John Paul Jones - A Klos Family Project
John Paul Jones
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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 1773. At the age of twelve he went to sea, sailing from Whitehaven and
visiting a brother, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, 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
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 August, 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 September, 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
spardeck, 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 "Serapis" struck her flag at half-past ten at
night. Each ship had nearly half her men killed or wounded. Captain 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 "Limau" 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 JONES Simms (1845); James Hamilton (1848).
See also "Paul Jones, der kuhne Seemann" (Leipsic, 1828). - - Edited
Appletons Encyclopedia, by Louis Klos - Copyright © 2002 VirtualologyTM