Build a Fleet of Boats
And Pretend You're
Naval Hero John Paul Jones
Snack: Take a look at today's
supplies, and you'll know what's for snack: Walnuts!
42 empty walnut half-shells
Nutcracker, flat screwdriver, hammer, or other tools
to pry walnuts open
42 little balls of clay, 1/2" in diameter
42 1"X 2" rectangles of wax paper
2 plastic meat trays
2 large straws
2 large squares of waxed paper
Print out this British Union Jack flag, or copy it on
a small piece of paper; you will need two small paper flags:
Five 4-oz clear, hard plastic cups
5 smaller straws, or large straws cut in half
Extra clay and waxed paper
Print out these five American Revolutionary flags, or
copy them on small pieces of paper; you will need 5 of these flags:
Large galvanized tub, kiddie wading pool or other
large water-holding vessel
Blue food coloring
Short length of string or twine
This makes a fun project to do
alone, with one friend or with a small group as a demonstration for other
While you make your little
mini-boats, one student can read this story, or an adult can read it while you
work. You are going to make 42 "merchant ships" out of walnut shells, two large
British "frigates" (pronounced "FRIGG-it," and they are warships), and five
small American fighting ships.
probably need to buy extra walnuts, since you'll probably crush some while
you're trying to crack them into two pieces neatly and come up with 42
half-shells. But that's OK: if you wreck the shell, you can still eat the nut!
crack a walnut open neatly, use an ordinary nutcracker, but gradually squeeze.
Don't squeeze too suddenly or you're likely to crush the halves. You might want
to use a flat screwdriver to pry the two sides apart after you've started
opening them with the nutcracker. Or you can hold the walnut on the pavement
with the pointed side up, and lightly tap it with a hammer.
make the boats: Put clay ball inside each walnut shell. Make a sail
by poking the toothpick through a square of wax paper sail two times. Stick the
toothpick mast and the sail into the clay inside the shell.
To make the larger British
frigates, follow the same process with the two meat trays and the straws, only
use scissors to poke holes in larger squares of waxed paper and stick them into
clay. Attach the flags to the straws the same way. If you want to be more
realistic, use more straws and "sails" and put a "spar," or horizontal piece
sticking out in front of the frigate, and maybe some rolled-up paper tubes to
represent the guns coming out of the sides:
To make the five American
ships, use the plastic cups and smaller straws, since they were smaller ships
than the British ones. Don't forget the American flags, too.
Fill a large galvanized tub
or a kiddie wading pool with water. You can add several drops of blue food
coloring to make it look more like the sea.
OK . . . now for the story
that you are going to reenact. You can do this alone or with a group of
Modern-day warships are a wonder
of nautical engineering. "Nautical" refers to ships, sailors and navigation.
Today's ships of war are gigantic, amazing, high-tech and beautifully designed.
Their missiles can pierce through a foot of steel. They can fire artillery
shells miles and miles away.
The ships of the past can't
compare. They were small, made of wood, and moved by wind in their sails rather
than engines, so they weren't very fast. Their cannonballs only weighed six or
12 pounds, usually, which is tiny compared to today's weaponry.
But the SAILORS and NAVY LEADERS
of the past are every bit as good as today's naval heroes.
One of the most famous of all Navy
heroes in American history was John Paul Jones (1747-92). He was born in Scotland and started off
his sailing career working on British ships. But the cruelty of the British
slave trade disgusted him, so he made America his home. His leadership in many
brave battles caused him to rise to become the commodore, or leader of a group
of ships, for the American Revolutionary Navy.
Many people say that he was the
leader in the greatest sea fight ever seen. It happened in 1779, in British
waters, during the American Revolutionary War.
John Paul Jones
Keeping in mind the recent
disclosure that there are a lot of pirates off the northeast coast of Africa,
terrorizing merchant ships and holding hostages to get millions of dollars,
it's interesting to note that that kind of behavior was going on, bigtime,
during the Revolutionary War period in the late 1700s. In fact, the British
hated John Paul Jones so much for how many British ships he vanquished, that
they called him a "pirate"!
But both sides were doing it. By
1781, the American Congress had actually commissioned, or paid for, more than
450 private ships to go out onto the seas and attack British ships that were
carrying guns, gunpowder, food and other supplies to equip the British soldiers
and sailors fighting us in the American Revolutionary War.
Those ships were called
"privateers," and they were equipped with guns to fight British war ships, too.
They weren't "pirates," since they were working for an organized government.
But they weren't in the military; they were privately-owned ships.
During the American Revolutionary
War, American privateers captured nearly 2,000 British merchant ships and 16
British war ships, but British privateers didn't capture a single American
A key reason for that was the
bravery of John Paul Jones. Even though he only had five ships and most of his
sailors were recently released from English prisons, they were really good
sailors. They prowled around the seas near the British Isles to capture
merchant vessels just as they were setting out for America to restock British
soldiers, so that they could send the goods to the Americans instead of to the
In September 1779 John Paul Jones
came upon a large fleet of 42 merchant ships with lots of supplies on board
that the American Revolutionary Army really needed. But that fleet was
protected by two British frigates, which had 42 and 22 guns, respectively. So
they had many more guns that could fire much heavier cannonballs than Jones
Now let's reenact the sea battle:
1. Float all 42 merchant ships in
the tub, protected by the two large British frigates, on one side of the tub.
Now have the 5 American ships sail toward them.
2. A British ship fired many big
cannonballs at the ship John Paul Jones was on, the Bon Homme Richard (French for "Good Man Richard"). Since it was a
rotten, old boat, it began to leak. (Poke a small nail through one plastic cup
representing the American boats several times, so that it begins to slowly
3. Someone pretend to be the
captain of the British ship, who shouted form his bigger ship to John Paul
Jones: "Have you surrendered?"
4. Someone else pretend to be John
Paul Jones, who shouted back, "I have not yet begun to fight!" (That's a really
famous, brave quote from him)
5. Meanwhile, two of the other
American ships "herded" the other British ship, the Countess of Scarborough, a far distance away from the other British
ship - "divide and conquer" -- and after a battle, vanquished that ship.
6. Meanwhile, Commodore Jones knew
that he couldn't win a battle of big guns since the Brits had much bigger
gunpower than he did. So he had to do something different to win. He ordered
his ship tied to the British ship, side by side (use the string or twine and
tie these two ships by their masts) Why? So that his boat was too close to the
British one for the British gunners to get their port windows open so that they
could fire and load their guns.
6. Then another "boat" under the
American flag came up mysteriously and fired two cannonballs into Jones' ship.
(Stick it with another pin) Turns out that John Paul Jones had to get other
captains from the nation of France since he was so far from America, and it is
thought that the French captain was a traitor in this fight)
7. But things were about to get
even worse. Then an American officer let free about 200 or 300 British
prisoners who were in the "hold" of Jones' ship, fearing that they might drown
if the ship sank, and they all came up on board the ship. At the same time, an
American crewman tried to take down the American flag, crying to the British for
mercy. But John Paul Jones knocked him down by throwing a pistol at his head.
He would sink or burn, but he would NEVER give up the ship!
8. Now that there were 200 or 300
more "hands" on board, they were put to work pumping water out to save the
sinking ship, and fought the fires that started. That was helping!
9. Then the remaining two American
ships came over and started attacking the British ship from the other side.
10. Then a sailor dropped a hand
grenade into an open hatch of the British ship, which made a bunch of gun
cartridges explode, killing 20 gunners and wounding many more, and setting the
British ship on fire. John Paul Jones piled on, loading and firing his small,
9-pound cannonballs himself, until the British captain freaked out and pulled
down the British flag from his ship.
11. "Cease firing!" John Paul
Jones immediately shouted. He then confiscated both British ships and all the
12. However, John Paul Jones' ship
did sink . . . but he brought all the guns, ammunition and food on board the 42
merchant ships to Holland, which was a neutral country, and eventually to
America, to help the American Revolution succeed.
John Paul Jones was also the first American to raise a
flag on an American ship before the Revolutionary War began. It was very brave
for him to do this. It happened on board the Delaware, that was harbored at Philadelphia at Christmastime in
1775. This happened just as the first fleet - or group of ships - was going
In those days, we didn't have the
American flag we know now, though. So first, he raised a huge flag of yellow
silk that had a green pine tree on it, with a coiled rattlesnake, and the
warning motto, "DON'T TREAD ON ME." That became a famous motto for the American
crowd went wild. They wanted to go to war against the British to win American
John Paul Jones put up another flag, and you can see that it was the model for
our flag today. He made sure that it was on file with foreign governments so
that, when his ships captured other ships, it was clear that his ships were not
pirates or criminals, but working in concert with the Continental Congress back
in what was about to become the United States of America. The flag had 13
stripes, alternating red and white, and in the corner there was the British
flag, the "Union Jack."
Though there were no stars then,
they came after the Declaration of Independence the following year, and the
union of the states.