John Paul Jones

Portrait John Paul Jones

Naval commander
Born: Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland - 6 July 1747
Died: Paris - 18 July 1792

A hero of the American Revolution, Jean-Paul Jones was a Scottish-born naval commander who led the infant American fleet to a series of famous victories against the Royal Navy, and later served as an Admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy, while retaining his American citizenship.

The son of a gardener, John Paul (he added the "Jones" later in life) went to sea at the age of 13, working on various British merchant ship and slave ships, and rising to the rank of First Mate by 1766, although he reportedly abandoned the position after becoming disgusted with the cruelty of the slave trade. He first took command of a ship when his senior officers on the brig John died of yellow fever in 1768 and he successfully navigated the ship and its cargo back to port. He worked as a merchant captain for several years, but became involved in scandals over his violent treatment of insubordinates, and left Britain for Fredericksburg, Virginia, where his elder brother had recently died, leaving a small estate.

Once on American soil, he became involved in revolutionary politics, and in 1775 volunteered his services to the newly founded Continental Navy, the forerunner of the US fleet. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant and soon given command of a ship, capturing sixteen enemy vessels along the Nova Scotia coastline in the course of 1776. A year later, he was sent with his new command, the sloop-of-war Ranger , to Europe, where he spent the next three years terrorising British shipping and coastal towns, for which he ensured a reputation in British history books as a pirate rather than a hero.

Jones gained the US its first significant naval victory with the capture of HMS Drake in April 1789, and cemented his reputation at the Battle of Flamborough Head in September 1779, when in a messy engagement his squadron of American and French ships managed to defeat the Royal Naval escort of a British convoy, mostly carrying timber for the Moscow Company.

Jones took his prizes to Holland, and then made his way to Paris, where he was awarded with the title of "chevalier" by Louis XVI the following year. He spent nearly a decade in France, awaiting the command of a new American ship and performing certain diplomatic duties. Eventually, frustrated by delays, he accepted an offer from the court of Catherine the Great to join the Imperial Russian Navy campaigning in the Black Sea during the Russo-Turkish War of 1787 to 1792. As Rear-Admiral with command of the flagship Vladimir, he was successful in repelling the Turkish fleet from the Liman, fighting alongside the Black Sea Cossack flotilla. He was awarded the Order of St. Anne for his services, and declared an honorary Cossack by his new comrades. However, he was not popular with his fellow commanders, among them Prince Grigory Potemkin, commander-in-chief of the Russian forces.

He returned to St. Petersburg, where he was considered for the position of Commander of the Baltic Fleet and wrote his account of the Livan campaign, but became further embroiled in scandal, framed by his rivals for the rape of a 12-year-old girl. Although his name was cleared, he soon left Russia and returned to Paris in 1790. He died there in 1792, and it was not until 1905 that his remains were shipped to the United States and given full state honors. His coffin is stored at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.