Franklin’s diplomatic skills were the key to another great coup for the American cause. Captain John Paul Jones had been living in Virginia when the war broke out. He went to France seeking Dr. Franklin’s help in outfitting ships. He had a bold plan. He wanted to attack the British in their home waters. Jones, born in Scotland, had served on ships from his boyhood. He had even served for a time on slave ships. John Paul Jones’s appearance deceived. Abigail Adams would write of him that he was nothing like the “rough, stout, war-like Roman” she imagined. Instead, he was small, slight, soft-spoken: “I should sooner think of wrapping him up in cotton wool and putting him into my pocket, than sending him to contend with cannon ball,” she wrote.
Mrs. Adams could not have been more wrong. Jones was a fierce combatant. “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way,” he had written. Jones succeeded in spreading panic along the coast of England and Scotland in 1778, seizing British merchant ships and even raiding seaports. Commanding Ranger, Jones attacked the seaside town of Whitehaven, less than a hundred miles northwest of London. Jones knew the harbor well. He had left England from that very port. His stunning raid sparked fear in London. All at once, the English realized they might be vulnerable in their home islands.
When Franklin persuaded the French to give Jones a ship, Jones gratefully christened her Bonhomme Richard. This was the French translation of Franklin’s famous Poor Richard. Franklin had been upset upon hearing of the British fleet burning Fairfield and Norwalk and other towns along the Connecticut shore. He wanted a reprisal.