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John Paul Jones (naval officer)

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This article is about the American naval commander. For other uses of the term John Paul Jones, please see John Paul Jones (disambiguation).

John Paul Jones (July 6, 1747 - July 18, 1792) served as an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolution and is known as the "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, the ship was sold and he was released from his apprenticeship, which led him to take the job of 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, he left the Two Friends in Jamaica and met a captain who was sailing close to Paul's hometown. The ship was called the John and during it's passage back to Scotland, both the captain and the first mate died. Paul was the only one on board who knew how to navigate, and upon arriving back in Scotland the owners gave him command of the John.

In 1770, Jones ordered the flogging of one of his crew members who was shirking his duties, a prominent carpenter's son named Mungo Maxwell. When the John arrived in Tobago that summer, Maxwell sued Paul but the case was dismissed by the Admiralty Court. Maxwell left the crew and found his own voyage home, but died at sea. His family used their social influence to bring charges against Paul, believing that the flogging was overly brutal and led to Maxwell's death. John Paul was able to clear his name and realized he needed to climb the social ladder to protect himself, which led him to join the Freemasons on November 22, 1770.

In 1771, the owners of the John sold the ship, but provided John Paul with a good recommendation. 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 in to 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 later realized this was bad advice and remained a British fugitive for the rest of his life. He added the surname Jones to his, and arrived in Fredricksburg, Virginia in 1774.

American Revolution

Using his connections with the Freemasons, Jones was able to secure a commission 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 awarded command of the Providence on May 10, 1776 following the court-martial of it's captain. He spent the next several months 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 before being sent to France.

Jones was given command of the sloop Ranger and proceeded to France where he was promised command of a new 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 named Duc de Duras, which he would rename Bonhomme Richard(Good Man Richard) in honor of Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard's Almanack.

On 23 September, 1779, a Franco-American squadron under John Paul 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 one of the 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 contruction 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.

Russian service

In 1787 Jones joined the Russian navy as a rear admiral. In 1788, the Russian navy sent Jones to join a flotilla of long boats 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 United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.


  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