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 a 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.
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 a 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 one 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.
- For more images, search John Paul Jones in the following collections:
- Search John Paul Jones or naval academy in Historic American Buildings Survey/Historical American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey for more images of the crypt and the U.S. Naval Academy.
- View the August 1785 letter from Jones to John Jay, minister of foreign affairs, alerting Jay that Algeria had declared war against the United States, included in Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789.
- The following collections contain primary source material related to John Paul Jones and the American Revolution:
- Read a yarn about a seafaring ghost who claimed to be a friend of John Paul Jones in the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 interview “Forty Fathoms.”
- Search Today in History on navy to read about events in United States naval history, such as the purchase of the first submarine, and about naval heroes such as Commodore George Dewey and Admiral David Farragut.