John Paul Jones

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John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones (July 6, 1747 – July 18, 1792) served as an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolution. His spectacular exploits in naval battles gave him the sobriquet "Father of the American Navy."

Early life

John Paul Jones was born John Paul in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland. From a young age he dreamed of joining the Royal Navy, and at the age of 13 he sailed out of the British port of Whitehaven on the merchant vessel Friendship on which he found an apprenticeship. In 1764, he became third mate on the slave ship King George. After two years, he transferred to another slave ship, the Two Friends, and served as first mate. In 1767, became captain of the John.

In 1770, Jones ordered the flogging of one of his crew members who was shirking his duties. When the John arrived in Tobago that summer, the seaman—who had family connections—sued Paul but the case was dismissed by the Admiralty Court.

In 1772, he was given command of a larger merchant vessel named Betsy. In 1773, while at port in Tobago, Paul killed a member of his crew who was attempting to start a mutiny. Although he turned himself into local authorities, he feared prosecution by a local jury. A local business partner suggested he should flee the island and return for trial when an Admiralty Court returned. He did so but it was bad advice and Paul remained a British fugitive for the rest of his life. He hid out with a brother in Virginia and changed his name to "John Paul Jones."

American Revolution

Jones was commissioned as First Lieutenant aboard the Alfred, one of the first ships of the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775. After participating in several encounters, he was assigned command of the Providence on May 10, 1776. He spent the next several months as a privateer, capturing British merchant vessels and harassing the British Navy. However, due to personality conflicts with members of Congress, he spent a good part of 1777 without a ship.

In 1777 Jones was given command of the sloop Ranger and proceeded to France where he was promised command of a new, fast, well-armed frigate. In 1778, Jones sailed the Ranger to raid the British coast and captured the British sloop Drake. After losing the Ranger in a legal dispute, the French gave Jones an armed merchant vessel which he named Bonhomme Richard (Good Man Richard) in honor of Benjamin Franklin.

"Bonhomme Richard" versus the "Serapis"

On 23 September 1779, a Franco-American squadron under Jones was off Flamborough Head, England, looking for British merchant ships to capture, when the British frigates Countess of Scarborough and Serapis bore down on it. The American frigate, "Bonhomme Richard" engaged the "Serapis". In a particularly bloody, destructive fight, the English captain called out to inquire if the "Bonhomme Richard" had struck its colors. Jones cried out, "I have not yet begun to fight!" Upon raking the "Serapis", the crew of the Bonhomme Richard led by Jones boarded the English ship and captured her. Likewise, the French frigate Pallas captured her prize the Countess of Scarborough. The action stuck out as an embarrassing defeat for the Royal Navy, who suffered the capture of two of her vessels in her own home waters, but goes down in history as the single most memorable ship-on-ship gun battle in history.[1]


Jones was celebrated as a hero in France, in Europe, and America—and even, grudgingly, in Britain. He took command of the Ariel, loaned by the French for the transportation of military supplies to America. Sailing in December 1780. he captured the British ship Triumph, which however escaped. On Feb. 18, 1781, he arrived at Philadelphia, having been absent from America over three years. Congress formally thanked him, but refused to promote him to rear-admiral. As a compromise Jones was given command of the America, the first and only 74-gun ship in the Continental navy; when its construction was finished he sailed it to France, which took possession. In 1783 the U.S. shut down its entire navy and Jones was a civilian again.


In 1787 Jones joined the Russian navy as a rear admiral. In 1788, the Russian navy sent Jones to join a flotilla of longboats fitted with brass ordnance to attack a Turkish squadron on the Sea of Azov; the use of explosive shells gave the Russians complete victory, although Jones received little credit and lost his command.[2] Jones, a bachelor, returned to Paris in declining health, where he died. His body was returned to America in 1905 and given a tomb of honor at the Naval Academy at Anapolis.


  • Allen, Gardner Weld. A Naval History of the American Revolution (1913) full text online; online at Google
  • Callo, Joseph. John Paul Jones: America's First Sea Warrior. (2006). 250 pp.
  • Conrad, Dennis M. "John Paul Jones" in E. Gordon Bowen-Hassell, Dennis M. Conrad, and Mark L. Hayes, Sea Raiders of the American Revolution: The Continental Navy in European Waters. (2003) pp 42–69 online edition
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography (1959) excerpt and text search
  • Thomas, Evan. John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (2003) excerpt and text search


  1. Edward Shippen, Naval Battles, Ancient and Modern (1883) p 187ff
  2. Evan Thomas, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (2003) pp. 292-312

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