Jones, John Paul

views updated May 18 2018

Jones, John Paul

JONES, JOHN PAUL. (1747–1792). American naval hero. Scotland. Born in Kirkcudbrightshire, on the Solway Firth, John Paul was the son of the gardener at Arbigland, which was the estate of William Craik (father of Dr. James Craik). After receiving a rudimentary education at the Kirkbean Parish school, young John Paul crossed the Solway in 1761 to become apprentice to a shipowner in Whitehaven. On his first voyage he visited his elder brother, William, who was a tailor in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The young mariner was released early from his apprenticeship because his employer went bankrupt, and he shipped aboard a slave ship. Trading between the Guinea coast and Jamaica, he became first mate on another slaver at the age of 19.


In 1768 John Paul left the slave trade and booked passage for England, having become dissatisfied with this livelihood. On the way home he took command of the ship when both the captain and the mate died of fever, He brought the ship in safely, and as a reward the owners signed him as captain of one of their merchantmen, the John of Dumfries. He made two voyages to the West Indies between 1768 and 1770. During the second voyage he flogged the ship's carpenter for neglect of duty, and a few weeks later this man died at sea onboard a vessel bound for London. When John Paul returned to Kirkcudbright, he was charged with murder by the man's father. He was imprisoned in the town jail briefly, but was later released on bail, and subsequently was cleared of the charge.

John Paul returned to the West Indies trade and established a partnership with a merchant-planter in Tobago. In 1773, while commanding the Betsy of London, he killed a local man who was the ringleader of his mutinous crew. Although the victim was reported to have impaled himself by rushing into John Paul's sword, John Paul apparently feared the effect adverse public opinion on his chances in a civil court. On the advice of friends, he returned, incognito, to the continent of America, and remained there until a court-martial could be assembled to try the case.

When the Revolution started, John Paul was living in America without employment and reduced to depending upon the charity of friends. Meanwhile he had assumed the surname of Jones—apparently, the name was chosen for no more complicated reason than its obvious merit in concealing his identity. There is a story that the name was selected in gratitude for the hospitality he received at the home of Allen and Willie Jones, but this is supported by nothing more substantial than the traditions of the latter family. During July or August 1775, John Paul Jones went to Philadelphia and was employed in fitting out the Alfred, the first naval ship bought by Congress. He also became friendly with two influential congressional delegates who were prominent in organizing the Continental navy: Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, and Joseph Hewes of North Carolina.


Jones got into the navy very much the same way a certain equally unprepossessing and politically unimportant individual named Ulysses S. Grant got into the Union army almost a century later—both had congressmen who felt obliged to see that their constituencies received a share of the military commissions being given out. Delegate Hewes of North Carolina insisted that one of the naval lieutenancies go to a Southerner, and thanks to him the little Scot, who technically was a Virginian but who also had North Carolina connections, was commissioned on 7 December 1775 as the senior first lieutenant.

Jones was first offered command of the sloop Providence, but he rejected the offer, preferring to serve instead aboard the Alfred, commanded by Dudley Saltonstall, in the belief that he could learn from the experience. Lieutenant Jones sailed in the expedition that captured the British vessel, the Nassau, but had no opportunity to distinguish himself. When he was again offered command of the Providence in May 1776 he accepted with alacrity, and immediately began to earn a reputation for success that was to have no equal in the Continental navy. A small fleet soon was placed under his command and he was promoted to captain. In a single cruise of the Providence he took sixteen prizes and destroyed British fishing boats and facilities at Canso and Ile Madame, Nova Scotia.

When Congress established the relative rankings of naval captains on 10 October 1776, however, they placed Jones at eighteenth. Already unpopular with many of the unremembered Yankee captains who were senior to him on this list, Jones did not suffer this political slight in silence. Congress had recognized his professional abilities, however, and promoted him to command of the Alfred, with which he captured the armed transport Mellish and its cargo of winter uniforms on 12 November 1776, and took seven other prizes as well. On 14 June 1777 Congress gave him command of sloop Ranger and ordered him to sail to Europe, where he was to take command of the Indien, which Congress had commissioned to be built at Amsterdam. Jones reached France in December 1777 to find that the frigate was being transferred to France by the American commissioners in Paris.

On 10 April 1778 Jones sailed from Brest in the Ranger with a crew of about 140 men and armed with eighteen six-pounders and six swivel guns. Heading for the home waters of his youth, he raided Whitehaven, off the British coast, on 27-28 April. He then made an unsuccessful attempt to kidnap the Earl of Selkirk, planning to use him as a hostage to assure the proper treatment of American prisoners. The earl was away from home, however, and thus escaped capture. Crossing the Irish Sea to Carrickfergus, Jones captured the British sloop Drake in a brilliant one-hour action in which Jones lost eight killed and wounded to the enemy's forty or more casualties. On 8 May he returned to Brest with seven prizes and numerous prisoners to show for his twenty-eight days at sea. His cruise had spread consternation along a considerable portion of the English coast and it marked the start of his international fame.

The French, whose war with England was about to start, hailed Jones as a hero, and the authorities called him to Paris in June for consultation on ways of employing naval forces against England. On 4 February 1779 he was informed that the old East Indiaman Duras (with 40 guns) was placed under his command for joint army and navy operations against enemy ports. the Marquis de Lafayette was to command the army element; Jones the naval, but the plans were ultimately abandoned. By the end of the summer, however, the French had fitted out a small fleet of five naval vessels and two privateers for Jones. Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac was enjoying a vogue in France at the time that Jones was refitting the Duras, and since he was greatly indebted to Franklin for support, Jones renamed his flagship the Bonhomme Richard.


With the American flag flying over a makeshift flotilla financed by France, and with most of the ships commanded by French officers resentful of his authority, Jones put to sea from L'Orient on 14 August 1779. Sailing clockwise around the British Isles, up the west coast of Ireland, around Scotland, and to the coast of Yorkshire, Jones captured seventeen ships and made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the port of Leith and hold it to ransom. He then won an engagement with the Serapis on 23 September 1779. In this demonstration of superior seamanship and indomitable fighting spirit, John Paul Jones became a great naval hero.

On 3 Oct. he reached the Texel, Holland, having left the crippled Richard at sea. (She sank on 25 September.) The British ambassador, in compliance with orders from King George III, demanded that the Dutch seize the ships and crews that Jones had captured, naming Jones a pirate, a rebel, and a criminal. After many difficulties arising from Holland's neutrality, Jones had to turn everything but the Alliance over to the French government. He sailed aboard the Alliance in December, evaded the British fleet, and reached L'Orient on 10 February 1780 after cruising in the Channel and searching for prizes as far south as Corunna, Spain.

Now occupied primarily with refitting the Alliance for his return to America, Jones visited Paris in April 1779 to raise the prize money needed to pay his disgruntled crew. While he was absent from L'Orient, however, he lost his last chance to command a fighting vessel when the mad Pierre de Landais succeeded in resuming command of the Alliance. In December 1780 Jones sailed for America as captain of the Ariel, which the French had loaned to America for the transportation of military supplies. The crossing was enlivened by Jones's capture of the British ship Triumph, but his prize ultimately escaped. In addition, he was forced to suppress a conspiracy among the English members of his crew.


After being abroad for more than three years, Jones reached Philadelphia on 18 February 1781. Senior officers, namely Captains Thomas Read and James Nicholson, blocked a resolution of Congress to make Jones a rear admiral, but on 26 June Congress gave him command of the largest ship of the Continental navy, the America (seventy-six guns), which was then under construction at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. After more than a year's frustration in constructing this vessel, Jones saw the America turned over to the French.

The best Jones was able to do thereafter was to get permission to sail aboard the flagship of the Marquis Vaudreuil, and he left with the French fleet from Boston for a four-month cruise in the West Indies. After the Continental navy was disbanded, Jones got authority to return to Europe as agent to collect prize money due the United States as the result of his operations during the war. His mission was successful, although payment was slow. Jones returned to the United States for the last time in the summer of 1787, and on 16 October Congress voted him the only gold medal awarded to an officer of the Continental navy.

Early the next year he accepted an offer from Catharine the Great to serve in the Russian navy against the Turks. On 29 May 1788 he raised his flag on a squadron in the Black Sea, but although he played a key role in naval operations that cleared the way for capture of the Turkish fortress at Ochkov, his position in the Russian service was undermined by a jealous French adventurer, Prince Nassau-Siegen. After he rejected Prince Potemkin's offer of command of the Sevastopol fleet, Jones was forced into idleness and returned to St. Petersburg. There he fell victim to a malicious rumor that he had violated a young girl. In September 1789 he left St. Petersburg with nothing but bitterness and the Order of St. Anne to show for his Russian experience.

Although only a few months past his forty-fifth birthday at this time, Jones's health was bad. He spent his last two years in Paris. Though no longer a popular hero, he had comfortable accommodations and the respect of leaders of the French Revolution. When he died, on 18 July 1792, the French National Assembly took charge of his funeral. Jones did not live long enough to know that, shortly before his death, President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson has signed commissions appointing him as a diplomatic agent to treat with the ruler (bey) of Algiers for the release of captive Americans.

In 1845 a movement was started to bring Jones's body back to the United States, but his relatives in Scotland blocked it a few years later. In 1899 General Horace Porter, Ambassador in Paris, started a systematic search for his burial site in the old St. Louis cemetery for foreign Protestants (which had been covered by houses). After six years effort, Porter wired back the news that the body of Jones had been found. In 1905 the remains were escorted to America by a naval squadron, and in 1913 they were placed in a $75,000 tomb in the crypt of the naval academy at Annapolis.


Superficially, John Paul Jones was a Scottish adventurer, an ex-slaver turned pirate (in the eyes of the British) who used the American Revolution as an opportunity to get a job. He himself said that "I have drawn my Sword in the present generous Struggle for the right of Men; yet I am not in Arms as an American, nor am I in pursuit of Riches … I profess myself a Citizen of the World." There is no reason to doubt him more than others of his era, such as Patrick Henry, who expressed similar sentiments. Like many of his contemporaries, he undoubtedly sought fame and glory as well.

Having accepted a commission in the Continental navy, Jones performed his duties with complete political loyalty to the American cause, despite personal disappointments and lack of opportunity to give his remarkable leadership abilities a full test. Nineteenth century Americans saw him as a self-made man, a brave commander who remained cool when battle raged, and the greatest naval hero of the American Revolution. At the turn of the twentieth century, biographers began to emphasize the plans that Jones proposed for the young navy, along with his efforts to increase his professional knowledge, both of which are seen as characteristics of the modern, professional naval officer corps.

The American navy that hails this bachelor as its father would call him a "mustang," and would be happy to have more of his type around in wartime. Archetype of the combat leader, Jones did not look the part, He was short (under 5 feet 7 inches), thin, and homely. Midshipman Nathaniel Fanning, Jones's secretary, described him as being "rather round shouldered, with a visage fierce and warlike, and wore the appearance of great application to study, which he was fond of." The naval hero is the subject of one of sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon's finest busts (1780). If this work and Jones's combat record did not assure him of immortality, one of the sayings attributed to him most assuredly has. His stirring remark, "I've just begun to fight" is mentioned in only one participant's account of the Bonhomme Richard-Serapis action, but it characterizes the man's combat record. In the words of the inscription on his tomb, "He gave our navy its earliest traditions of heroism and victory."

SEE ALSO Bonhomme Richard-Serapis Engagement; Craik, James; Landais, Pierre de.


Bradford, James C., ed. The Papers of John Paul Jones. Microfilm. Alexandria, Va.: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986.

De Koven, Anna F. Life and Letters of John Paul Jones. 2 vols. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1913.

Fanning, Nathaniel. Fanning's Narrative. New York: De Vinne Press, 1912.

Lorenz, Lincoln. John Paul Jones, Fighter for Freedom and Glory. Annapolis, Md.: United States Naval Institute Press, 1943.

Morison, S. E. John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography. Annapolis, Md.: United States Naval Institute Press, 1989.

Thomas, Evan. John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

                          revised by James C. Bradford

John Paul Jones

views updated Jun 08 2018

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). □

Jones, John Paul

views updated May 18 2018

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.]


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

John Paul Jones

views updated May 11 2018

John Paul Jones ★★½ 1959

Big bio of the Revolutionary War naval hero (“I have not yet begun to fight!”) who wins a lot of battles but can't convince Congress to maintain a strong navy at war's end. He's sent to win sea battles for the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia and then spends his last years in France. Great action scenes, otherwise tedious. 126m/C VHS . Robert Stack, Charles Coburn, MacDonald Carey, Marisa Pavan, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Peter Cushing, Erin O'Brien, Bruce Cabot, David Farrar, Basil Sydney, John Crawford; Cameos: Bette Davis; D: John Farrow; W: John Farrow, Jesse Lasky Jr.; M: Max Steiner.

Jones, John Paul

views updated May 23 2018

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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