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John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones (1747-1792), American Revolutionary War officer, was a great fighting sailor and a national hero.

Like any master mariner in the 18th century, John Paul Jones was in the fullest sense the captain of his ship. He ruled by authority as well as by skill and personality. The rigging, the navigation, the ordnance, and the internal discipline were all his concerns. He was a proud man, slight and wiry, intellectually alert, and as tough with rowdy seamen as he was suave and urbane with Parisian women.

Becoming a Mariner

Born in Scotland as John Paul, he was a seafarer by the age of 12. He turned up in Virginia and took the surname Jones, for disguise, after killing a mutinous sailor in self-defense in 1773. Because he was already a veteran merchant captain, the Continental Congress commissioned him a lieutenant in 1775 and promoted him to captain the next year. Cruising as far north as Nova Scotia, he took more than 25 prizes in 1776.

It was in the European area, however, that Jones won lasting acclaim. In 1777 he sailed to France in the Ranger, and in Paris he found American diplomat Benjamin Franklin sympathetic to his strategic objectives: hit-and-run attacks on the enemy's defenseless places and abduction of a prominent person to compel the British government to exchange American seamen rotting in English jails. If this master of a single cruiser was scarcely able to alter the course of the war, he was able to bring the impact of the struggle home to the enemy's civilian population. Early in 1778 Jones sailed boldly into the Irish Sea and also assaulted the port of Whitehaven, Scotland—not since 1667 had a British seaport suffered such humiliation; a second raid on St. Mary's Isle failed to bag Lord Selkirk as a hostage, for Selkirk was away from home.

Battling the Serapis

France became America's ally, but Jones had to be satisfied with a good deal less than he had hoped for in men and ships. With an old, clumsy vessel renamed Bon Homme Richard (in honor of Franklin) as his flagship, in the summer of 1779 Jones led a small squadron around the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, taking several small prizes. Then, off the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head on September 23, he fell in with a large British convoy from the Baltic, escorted by the Serapis (50 guns) and the Scarborough (20 guns).

The most spectacular naval episode of the Revolution followed—a duel between the decrepit Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis, a sturdy, new, copper-bottomed frigate. After each captain, in standard tactical fashion, sought unsuccessfully to get across his opponent's bow to deliver a broadside, Jones managed to lash his ship to the Serapis in order to grapple and board. Jones's sharpshooters soon drove the enemy from the Serapis's deck with their rain of musket and grenade fire, but below the deck the enemy cannon roared on, wrecking the Bon Homme Richard's topsides. The English captain's nerve gave way when his main mast began to tremble, and he struck his colors. Jones abandoned the sinking Richard, took over the Serapis, and along with the Scarborough, which had fallen to his other vessels, sailed to Holland.

Back in France, Jones was the toast of Paris. His personal life seems to have scandalized John Adams, who was shocked at Jones's suggestion that the taking of a French mistress was an excellent way to learn the language. Whatever his personal life, Jones's naval conquests were over.

Postwar Life

Most of Jones's postwar life was spent in Europe. He made a final visit to the United States in 1787, when Congress unanimously voted to award him a gold medal for his outstanding services. He was the only naval officer of the American Revolution so honored. Soon afterward he accepted a commission in the Russian navy and was put in command of a Black Sea squadron with the rank of rear admiral. That rank, which he had eagerly but unsuccessfully sought in America, was the bait that had lured him to Russia. He fought in the Linman campaign against the Turks, but the jealousies and intrigues of rival officers limited his effectiveness, and in 1790 he returned to Paris.

In 1792 U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote to tell him that President George Washington had appointed Jones a commissioner to negotiate with Algiers for peace and the release of imprisoned American citizens. Jones, whose last years were pathetic, never lived to receive the letter. With few friends because he was a colossal egotist, Jones saw his health steadily decline before his death on July 18, 1792. He was buried in Paris. His remains were finally found in 1905 and brought to Annapolis, Md., where they are entombed in the crypt of the Naval Academy chapel.

Further Reading

Most biographies of Jones are filled with myth and misinformation; the first to set the record straight is Lincoln Lorenz, John Paul Jones (1943). But the character of the master mariner is best seen in Samuel E. Morison's Pulitzer Prize-winning John Paul Jones (1959), a magnificent book by a distinguished sailor-historian. Recommended for general historical background are Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution (2 vols., 1913), and Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Major Operations of the Navies in the American War of Independence (1913). □

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Jones, John Paul

John Paul Jones, 1747–92, American naval hero, b. near Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His name was originally simply John Paul.

Early Life

John Paul went to sea when he was 12, and his youth was adventure-filled. He was chief mate on a slave ship in 1766 but, disgusted with the work, soon quit. In 1769 he obtained command of the John, a merchantman that he captained until 1770. In 1773, while Jones was in command of the Betsy off Tobago, members of his crew mutinied and he killed one of the sailors in self-defense. To avoid trial he fled. In 1775 he was in Philadelphia, with the Jones added to his name; Joseph Hewes of Edenton, N.C., obtained for him a commission in the Continental navy.

Revolutionary War Hero

In 1777, Jones was given command of the Ranger, fresh from the Portsmouth shipyard. He sailed to France, then daringly took the war to the very shores of the British Isles on raids. In 1778, he captured the Drake, a British warship.

It was, however, only after long delay that he was given another ship, an old French merchantman, which he rebuilt and named the Bon Homme Richard ( "Poor Richard" ), to honor Benjamin Franklin. He set out with a small fleet but was disappointed in the hope of meeting a British fleet returning from the Baltic until the projected cruise was nearly finished. On Sept. 23, 1779, he did encounter the British merchantmen, convoyed by the frigate Serapis and a smaller warship. Despite the superiority of the Serapis, Jones did not hesitate.

The battle, which began at sunset and ended more than three and a half hours later by moonlight, was one of the most memorable in naval history. Jones sailed close in, to cut the advantage of the Serapis, and finally in the battle lashed the Bon Homme Richard to the British ship. Both ships were heavily damaged. The Serapis was afire in at least 12 different places. The hull of the Bon Homme Richard was pierced, her decks were ripped, her hold was filling with water, and fires were destroying her, unchecked; yet when the British captain asked if Jones was ready to surrender, the answer came proudly, "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight." When the Serapis surrendered, Jones and his men boarded her while his own vessel sank. He was much honored in France for the victory but received little recognition in the United States.

Later Life

After the Revolution Jones was sent to Europe to collect the prize money due the United States. In 1788 he was asked by Catherine the Great to join the Russian navy; he accepted on the condition that he become a rear admiral. His command against the Turks in the Black Sea was successful, but political intrigue prevented his getting due credit. In 1789 he was discharged from the Russian navy and returned to Paris. There in the midst of the French Revolution he died, without receiving the commission that Jefferson had procured for him to negotiate with the dey of Algiers concerning American prisoners.

Although he is today generally considered among the greatest of American naval heroes and the founder of the American naval tradition, his grave was forgotten until the ambassador to France, Horace E. Porter, discovered it in 1905 after the expenditure of much of his own time and money. The remains were removed to Annapolis and since 1913 have been enshrined in a crypt at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Bibliography

See his memoirs (1830, repr. 1972); A. De Koven, Life and Letters of John Paul Jones (1913); F. A. Golder, John Paul Jones in Russia (1927); L. Lorenz, John Paul Jones (1943, repr. 1969); G. W. Johnson, The First Captain (1947); S. E. Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography (1959, repr. 1964); E. Thomas, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (2003).

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Jones, John Paul

Jones, John Paul (1747–1792), Continental navy officer.Born in Scotland, John Paul Jones signed on as a British merchantman at the age of thirteen. After sailing on several vessels in the West Indian trade, he became a captain in 1768. Discipline problems plagued his command. In 1770, one of his men died after a flogging, and he later killed another sailor during a mutiny. Fearing that he would be charged with murder, Jones fled to Virginia in 1774.

The American Revolutionary War offered him a second chance at command. Appointed first lieutenant in the Continental navy in 1775, Jones received the command of the eighteen‐gun sloop Ranger in 1777. Based in France, Jones captured the twenty‐gun HMS Drake and attacked the northern British port of Whitehaven during a cruise in 1778. The next year, he took command of the forty‐gun converted merchantman Bonhomme Richard. In September, he led the American assault on a British merchant squadron escorted by HMS Serapis. Jones's crew suffered heavy losses, but when the commander of the Serapis asked if he would surrender, he replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.” After a grenade caused a massive explosion aboard the Serapis, the British captain surrendered. The fight transformed Jones into America's first naval hero. It was to be his last action. Returning to the United States as commander of the captured British sloop Ariel, he was assigned to command the seventy‐four‐gun America, but it was not finished until the end of the war, and was then presented as a gift to France.
[See also Navy, U.S.: Overview.]

Bibliography

Samuel Eliot Morison , John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, 1959.
James C. Bradford , John Paul Jones: Honor and Professionalism, in Command Under Sail: Makers of the American Naval Tradition, 1775–1850, ed. James C. Bradford, 1985.

Jon T. Coleman

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Jones, John Paul

Jones, John Paul (1747–92) American naval commander during the American Revolution. Born in Scotland, he joined the Continental navy in 1775 and raided British coasts and merchant ships.

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