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John Paul Jones Wants YOU!
A local crew sails into history.

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Finding a Crew for Ranger

Before he could sail Ranger from Portsmouth Harbor to battle the British, John Paul Jones needed to find a crew. Easier said than done. The Raleigh, among the very first US-made warships, had just been launched in Portsmouth and was in need of a crew. Privateering, with the promise of captured spoils was more appealing than the risk of serving on a military vessel -- and there were five privateer vessels in port at the time. To make matters worse, Jones was a Scot, a foreigner in a new land with an assumed name and a formal military bearing not often seen in these parts. He was officious, demanding, and itching for a battle. So Jones turned to advertising.

In July 1777, as Jones arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the United States was just one-year old. The locally-built Ranger was effectively a one-ship navy taking on the world's dominant maritime force, the British Royal Navy. It would depart for France in cold November weather, with an untried crew, not effectively rigged, and with 200 fewer kegs of rum than was usually required for a transatlantic crossing. The Ranger would engage the enemy. Men would die. Jones was fearful enough of the journey that he drafted his last will and testament just before departing.

But none of this was evident from Jones' recruitment poster, among the first in American military history. Even today, the illustrated broadside reads more like a travel brochure for a cruise to France, than a call to arms. Anticipating modern public relations-style recruiting that offers sailors the chance to see the world, Jones offered "great encouragement" to draw in his crewmen. The poster was distributed in Providence, Rhode Island and Boston, promising volunteer seamen would be cordially treated and well paid. He even hinted at the possibility of prize money, a promise that had caused him trouble with earlier crews and would do so again with the Ranger.

Despite all the publicity, two-thirds of Jones' crew of about 140 men and six officers came from the Piscataqua River region near Portsmouth. We know that Jones took out an ad in the local newspaper. Here crewmen were promised a bonus of $200 for the loss of a limb, or payment to their family in case of death. Jones wrote optimistically in a July letter to his friend Robert Morrs:

"I have now the fairest Prospects of getting the Ranger compleatly manned--hitherto the Seamen enter even to my wish--and if Cordage and other materials can be Procured--the Ranger will be at Sea before the Raleigh as the latter is an hundred Seamen short of the compliment--it is astonishing that so fine a Ship should lay by for want of Hands"

JPJ Poster But Jones had trouble soliciting sailors and even tried to get the fledgling NH government to draft soldiers from local forts to man the Ranger. By August Jones wrote to Congress for help in paying his men, at least those who had wives and children. Recruits were not being paid the sign-up money agreed to, and a 12-month term of duty was suddenly the requirement for payment. Jones feared that the men might think his handbill was deceitful advertising, and begged for payment to them. Congress, he was required to tell his men, had meant to give the advance payment for a term of three years. Despite the hyped recruitment poster, Jones wrote to say that he felt a personal obligation to the men who had trusted and joined him.

By the last days of October Jones was distraught and angry. He had been "manned" he said for two months, and after delays of every kind from shipbuilder John Langdon, Jones was then forced to face a bout of bad weather. Perturbed at Langdon and at his low rank of office from the Continental Navy, Jones revised his story about finding a crew. In a letter he noted that he had experienced nothing but trouble in Portsmouth except for manning the ship. This, he wrote in October, was "no trouble" compared with getting payments, sails, rum, rank and other items that have slowed his mission to Europe.

The actual roster of the Ranger crew has never been found, but a list of about 140 men and six officers has been assembled from other records. All officers except Jones were politically connected to either Langdon, William Whipple or John Hancock, and were from the region. Among the crewmen were a few foreigners and two free black men from the region, Cato Calite and Scipio Africanus. According to biographer Samuel Eliot Morison, the final crew were advanced a total of $713 and Jones spent $542.12 1/2 recruiting them. Another $82.66 was paid out as "expenses in pursuit of deserters." Some of those men are buried today in obscure graves in Portsmouth's North Cemetery within sight of the Piscataqua River where the Ranger was launched.

By J. Dennis Robinson
© 1998

For more on the ship Ranger read:

  • Portsmouth's Ranger Attacks Britain
  • The Ranger of Portsmouth

    John Paul Jones, a Sailor's Biography by Samuel Eliot Morison, Little Brown, 1959.

    John Paul Jones and the Ranger, edited by Joseph Sawtelle, Portsmouth Marine Society, 1994.

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    Ranger Recruitment Handbill Text


    Ranger ALL GENTLEMEN SEAMEN and able-bodied LANDSMEN who have a Mind to distinguish themselves in the GLORIOUS CAUSE of their Country, and make their Fortunes, an Opportunity now offers on board the Ship RANGER, of Twenty Guns (for France) now laying in Portsmouth, in the State of New-Hampshire, commanded by JOHN PAUL JONES Esq; let them repair to the ship's Rendezvous in Portsmouth, or at the Sign of Commodore Maxley, in Salem, where they will be kindly entertained, and receive the greatest Encouragement. -- The Ship Ranger, in the Opinion of every Person who has seen her is looked upon to be one of the best Cruizers in America. -- She was ever calculated for sailing faster, and making good Weather.

    Any Gentlemen Volunteers who have a Mind to take an agreeable Voyage in this pleasant Season of the Year, may, by entering on board the above Ship Ranger, meet with every Civility they can possibly expect, and for a further Encouragement depend on the first Opportunity being embraced to reward each one agreeable to his Merit.

    All reasonable Travelling Expences will be allowed, and the Advance-Money be paid on their Appearance on Board.

    In CONGRESS, March 29, 1777.

    THAT the Marine Committee be authorized to advance to every able Seamen, that enters into the Continental Service, any Sum not exceeding FORTY DOLLARS, and to every ordinary Seaman or Landsman, any Sum no exceeding TWENTY DOLLARS, to be deducted from their future Prize-Money.

    By Order of Congress,
    JOHN HANCOCK, President.
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    DANVERS; Printed by E. Russell, at the House late the Bell-Tavern.

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    JONES July 1777 "WANT AD"

    The Freeman's Journal, Portsmouth, N.H., July 26, 1777.


    Whereas the seamen of these States have for some time past been discouraged from entering into the navy, by thinking they have hitherto been unfairly dealt with in respect of prize money, and the regular payment of wages: Therefore, to remove all cause of future complaint, I will be answerable to every person who may enter to serve under my command, for the punctual and regular payment of wages. And I will also, with the consent and approbation of officers and men, appoint an agent for the prizes, whose duty it shall be to see the captors part sold to the best advantage, and to make punctual, just and regular payments to every person concern'd.

    Every seaman in the navy is entitled to eight dollars per month wages, with an advance of forty dollars at entry on board. Every marine or landsman is entitled to six dollars & two thirds per month wages, with an advance of twenty dollars at entry on board. Every private person, who may loose a limb or be disabled in engagement, will receive two hundred dollars smart money; if kill'd, his wife or family will receive it. Every person, who may be disabled in engagement, will receive half pay during life or an allowance proportioned to the injury sustained. The pay is extended to persons in captivity, provided they return to the service as soon as possible. The captors share one half of all merchant ships, and of all effects taken by sea or land, without resistance; they share the whole of all ships of war, & of all privateers authorized by his Britannic Majesty to war against these States. They will also receive a bounty of twenty dollars for every carriage gun then mounted, and of eight dollars per head for every man then on board and belonging to such prizes. There are ten shares set apart for the most deserving, with various Advantages, grounded upon resolves of Congress. Persons of abilities will be promoted in proportion to their diligence and merit;-and no equal encouragement can be given in privateers.

    The Continental Ship of war Ranger at Portsmouth under my command is in readiness for sea. Such persons as think proper to enter, are requested to apply on board, or at the Ship's rendezvous where they will receive further information.

    Portsmouth, July 26, 1777. John Paul Jones

    © 1998 All rights reserved

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