John Paul Jones
by J. Dennis Robinson

Life Chronology
Born in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland to John Paul, gardener at Arbigland and mother of MacDuff clan. His birth was not registered.

Apprenticed aboard "Friendship" to Fredricksburg, VA, Some biographers speculate he served a period in Royal Navy, but unlikely.
Third mate on slave ship King George

His father dies.

First mate on slave ship Two Friends

Unlikely, but may have toured with theatrical company in the West Indies. Shipped on brig John. Navigates it home when captain and mate die of yellow fever. Made master and supercargo. Orders sailor Mungo Maxwell flogged. He later dies while on another ship and John Paul is arrested for homicide. He is released on bail and obtains documents proving Maxwell died of yellow fever, not of his wounds. But the rumor dogs him for life.

As captain and possibly owner of The Betsy, he choses not to pay crew members while in the West Indies, When one attacks in anger John Paul kills him with a broadsword in 'self defense.' With no admiralty court in session to hear his case, he flees to America temporarily as John Jones, leaving his money behind in Tobago. His wherabouts for the next 20 months is speculative.

Fresh Start In America

Arrives back in Fredricksburg, VA. As a Mason, meets many influential Virginia revolutionaries. Assumes the name John Jones and plans to be a Virginia farmer. Short engagement to Dorothea Dandridge who soon after marries Patrick Henry. His brother William, a VA tailor, dies, but leaves nothing to John.

Writes to Joseph Hewes, John Morris, Thomas Jefferson requesting naval appointment. His request coincides with the birth of the American Navy in October 1775 and the Marines are created in November. First called himself John Paul Jones in Philadelphia at this time. In December Jones is first to raise "Grand Union" liberty flag (not the Stars and Stripes) and is the first-ever to be commissioned as lieutenant in the Continental Navy in December. He is given command of The Alfred which, as part of a fleet, seizes a shipload of British munitions.

Alfred is among Commodore Hopkins fleet as Jones engages HMS Glasgow to protect captured prizes.

Given command of Providence used to escort merchant ships. Writes to Joseph Hewes with ideas for modernizing Navy. Meets John Hancock and gains status of Captain.

Captures eight British prizes and destroys eight other ships while eluding larger warships in seven weeks aboard Providence.

Despite best sea record, Jones is #18 on list of captains commissioned by the Continental Navy.

As Captain of the Alfred, captures prizes in a northern campaign. Key prize 'Mellish' contains winter uniforms intended for British army in Canada.

Two planned missions are scrubbed and Jones goes to Philadelphia to discuss problems in his commission papers with Alexander Hamilton Assigned to command French ship Amphitrite arriving in Portsmouth, NH, but arrangement falls through due to miscommunication.

Ranger And Victory

June 14
Re-assigned to The Ranger being built in Portsmouth. Assigned on same day that US flag is adopted. Struggles with builder John Langdon over building and equipping his ship.

Ranger sets sail for France with plan to pick up new heavy frigate L'indien being made for America in Holland. He is given full choice of British targets to attack. Takes two small prizes en route.

Meets Ambassador Ben Franklin in France and discovers The L'indien is not available. Ranger becomes first US ship recognized by foreign power. Piscataqua, NH crew desires to return home.

Sinks, burns and captures ships along the Irish coast in the Ranger. Attack at Whitehaven, England and "raid" on Selkirk mansion near Jones' birthplace where one plate is taken as token. First American vessel to capture British man of war HMS Drake. Takes 200 prisoners to France for exchange, waits there nine months for relief. Plans further British raid with Franklin.

Receives command of Bonhomme Richard which he staffs with 380 crew including just 75 Americans and a mixture of British, Scotch, Irish, Portuguese

Capt Person struck - Jones crew and wounded were removed to the Serapis - 36 hours later the last man left the Bonhomme. At 11AM JPJ watched her sink, "Even though she sunk she was victorious..." JPJ said. He sailed Serapis to Holland.

Given command of Alliance and sails to France where he is the toast of French society. He now holds 500 prisoners of war.

Given command of loaned French ship Ariel which is nearly destroyed in a storm, but skillfully saved. After long repair period, sails to Philadelphia. Although, as yet unpaid for all his years of service, he receives commendations from Congress and is cleared of any and all charges held against him.

Given command of ship America in Portsmouth, which he finds only half built. Pushes builder John Langdon to complete work while studying and enjoying social life in Revolutionary NH.

After more than a year of work, Jones is told by Congress that he will not receive command, that instead, the America will be given to France.

Receives permission from Congress to join French fleet's planned invasion of Jamaica, leaves on Triomphante.

Returns to Philadelphia quite ill after invasion cancelled. Petitions Congress unsuccessfully for advanced rank and back wages.

Sails to France as official US Congress "prize agent" to recover unpaid income from prizes won in battle. Spends years in France and gets some promised reparation for himself and past crews. Romantically involved with mysterious "Madame T".

Returns to United States to collect settlement, but still cannot improve military rank. Offer of Major General rank in Russian navy is received.

Makes "secret" journey to Denmark for payment of overdue prizes. Unsuccessful there, but accepts Russian offer. Sails from Stockholm.

Russia And Death

Arrives in St. Petersburgh requesting rank of Rear Admiral with full command power. However, in an assault on Turkish forces, he finds his ships in poor repair and manned by Russian serfs who are beset by diseases. Jones' reports of the seige are blocked from reaching Catherine the Great by her own military leaders. He is later banned from court at St. Petersburgh and is reportedly "framed" in a sex scandal by military leaders. When promised commissions do not arrive, he resigns.

Returns to Paris during French Revolution. He is offered a military commission by George Washington. In ill health, he does not accept.

July 18
Dies in Paris at age 45 and is buried in small private ceremony. In 1905 his body is transferred to US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Compiled by J. Dennis Robinson
© 1997 All rights reserved.

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