“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
On the third floor of No. 19 Rue de Tournon, Paris, a body is found face down. That body is the mortal remains of John Paul Jones, a hero to some, a pirate to many.
Born in a small cottage on the South west coast of Scotland overlooking the Solway Firth on July 6, 1747 Jones began his career at sea joining trade and slave ships out of Whitehaven, Cumbria.
However John Paul Jones is more known for his actions during the revolutionary war. As Captain of the USS Ranger he was ordered to France carrying dispatches telling of General Burgoyne’s surrender to the commissioners in Paris. On the voyage over, two British prizes were captured. Ranger sailed from Brest 10 April 1778, for the Irish Sea and four days later captured a prize between the Scilly Isles and Cape Clear. On 17 April, she took another prize and sent her back to France.
On April 23, 1778, Jones and 30 of his crew landed at his old stomping ground of Whitehaven. As reported by the Lloyds evening post:
“Whitehaven, April 23.
LATE last night, or early this morning, a number of armed men (to the amount of
thirty) landed privately at this place, by two boats, from an American privateer, as
appears from one of the people now in custody. Whether he was left through
accident, or escaped by design, is yet uncertain.
Thus much has however been proved, that a little after three o’clock this morning he
rapped at several doors in Marlborough street, (adjoining one of the piers) and
informed them that fire had been [benn] let to one of the ships in the Harbour,
matches were laid in several others; the whole would be soon in a blaze, and the
town also destroyed; that he was one belonging to the privateer, but had escaped for
the purpose of saving, if possible, the town and shipping from destruction. The alarm
was immediately spread, and his account proved too true. The Thompson, Captain
Richard Johnson, a new vessel, and one of the finest ever built here, was in a flame.
It was low water, consequently all the shipping in the Port was in the most imminent
danger, and the vessel on which they had begun the diabolical work, lying close to
one of the steaths, there was the greatest reason to fear that the flames would, from
it, be communicated to the town. The scene was too horrible to admit of any further
description; we shall therefore only add to this part of this alarming story, that by an
uncommon exertion, the fire was extinguished before it reached the rigging of the
ship, and thus, in a providential manner, prevented all the dreadful consequences
which might have ensued.
The man who remained on shore was examined by the Magistrates, Merchants, &c.
about eight o’clock in the morning. The following is the purport of his affidavit:
“The Ranger privateer is commanded by John Paul Jones, fitted out at Piscataqua, in New-England, mounted by 18-six pounders, and 6 swivels, but is pierced for twenty guns. She has on board between 140 and 150 men; sailed from Piscataqua for Brest the 1st of November, 1777, arrived at Nantz the 2d of December [November]. Took in the passage two brigs, one commanded by Captain Richards, the other by Captain Goldfinch.
“Sailed from Nantz for Quiberon Bay; lay there about three weeks and returned to
Brest; left that Port about three weeks ago, in which time she has taken one ship
from London to Dublin, (having on board Gen. Irwin’s baggage) and sent her to Brest.
She also took and sunk a brig laden with flax-feed, a schooner with barley and oats,
and a sloop from Dublin to London, in ballast.
“On Sunday, or Monday night, from the intelligence she gained by a fishing boat, she
sailed into Belfast Lough, with an intent to attack an armed vessel, (the Drake sloop
of war) stood within half gun shot of her, hailed her, and then stood out again.”
David Freeman, the person who was examined and gave the above information,
says, that the name of the Commander of the Ranger is John Paul Jones, the First
Lieutenant Thomas Simpson, Second Lieutenant Elisha Hall, Sailing-Master David
Cullen, Lieutenant of Marines Samuel Willinsford.
The above John Paul Jones, alias John Paul, it further appears, served his
apprenticeship to the sea in a vessel called the Friendship, belonging to this port,
was afterwards in the employ of some Merchants here, latterly had a brig out of
Kircudbright, and is well known by many people in this town. David Freeman, it is
said, has also declared, that the said Paul Jones commanded the party which landed
here this morning, and was himself on shore.
While this infernal business was transacting, the ship laid to with her head to the
Northward, distant about two miles, until the boats put off to go on board, which was
between three and four o’clock. By this time some of the guns at the Half-moonbattery were loaded, two of which were fired at the boats, but without the desired
effect. The boats then fired their signal guns, and the ship immediately tacked and
stood towards them till they got along-side, and then made sail to the North
The Incendiaries had spiked most of the guns of both our batteries, several matches
were found on board different vessels, and other combustible matter in different parts
of the Harbour.
It appears that this infernal plan, unprecedented, except in the Annals of John the
Painter, was laid at Brest, where, for a considerable sum of money, Paul, or Jones,
(the latter is only an addition to his name,) engaged to burn the shipping, and town of
Whitehaven; for which purpose he was convoyed through the Channel by a French
frigate of 38 guns.
A number of Expresses have been dispatched to all the capital sea ports in the
kingdom where any depredations are likely to be made; all strangers in this town are,
by an order of the Magistrates, to be secured and examined: Similar notices have
been forwarded through the country, &c. and, in short, every caution taken that the
present alarming affair could suggest.
The privateer is the same ship which chased the Hussar cruizer last week, but the
cutter, or smack, did not belong to her.
They took three people away with them and staid some time in a public-house on the
The Hussar, Capt. Gurley, and other vessels, are sent to different ports in Ireland
express with the news.
There has been almost a continual meeting at Haile’s Coffee-room to-day; a number
of men are raising for the defence of the town by subscription; and the forts, guns,
&c. it is expected, will now be put into proper condition
The effect was shocking to the people of Britain, who believed themselves safe, if this pirate can attack a port deep in the heart of the British Isles what could a large force do. Coastal defenses were improved and more men rushed to join the militias. Ships were dispatched to the Irish sea in an attempt to stop Jones. One of them was a 14 gun Brig, HMS Drake.
After an hours battle she too was captured by Jones who then sailed down the west coast of Ireland and returned to France with her prizes in tow on May 8.
Jones was then placed in command of the Bonhomme Richard and on August 14, as a vast French and Spanish invasion fleet approached England, he provided a diversion by heading for Ireland at the head a flotilla including the 36-gun Alliance, 32-gun Pallas, 12-gun Vengeance, and Le Cerf, and two privateers, Monsieur and Granville.
Sailing up and over Scotland news of this force terrified the east coast of England On September 23, 1779, the squadron met a large merchant convoy off the coast of Flamborough Head, east Yorkshire. The 50-gun British frigate HMS Serapis and the 22-gun hired ship Countess of Scarborough.
The Serapis engaged the Bonhomme Richard, and soon afterwards, the Alliance fired, from a considerable distance, at the Countess. Quickly recognizing that he could not win a battle of big guns, and with the wind dying, Jones made every effort to lock Richard and Serapis together during a lull a taunt from one of the British sailors asking if he gave in prompted Jones to remark that “I have yet begun to fight.”
The fighting was fierce and both ships were badly damaged, the ensign on the Bonhomme Richard was shot away one of the officers of the Serapis asked if Jones had struck his colors, Jones remarked that “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike.”
With his shipped locked in a deadly duel and the Alliance raking his ship with shot the captain of the Serapis Captain Pearson surrendered his ship to Jones. While the crew transferred over and following desperate attempts at repair the Bonhomme Richard was beyond repair and allowed to sink. Jones then sailed his battered fleet to the Netherlands.
Following the exploits in British waters Jones’ career began to falter, with commands and ships passing him by he entered the service of the Imperial Russian Navy, again he was passed over for commands, and political enemies plotted against him, inventing charges of “Sexual misconduct” which were disproved.
Leaving Russia a year after joining he offered his services to Sweden who eventually declined. Ending up in Paris he was given an assignment to secure the release of US captives held by the Dey of Algiers. However Jones died before carrying out this duty.
A small gathering of servants and Friends accompanied his body the 4 miles to Saint Louis Cemetery Jones’s the body was preserved in alcohol and interred in a lead coffin “in the event that should the United States decide to claim his remains, they might more easily be identified.” where with the passage of time and the French revolution his final resting place was forgotten.
That isn’t the end of Jones’ story
In 1905 the by U.S. Ambassador to France Gen. Horace Porter, who had searched for 6 years for Jones’ remains exhumed a number of lead coffins. The preserved body was identified and an autopsy conducted. Brought back to America on the USS Brooklyn On April 24, 1906, Jones’s coffin was installed in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, On January 26, 1913, the Captain’s remains were finally re-interred in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus at the Naval Academy Chapel
“The future naval officers, who live within these walls, will find in the career of the man whose life we this day celebrate, not merely a subject for admiration and respect, but an object lesson to be taken into their innermost hearts. . . . Every officer . . . should feel in each fiber of his being an eager desire to emulate the energy, the professional capacity, the indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death which marked John Paul Jones above all his fellows.”
US President Theodore Roosevelt, in an address to The US Naval Academy, Annapolis (24 April 1906).