Neil Oliver discovers why a delegation from the US Navy is sent over to the port of Whitehaven every year to honour the Scot John Paul Jones.
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Every year a delegation from the US Navy visits the town of Whitehaven.
These American sailors come to honour a Scot - a man from my home patch, Dumfriesshire.
His name, John Paul Jones.
In November 1777, with the War of Independence in its second year,
emigre Scot John Paul Jones set sail from Portsmouth, New Hampshire with an outrageous plan -
to attack the British Empire on its home ground.
His objective was the town of Whitehaven, then an important trading port.
It was a place he knew well, serving his sailing apprenticeship there before leaving for the colonies.
In the early hours of April 23rd, 1778, John Paul Jones was back.
With his ship anchored off the coast, the plan was to row into the harbour and wreak havoc in the town.
The group split into two teams. The first, led by John Paul Jones,
headed south to disable the town's armoury of cannons.
The second headed north.
Their mission, to set fire to the town's entire fleet of boats.
With daybreak, the town of Whitehaven awoke to find it had been invaded by the American Navy.
And, ever since, arguments have raged about what actually happened that night over 200 years ago.
Local historian Gerard Richardson has his version.
Jones took his boat down to the south end of the harbour,
-probably landed on the beach.
-On that beach that we see now?
And then he took his crew and physically climbed
into the fort itself, to spike the cannons, to prevent anybody firing.
The second vessel came along into the harbour itself.
Legend has it they came up the harbour steps which are just below us.
The intention of those guys was to actually set fire to all the colliers that were in harbour.
There was a full trading fleet moored in Whitehaven that night -
wooden sailing ships laden with coal.
The entire harbour was a tinderbox and John Paul Jones's men had the matches.
It would take only one good spark for the fire to take hold, creating an inferno.
In the words of Jones himself,
"Not a single ship of more than 200 could have escaped,
"and the whole world would not have been able to save the town."
But none of this actually happened.
And why not depends on your point of view.
I have an account here, the Lloyd's Evening Post,
and it says that John Paul Jones's men proceeded to Nick Allison's,
a public house on the old quay, and they made very free with the liquor.
Nicholas Allison's is below us, this old cottage-looking building.
Doesn't sound like the behaviour of men intent on invasion.
-No, it doesn't.
-Of course, the Americans see it differently.
The raid on Whitehaven was not a tactical victory,
in large part because of the Cumbrian weather.
A torrential rain, which is not all that unusual here, doused their matches,
put out their fires, you could not have lit a cigarette.
The strategic value of the raid on Whitehaven was that it moved 40 ships of the Royal Navy away
from the eastern seaboard of the United States to the home waters,
to counter the fear and anxiety that rebels were right over the horizon.
That raid was a spectacular failure, an international drunken shambles.
It achieved absolutely nothing.
So let it be known to all men that all grievances
in connection with this daring raid on this port have been dropped against John Paul Jones
and his men and we do welcome, for all time, the Navy of the United States, together with their citizens.
In terms of the UK, John Paul Jones's largely unknown
and yet, in Whitehaven, we have taken him completely to heart.
He is a rogue, a lovable rogue, he is our rogue.
And he single-handedly launched an entire tourist attraction.
Thank you, John Paul!
It looks like whoever writes history owns it.
And what is written on one side of the ocean may be very different on the other.