Describes a battle between an unnamed ship captained by John Paul Jones and an (also unnamed) English man-of-war. Jones chases down the man-of-war, catches up at 11 a.m., they fight "yardarm to yardarm" for five hours till the English flag comes down
Harlow listed this along with another "Yankee Man-of-War" (aka "Paul Jones the Privateer" [Laws A3]) though the words and meter is different, and the text clearly describes a different battle. [Roud nonetheless lumps them, probably taking Harlow's word for it. - RBW]
The only battle I could find that might fit what's described here is one that took place on April 24, 1778 when Jones, captaining the _Ranger_, the captured the HMS _Drake_ off the coast of Ireland. However, that battle actually lasted only an hour or so, not five as this song describes. - SL
Some of this may be due to inaccurate reporting of what Jones said and did. Samuel Eliot Morison's biography _John Paul Jones_ (1959; Time-Life edition printed 1981) repeatedly laments the miserable state of Jones biographies, at one point he accuses a writer of "complete fabrication," adding that this author "found it easier to write Jones's letters himself than use the genuine ones in the Library of Congress." This does not, of course, prove that Morison's biography is accurate (though his reputation is high) -- but it proves that our sources as a whole are unreliable.
For a (largely Morison-derived) biography of Jones, see "Paul Jones's Victory" [Laws A4]. - RBW