John Paul Jones

Infobox Military Person
name=John Paul Jones
born=July 6, 1747
died=July 18, 1792

caption= John Paul Jones
nickname= "Father of the American Navy"
placeofbirth= Kirkcudbright, Scotland
placeofdeath= Paris, France
allegiance= United States of America
branch= Continental Navy
Imperial Russian Navy
serviceyears= 1775 – 1788
rank= Captain (USA)
Rear Admiral (Russia)
awards= Chevalier
Order of Military Merit
Congressional Gold Medal
Order of St. Anne
Légion d'honneur

John Paul Jones (birth date|1747|7|06 – death date|1792|7|18|1747|7|11) was America's first well-known naval hero in the American Revolutionary War. Although he made enemies among the American ruling class, and his career in the Continental Navy never saw him rise above the rank of Captain, his actions in British waters during the Revolution earned him an international reputation which persists to this day.

During his engagement with "Serapis", Jones uttered, according to the later recollection of his First Lieutenant, the legendary reply to a quip about surrender from the British captain: "I have not yet begun to fight!"

Early years

John Paul Jones was born 'John Paul' in 1747, on the estate of Arbigland near Kirkbean in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright on the southern coast of Scotland. John Paul's father, John Paul (Sr.), was a gardener at Arbigland, and his mother was a member of Clan MacDuff. John Paul started his maritime career at the age of 13, sailing out of Whitehaven in the northern English county of Cumberland, as apprentice aboard the "Friendship" under Captain Benson.

During his numerous journeys to Fredericksburg, Virginia aboard ship, Jones' home, while the ship was in port, was the home of an elder brother, who, having married a native of Virginia, had previously settled there.

For several years he had sailed aboard a number of different British merchant and slaver ships, including the "King George" in 1764 as third mate, and the "Two Friends" as first mate in 1766.

After a short time in this business, Jones became disgusted with the cruelty in the slave trade; during the voyage, he abandoned his prestigious position on the profitable "Two Friends" in 1768 while docked at Jamaica. Jones found passage back to Scotland, and eventually he obtained another position. During his next voyage aboard the brig "John", which sailed from port in 1768, young John Paul’s career was quickly and unexpectedly advanced. When both the captain and a ranking mate suddenly died of yellow fever, John Paul managed to successfully navigate the ship back to a safe port. In reward for this impressive feat, the vessel’s grateful Scottish owners made him master of the ship and its crew, giving him 10 percent of the cargo. [ - John Paul Jones Timeline ] ] He then led two voyages to the West Indies before running into difficulty. During his second voyage in 1770, John Paul viciously flogged one of his sailors, leading to accusations of his discipline being "unnecessarily cruel". While these claims were initially dismissed, John Paul’s favorable reputation was destroyed when the disciplined sailor died a few weeks later. Sources disagree on whether he was arrested for his involvement in the man’s death, but the devastating effect on his reputation is indisputable.

Leaving Scotland, John Paul commanded a London-registered vessel, the "Betsy", for about 18 months, engaging in commercial speculation in Tobago. This came to an end, however, when Jones killed a member of his crew with a sword in a dispute over wages. [] Years later, in a letter to Benjamin Franklin describing this incident, Jones claimed it was in self-defense, but because he was not to be tried in an Admiral's Court, he felt compelled to flee to Fredericksburg, Province of Virginia, leaving his fortune behind.

It was in the year 1773, when he went to Fredericksburg, Virginia to arrange the affairs of his brother, who had died there without leaving any family; and about this time, in addition to his original surname, he assumed the patronymic of Jones, his father’s Christian name having been John. This custom, which is of classical authority, has long been prevalent in Wales, and in various other countries, although it is not usual in that part of the island in which he was born. During this time period, John Paul, probably appended 'Jones' to his name in an attempt to escape his troubled reputation.

His prepossessions became even more in favour of America and were confirmed. From that period, as he afterwards expressed himself to Baron Van der Capellan, that became "the country of his fond election." It wasn't long afterwards that John Paul 'Jones' joined the American navy to fight against England. He was now safe from his past troubles and he gained a glorious reputation fighting the enemy of America through her navy, an enemy which was already a part of his own personal 'past troubles'.


Sources struggle with this period of Jones' life, especially the specifics of his family situation, making it difficult to historically pinpoint Jones' exact motivations for emigrating to America. Whether his plans for the plantation were not developing, or else he was inspired by a revolutionary spirit, is unknown.

What is clearly known is that Jones left for Philadelphia shortly after settling in America to volunteer his services to the newly-founded Continental Navy, which later became the United States Navy. During this time, around 1775, the Navy and Marines were being formally established, and suitable ship's officers and captains were in great demand. Were it not for the endorsement of Richard Henry Lee who knew of his abilities, Jones' potential would likely have gone unrecognized. With help from influential members of the Continental Congress, however, Jones was the first man to be assigned to the rank of 1st Lieutenant in the Continental Navy on December 22, 1775, on board the "Colbert".

Revolutionary War command

Early command

Jones's first assignment was aboard the frigate "Alfred" (30 guns, 300 men) sailing from the Delaware River in February 1776 to attack British merchant vessels in New Providence. The "Alfred" was one of six vessels, the frigate herself commanded by Commodore Esek Hopkins, the Navy’s Commander-in-Chief. It was aboard this vessel that Jones took the honor of hoisting the first U.S. ensign over a naval vessel. (Note that Jones actually raised the Grand Union Flag, not the later and more familiar Stars and Stripes design.) After returning from this successful voyage in April 1776 aboard the "Alfred", Jones was assigned command on the sloop "Providence" (12 guns, 70 men). Congress had recently ordered the construction of 13 frigates for the American Navy, one of which was to be commanded by Jones. In exchange for this prestigious command, Jones accepted his commission aboard the smaller "Providence". During this six week voyage, Jones captured sixteen prizes and created significant damage along the coast of Nova Scotia. Jones’ next command came as a result of Commodore Hopkins' orders to liberate hundreds of American prisoners forced to labor in coal mines in Nova Scotia and also to raid British shipping. On November 1, 1776, Jones set sail in command of "Alfred" to carry out this mission. While the prisoners enlisted in the British service to end their imprisonment, the mission did result in the capture of the "Mellish", a vessel carrying a vital supply of winter clothing intended for Burgoyne’s troops in Canada. In his autobiography, Jones claims: "This unexpected relief contributed not insignificantly to the success of the army at the Battle of Trenton (against the Hessians) that occurred immediately after my arrival in Boston." Citation
last = Jones
first = John Paul
title = Extracts from the Journals of my Campaigns
year = 1785
url =
accessdate = 2007-10-27

Command of "Ranger"

Despite his successes at sea, upon arrival in Boston on December 16, 1776, Jones' disagreements with those in authority reached a new level. While in port, the accomplished commander began feuding with Commodore Hopkins, whom Jones believed was hindering his advancement and talking down his campaign plans. As a result of this and other frustrations, Jones was assigned the smaller command, the newly constructed "Ranger" (18 gun frigate), on June 14, 1777 (the same day the new Stars and Stripes flag was adopted).

After making the necessary preparations, Jones sailed for France on November 1, 1777, with orders to assist the American cause however possible. The American commissioners in France (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Arthur Lee) listened to Jones' strategic recommendations. They assured him the command of "L'Indien", a new vessel being constructed for America in Amsterdam. Britain, however, was able to divert the "L'Indien" away from American hands, by exerting pressure to ensure its sale to France instead (who had not yet allied with America). Jones was again left without a command, an unpleasant reminder of his stagnation in Boston from late 1776 until early 1777. It is thought that it was during this time Jones developed his close friendship with Benjamin Franklin, whom he greatly admired. In 1778, he was accepted, together with Benjamin Franklin, into the Masonic Lodge "Les Neuf Sœurs".

On February 6, 1778, France signed their Treaty of Alliance with America, formally recognizing the independence of the new American republic. Eight days later, Captain Jones' "Ranger" became the first American Navy vessel to be saluted by the French, with a nine gun salvo fired from Admiral Piquet's flagship. Jones wrote of the event: "I accepted his offer all the more for after all it was a recognition of our independence."

Finally, on April 10, 1778, Jones set sail from Brest, France for the western coasts of Britain.

"Ranger" attacks Britain

After some early successes against British merchant shipping in the Irish Sea, on April 17, 1778, Jones convinced his crew to participate in an assault on Whitehaven, the same town where his maritime career began. Jones was thinking in his later memories about the reluctance of his senior officers (having tactfully avoided such matters in his official report): "Their aim, they said, was gain not honor. They were poor: instead of encouraging the morale of the crew, they excited them to disobedience; they persuaded them that they had the right to judge whether a measure that was proposed to them was good or not." As it happened, contrary winds forced the abandonment of the attempt, and drove "Ranger" towards Ireland, causing more trouble for British shipping on the way. Citation
last = Jones
first = John Paul
title = Report to the American Plenipotentiaries at the Court of Versailles
date = May 27 1778
url =
accessdate = 2007-10-27

On April 20, 1778, Jones learned from captured sailors that the Royal Navy sloop-of-war "Drake" was anchored off Carrickfergus, Ireland. According to the diary of "Ranger's" surgeon [Citation
last = Green
first = Ezra
title = Diary of Ezra Green M.D.
year = 1875
url =
accessdate = 2007-10-27
] , Jones' first intention was to attack the vessel in broad daylight, but his sailors were "unwilling to undertake it" (another incident omitted from the official report). Therefore, the attack took place just after midnight, but in the dark (or perhaps because, as Jones claimed in his memoirs, the man was drunk) the mate responsible for dropping the anchor to halt "Ranger" right alongside "Drake" misjudged the timing, so Jones had to cut his anchor cable and run.

The wind having shifted, "Ranger" recrossed the Irish Sea to make another attempt at raiding Whitehaven. Jones led the assault with two boats of fifteen men on April 23 1778, just after midnight, hoping to set fire to and sink all Whitehaven’s ships anchored in harbor (numbering between 200 to 400 wooden vessels), which consisted of a full merchant fleet and many coal transporters. They also hoped to terrorize the townspeople by lighting further fires. As it happened, the journey to shore was slowed by the still-shifting wind, as well as a strong ebb tide. The spiking of the town's big defensive guns to prevent them being fired was accomplished successfully, but lighting fires proved difficult, as the lanterns in both boats had run out of fuel. To remedy this, some of the party were therefore sent to raid a public house on the quayside, but the temptation to stop for a quick drink led to a further delay. By the time they returned, and the arson attacks began, dawn was fast approaching, so efforts were concentrated on a single ship, the coal ship "Thompson", in the hope that the flames would spread to adjacent vessels, all grounded by the low tide. Unfortunately, in the twilight, one of the crew slipped away and alerted residents on a harbourside street. A fire alert was sounded, and large numbers of people came running to the quay, forcing the Americans to retreat, and extinguishing the flames with the town's two fire-engines. However, hopes of sinking Jones's boats with cannon fire were dashed by the prudent spiking. [Citation
title = news report from Whitehaven
newspaper = Cumberland Chronicle
date = April 25 1778
url =

Crossing the Solway Firth from Whitehaven to Scotland, Jones hoped to hold for ransom the Earl of Selkirk, who lived on St Mary's Isle near Kirkcudbright. The Earl, Jones reasoned, could be exchanged for American sailors impressed into the Royal Navy. When the Earl was discovered to be absent from his estate, Jones claims he intended to return directly to his ship and continue seeking prizes elsewhere, but his crew wished to "pillage, burn, and plunder all they could". Ultimately, Jones allowed the crew to seize a silver plate set adorned with the family’s emblem to placate their desires, but nothing else. Jones bought the plate himself when it was later sold off in France, and returned it to the Earl of Selkirk after the War.

Although their effect on British morale and allocation of defence resources was massive, the attacks on St. Mary’s Isle and Whitehaven resulted in no prizes or profits which under normal circumstances would be shared with the crew. Throughout the mission, the crew, led by Jones's second-in-command Lieutenant Thomas Simpson, acted as if they were aboard a privateer, not a warship.

Return to France

Nevertheless, Jones now led "Ranger" back across the Irish Sea, hoping to make another attempt at the "Drake", still anchored off Carrickfergus. This time, late in the afternoon of April 24, 1778, the ships, roughly equal in firepower, engaged in combat. Earlier in the day, the Americans had captured the crew of a reconnaissance boat, and learned that "Drake" had taken on dozens of soldiers, with the intention of grappling and boarding "Ranger", so Jones made sure that did not happen, capturing the "Drake" after an hour-long gun battle which cost the British captain his life. Lieutenant Simpson was given command of "Drake" for the return journey to Brest. The ships separated during the return journey as "Ranger" chased another prize, leading to a conflict between Simpson and Jones. Both ships arrived at port safely, but Jones filed for a court-martial of Simpson, keeping him detained on the ship.

Partly through the influence of John Adams, who was still serving as a commissioner in France, Simpson was released from Jones' accusation. Adams implies in his memoirs that the overwhelming majority of the evidence supported Simpson’s claims. Adams seemed to believe Jones was hoping to monopolize the mission's glory, especially by detaining Simpson on board while he celebrated the capture with numerous important European dignitaries. [Citation
last = Adams
first = John
title = autobiography part 2, 'Travels, and Negotiations'
year = 1778
publisher = Massachusetts Historical Society
url =
accessdate = 2007-10-27

Even with the wealth of perspectives, including the commander's, it is difficult if not impossible to tell exactly what occurred. It is clear, however, that the crew felt alienated by their commander, who might well have been motivated by his pride. Jones believed his intentions were honorable, and his actions were strategically essential to the Revolution. Regardless of any controversy surrounding the mission, "Ranger’s" capture of "Drake" was one of the American Navy’s few significant military victories during the Revolution, and was of immense symbolic importance, demonstrating as it did that the Royal Navy was far from invincible. By overcoming such odds, "Ranger’s" victory became an important symbol of the American spirit and served as an inspiration for the permanent establishment of the American Navy after the Revolution.

Bonhomme Richard

In 1779, Captain Jones took command of the 42 gun "Bonhomme Richard" (or as he preferred it, "Bon Homme Richard") [Citation
title = Log of the 'Bon Homme Richard', 1779
publisher = John Paul Jones Cottage Museum
url =
accessdate = 2007-10-27
] , a merchant ship rebuilt and given to America by the French shipping magnate, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray. On August 14, as a vast French and Spanish invasion fleet approached England, he provided a diversion by heading for Ireland at the head of a five ship squadron including the 36 gun "Alliance", 32 gun "Pallas", 12 gun "Vengeance", and "Le Cerf", also accompanied by two privateers. Several Royal Navy warships were sent towards Ireland in pursuit, but on this occasion, he continued right around the north of Scotland into the North Sea, creating near-panic all along Britain's east coast as far south as the Humber estuary. Jones's main problems, as on his previous voyage, resulted from insubordination, particularly by Pierre Landais, captain of the "Alliance" [Citation
title = Officers of the American Squadron: Affidavit, Oct 30 1779
url =
publisher =
accessdate = 2007-10-27
] . On September 23 1779, the squadron met a large merchant convoy off the coast of Flamborough Head, east Yorkshire. The 44 gun British frigate HMS "Serapis" and the 20 gun hired escort "Countess of Scarborough" placed themselves between the convoy and Jones's squadron, allowing the merchants to escape.

Shortly after 7 pm began the Battle of Flamborough Head. The "Serapis" engaged the "Bonhomme Richard", and soon afterwards, the "Alliance" fired, from a considerable distance, at the "Countess". Quickly recognising that he could not win a battle of big guns, and with the wind dying, Jones made every effort to lock "Richard" and "Serapis" together (his famous quotation was uttered in reply to a cheerful British taunt during an odd stalemate in this phase of the battle), finally succeeding after about an hour, following which his deck guns and marksmen in the rigging began clearing the British decks. "Alliance" sailed past and fired a broadside, doing at least as much damage to the "Richard" as to the "Serapis". Meanwhile, the "Countess of Scarborough" had enticed the "Pallas" downwind of the main battle, beginning a separate engagement. When "Alliance" approached this contest, about an hour after it had begun, the badly damaged "Countess" surrendered.

With "Bonhomme Richard" burning and sinking, it seems that her ensign was shot away; when one of the officers, apparently believing his captain to be dead, shouted a surrender Citation
last = Jones
first = John Paul
title = Letter to Benjamin Franklin
date = October 3 1779
url =
publisher =
accessdate = 2007-10-27
] , the British commander asked, seriously this time, if they had struck their colors. Jones later remembered saying something like "I am determined to make you strike", but the words allegedly heard by crew-members and reported in newspapers a few days later were more like: "I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike!" [Citation
title = news report from Yorkshire
newspaper = York Courant
date = October 12 1779
publisher =
url =
] .

An attempt by the British to board "Bonhomme Richard" was thwarted and a grenade caused the explosion of a large quantity of gunpowder on "Serapis"’ lower gun-deck [Citation
last = Pearson
first = Capt. Richard
title = Report on the capture of his ship "Serapis"
date = October 6 1779
url =
publisher =
accessdate = 2007-10-27
] . "Alliance" then returned to the main battle, firing two broadsides. Again, these did at least as much damage to "Richard" as to "Serapis", but the tactic worked to the extent that, unable to move, and with "Alliance" keeping well out of the line of his own great guns, Captain Pearson of "Serapis" accepted that prolonging the battle could achieve nothing, so he surrendered. Most of "Bonhomme Richard's" crew immediately transferred to other vessels, and after a day and a half of frantic repair efforts, it was decided that the ship could not be saved, so it was allowed to sink, and Jones took command of "Serapis" for the trip to neutral (but American-sympathising) Holland.

In the following year, the King of France honoured him with the title "Chevalier". Jones accepted the honor, and desired the title to be used thereafter: when the Continental Congress in 1787 resolved that a medal of gold be struck in commemoration of his "valor and brilliant services" it was to be presented to "Chevalier John Paul Jones". He also received from Louis a decoration of "Ordre du Mérite militaire" and a sword. By contrast, in Britain at this time, he was usually referred to as a pirate.

Russian service

In June 1782, Jones was appointed to command the 74-gun "America", but his command fell through when Congress decided to give the "America" to the French as replacement for the wrecked "Le Magnifique". As a result, he was given assignment in Europe in 1783 to collect prize money due his former hands. At length, this too expired and Jones was left without prospects for active employment, leading him in 1788 to enter into the service of the Empress Catherine II of Russia, who placed great confidence in Jones, saying: "He will get to Constantinople." He took the name Pavel Dzhones. Jones avowed his intention, however, to preserve the condition of an American citizen and officer. As a rear admiral aboard the 24-gun flagship "Vladimir", he took part in the naval campaign in the Liman (an arm of the Black Sea, into which flow the Southern Bug and Dnieper rivers) against the Turks. Jones successfully repulsed Ottoman forces from the area, but the jealous intrigues of Russian officer Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin and his cohort Prince of Nassau-Siegen caused him to be recalled to St. Petersburg for the pretended purpose of being transferred to a command in the North Sea. Here he was compelled to remain in idleness, while rival officers plotted against him and even maliciously assailed his private character through accusations of sexual misconduct. Even so, in that period he was able to author his "Narrative of the Campaign of the Liman".

On June 8, 1788, Jones was awarded the Order of St. Anne, but he left the following month, an embittered man.

Final years and death

In May 1790, Jones arrived in Paris, where he remained in retirement during the rest of his life, although he made a number of attempts to re-enter the Russian service. In June 1792, Jones was appointed U.S. Consul to treat with the Dey of Algiers for the release of American captives. Before Jones was able to fulfill his appointment, however, he died and was found lying face-down on his bed in his third-floor Paris apartment, No. 42 Rue de Tournon, on July 18 1792. A small procession of servants, friends, and loyal soldiers walked his body the four miles (6 km) for burial. He was buried in Paris at the Saint Louis Cemetery, which belonged to the French royal family. Four years later, France's revolutionary government sold the property and the cemetery was forgotten. The area was later used as a garden, a place to dispose of dead animals, and a place where gamblers bet on animal fights.

ymbolic return to America

In 1905, Jones' remains were identified by US Ambassador to France Gen. Horace Porter (Goodheart 2006) who had searched for six years to track down the body using faulty copies of Jones' burial record. Thanks to the kind donation of a French admirer, Pierrot Francois Simmoneau, who donated over 460 francs for a lead coffin for Jones, Porter knew what to look for in his search. Porter's team, which included anthropologist Louis Capitan, identified an abandoned site in northeastern Paris as the former St. Louis Cemetery for Alien Protestants. Sounding probes were used to search for lead coffins, and five coffins were ultimately exhumed. The third, unearthed on April 7 1905, was later identified by a meticulous post-mortem examination by Doctors Capitan and Georges Papillault as being that of Jones, and the face was later compared to a bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Jones' body was ceremonially removed from his interment in a Parisian charnel house and brought to the United States aboard " the USS Brooklyn", escorted by three other cruisers. On approaching the US coast, seven US Navy battleships joined the procession escorting Jones' body back to America. On April 24, 1906, Jones's coffin was installed in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, following a ceremony in Dahlgren Hall, presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt who gave a lengthy tributary speech. [Roosevelt, Theodore [ Dedication speech, Annapolis] (24 Apr 1906)- via] On January 26, 1913, the Captain's remains were finally re-interred in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis. [ [ USNA Traditions] US Naval Academy Alumni Association]


"This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica."
* Frost, John, "The Pictorial Book Of The Commodores; Comprising Lives Of Distinguished Commanders In The Navy Of The United States." Nafis & Cornish, New York, 1845.
* Boudriot, Jean (1987) "John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard" , Collection archeologie navale française, ISBN 2-903178-20-8 {a technical study of the ship}
* Bradford, James C. "Guide to the microfilm edition of the papers of John Paul Jones, 1747-1792". Alexandria, Va.: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986.
* " The papers of John Paul Jones", microform edition edited by James C. Bradford. Cambridge, UK ; Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986. 10 microfilm reels ; 35 mm.
* De Koven, Reginald (Mrs) (1913) "The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones", 2 vols, London : Werner Laurie
* Gilkerson, William (1987) "The Ships of John Paul Jones", Annapolis, MD : Naval Institute Press, ISBN 0-87021-619-8 {technical study}
* Goodheart, Adam (2006) [ Home is the sailor] , "Smithsonian Magazine", April 2006, p. 32-46
* Harper's Magazine (1855) [ "John Paul Jones"] , no. 62, v. 11, p. 145-170, New York, NY : Harper and Bros
* Morison, Samuel Eliot (1959) "John Paul Jones : a sailor's biography", Boston, MA : Little, Brown {Pulitzer prize winning historian}
* Purcell, L. Edward (1993) "Who was Who in the American Revolution", New York : Facts on File, ISBN 0-81602-107-4
* Thomas, Evan (2003) "John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy", Waterville, ME : Thorndike Press, ISBN 0-7862-5875-6 {popular biography}

External links

* [ John Paul Jones and Whitehaven]
* [ – JPJ]
* [ U.S. Navy - John Paul Jones] - [ FAQ]
* [ Excerpts form the Journals of my Campaign – John Paul Jones]
* [ John Paul Jones Museum]
* [ John Paul Jones]
* [ Unfurling the Flags of John Paul Jones]
* [ Official report by Jones] from aboard "Serapis" in Holland (1779)
* [ The Best Quote Jones Never Wrote]
* [ Adams Electronic Archive – Memoirs while commissioner (excerpts relating to the Ranger's historic missions)]
* [ John Paul Jones at Find-A-Grave]
* [ John Paul Jones and Asymmetric Warfare]
* [ Battle of Flamborough Head]
* [ John Paul Jones' attack upon Whitehaven, as reported in LLOYD'S EVENING POST, 1778]
* [ John Paul Jones bronze & info Bronze Sea]

NAME=Jones, John Paul
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Naval hero of the American Revolution
DATE OF BIRTH=birth date|1747|7|6|mf=y
PLACE OF BIRTH=Arbigland, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland
DATE OF DEATH=death date|1792|7|18|mf=y
PLACE OF DEATH=Paris, France

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