Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Yankee Doodle in the Crimea

To Russia with Love

Recent events in the Crimea struck me to blog about that land's connection to the Yankee Doodle Spies. And that connection is John Paul Jones, renowned naval hero who arguably played a pivotal role in helping Imperial Russia fulfill its ambitions against the Turkish masters of the Crimea.  Jones was born in Scotland as John Paul. He took to sea at an early age and eventually became a ship's master. But his violent nature caused him to face criminal sanctions and he eventually adopted a new name by adding "Jones" to his birth name. The controversial merchant mariner connected to America via his brother, who had settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia. When the war with Britain came he entered the new American navy and became one of its most celebrated heroes.

America's Fighting Sailor

Jones was a unique character, ruthless and fearless, and willing to take on any challenge. He is known for many successful one on one ship fights, not the least of which is his epic battle with the Serapis, and extremely bold raids on England, Scotland and Ireland. He tried to take out a fleet of merchant vessels at Whitehaven by fire but the plans did not come to fruition and only one ship was burned. Still, his exploits sent a message heard around the world: the US Navy could and would fight anyone, anywhere! Jones was friends with Benjamin Franklin and became sort of a rock star in some circles. But he also made many enemies because of his temper. In the summer of 1782 he was considered for command of a first-rate named America but Congress later gave the ship to France. Instead he was given duties in Europe aimed at obtaining prize money. When that assignment ended he was stuck in Paris without "portfolio."

Raid on Whitehaven

The Czarina's Rebel

Catherine the Great
 In 1787 a foreign sovereign called on the renowned sailor who had sailed against his former king. Imperial Russia was at war with the Ottoman Empire in another of its many campaigns to wrest a path to the sea. Jones was recommended to Czarina Catherine the Great through a series of friends and when his name was mentioned for a possible naval command she opined that he would "get to Constantinople." In the eighteenth century it was very common for officers to accept foreign commissions when pensioned or mustered out of service in their native forces. The Royal navy itself downsized after the Treaty of Paris and many of its officers went into the Czarina's service. Many British noses were out of joint when word got out that Jones would enter the Russian Navy as Kontraadmiral (Rear Admiral) Pavel Ivanovich Jones. However, he was sent to the Black Sea where Catherine's Prime Minister (and lover) Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potëmkin commanded the armies and navies in the lower Ukraine and Crimea. Jones had a mixed record in the campaign and fell into disputes with peers and superiors.

Jones was given command of a small flotilla and a first rate as his flagship, the 24-gun flagship Vladimir. He served in the naval campaign in the Liman (an arm of the Black Sea, into which flow the Southern Bug and Dnieper rivers) against the Turks. Jones repulsed Ottoman forces from the area in the first naval battle of Liman.  A second battle soon came when the Turkish navy returned from the Black Sea in an attempt to breakthrough to Ochakov, a key Dneipr fortress besieged by Russian naval and land forces (the latter under the famed General Suvarov). Jones went on a night reconnaissance rowed by a powerfully built Cossack sailor named Ivak.  To Ivak's astonishment Jones penetrated the Turkish fleet. In what must have been an eerie experience, the two made their way past floating pickets and various ships at anchor.Through some Turkish Cossacks, they discovered the enemy passwords and went deeper into the fleet. Finally they sailed for a large vessel floating in the middle of the fleet, the Pasha's own flagship, and marked it with chalk, "To Be Burned, Paul Jones."  The battle the next day had mixed results.  Friction between Jones and the German international adventurer in command of the  galleys, Prince de Nassau-Siegen became problematic from the beginning. Nassau-Siegen hated Jones and did everything he could to obstruct him.  But despite the friction and chaos in the command structure, the Russians managed an impressive victory, although if Jones had a freer hand, it might have been bigger.

The siege of Ochakov was an epic event
in the Ottoman loss of the Crimea

From Russia without Love

Potemkin's enmity brought an ignominious end
to John Paul Jones'  controversial Russian
Not long after, the jealous intrigues of  Potëmkin and his cohort Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen caused Jones to be recalled to St. Petersburg for the pretended purpose of being transferred to a command in the North Sea. Here he was compelled to remain in idleness, while rival officers plotted against him and even maliciously assailed his private character through accusations of sexual misconduct. In April 1789 Jones was arrested and accused of raping a 12 year old girl named Katerina Goltzwart. But the Count de Segur, the French representative at the Russian court (and also Jones' last friend in the capital), conducted his own personal investigation into the matter and was able to convince Potëmkin that the girl had not been raped and that Jones had been accused by Prince de Nassau-Siegen for his own purposes. But Jones did not come out of this unscathed in reputation. He  had admitted to prosecutors that he had "often frolicked" with the girl "for a small cash payment," only denying that he knew her age and emphatically stating he had not deprived her of her virginity. Still, most in Petersburg dropped him like a hot potato. The Czarina (herself as dissolute as they come) was outraged by the affair. On June 8, 1789, Jones was awarded the Order of St. Anne.  This was a much lower award than that given to Nassau-Siegen and other  senior officers who took part in the Liman campaign. Jones left Russia not long after, an embittered man.

And what of the Crimea?  After a long winter siege, Ochakov fell to Potemkin's forces, breaking the Turkish hold on the peninsula.  The treaty of Jassy in 1792 made it official,the Sultan formally recognizing Russia's seizure of the Crimean Khanate and ceding Odessa and Ochakov as well.


  1. It was these events that lead to my German ancestors to leave Germany at the request of Catherine to come to Odessa to farm. They stayed about 100 years and left for America when Nicholas started forcing them into the army. The oldest picture I have of my great grandfather he is wearing a Russian Imperial uniform. Many of these families settled in the Dakotas and later in Colorado.

    1. Yes - Catherine was German herself and made great efforts to encourage her Landsmen to come to Russia. She valued their skills as tradesmen, merchants and farmers.... they formed a strong middle class that helped bolster the economy...