Childhood & Early Life
John Paul Jones was born as John Paul on July 6, 1747 in Arbigland estate, Kirkcudbrightshire, southwest Scotland, to John Paul, Sr. and Jean McDuff. His father was a gardener.
He started his career at sea at the age of 13, as a ship’s boy on ‘Friendship’ under a Scottish ship owner, John Younger, when he sailed off to Virginia and visited his elder brother, William, at Fredericksburg.
For the next 14 years, he sailed on various merchant and slave ships, between Britain, Virginia and West Indies, learning the tactics of sea-sailing.
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In 1764, John Paul Jones was hired as third mate on ‘King George’ and was later promoted as first mate on ‘Two Friends’ in 1766. However, he began hating the slave trade despite the job being lucrative and quit to join ‘John’ in 1768.
While on his voyage from Jamaica to Scotland, tragedy struck the vessel when the captain and ranking mate died of yellow fever en-route. John Paul Jones sailed the ship back to port safely and was promoted as captain. As captain, he led two trips to West Indies.
In 1770, he severely flogged one of the sailors who died a few weeks later. This resulted in his arrest and imprisonment. He was released later, but the incident had a very bad impact on his flourishing career.
In 1773, he was forced to kill the ringleader of a mutinous crew, in self-defense, after which he fled to Fredericksburg, Virginia to escape trial.
When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, he traveled to Philadelphia and joined the brand-new Continental Navy as first lieutenant on the warship ‘Alfred’.
During his journey aboard ‘Alfred’ to the Bahamas under Commodore Esek Hopkins, he was honored to hoist the Grand Union Flag and was soon, handed over the command of the sloop ‘Providence’.
In August 1776, he started his six-week voyage aboard ‘Providence’, sailing through the Atlantic from Bermuda to Nova Scotia, where he captured 16 British vessels.
He took charge of ‘Alfred’ as captain in November 1776 and cruised to Nova Scotia winning several prizes and acquiring winter clothing for American prisoners captured in coal mines there.
As a result of a feud with his superior, Commodore Hopkins, he was given command of the new sloop-of-war ‘Ranger’ and sailed through the Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel, taking up several prizes, in November 1777.
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He took command of a 42-gun frigate, ‘Bonhomme Richard’ (named in honor of Benjamin Franklin), in September 1779, along with four other ships and two privateers, to invade England, in the Battle of Flamborough Head.
After three-and-half hours battle of guns, he defeated the 50-gun British frigate ‘HMS Serapi’s and the 22-gun hired ship ‘Countess of Scarborough’. With the Bonhomme Richard badly damaged, he boarded the Serapis and sailed to Holland with the Countess as prizes.
At the end of the American War, he was discharged and soon joined the Russian navy under Empress Catherine II in 1787. He served in the Russo-Turkish War for a brief period during 1788-89 and then discharged.
He authored the book ‘Narrative of the Campaign of the Liman’ while serving in the Russian navy.
His tenure in Russia was highly disappointing with false accusation and no recognition on his career graph. Thereafter, he returned to Paris in 1790 for the remaining of his life.
Personal Life & Legacy
John Paul Jones’ health deteriorated continuously while staying in Paris and he died on July 18, 1792 due to interstitial nephritis.
He was laid to rest at Saint Louis Cemetery, following a small procession comprising of friends, servants and loyal family.
In 1905, after more than a century later, his remains were found and brought to America by US warships, where he was buried with full honors at the Naval Academy Chapel, Annapolis, in 1913, which now stands as a national shrine.