John Paul Jones is a name familiar to every American schoolchild. No character in naval history, with the exception of Lord Nelson, has been the subject of as much romance and controversy. Born John Paul at Arbigland, Kirkbean, Scotland on July 6, 1747, he was apprenticed to a merchant at age 13. He went to sea in the brig Friendship to learn the art of seamanship. At 21, he received his first command, the brig John. After several successful years as a merchant skipper in the West Indies trade, John Paul emigrated to the British colonies in North America and there added "Jones" to his name.
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Jones was in Virginia. He cast his lot with the rebels, and on December 7, 1775 he was commissioned first lieutenant in the Continental Navy, serving aboard Esek Hopkins' flagship Alfred. As First Lieutenant in Alfred, he was the first to hoist the Grand Union flag on a Continental warship. On November 1, 1777 he commanded Ranger, sailing for France. Sailing into Quiberon Bay on February 14, 1778, Jones and Admiral La Motte Piquet exchanged gun salutes — the first time that the Stars and Stripes was officially recognized by a foreign government.
Early in 1779, the French King gave Jones the East Indiaman Duc de Duras, which Jones refitted, repaired, and renamed Bonhomme Richard as a compliment to his patron Benjamin Franklin. Commanding four other ships and two French privateers, he sailed on August 14, 1779 to raid English shipping.
On September 23rd, in the most famous naval battle of the Revolution, his ship engaged HMS Serapis in the North Sea off Flamborough Head, England. In the initial broadside Bonhomme Richard lost much of her firepower and many of her gunners. Captain Richard Pearson, commanding Serapis, called out to Jones, asking if he wished to surrender. Jones shouted his immortal reply, "I have not yet begun to fight!"
It was a bloody battle with the two ships literally locked in combat. Sharpshooting Marines and seamen in Richard's tops raked Serapis with gunfire, clearing the weather decks. Jones and his crew tenaciously fought on, even though their ship was sinking beneath them. Finally, Captain Pearson struck his colors and Serapis surrendered. Bonhomme Richard sank the next day and Jones transferred his flag to Serapis.
Although hailed as a hero in both Paris and Philadelphia, Jones encountered such stiff political rivalry at home that he never again held a major American command at sea. In 1788, Russian Empress Catherine II (The Great) appointed him rear admiral in the Russian navy. He took a leading part in the Black Sea campaign against the Ottoman Turks. Jealousy and political intrigue among his Russian rivals prevented him from receiving proper credit for his successes and resulted in his discharge. In 1790 he retired and went to live in Paris.
In 1792 Jones was appointed U.S. Consul to Algiers, but on July 18th of that year he died before the commission arrived. He was buried in Paris, but in 1905 his remains were removed from his long-forgotten grave and brought to the United States where, in 1913, they were finally interred in the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland.
The portrait of John Paul Jones was done with the aid of photographs of a marble bust of Jones sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1780. The unusual reddish stain at the tip of the tooth was caused by squid ink.
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