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250th Anniversary of the Birth of John Paul Jones

Related Source: "I have not yet begun to fight"

On 6 July 1997 the Navy commemorates the 250th anniversary of the birth of John Paul Jones, who helped establish the traditions of courage and professionalism that the United States Navy proudly maintains today. In life and battle he exemplified a hero's determination and upheld America's ideals of liberty and independence from tyranny.

The man whom Thomas Jefferson later described as "the principal hope of America's future efforts on the ocean" was born on 6 July 1747 in the gardener's cottage of the Arbigland Estate, Kirkbean, Scotland.

Apprenticed to a merchant at age 13, John Paul went to sea in the brig Friendship to learn the art of seamanship. He first voyaged between Whitehaven, England, and Barbados with cargoes of consumer goods or sugar. At twenty-one he received his first command on the brig John.
On the Caribbean island of Tobago, where his ship Betsy ended her outward voyage, Jones decided to invest money in return cargo rather than pay his crew for their shore leave. One sailor, known as "the ringleader," attempted to go ashore without leave. Jones drew his sword on the man to enforce his orders, but the man set on his captain with a bludgeon. In response to the attack Jones ran him through with his sword. Jones immediately went ashore to give himself up, but the death of the ringleader had so stirred up local sentiment that John Paul's friends prevailed upon him to escape to Virginia at once.
In December 1775 Jones received his lieutenant's commission from the Continental Congress for its navy. On 3 December 1775, as first lieutenant of Alfred, he hoisted the Grand Union flag for the first time on a Continental warship. The flag's Union Jack in the upper left canton and thirteen red and white stripes represented a united resistance to tyranny but loyalty to the English King.
In February 1776 John Paul Jones participated in the attack on Nassau, New Providence Island. Jones was appointed to command Providence on 10 May 1776; his commission as Captain in the Continental Navy was dated 8 August 1776. The 12- gun sloop departed for the Delaware Capes on 21 August. Within a week she had captured the whaling brigantine Britannia. Near Bermuda, she fell in with a convoy escorted by the 28-gun frigate Solebay. In a thrilling chase lasting ten hours, Jones saved Providence from the larger warship by an act of superior seamanship. By 22 September he had captured three British merchant vessels. While anchored he burnt an English fishing schooner, sank another, and made prize of a third. Jones would later declare that his best crew had been on board Providence; he had received sound financial rewards from the prizes, making this venture the most enjoyable of his career.
In November 1777, John Paul Jones sailed for France in Ranger, carrying word of Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga. Admiral La Motte-Picquet returned Jones' salute at Quiberon Bay on 14 February 1778, the first time the Stars and Stripes were recognized by a foreign power. Ranger later captured the British sloop of war Drake off the coast of Ireland on 24 April and pillaged the British coast.
The French king loaned Jones the Bonhomme Richard, which Jones had renamed after Poor Richard's Almanac, in honor of Benjamin Franklin. On 14 August 1779, in command of four other ships and two French privateers, Jones continued his raids on English shipping. In his most famous engagement, 23 September 1779, Jones engaged the British frigate Serapis off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire. Serapis was a superior ship compared to Richard. She was faster, more nimble and carried a far greater number of eighteen pounders. The two ships fired simultaneously. At the first or second salvo, two of Jones' eighteen pounders burst, killing many gunners and ruining the entire battery as well as blowing up the deck above. After exchanging two or three broadsides, and attempting to rake the Serapis' bow and stern, the commodore estimated that he must board and grapple, a gun-to-gun duel seeming futile. Serapis' Captain Pearson repulsed the boarders, and attempted to cross Richard's bow to rake her. During this stage of the bloody and desperate battle, Pearson, seeing the shambles on board Bonhomme Richard, asked if the American ship had struck. Jones' immortal reply, "I have not yet begun to fight," served as a rallying cry to the crew. The two ships grappled and Jones relied on his marines to clear the enemy's deck of men. To Jones' disgust, Alliance, under the Frenchman Pierre Landais, fired three broadsides into Richard. Landais later stated that he wanted to help Serapis sink Richard, then capture the British frigate. Even though his ship had begun to sink, Jones determined he would not strike his colors. He used his remaining guns to weaken Serapis' main mast. It began to tremble, Pearson lost his nerve and decided to strike his colors. When the battered Bonhomme Richard sank on 25 September, Jones was forced to transfer to Serapis. For his victory, Congress passed a resolution thanking Jones, and Louis XVI presented him with a sword.
One of Jones' midshipman on board the Bonhomme Richard was Beaumont Groube. He acquired fame as the "Lieutenant Grub" of chapbooks (comics), supposedly shot by Jones for striking the colors during battle, an action which would have signified the Richard's surrender.
After the Revolutionary War, Commodore John Paul Jones was active in negotiating prize money claims in Paris. In 1788 he entered the service of the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia as a rear admiral. He hoped that command of a battle fleet in Russia would qualify him for higher command if and when the United States built a permanent Navy. Although he successfully commanded the Black Sea Squadron in the Dnieper River, court intrigues forced Jones to leave Russia.
John Paul Jones returned to Paris in 1790 where he died 18 July 1792.

Legacy of John Paul Jones

Most general histories of the Navy focus on his seamanship and courage when in danger but not on his character. These honorable portrayals of Jones contrast with images of piracy presented by the British. Rudyard Kipling, for example, refers to the "exploits" of Jones, "an American Pirate." Sir Winston Churchill calls him a "privateer" and even Theodore Roosevelt mentions him as a "daring corsair." Jones, of course, neither held a privateering commission nor was engaged in piracy, the realization of which might be what prompted someone on one occasion to cross out the British Library catalogue entry for John Paul Jones as "the Pirate," and substitute "Admiral in the Russian Navy." In modern terms John Paul Jones indulged in questionable behavior, since his popularity with women led him to having many lovers. Furthermore, he failed to be a good team player, spurning the naval efforts of others as inadequate compared with his own brilliant accomplishments.

John Paul Jones not only had a brilliant naval career, he also wrote in detail throughout his life to promote professional naval standards, training and protocol. For generations, midshipmen have been required to memorize his dicta outlining the appropriate qualifications and duties of a naval officer.

"None other than a Gentleman, as well as a seaman, both in theory and practice is qualified to support the character of a Commissioned Officer in the Navy, nor is any man fit to command a Ship of War who is not also capable of communicating his Ideas on Paper in Language that becomes his Rank." --John Paul Jones to Marine Committee, 21 January 1777

"It is certainly for the interest of the service that a cordial interchange of civilities should subsist between superior and inferior officers, and therefore it is bad policy in superiors to behave toward their inferiors indiscriminately, as tho' they were of a lower species, such a conduct will damp the spirits of any man . . . cheerful ardor and spirit . . . ought ever to be the characteristic of an officer . . . (for to be well obeyed it is necessary to be esteemed). . ." --John Paul Jones to Joseph Hewes, 14 April 1776

"As you know that the Credit of the Service depends not only on dealing fairly with the men Employed in it, but on their belief that they are and will be fairly dealt with." --John Paul Jones to Joseph Hewes, 30 October 1777.

This advice is rather in contrast to his withholding of the crew's pay during a merchant cruise to Barbados. In that instance Jones' behavior sparked a mutiny and led to his flight to Virginia.

During the nineteenth century, John Paul Jones was idolized by popular writers and extravagantly praised as a man of action. He has been the subject of at least thirty biographies and more than forty chapbooks. Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, James Fenimore Cooper, Alexandre Dumas, Herman Melville and Sarah Orne Jewett, for example, included Jones' fascinating life in their subjects of study.

Final Resting Place at U.S. Naval Academy

The site of the burial of John Paul Jones was rediscovered by Ambassador Horace Porter in 1905, and American warships brought Jones' body to America to be interred in the Chapel of the Navy Academy.

Following ceremonies held in Dahlgren Hall on 24 April 1906, the casket of John Paul Jones was carried into Bancroft Hall and placed under the grand staircase leading to Memorial Hall. He remained for nearly thirteen years until additional funds were appropriated for the completion of the crypt in the Chapel.

"The future naval officers, who live within these walls, will find in the career of the man whose life we this day celebrate, not merely a subject for admiration and respect, but an object lesson to be taken into their innermost hearts. . . . Every officer . . . should feel in each fiber of his being an eager desire to emulate the energy, the professional capacity, the indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death which marked John Paul Jones above all his fellows." - -President Theodore Roosevelt't Address to The U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, April 24, 1906.

His casket was finally re-interred in the crypt of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel on 26 January 1913.

During the period of John Paul Jones's stay in Bancroft Hall the following ditty became popular and was sung to a tune of the era titled Everyone Works but Father.

Everyone works but John Paul Jones!
He lies around all day,
Body pickled in alcohol
On a permanent jag, they say.
Middies stand around him
Doing honor to his bones;
Everybody works in 'Crabtown' But John Paul Jones.

The cornerstone for the current "cathedral of the Navy" was laid by Admiral George Dewey in June 1904, and the Chapel was dedicated in May 1908. It was originally designed in the shape of a Greek cross with equal transepts. The dome was originally decorated with terra cotta military emblems and devices. These were removed in 1928 because of weather damage and expense of maintenance. A nave was added to the Chapel in 1939-40, making it a Latin cross and increasing the seating to 2,500. Although architect Ernest Flagg considered the crypt of the Chapel as a potential tomb for naval heroes, particularly John Paul Jones, funds were not provided for its completion for this purpose until 1912.