American naval hero John Paul Jones died in Paris, July 18, 1792, lost in obscurity

July 18, 2012

This comes directly from the Library of Congress’s “Today in History” site — you should subscribe if you don’t already:

John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones,
photograph of an engraving,
between 1895 and 1915.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

John Paul Jones, naval hero of the American Revolution, died in Paris on July 18, 1792. Born John Paul in Scotland on July 6, 1747, he apprenticed at age thirteen to a shipowner and sailed to Barbados. Owing to problems on another voyage to the West Indies (in 1773 he killed a sailor during a mutiny in Tobago, claiming self-defense), he fled to Virginia and changed his name—first to John Jones, and later to John Paul Jones.

Jones was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Continental Navy in December 1775 and the following year was commissioned a captain. His achievements at sea during the war were spectacular. Jones distinguished himself in action in the Atlantic Ocean during 1776 and 1777 in command of the naval ships the Alfred, the Providence, and the Ranger, taking many British ships as prizes.

John Paul Jones's home
John Paul Jones’ home in Fredericksburg, Virginia,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer, circa 1920-1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

On September 23, 1779, Jones achieved his most famous victory off the coast of England. With his flagship the Bonhomme Richard, which he had renamed in honor of his patron Benjamin Franklin, and accompanied by four other vessels, Jones engaged the British merchant fleet led by the Serapis in heavy combat for over three-and-one-half hours. During the battle, Jones answered the enemy’s demand that he surrender with the immortal words, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

After heavy losses of life on both sides, the British surrendered. Jones and his crew left their sinking ship and transferred to the captured Serapis. Congress passed a resolution thanking Jones and he received a sword and the Order of the Military Merit from King Louis XVI of France.

John Paul Jones held no further appointments in the United States Navy, but he served as rear admiral in the Russian Navy under Empress Catherine II of Russia from 1788-90. After his discharge, he resided in Paris in obscurity until his death and was buried in an unmarked grave. More than a hundred years later, the remains of the Navy’s first hero—lionized for his brilliant naval career, were identified and brought back to the United States with a full naval escort. His body is interred in a marble crypt, modeled on Napoleon’s tomb, in the chapel of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Statue of John Paul Jones
Statue of John Paul Jones,
Washington, D.C.,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer, circa 1920-1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959


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