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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

John Paul Jones and Political Correctness

At Annapolis, the corporal remains of John Paul Jones are in a crypt that compares with that of Napoleon in Paris and Ulysses S. Grant in New York:

According to the Naval Academy website, "John Paul Jones has been lauded since 1775 as the Father of the US Navy.  His influence and leadership were foundational in the establishment of our Navy and in many ways the success of our War of Independence." On the other hand, some argue that Commodore John Barry was the real "father" of the American Navy.  (These two schools of thought ignore the role of Benedict Arnold at Valcour Island, and his naval heroics, but that is for another day).  For a discussion of the relative merits of the claim between Barry and Jones, see

By today's standards, Jones's reputation in retrospect might be subject to question.  He served on two slave ships, for a couple of years, finally leaving it--but he did voluntarily participate as an officer on those ships.  Evan Thomas, in John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, wrote that "John Paul sailed the infamous 'middle passage' between Africa and the slave plantations of the Caribbean," worked on slave ships for about three years.  Apart from that, he was charged with murder, but acquitted.  He killed another man while in command of a commercial ship in the West Indies.  His heralded victory while in command of the Bonhomme Richard against the Serapis nonetheless cost half his crew dead or wounded.  A summary of his life is on the website for the John Paul Jones Museum in Scotland, see  Among the better biographies is Samuel Eliot Morrison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography.

Should Jones be de-heroicized? Did he redeem by leaving the trade? Was three years too much to forgive? He made money as a slaver, even if he did purportedly leave the trade due to developing a distaste for it.  There is a memorial to Confederate soldiers in Bolton Hill in Baltimore that has a sign on it asking for comment as to whether it should be taken down.  Is the crypt at Annapolis next?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Samuel Smith and the Call of Duty

On Federal Hill in Baltimore stands a statue of Samuel Smith.  Smith, who lived into his late eighties, served in both the American Revolution, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and then in the War of 1812, leaving the service as a major-general.

Smith was only 24 years old when General George Washington put him in charge of Fort Mifflin on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River in the fall of 1777.  The bombardment of Fort Mifflin was terrible, among the worst of the war, and ultimately, in November, Smith had to abandon the fort.  He had fought at New York and White Plains, and also Brandywine and Monmouth.  He served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the new country, as well as mayor of Baltimore, which he defended against the British during the invasion in the War of 1812.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Baron Johann de Kalb and Nationality

Baron Johann de Kalb is one of the more intriguing "foreigners" who came to the nascent American nation to join the Patriot (American) forces in the Revolutionary War.  Born in Germany, he was trained by the French and came to America to assess Colonial attitudes towards the British.  Through the intervention of Benjamin Franklin and Lafayette, De Kalb came over with Lafayette in spring 1777 and in September, was appointed a major-general by the Continental Congress.  In command  of the Maryland and Delaware units of the Continental Army, he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina on August 16, 1780 and died of his wounds three days later.

He is honored by a statue on the grounds of the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis, Maryland; the statue was erected in 1866.  Maryland claims his as its own based on his service with the Maryland line in the Revolution.  A plaque at the site claims de Kalb purportedly stated "I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man."

It is worth reflecting on de Kalb and his community of nationalities and loyalties as we ponder current immigration issues.  Here was a German, trained by and in service to the French, and died leading Americans into battle against the British.