“From the Bridge”

John Paul Jones, an American Hero?

Born John Paul in Arbigland, Scotland on July 6, 1747, he started his seagoing career as an apprentice aboard the sail ship Friendship, commanded by Captain Benson. Paul sailed aboard British merchant ships as well as slave ships and there was even talk that he was even engaged in piracy. Up until now Paul sailed as a watch standing mate, but became the master of the Brig John after the Captain and Chief Mate died of yellow fever. On his second voyage as captain he had one of his seamen flogged so viciously that the man died. This led to his arrest; however he was later released on bail. John Paul skipped bail and left Scotland sailing as Captain on an English ship that had 22 guns, but again ran into trouble when he killed another seaman in a dispute over wages. With this he fled to Fredericksburg, Virginia leaving everything behind. To avoid capture he changed his name by tacking the name Jones onto his given name and joined the American Continental Navy. In December of 1775, now known as John Paul Jones and with the help of some political friends, Jones was commissioned a Lieutenant aboard the 24-gun frigate Alfred. Less than a year later he became the Captain of the Alfred.

A smaller but newer ship, the Providence, became his next command. During a six-week voyage along the New England and Canadian coastline, Captain Jones captured sixteen ships and inflicted a significant impact to towns within range of his cannons in Nova Scotia. Again, because of insubordination, he managed to get into trouble with Commodore Hopkins his superior. This led to him to be demoted and reassigned to the sloop of war the USS Ranger, which was a much smaller vessel. One of the American diplomatic representatives in France was Benjamin Franklin, who liked Jones and taking him under his wing had orders cut for him to sail to France. On February 6, 1778 France recognized the new American nation and flying the, newly created “Stars & Stripes,” the Ranger became the second American naval vessel to receive a formal salute, the first salute had been received by the USS Andrew Doria ten days prior by the Dutch. However, the Ranger was the first American ship to receive a nine gun salute from the French. He then sailed across the English Channel to the Irish sea where he had some important successes against British merchant ships. Most important was that the Ranger captured the much larger HMS Drake, which his second in command, Lieutenant Simpson, sailed to Brest. Although Captain Jones had a conflict with his lieutenant, resulting in charges against Simpson, the Ranger’s victory became an important symbol buoying the American spirit during the hard fought Revolutionary War, and became an inspiration for the permanent establishment of the United States Navy after winning Independence from Britain.

In 1779, Captain Jones took command of the 42-gun USS Bon Homme Richard (originally named the Bonhomme Richard). In a battle with the British HMS Serapis his ship’s ensign was shot away! On fire and taking on water Jones lashed his ship to the Serapis, his adversery to keep from sinking while the marines racked the decks of the HMS Serapis with gunfire. In the confusion of battle the USS Alliance , not knowing the difference, fired onto the two ships doing as much damage to Jones ship as to the Serapis however at that moment a grenade went off, causing a massive explosion of munitions below the main deck of the HMS Serapis. Legend has it that John Paul Jones said “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike.” Captain Pearson of Serapis surrendered, and most of men on both ships abandoned leaving only a repair crew behind. After desperate efforts to save the Bon Homme Richard, it was decided to cut her loose and allow her to sink. Captain Jones took command of what was left of the Serapis and sailed her to neutral Holland for repairs.

In 1780, following the War of Independence, the King of France Louis XVI, honored John Paul Jones with the title “Chevalier” and the decoration of “Institution du Mérite Militaire” as well as presenting him with a sword. The Continental Congress ordered a medal of gold be struck in commemoration of his “valor and brilliant services.” Although he was hailed a hero in America and France, across the channel he was still considered a pirate!

In June 1782, Jones became captain of the new 74-gun USS America, however shortly thereafter the ship was presented to the French as a replacement for the Le Magnifique, which they had lost in battle. Disappointed, he accepted an appointment to the rank of Rear Admiral by Empress Catherine II of Russia. Aboard the 24-gun flagship Vladimir, Jones took part in a Russian naval campaign against the Turks. Forever in trouble, his character was challenged when he was accused of raping a 12 year girl. Although Jones did not deny having sex with the girl, he claimed that he did not take her virginity and had paid, a small ammount, for her services. He defended his position by stating that Prince de Nassau-Siegen, the French-born fortune-seeker, known as Russia’s least successful naval commander had set him up. After ten years, Jones retired from the Russian Navy and moved to Paris where on July 18, 1792 he died in his small apartment. Friends and family accompanied his body to the Saint Louis Cemetery for burial where it remained until 1905 when it was exhumed and ceremonially returned to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD by President Theodore Roosevelt. . He now lies in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus at the Academy Chapel and is credited as being the “Father of the United States Navy!”

 John Paul Jones

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