John Paul Jones Biography & Facts


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.

    John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale, c. 1781-84.
    John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale, c. 1781-84.


      Quick facts

      • Born: 6 July 1747 in Scotland.
      • John Paul Jones was a Scottish-American naval captain and is often referred to as the “Father of the American Navy.”
      • He is famous for his command of the USS Bonhomme Richard and his victory over the British warship HMS Serapis during the Revolutionary War.
      • Jones’ famous quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!” was declared during the intense battle with HMS Serapis, showcasing his tenacity and determination.
      • After the Revolutionary War, he served in the Russian navy at the request of Empress Catherine the Great, during the Russo-Turkish War.
      • His naval tactics and strategic innovations had a lasting impact on the development of the U.S. Navy.
      • Buried in a crypt at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
      • Died: 18 July 1792 in Paris.


      John Paul Jones, a Scottish-American naval officer, was born on 6 July 1747 as John Paul, on the estate of Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean and the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His father, also John Paul, was gardener to Robert Craik, a Member of Parliament. His mother, Jean Macduff, was the daughter of a Highlander.

      At the age of 13, young John Paul became a shipmaster’s apprentice to a merchant of Whitehaven. At 17 he shipped as second mate and in the next year as first mate in one of his master’s vessels. On being released from his indentures, he acquired an interest in a ship, and as first mate made two voyages between Jamaica and the Guinea coast, trading in slaves. Becoming dissatisfied with this kind of employment, he sold his share in the ship and embarked for England. During the voyage both the captain and the mate died of fever. John Paul took command and brought the ship safely to port, where the owners gave him and the crew 10% of the cargo.

      After 1768, as captain of one of their merchantmen, Jones made several voyages to America; but for unknown reasons he suddenly gave up his command to live in America. He lived in poverty and obscurity until 1775. During this period he assumed the name of Jones, apparently out of regard for Willie Jones, a wealthy planter and prominent political leader of North Carolina, who had befriended him in his days of poverty.

      When war broke out between England and the American colonies, John Paul Jones was commissioned as a first lieutenant by the Continental Congress (22-Dec-1775). In 1776 he participated in the unsuccessful attack on the island of New Providence. As commander first of the Providence and then of the Alfred, he cruised between Bermuda and Nova Scotia, inflicting significant damage to British shipping and fisheries.

      On the 10 October 1776 he was promoted to captain. On 1 November 1777 he sailed in the sloop-of-war Ranger for France with dispatches for the American commissioners, announcing the surrender of British General John Burgoyne and asking that Jones should be supplied with a swift frigate for harassing the coasts of England. Failing to secure a frigate, Jones sailed from Brest in the Ranger (10-Apr-1778). A few days later he surprised the garrisons of the two forts commanding the harbor of Whitehaven — a port with which he was familiar from boyhood — spiked the guns and made an unsuccessful attempt to fire the shipping. Four days later he encountered the British sloop-of-war Drake, a vessel slightly superior to his in fighting capacity, and after an hour’s engagement, the British ship struck her colors and was taken to Brest. By this exploit Jones became a great hero in the eyes of the French, who were just beginning a war with Great Britain.

      With the rank of commodore, he was now put at the head of a squadron of five ships. His flagship, the Duras, a refitted East Indiaman, was renamed by him the Bonhomme Richard as a compliment to Benjamin Franklin, whose Poor Richard’s Almanac was then popular in France.

      On 14 August the five ships sailed from Lorient, accompanied by two French privateers. Several of the French commanders under Jones proved insubordinate, and the privateers and three of the men-of-war soon deserted him. With the others, however, he continued to take prizes, and even planned to attack the port of Leith, but was prevented by unfavorable winds. On the evening of 23 September, the three men-of-war sighted two British men-of-war, the Serapis and the Countess of Scarbrough, off Flamborough Head. The Alliance, commanded by Captain Landais, made off, leaving the Bonhomme Richard and the Pallas to engage the Englishmen. Jones engaged the greatly superior Serapis, and after a desperate battle of three and a half hours compelled the English ship to surrender. The Countess of Scarbrough had meanwhile struck to the more formidable Pallas. Jones transferred his men and supplies to the Serapis, and the next day the Bonhomme Richard sank.

      During the following year Jones spent much of his time in Paris. King Louis XVI gave him a gold-hilt sword along with the royal order of military merit and made him chevalier of France. Early in 1781 Jones returned to America to secure a new command. Congress offered him the command of the America, a frigate then being built, but the vessel was shortly afterwards given to France. In November 1783 he was sent to Paris as agent for the prizes captured in European waters under his own command, and although he gave much attention to social affairs and engaged in several private business enterprises, he was very successful in collecting the prize money.

      Early in 1787 he returned to America and received a gold medal from Congress in recognition of his services.

      In 1788 Jones entered the service of the empress Catherine of Russia, avowing his intention, however, to preserve the condition of an American citizen and officer. As a rear-admiral, he took part in the naval campaign in the Liman (an arm of the Black Sea, into which flow the Bug and Dnieper rivers) against the Turks, but the jealous intrigues of Russian officers caused him to be recalled to St. Petersburg for the pretense of being transferred to a command in the North Sea. There he was compelled to remain in idleness while rival officers plotted against him and even maliciously assailed his private character.

      John Paul Jones by George Bagby Matthew, c. 1890.
      John Paul Jones by George Bagby Matthew, c. 1890.

      In August 1789 he left St Petersburg a bitterly disappointed man. He arrived in Paris in May 1790 and remained in retirement during the rest of his life — although he made several efforts to re-enter the Russian service. Undue exertion and exposure had wasted his strength before he reached the prime of life, and after an illness, in which he was attended by the queen’s physician, he died at the age of 45 on 18 July 1792. His body was interred in the St. Louis cemetery for foreign Protestants with the funeral expenses paid from the private purse of the King’s commissary.

      In the confusion during the following years the burial place of Paul Jones was forgotten. Then in June 1899, the American ambassador to France, General Horace Porter, began a systematic search for the body. After excavations on the site of the old Protestant cemetery — now covered with houses — a leaden coffin was discovered, which contained the body in a remarkable state of preservation. In July 1905 a fleet of American warships carried the body to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. There he was interred in a crypt in 1906 in a ceremony presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt.

      Jones was a seaman of great bravery and technical ability, but over-jealous of his reputation and inclined to be querulous and boastful. The charges by the English that he was a pirate were particularly galling to him. Although of unprepossessing appearance — 5 feet 7 inches in height and slightly round-shouldered — he was noted for his pleasant manners and was welcomed into the most brilliant courts of Europe.

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