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...proceed with her [Ranger] in the manner you
shall judge best for distressing the Enemies of
the United States by sea or otherwise.
--- Order to John Paul Jones from US Congress

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RANGER

Ranger in Battle With no surviving plans or sketches, the Portsmouth-built warship Ranger, like its captain John Paul Jones, remains intriguingly mysterious. Originally named "Hampshire" for its port of origin, the ship was contracted among the first fleet of the new American navy. Wealthy builder John Langdon fashioned it after his privateer vessel "Portsmouth". A year earlier he had completed the first of three government vessels built in Seacoast, NH -- The Raleigh -- and was later to build the America, also intended for Jones. Langdon planned for the Ranger to be commanded by his friend John Roche, whose reputation made him unacceptable to the Navy. Langdon then suggested the already popular young John Paul Jones, a decision he later regretted as the two men remained at odds for years to come.

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Jones' Commission

Jones' commission to command the Ranger came on the same day that Congress adopted the new 13-star flag. This coincidence forever married Jones and the Ranger, which carried the new flag, as symbols of the new republic. When Jones arranged to have France become the first foreign government to officially salute the stars and stripes, he further cemented the relationship.

Jones then made history by boldly using the Ranger to attack the worldís greatest naval force on its home territory. Demonstrating unimagined seamanship, bravado and strategy, he played "David" to the British "Goliath," creating what amounted to a one-ship invasion. Originally, Jones was only planning to take the Ranger to France, meet with Benjamin Franklin, and pick up a new larger warship being built secretly in Holland for the United States. When that plan fell through, he customized the Ranger for battle and, much to the dismay of his Piscataqua crew, began his historic raids on the Irish coast. Already reeling from their defeat on American soil at Saratoga, the British were doubly stunned when the man-o-war HMS Drake was captured in full daylight by the cocky Capt. Jones. Within a year, Jones had traded in the Ranger for a used French vessel and taken down another British warship.

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After The Victory

The Ranger remained in service under Capt. Thomas Simpson of Portsmouth and, in the company of other US ships, took a million dollars worth of prizes before being called into service to defend Charleston, South Carolina. The Ranger was captured there in 1780 by the Royal Navy, renamed Halifax and, ironically, decommissioned in Portsmouth, England. The ship was sold as a merchant vessel in 1781 for about 3 percent of her original cost.

Legends, more often than facts, make up the history we embrace. According to seacoast oral history, the new flag of the Ranger had to be so hastily created that the women of Portsmouth sacrificed their petticoats to sew it. Though there is no proof of this story, it captures the emotion of the times as effectively as such standards as Longfellowís fictionalized ode to Paul Revereís ride.

By J. Dennis Robinson
© 1997 SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

See Also:

  • Gov. John Langdon House
  • Ranger and the Serapis Flag
  • Can we Rebuild the Ranger?
  • The RAMGER Foundation (press BACK to return)


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    "RANGER" FACT SHEET

    Begun:......January 11, 1777
    Launched:...May 10, 1777 into the Piscataqua River
    Location:...Rising Castle, now Badger's Island,
    ............Kittery, Maine
    Departed:...Nov 1, 1777
    Builder:....John Langdon
    Designer:...James Hackett
    Yard Boss:..Tobias Lear IV
    ............(father of Tobias Lear V.,
    ............Secretary to President George Washington)
    Officers:...John Paul Jones, Captain
    ............Thomas Simpson, Portsmouth, 1st Lt.
    ............Elijah Hall, Portsmouth, 2nd Lt.
    ............Samuel Wallingford, Lt. of Marines
    ............Dr. Ezrah Green, Dover, Surgeon
    ............Mr. Joseph Frazer, Sr. Officer of Marines
    ............Capt. Matthew Parke
    Crew:.......145 men including nearly
    ............half from Piscataqua area
    Cost:.......$65,000 Continental dollars
    Rating:.....Sloop of war
    Rigging:....Square rigged on all three masts
    ............with royals, topgallant, and a
    ............full set of studding sails
    Arms:.......1.8 nine-pounder guns
    Painting:...Topside black with broad yellow
    ............stripe and masthead
    Dimensions:.(Recorded by Royal Navy after capture)
    ............97' 2" at gundeck (est 110' overall)
    ............77' 9" keel
    ............27' 8" beam
    ............12' depth of hold

    Read The Book:
    Key Source:
    Essays by Julian Fischer in John Paul Jones and the Ranger, edited by Joseph Sawtelle, Portsmouth Marine Society #20, Peter Randall Publisher, 1994, This book contains letters by JPJ and others, plus the first complete printing of the Ranger's logbook, shipís crew list, and a journal by the shipís surgeon.

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