The Navy Department Library
John Paul Jones, Naval Officer
JONES, John Paul, naval officer, born in Kirkbean, Scotland, 6 July 1747; died in Paris, 18 July, 1792.
He was the son of John Paul, gardener at Arbigland. The name Jones was assumed about 1778.
At the age of twelve he went to sea, sailing from Whitehaven and visiting a brother, in Fredericksburg, Va. on his first voyage. While under twenty he served as mate in two vessels that were engaged in the slave-trade, but leaving this traffic in disgust, he sailed for England as a passenger. The death of two of the officers of the brig left him the only navigator on board, and he took charge and brought her into port. Her Scotch owners then employed him as master, and he made two voyages to the West Indies. In 1770 a charge of cruelty to one of his crew was made against him at Tobago, and, although it was dismissed as frivolous, the man's death a few weeks later caused it to be revived. Jones was not arrested, but the affair caused him much annoyance, and made him anxious to prove his innocence at home, for which purpose he sent affidavits to his family. The brother in Virginia died in 1773, and Jones took charge of his estate, proposing to settle at Fredericksburg. He now added the name of Jones to his signature for reasons which are unknown. He continued to correspond with his family, and to give his original name too much prominence for concealment.
When congress decided in 1775 to equip a navy "for the defence of American liberty," Jones was named as the senior 1st Lieutenant. He sailed from Delaware river in the Alfred in February, 1776, to attack New Providence. The expedition returned in April, and Jones was placed in command of the sloop Providence. He cruised for six weeks, capturing sixteen prizes, and doing some damage on the coast of Nova Scotia. Much address was required to escape from vessels of superior force, as his sloop was armed only with four-pounders. He was then given the Alfred, and made another successful cruise to the northward. Jones felt that he was not treated justly when congress undertook to establish the rank of naval officers, and his strenuous remonstrance to the marine board was somewhat arrogant in tone.
In March, 1777, he was appointed to the command of the Ranger, and sailed in her for France in November. The American commissioners at the French court gave him authority to "distress the enemies of the United States by sea or land," and, accordingly, he sailed from Brest, 10 April, 1779, took prizes in St. George's channel, and landed at Whitehaven, where he tried to burn the shipping with a view to cutting off the supply of coal for Ireland. He also attempted to capture the Earl of Selkirk. Off Carrickfergus he fell in with the Drake, a British man-of-war of 20 guns, which he captured after a close action lasting more than an hour. The Drake lost 42 men, including her captain and lieutenant, and was badly cut up, while the Ranger's loss was small.
Jones returned to Brest with his prizes, after a cruise of 28 days, which his boldness, nautical skill, and local knowledge had rendered very effective.
Jones spent more than a year in trying to raise a force for further operations, and met with many disappointments, but got to sea again on 14 Aug., 1779, with a squadron of four vessels. His own ship was an old Indiaman which he named the Bon Homme Richard. To her battery of twelve-pounders he added six eighteens, in ports cut in the gun-room. His officers were Americans without experience in naval duties, and his crew was a motley assemblage. The other vessels were commanded by Frenchmen, though all were under the American flag. A daring scheme to seize the shipping and exact a ransom at Leith was frustrated by a gale, which drove him out of the Forth. At last, on 23 Sept. he sighted a fleet of 40 British merchantmen returning from the Baltic, under convoy of the Serapis, 44 guns, and the Countess of Scarborough, 28 guns. He made signal for a general chase, but most of the merchantmen ran in shore and anchored under the guns of Scarborough castle. At seven in the evening the Bon Homme Richard closed with the Serapis, and began one of the most desperate conflicts on record. After a few broadsides they fouled and lay side by side until the fight was over. The Serapis let go an anchor to swing clear, but Jones lashed the two ships together to deprive the enemy of the advantage of his superior battery and sail power, and to prevent his retreat. Two of the Richard's eighteens had burst at the first fire, blowing up the deck and many of their crews. The fire of the Serapis silenced her opponent's main-deck battery, and crashed through her sides. Jones kept on fighting with a few light guns on the spar-deck, and musketry in the tops. A hand-grenade that was dropped from the main-yard of the Richard down a hatchway in the Serapis caused a terrible explosion on the lower deck. Jones drove back a boarding party, and the Scarborough struck her flag at half past ten at night. Each ship had nearly half her men killed or wounded.
Capt. Pearson, of the Serapis, reported that on going on board the Bon Homme Richard he "found her in the greatest distress, her counters and quarter driven in, all her lower-deck guns dismounted, on fire in two places, and six or seven feet of water in the hold." She had to be abandoned, and sank the next morning. The Alliance, commanded by Landais, fired indiscriminate broadsides of grape at both the contending ships, killing several of the Richard's crew. The Countess of Scarborough was taken by the Pallas, the only other ship engaged. Franklin commended "the sturdy, cool, and determined bravery" which Jones displayed in this action, and the victor was received with enthusiasm in France.
The king gave Jones a gold sword and the order of merit. He also received the thanks of congress and was designated by a unanimous vote to command the ship of the line that was then building. It was proposed to create the grade of rear-admiral for him, and he was considered "the principal hope of our future efforts on the ocean," as Jefferson styled him in 1788. But he had no further opportunity for active service under the American flag.
After visiting Denmark on public business, he entered the Russian service in 1788 with the rank of rear-admiral, reserving the right to return to the orders of congress when he should be called upon to do so. During a campaign against the Turks in the Liman he displayed his customary skill and energy. Disappointed in his hope of attaining an independent command, and baffled by intrigue, he returned to St. Petersburg, was granted an indefinite leave of absence, and returned to Paris in broken health.
In 1792 an appointment as commissioner and consul of the United States at Algiers was sent out, but he died before receiving it. The National convention sent a deputation to attend his funeral. Numerous apocryphal narratives of his life appeared in England and France, and these legends, and a variety of prejudices, have obscured the facts of his career. English writers denounced him as a pirate for a generation after his death, and still call him an adventurer. He would have resented either of these epithets. In 1779 John Adams thought him "ambitious and intriguing," and in 1813 referred to him as a "foreigner of the south, arrogating to himself merit that belongs to New England sailors." On the other hand, he seems to have retained the respect of Franklin, Jefferson, and Robert Morris, after a long acquaintance. His devotion to the flag of the United States is as unquestionable as his daring. He declared that America had been "the country of his fond election since the age of thirteen." His zeal for glory may have been allayed by a strain of restless vanity like that of other great seamen, but his conceptions of naval strategy and his appreciation of the value of intellectual culture for naval officers, are far in advance of his age and profession.
He left letters which are able and interesting in spite of their florid style and passionate assertion of his claims. He was always kind to his relatives in Scotland.
Jones was of medium height, active, but quiet in manner, with a soft voice and a keen eye.
James Fenimore Cooper made use of some of the incidents of Jones's career in his novel "The Pilot." His life has been written by John H. Sherbourne (New York and London, 1825; 2d ed., New York, 1851); Janette Taylor "from letters, etc., in the possession" of the author (1830); Alexander S. Mackenzie (2 vols., 1841); and William Gilmore Simms (1845); James Hamilton (1848). See also "Paul Jones, der kühne Seemann," (Leipsic, 1828).
Source: Adapted from Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography. vol. 3. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887. [see "Jones, John Paul," pp. 467-469.]
JONES, John Paul, naval officer, was born at Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, July 8, 1747. His grandfather and his father were market-gardeners. The latter had seven children, of whom John was the fifth. The family name was Paul, and the subject of this sketch was christened John Paul. He did not add the surname, Jones, until several years after he had become of age. The reason for the addition is not given. The eldest of the children, William Paul, emigrated to America and settled in Fredericksburg, Va. He died before the revolution, leaving a considerable fortune. Of the daughters, the eldest, Elizabeth, died unmarried; the second, Jeannette, married Mr. Taylor, a watchmaker in Dumfries; and the third, Mary Ann, was twice married--first to a Mr. Young, and afterward to a Mr. Louden. The birthplace of Paul Jones, the name by which he is best known, is situated near the shores of the Solway, in one of the most picturesque and beautiful localities of the frith.
The town carried on a considerable trade with America, and the daily intercourse with seafaring men, which the boy had there, naturally turned his mind in the direction of a seafaring life. At the age of twelve, however, he was bound apprentice at Whitehaven to a respectable merchant in the American trade. He had received a meagre education at the parish school of Kirkbean, but after entering upon his apprenticeship, he set himself to learn the theory of navigation and is said to have been accustomed to studying late at night. Before he was thirteen he made a voyage to Virginia, and while there made his home with his elder brother, William. He became possessed of sentiments in favor of the American colonies, and was still determined to follow the sea. His employer having failed in business, and his indentures thereby canceled, he obtained an appointment as third mate of a vessel engaged in the slave trade. He made one or two voyages in this business, but threw it up in disgust, and, being at the time in the West Indies, set out to return to Scotland as a passenger on board a Scotch brigantine. On the voyage the captain and mate both died of fever, whereupon Paul assumed the command, and brought the vessel safely into port, for which service he was appointed by her owners master and supercargo. This voyaging between different ports consumed the time between 1766 and 1770. In the latter year he had some trouble at Tobago, on account of punishing a sailor for mutinous conduct. In 1773, William Paul, his brother, dying in Virginia, childless and intestate, the young sailor went there to arrange the affairs of the deceased. It appears that at this time Paul had the design of devoting the remainder of his life to agriculture and study, calculating upon his brother's estate for a competence. Owing to the faithlessness of agents, the estate did not amount to what was anticipated, and by the beginning of the year 1775 Pauls' pecuniary resources had almost entirely failed him. It was partly, therefore, because of necessity, though with entire willingness, that he accepted the commission of senior first lieutenant in the new navy which congress had decided to equip. By the end of December, 1775, a small fleet had been collected in the Delaware to cruise against the enemy. Among the vessels were the Alfred, Columbus, Andrea Doria, Cabot, and Providence, each carrying an average of thirty guns and 200 men, and the flag of America, now for the first time displayed, was hoisted by Jones on board the Alfred. They did not leave the capes of the Delaware until the 17th of February, 1776, the first enterprise undertaken being an attack on New Providence, which proved successful. The forts were abandoned, and the squadron captured a few cannon. On the 9th of April the first sea-fight occurred with the Glasgow, a British frigate of twenty-four guns, off Block Island. The Glasgow escaped. In May, Jones was ordered by the commander-in-chief to take command of the Providence, as captain, and he cruised along the coast during the next six weeks, engaging in a running fight with the British frigate Milford, and capturing sixteen prizes, besides destroying a large number of small vessels. On his return, Capt. Jones was again put in charge of the Alfred, and, coasting up as far as Canso, he destroyed a fine transport there, laden with provisions. Off Louisburg, in November, he captured three ships out of the coal fleet, and also took a strong letter-of-marque ship, with a rich cargo from Liverpool, but lost it again by falling in with the frigate Milford, which cut it out. For some reason, Jones's claims to promotion were not sufficiently considered by congress, but in June, 1777, he was given command of the ship Ranger, on which he hoisted, for the first time that it was displayed on board a man-of-war, the new national flag, congress having resolved, on June 14th, as follows: "That the flag of the United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing the new constellation." It thus fell to the lot of Paul Jones to display for the first time on board a vessel-of-war both the colonial and the national flags. The Ranger, when fitted out, carried eighteen six-pounders. She sailed from Portsmouth, N.H., Nov. 1, 1777, on a roving commission, authorized to hang off the British coast for the purpose of capturing or annoying any craft she might meet. She took two brigantines from Malaga, loaded with fruit for London. Dec. 2d Jones wrote to the commissioners of congress at Paris--Dr. Franklin, Silas Deane and Arthur Lee. He was soon summoned to Paris to consult with them; and in January, having received the necessary instructions, sailed to Nanica, and soon after convoyed some American vessels to Quiberon Bay. Returning, he went into Brest, where he remained until Apr. 10th, when he set sail on a most memorable cruise. He first captured a brigantine, and sunk her; then the ship Lord Chatham, bound from London to Dublin, with a varied cargo. While coasting about, on the 21st he fell in with the British ship-of-war Drake, of twenty guns, but eluded her and made a landing at Whitehaven, where he spiked all the cannon of one of the forts. There he also set fire to a number of ships, and regained his own vessel in safety. He then encountered Drake again. A sharp fight took place, lasting an hour and four minutes, when the Drake surrendered. In the course of this cruise Jones landed from the Ranger, with a boat and a small party, at St. Mary's Isle. His intention was, as he explained afterward in a letter to the Countess of Selkirk, to capture Lord Selkirk, who had great influence with the king, and hold him as a hostage for a general and fair exchange of prisoners. Finding that the earl was not at home, Jones prepared to return to his vessel, when the officers who were with him suggested that they ought to have something to show for the enterprise. Accordingly, they went to the residence of the earl and took a quantity of plate, which was taken on board the Ranger, and afterward sent to America and sold. In concluding his letter to the Countess of Selkirk, Jones stated that it was his intention to purchase the plate and return it to her. This he did; although it was not until early in 1780 that he was able to get possession of it, and then at great cost. Between these expeditions in the spring, and late in the summer of 1779, Jones appears to have tarried about the French court, waiting for the promises of the commissioners and the king to be carried out. It is certain that he experienced much disappointment and annoyance at the slowness with which matters proceeded. From time to time he was promised the command of one ship or another, but it was not until Aug. 14th that the king purchased the Duc de Duras, a ship fourteen years old. This was given to Capt. Jones, and, at his request, called the Bon Homme Richard, in compliment to a saying of Poor Richard. "If you would have your business done, go yourself; if not, send." But Jones still continued to suffer annoyances--being unable to obtain men, while other promises as to other vessels were not carried out. Finally, a small squadron was ready, including the Bon Homme Richard, forty guns; the Alliance, thirty-six; the Pallas, thirty-two; the Cerf, eighteen, and the Vengeance, twelve. As a rule, they were badly manned and only half fitted. The vessels got foul of each other, and were badly injured; and though from time to time one or the other of the vessels went out on short expeditions, and a few prizes were taken, it was not, as has been said, until Aug. 14th that the entire squadron, including by that time, with the addition of two privateers, seven sail, set forth. Within four days they retook a Dutch ship which had been captured by an English privateer, and which was laden with brandy and wine. One or two brigantines were next captured, and a plan was formed to proceed to Leith and seize the shipping there, with the intention of levying a ransom of £200,000 upon the inhabitants, but contrary winds prevented the expedition. Finally, on the 21st of September, two sail, which were espied off Flamborough Head, were chased by the Pallas and Bon Homme Richard, the latter being successful in capturing and sinking one of them--a brigantine collier in ballast. Other ships which were chased, escaped; but on the 22d the squadron ran upon a fleet of forty-one sail of merchantmen under convoy by two ships-of-war. The latter were the Serapis, forty-four guns, and the Countess of Scarborough, twenty eight guns. In the evening the Bon Homme Richard drew up alongside the Serapis. The fight began with a broadside from the former. As the ships drew nearer together, and the enemy's bowsprit came over the Bon Homme Richard's deck, near the mizzenmast, the daring captain of the latter bound the two ships fast together. Thus at close quarters, with three nine-pounder pieces, Jones raked the deck of the Serapis. The fire from the latter gradually decreased, and the British colors were at length struck. She would have been captured much sooner had it not been for clumsy mismanagement of the part of Captain Laudais, of the Alliance, who discharged a broadside full upon the stern of Bon Homme Richard, and thereby caused delay. The Bon Homme Richard was so injured that it became necessary to remove all from on board. On the morning of the 25th she sunk. The Countess of Scarborough was captured by the Pallas after a severe contest, which lasted, however, but an hour. This engagement became the talk of Paris and Versailles, and Franklin wrote to Paul Jones, praising his cool conduct and persevering bravery during the terrible conflict. Jones received from congress a vote of thanks, and the French king gave him a gold sword and a decoration. Feb. 18, 1781, he arrived in Philadelphia, and soon after proceeded to Portsmouth, N.H., where he superintended the building of a ship-of-war of which he would have been commander, but for the restoration of peace. On the 11th of December, 1787, he sailed from New York for England, and thence repaired to Paris. He next visited Denmark, in regard to a claim which was afterward settled by Jefferson at Paris. From Copenhagen he went to St. Petersburg, where he was very popular; the Empress Catherine, in particular, treating him with high favor. He was requested to assume command of a naval force stationed at the mouth of the Dnieper-Russian being at the time engaged in a war with Turkey. He continued in the employment of the empress for a time, but tired of the Russian service, apparently because he did not receive the recognition for which he had hoped. He resigned and returned to Paris, where he died in 1792, his last letters betraying a morbid and querulous irascibility. He had a personal claim against the French government for 7,000 livres, which he was unable to collect, and, altogether, his last days were unfortunate and unhappy. He died of jaundice, terminating in dropsy. A few moments before his death he walked into his chamber and laid himself upon his face on the bedside, with his feet on the floor. His physician, who arrived shortly afterward, found him in this position, and, upon picking him up, discovered he was dead. By his will, which was drawn by Gouverneur Morris, minister of the United States in Paris, all his property, real and personal, was left to his two sisters and their children. The date of his death was July 18, 1792.
Source: Adapted from National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. vol. 2. New York: James T. White & Co., 1893. [see "Barney, Joshua," pp. 15-16].
20 April 2006