John Paul was born on July 6, 1747, on the estate of Arbigland near Kirkbean in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright located on the southwest coast of Scotland. His father was John Paul (Sr.) who was a gardener at Arbigland, and his mother was named Jean Duff. His parents were married on November 29, 1733.
When John Paul was 12 or 13 years old he sailed out of Whitehaven in the northern English county of Cumberland as an apprentice aboard the Friendship under Captain Benson. He went to visit his older brother William Paul who had married and settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia; William was also the manager of a colonial estate and the adopted son of a rich plantation owner named William Jones. John Paul served on several ships over the next few years. William Jones died in 1760 and left his entire estate to William Paul, John Paul’s older brother. William Paul died in the spring of 1773 and left the 3,000-acre Virginia plantation to John Paul who then adopted the name of Jones.
John Paul Jones preferred the name Paul Jones. He offered his services to the Continental Congress and was commissioned as a Lieutenant on the Alfred, one of the four ships in the American fleet. Jones was promoted to Captain of the Providence. He defeated sixteen British ships, including eight vessels that were captured and brought to American ports as prizes of war. As Captain of the Ranger, he was the first to fly the new American flag while on his way to France. Jones captured the British sloop Drake while sailing the Irish Sea coast of England.
While Jones was having successful voyages, Lord Dunmore and his Tory soldiers destroyed his plantation in Virginia. This tragedy did not stop Jones. He took command of the Bohomme Richard (Poor Richard) in 1779. The ship was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin. On September 23 Jones and his squadron encountered a large convoy of British ships in the North Sea. The Richard engaged in a furious battle with the Serapis. The American ship sailed alongside the British ship and tied the ships together. The Richard had great holes in its side and began to sink. Captain Pearson of the Serapis demanded the surrender of the Richard.
Jones defiantly answered with his famous words: “No, I have just begun to fight!” The British surrendered after fighting hand to hand for three hours. Jones had won the battle and was on the deck of the captured Serapis when the Bohomme Richard sank.
Jones was the first well-known naval fighter in the American Revolution. Even though he “made among America’s political elites, his actions in British waters during the Revolution earned him an international reputation which persists to this day. As such he is sometimes referred to as the `Father of the United States Navy’.”
America abolished its Navy after winning the war, and Jones studied naval tactics on board French ships. Empress Catherine of Russia persuaded Jones to serve as rear admiral in the Black Sea Fleet in 1787, but Jones’ new position was made extra difficult by jealous Russian officers.
Jones retired to Paris in May 1790. He was appointed in June 1792 as the U.S. Consul to treat with the Dey of Algiers for the release of American captives. He was unable to fulfill his appointment because of his death from interstitial nephritis. He “was found lying face-down on his bed in his third-floor Paris apartment, No. 19 Rue de Tournon, on July 18, 1792. A small procession of servants, friends and loyal soldiers walked his body the four miles (6 km) for burial. He was buried in Paris at the Saint Louis Cemetery, which belonged to the French royal family. Four years later, France’s revolutionary government sold the property and the cemetery was forgotten. The area was later used as a garden, a place to dispose of dead animals and where gamblers bet on animal fights.”
The United States did not allow the body of Jones to remain in such a place. U.S. Ambassador to France General Horace Porter searched for six years trying to locate Jones’ body. He identified the remains in 1905. “Thanks to the kind donation of a French admirer, Pierrot Francois Simmoneau, who had donated over 460 francs, Jones’ 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.’ Porter knew what to look for in his search….”
Using an old map of Paris, Porter was able to identify the site of the cemetery. “Sounding probes were used to search for lead coffins and five coffins were ultimately exhumed. The third, unearthed on April 7, 1905, was later identified by a meticulous port-mortem examination by Doctors Capitan and Georges Papillault as being that of Jones. The autopsy confirmed the original listing of cause of death….
“Jones’ body was ceremonially removed from interment … and brought to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn, escorted by three other cruisers. On approaching the American coastline, seven U.S. Navy battleships joined the procession escorting Jones’ body back to America. On April 24, 1906, Jones’ coffin was installed in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, following a ceremony in Dahlgren Hall, presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt who gave a lengthy tributary speech. On January 26, 1913, the Captain’s remains were finally re-interred in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.”