John Paul Jones is a historic American figure, the first well-known commander in the American Navy during the Revolutionary War. His fight against the British forces during the American Revolution is what made him famous, so much so that he is often called the “Father of the American Navy” (as well as John Barry and John Adams).
He had an interesting upbringing and life history, so let’s look at 10 interesting facts about John Paul Jones.
John Paul Jones Facts
1. He came from a big family
He was born in Kirkbean in Scotland in 1747 and he was the fifth of seven children, an interesting fact about John Paul Jones. Initially, he was called John Paul, and he subsequently changed his name.
2. John Paul Jones was against slavery
Jones began his career in the navy very early on at the age of 13, as an apprentice on the British ship Friendship.
During his early career, he served on many British ships and had the opportunity to come across the slave trade first hand. He was appalled and mentioned his disagreement with slavery, which also led to him avoiding any more work on slave trading ships.
3. He went to the US because of a crime
Jones’ career was developing well in the British navy, but he had to leave this behind abruptly in 1773. He got into a fight with one of his sailors over a pay dispute, and ended up killing the man. He claimed this was self-defense but he didn’t believe he had a chance at a fair trial, so chose to leave the country and go to Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was here that he changed his name to John Paul Jones.
4. Jones joined the American Navy as he became sympathetic to the desire for independence
Given his Scottish roots, John Paul Jones had sympathy for a colony of the British Empire wanting to be independent. He therefore joined the American Navy and quickly rose through the ranks, especially as the Americans needed naval commanders with experience. He was promoted to the rank of captain and led several successful campaigns against the British Navy, despite the latter being arguably superior.
5. His most famous victory came in 1779
Jones commanded the ship Bonhomme Richard and it became badly damaged. An interesting fact about John Paul Jones is that he famously refused to surrender when asked, saying the phrase: “I have not yet begun to fight.” He rammed the British ship Serapis and tied the two ships together, and then after a brutal fight, won the battle. As his ship was indeed very badly damaged, he took over the Serapis.
6. He served for Russia
After the Revolutionary War, John Paul Jones entered into the fleet of Empress Catherine II of Russia, in 1787. She is quoted as saying “He will get to Constantinople” – which meant she had a lot of confidence in him. He was a rear admiral and fought the Turks, but was recalled because of various intrigues back at the court where several ex-British naval officers influenced a bad reputation for him.
7. John Paul Jones was accused of rape
During his time in Russia, Jones got in trouble because of intrigues against him taking place in St Petersburg, at the Russian court. Rival officers who plotted against him managed to raise accusations of sexual misconduct against Jones. He was arrested in April 1789 under accusations of raping a 12-year old girl.
He was cleared of this thanks to the Count de Segur’s private investigation into the matter, illustrating that the Prince de Nassau-Singen had fabricated the allegations. However, Jones admitted that he “often frolicked” with Katerina Goltzwart for a small cash payment, but denied that he had taken her virginity.
8. His time in the Russian navy earned him a good pension
Jones left the Russian court but retained his position as rear admiral, and this allowed him access to a decent pension which made him self-sufficient financially without needing to work, an interesting fact about John Paul Jones. He was effectively in early retirement. He moved to Paris, but unfortunately died at the young age of 45 from kidney complications.
9. Jones had an extremely short-lived diplomatic appointment
During his time in Paris, Jones was appointed US Consul and asked to negotiate with the Dey of Algiers for the release of some American captives. This appointment lasted so little because he was found dead in his Paris apartment.
10. His body was mummified, exhumed and reburied
After his death, Jones continued to have adventures. Pierrot Francois Simonneau donated over 460 francs to have his body mummified before he was buried in 1792. He asked to preserve it in alcohol and bury it in a lead coffin so that “in the event that the United States decided to claim his remains, they might be more easily identified.”
Indeed, General Horace Porter, Ambassador to France, tracked down Jones’s remains in 1905 knowing he was looking for a lead coffin. The cemetery he had been buried in, Saint Louis, had belonged to the French royal family and been left in disrepair and forgotten after the French Revolution. Porter used sounding probes to search for lead coffins after locating the ancient site of the cemetery, and the third from five coffins proved to contain the remains of John Paul Jones.
An interesting fact about John Paul Jones is that his body was subsequently brought to the US and his coffin was installed at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where a ceremony took place before it was re-buried in a bronze and marble sarcophagus at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.
John Paul Jones lived an adventurous life and only after death, found recognition to the right level from the US leadership. This led to their quest for and re-burial of his body with great honors at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was a leading figure in the navy, the first famous one, and also inspired writers like Alexandre Dumas and James Fenimore Cooper to write adventure novels, drawing on his memoirs.
I hope that this article on John Paul Jones facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!