Jones, John Paul (1747–1792), a Scottish-American naval officer who has been called the Father of the United States Navy. Against overwhelming odds, he boldly engaged the superior British fleet during the Revolutionary War and often won by audacity, courage, and tactical skill.

His original name was John Paul. Born in Scotland, he left home at 12 to become a shipowner's apprentice in Whitehaven, England. His first voyage was to Virginia on the Friendship. Paul then sailed as third mate on the slaver King George, and when only 19 he became first mate on the slaver Two Friends. As captain of the merchantman John, he made two voyages to the West Indies in 1769–70. On Tobago Island he had Mungo Maxwell, a carpenter, flogged for neglect of duty. Maxwell died a few weeks later, and the carpenter's father had Paul jailed on a charge of murder. He was freed on bail and never stood trial. He later obtained affidavits from witnesses attesting to his innocence.

Back in Tobago as captain of the Betsy, Paul killed a mutineer, apparently in self-defense. Fearing that the hostile crew might testify against him, he went to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and added Jones to his name.

Naval Hero

As commander of the sloop Ranger, Jones sailed to Brest, France. From this port, he thrust boldly into the Irish Sea. He raided Whitehaven, spiked the guns of its fort, and burned several ships in the harbor. Seizing the naval sloop Drake and other ships, he docked them in France as prizes.

When the Revolution broke out, Jones offered his services to the Continental Congress. He was commissioned a naval lieutenant on December 7, 1775, and was assigned to the Alfred. This was perhaps the first ship to fly the “Don't Tread on Me” flag. In a short time Jones was given command of the Providence. Later he was assigned a small fleet and elevated to the rank of captain.

The sympathetic French government rehabilitated an old East Indiaman of 40 guns and gave it to Jones. He renamed it the Bonhomme Richard (“Poor Richard”) in honor of Benjamin Franklin, author of Poor Richard's Almanack. Soon Jones was commanding a squadron of five naval vessels and two privateers, financed by the French. Off the English coast on September 23, 1779, he encountered 41 merchant ships escorted by the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough. The Countess of Scarborough surrendered to the Pallas of Jones' squadron.

Jones maneuvered the Bonhomme Richard alongside the more heavily armed Serapis and lashed the two ships together. In the three-hour battle that ensued, the Bonhomme Richard was severely damaged. According to tradition, the captain of the Serapis said, “Have you struck [surrendered]?” to which Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.” In the end the Serapis struck her colors, and Jones transferred his crew to the British ship. The Bonhomme Richard sank two days later.

Last Days

On February 18, 1781, Jones returned to the United States. Congress commended him and later gave him a gold medal. During 1782 he superintended the building of the 74-gun frigate America, which he was to command. On its completion, however, it was presented to France. In 1783 Jones went to France to collect the prize money due the United States for captured ships. He met with evasions and delays. Then Catherine the Great of Russia invited him to join her navy as a rear admiral. He accepted, and in 1788 participated in the campaign against the Turks. Soon he resigned because of the enmity of Russian officers.

In 1790 Jones retired to France, where he lived for the rest of his life. A commission naming him United States consul at Algiers arrived after his death. His grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Paris was lost for many years, but was found in 1905 after a long search. A United States squadron escorted the body to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.