singular Obligation; and if I can render you any acceptable service in France or elsewhere, I hope you see into my character so far as to command me without the least grain of reserve. I wish to know exactly the behavior of my people, as I determine to punish them if they have exceeded their Liberty.
I have the Honor to be with much Esteem and with profound Respect, Madam,
Your most Obedient and most humble Servant
Jno P Jones