I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.
John Paul was born in a humble gardener's cottage in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, this day in 1747.
He went to sea as a youth, and was a merchant shipmaster by the age of twenty-one.
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 John killed a member of his crew, a mutineer, with a sword in a dispute over wages. Years later, in a letter to Benjamin Franklin describing this incident, he claimed it was in self-defense, but because he would not be tried in an Admiral's Court he felt compelled to flee to Fredericksburg, Province of Virginia, leaving his fortune behind.
He went to Fredericksburg to arrange the affairs of his brother who had died there without leaving any other family; and about this time, in addition to his original surname, he assumed the surname of Jones. There is a long tradition held in the state of North Carolina that John Paul adopted the name "Jones" in honor of Willie Jones of Halifax, North Carolina.
Having taken up residence in Virginia, he volunteered early in the War of Independence to serve in his adopted country's infant navy and raised with his own hands the Continental ensign on board the flagship of the Navy's first fleet, the newly converted 24-gun frigate Alfred.
In 1779, Captain Jones took command of the 42-gun Bonhomme Richard a merchant ship rebuilt and given to America by the French. 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, Monsieur and Granville.
When the squadron was only a few days out of Groix, Monsieur separated due to a disagreement between her captain and Jones. Several Royal Navy warships were sent towards Ireland in pursuit of Jones but 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.
On September 23, 1779, the squadron met a large merchant convoy off the coast off Flamborough Head, east Yorkshire. The 50-gun British frigate HMS Serapis and the 22-gun hired ship Countess of Scarborough placed themselves between the convoy and Jones's squadron, allowing the merchants to escape.
Shortly after 7 p.m. the Battle of Flamborough Head began. 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 finally succeeding after about an hour.
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, the British commander asked if they had struck their colors. Jones replied, "
I have not yet begun to fight! I may sink, but I'm damned if I'll strike!"
Following this exchange his deck guns and his Marine 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.
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's lower gun-deck. 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-sympathizing) 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 "l'Institution du Mérite Militaire" and a sword. By contrast, in Britain at this time, he was usually denigrated as a pirate.
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." While in Russia he took the name Pavel Dzhons.
As a rear admiral aboard the 24-gun flagship Vladimir, he took part in the naval campaign in the Liman against the Turks but was later beset by Imperial Russian court intrigue that left him sidelined.
In May 1790, Jones arrived in Paris, where he remained in retirement for the rest of his life. 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 of an intestinal disorder. A small procession of servants, friends and loyal soldiers walked his body the four miles 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.
In 1905, Jones's remains were identified by U.S. Ambassador to France Gen. Horace Porter, who had searched for six years to track down the body using faulty copies of Jones's burial record. Thanks to the kind donation of a French admirer who had donated over 460 francs, Jones's body was preserved in alcohol and interred in a lead coffin "in the event that should the United States decide to claim his remains, they might more easily be identified."
With the aid of an old map of Paris, Porter's team identified the site of 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 as being that of Jones.
Jones's body was ceremonially removed from interment in a Parisian charnel house and brought to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn, escorted by three other cruisers. On approaching the American coastline, seven U.S. Navy battleships joined the procession escorting Jones's 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. 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.
His tomb is now guarded round-the-clock by U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen in tribute to the father of the U.S. Navy.