JOHN PAUL JONES (1 747-- 1 79 2), American naval officer, was born on the 6th of July 1747, on the estate of Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean and the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His father, John Paul, was gardener to Robert Craik, a member of parliament; and his mother, Jean Macduff, was the daughter of a Highlander. Young John Paul, at the age of twelve, became shipmaster's apprentice to a merchant of Whitehaven, named Younger. At seventeen he shipped as second mate and in the next year as first mate in one of his master's vessels; on being released from his indentures, he acquired an interest in a ship, and as first mate made two voyages between Jamaica and the Guinea coast, trading in slaves. Becoming dissatisfied with this kind of employment, he sold his share in the ship and embarked for England. During the voyage both the captain and the mate died of fever, and John Paul took command and brought the ship safely to port. The owners gave him and the crew io% of the cargo; after 1768, as captain of one of their merchantmen, John Paul made several voyages to America; but for unknown reasons he suddenly gave up his command to live in America in poverty and obscurity until 1775. During this period he assumed the name of Jones, apparently out of regard for Willie Jones, a wealthy planter and prominent political leader of North Carolina, who had befriended John Paul in his days of poverty.
When war broke out between England and her American colonies, John Paul Jones was commissioned as a first lieutenant by the Continental Congress, on the 22nd of December 1775. In 1776 he participated in the unsuccessful attack on the island of New Providence, and as commander first of the " Providence " and then of the " Alfred " he cruised between Bermuda and Nova Scotia, inflicting much damage on British shipping and fisheries. On the 10th of October 1776 he was promoted captain. On the 1st of November 1777 he sailed in the sloop-of-war " Ranger " for France with despatches for the American commissioners, announcing the surrender of Burgoyne and asking that Jones should be supplied with a swift frigate for harassing the coasts of England. Failing to secure a frigate, Jones sailed from Brest in the " Ranger " on the 10th of April 1778. A few days later he surprised the garrisons of the two forts commanding the harbour of Whitehaven, a port with which he was familiar from boyhood, spiked the guns and made an unsuccessful attempt to fire the shipping. Four days thereafter he encountered the British sloop-of-war " Drake," a vessel slightly superior to his in fighting capacity, and after an hour's engagement the British ship struck her colours and was taken to Brest. By this exploit Jones became a great hero in the eyes of the French, just beginning a war with Great Britain. With the rank of commodore he was now put at the head of a squadron of five ships. His flagship, the " Duras," a re-fitted East Indiaman, was re-named by him the " Bonhomme Richard," as a compliment to Benjamin Franklin, whose Poor Richard's Almanac was then popular in France. On the 14th of August the five ships sailed from L'Orient, accompanied by two French privateers. Several of the French commanders under Jones proved insubordinate, and the privateers and three of the men-of-war soon deserted him. With the others, however, he continued to take prizes, and even planned to attack the port of Leith, but was prevented by unfavourable winds. On the evening of the 23rd of September the three men-of-war sighted two British men-of-war, the" Serapis "and the "Countess of Scarbrough," off Flamborough Head. The " Alliance," commanded by Captain Landais, made off, leaving the " Bonhomme Richard " and the " Pallas " to engage the Englishmen. Jones engaged the greatly superior " Serapis," and after a desperate battle of three and a half hours compelled the English ship to surrender. The " Countess of Scarbrough " had meanwhile struck to the more formidable " Pallas." Jones transferred his men and supplies to the " Serapis," and the next day the " Bonhomme Richard " sank.
During the following year Jones spent much of his time in Paris. Louis XVI. gave him a gold-hilted sword and the royal order of military merit, and made him chevalier of France. Early in 1781 Jones returned to America to secure a new command. Congress offered him the command of the " America," a frigate then building, but the vessel was shortly afterwards given to France. In November 1783 he was sent to Paris as agent for the prizes captured in European waters under his own command, and although he gave much attention to social affairs and engaged in several private business enterprises, he was very successful in collecting the prize money. Early in 1787 he returned to America and received a gold medal from Congress in recognition of his services.
In 1788 Jones entered the service of the empress Catherine of Russia, avowing his intention, however, " to preserve the condition of an American citizen and officer." As a rear-admiral he took part in the naval campaign in the Liman (an arm of the Black Sea, into which flow the Bug and Dnieper rivers) against the Turks, but the jealous intrigues of Russian officers 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. In August 1789 he left St Petersburg a bitterly disappointed man. In May 1790 he arrived in Paris, where he remained in retirement during the rest of his life, although he made several efforts to re-enter the Russian service.
Undue exertion and exposure had wasted his strength before he reached the prime of life, and after an illness, in which he was attended by the queen's physician, he died on the 18th of July 1792. His body was interred in the St Louis cemetery for foreign Protestants, the funeral expenses being paid from the private purse of Pierrot Francois Simmoneau, the king's commissary. In the confusion during the following years the burial place of Paul Jones was forgotten; but in June 1899 General Horace Porter, American ambassador to France, began a systematic search for the body, and after excavations on the site of the old Protestant cemetery, now covered with houses, a leaden coffin was discovered, which contained the body in a remarkable state of preservation. In July 1905 a fleet of American war-ships carried the body to Annapolis, where it now rests in one of the buildings of the naval academy.
Jones was a seaman of great bravery and technical ability, but over-jealous of his reputation and inclined to be querulous and boastful. The charges by the English that he was a pirate were particularly galling to him. Although of unprepossessing appearance, 5 ft. 7 in. in height and slightly round-shouldered, he was noted for his pleasant manners and was welcomed into the most brilliant courts of Europe.
Romance has played with the memory of Paul Jones to such an extent that few accounts of his life are correct. Of the early biographies the best are Sherburne's (London, 1825), chiefly a collection of Jones's correspondence; the Janette-Taylor Collection (New York, 1830), containing numerous extracts from his letters and journals; and the life by A. S. MacKenzie (2 vols., New York, 1846). In recent years a number of new biographies have appeared, including A. C. Buell's (2 vols., 1900), the trustworthiness of which has been discredited, and Hutchins Hapgood's in the Riverside Biographical Series (1901). The life by Cyrus Townsend Brady in the " Great Commanders Series " (1900) is perhaps the best.
- Please bookmark this page (add it to your favorites)
- If you wish to link to this page, you can do so by referring to the URL address below.
This page was last modified 29-SEP-18
Copyright © 2021 ITA all rights reserved.