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|The tune is probably based on an earlier British folksong, but I have no record of the name of the original tune. The tune appears in G. Malcolm Laws Native American Balladry as The Stately Southerner.
Notes at Digital Tradition indicate the tune "commemorates a non-battle. Privateer John Paul Jones sailed into the Irish Sea in 1778 to attack British shipping and raid the coast of Cumberland. He encountered a larger and more powerful British man-o'war, but his lighter vessel, the Ranger, was able to outrun and outmaneuver the British ship, and escaped."
Many tunes sprang up around the exploits of John Paul Jones. See links below to see why he was such a popular hero.
'Tis of a gallant Yankee ship
That flew the stripes and stars,
And the whistling wind from the west nor'west
Blew through the pitchpine spars,
With her starboard tacks aboard, my boys,
She hung upon the gale; on an autumn night
We raised the light on the old head of Kinsale.
It was a clear and cloudless night,
And the wind blew steady and strong,
As fairly over the sparkling deep
Our good ship bowled along;
With the foaming seas beneath her bow
The fiery waves she spread,
And bending low her bosom of snow,
She buried her lee, cat-head.
There was no talk of short'ning sail,
by him who walked the poop,
And under the press of her pond'ring jib
The boom bent like a hoop!
And the groaning waterways told the strain
That held her stout main tack,
But he only laughed as he glanced aloft
At a white and silv'ry track.
The nightly robes our good ship wore
Were her own topsails three,
Her spanker and her standing jib,
The courses being free;
Now lay aloft! my heroes bold,
Let not a moment pass!
And royals and topgallant sails
Were quickly on each mast.
What looms upon our starboard bow?
What hangs upon the breeze?
'Tis time our good ship hauled her wind
Abreast of the old saltee's.
For by her ponderous press of sail
And by her escorts four,
We saw our morning visitor
Was a British man-of-war.
Up spoke our noble captain then,
And a short ahead of us passed,
Haul snug your flowing courses!
Lay your topsail to the mast!
Those Englishmen gave three loud hurrahs
From the deck of their covered ark
And we answered by a solid broadside
From the deck of our patriot bark.
Out booms! Out booms! our skipper cried,
Out booms! and give her sheet,
And the swiftest keel that ever was launched
Shot ahead of the British fleet,
And amidst a thundering shower of shot
With the stun-sails hoisting away,
Down the north channel Paul Jones did steer
Just at the break of day.
Other songs related to John Paul Jones at this site:
The Burl Ives Song Book
See Bibliography for full information.