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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – October 2012
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
The Capture of HMS Frolic
There are many lessons to be learned from historic events, even if they appear to be insignificant. This is true because all historic events involve people, and the lives of human beings contain within them the embedded lessons of their Creator. This is certainly true of Commodore Jacob Michael Jones. Jones was born near Smyrna in Kent County, Delaware in March of 1768. At the time of his birth the War for Independence was in its “constitutional debate stage”, soon to break forth, first at the “Boston Massacre” and then at Lexington and Concord five years later. But by the time young Jacob had turned four, both his mother and father had passed away and he was left an orphan.
Jones was able to receive a good, classical education and ended up being mentored in the field of medicine by Dr. James Sykes, a member of the Delaware convention that unanimously (30-0) ratified the United States Constitution (the first State to do so) on December 7, 1787. After four years of being mentored, he continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Hon. John Clayton said of Jones that “he was distinguished and beloved for the benevolence, integrity and frankness of his character.” He married Dr. Sykes’ sister, but soon his beloved wife died.
At 31, he entered the Navy, and some say he did so out of his grief. He was grieved as well by the way France and England nearly removed the American commercial merchant ships from the seas through intimidation and pressure. Nearly two thousand vessels had been removed and a result, the economy was crippled. He defended his young country in the Quasi-war with France and the Barbary Pirate wars as well. He was one of the ones who suffered in the Muslim dungeon of Tripoli for several months. Commodore Jones then became one of the shining ornaments in the War of 1812 in defense of the freedom of the seas.
It was in the month of October, 1812, on the 18th day, two hundred years ago, that the historic battle took place between the USS Wasp, commanded by Jones, and the HMS Frolic. The battle is not only historic, but significant, for its lessons ring loud and clear to those of us living in America today, facing spiritual and political battles no less important for the legacy of liberty to come to our children and grandchildren.
After the Frolic and Wasp had spotted one another late on the 17th, they prepared for war. They closed to within 60 yards and opened fire at 11:30 AM on the 18th. Frolic’s gunners aimed high to disable the Wasp’s rigging. Wasp’s gunners aimed low to destroy the Frolic’s hull. After 22 minutes, neither ship was able to be sailed.
It seemed, to historians and pundits at the time, that the two ships had been well named in this battle. Though both ships were badly damaged, more than half of the Frolic’s crew was dead or wounded, and the ship was sinking. The Wasp had lost only eight and were obviously much better gunners. However, the two ships were so close together it was impossible to separate them. The accuracy of the Wasp had defeated the random firing of the Frolic. However, when the British ship of the line HMS Poictiers came on the scene; since the Wasp could not sail away due to its damaged rigging and being tied to the Frolic; Commodore Jones had no choice but to surrender. If we get too obsessed with our enemy we may be unable to continue fighting after a victory and be easily captured!
It was the character of Commodore Jones, however, that enabled him and his crew to be released due to an exchange of prisoners. The Frolic was so damaged it was broken up by November of 1813. The Wasp was able to be repaired, and the British renamed her HMS Peacock until she was wrecked in 1814. Ultimately, our character of sobriety and humility will bring about long lasting victory. Also, sobriety in spiritual or physical war outlasts an addiction to entertainment (“to play and be full of pranks” is the definition of the word “frolick”).
Commodore Jones was promoted for his valor. In reviewing his conduct, Christian character and humble demeanor, the United States Congress voted to mint the Commodore Jones Medal in 1812. On one side, the picture of the two ships in close combat is rendered. On the other side, Jacobus Jones Virtus in Ardua Tendit is rendered, or “valor seeks difficulties.”
Indeed, the life of Jacob Michael Jones had been difficult, but his valor outlived the turmoil of his days. He lost his parents and then his first wife. He married twice again, and left a legacy of a son and daughter by the second marriage, and two sons and two daughters by the third marriage.
Let us remember that the heat of the battle is not the ultimate focus. Let us maintain the focus of advancing the Kingdom of God through service as Commodore Jacobs did the legacy of liberty in his country. The Hon. Clayton, upon Jacobs death in 1850, stated:
“I could not bestow a better eulogism upon the character of Jacob Jones than to add, as I do now with perfect truth, that the love of country was his ruling passion. He was the associate of the revolutionary patriots of Delaware and was reared in a school whose devotion to the Union knew no limits. At all periods of his life he manifested the most profound deference to the Laws and Constitution of his country. Indeed it is a subject of sincere congratulations that no true son of Delaware has ever yet proved faithless to the obligations she assumed, when she led her sister states and carried away the honor of being the first to adopt the American Constitution, and at this moment I do not know a citizen born or living within her limits who does not regard the Union, as the Jews regarded the Ark of the Covenant, which none could desecrate and live.”