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John Paul Jones was the first naval hero of the American Revolution.

His success against a superior British Fleet helped build him a international reputation as a great naval tactician.

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United States First Naval Hero

John Paul Jones was the first hero of the United States Navy. His life was one of mystery and intrigue. There are many serious gaps in the history of his life that can be attributed to his being a world traveler and military innovator. We do know that he was the leader of our naval fight against England in the Revolutionary War. Also, we know that his rise through the levels of seamanship was meteoric.

In this lesson we will examine the life and famous quotes of John Paul Jones.

John Paul Jones

Destined For the Sea

Coming from common heritage, John Paul was born in Scotland, within the parish of Kirkbean, on July 6, 1747. He was named after his father, who was a gardener.

His mother Jean was the daughter of a small farmer. John was the fourth of seven children. When he was twelve he finished school and decided to pursue his lifelong dream, taking to the sea.With the assistance of his relatives he found an apprenticeship with a local ship owner. At the age of thirteen John Paul made his first overseas trip to Fredericksburg, Virginia, aboard the Friendship.

He made several trips to Virginia which allowed him to visit his brother who had moved there years earlier. In his spare time he read naval books and studied navigation. At the completion of his apprenticeship he served as a midshipman for the British Navy.John Paul then served as a third mate and then chief mate on a ship called Two Friends. That ship was a slaver. He did not care for the conditions on the ship or the treatment of the slaves so he left. On his way home, the captain and chief mate on the ship died of fever.

He took over and brought the ship back safely. The owners were so appreciative that they gave John Paul command of a cargo ship at the age of twenty-one.

Great Rewards Lead to Greatness

When those owners went out of business, John Paul took command of a ship named the Betsy in Tobago, which was a part of the British West Indies.

In 1773 he experienced a mutiny, and in self-defense John Paul killed a rebellious sailor. He reported this to the officials on shore. He was to face a military tribunal, but he fled.Historians do not know how he left, who he sailed with, or why he added Jones to his name at this time. We do know, however, that he went to Philadelphia and offered his services to the navy for the conflict that was brewing in the colonies. They accepted.

Grand Union Flag
Bonhomme Richard vs. Serapis

Famed Bonhomme Richard

Off the coast of Scotland his ship the Bonhomme Richard sighted the British frigate Serapis which was leading a fleet of thirty to forty merchant ships. Although the odds against him were great, Jones believed, ”It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.

‘ The rewards to him would well outweigh the risks. As was the style in these days, the two ships ended up tied together and a land battle on sea took place. The Bonhomme had taken on four to five feet of water in its hold and the pumps were failing. Most of its cannons were out of order, and Captain Pearson of the Serapis yelled to Jones, ‘Do you surrender?’ John Paul Jones may have replied, ‘Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight.’ Many historians believe he said it earlier in the battle, we are just not sure.

Short Career After War

Whether he said it or not, those words stick with most of us today. The war ended shortly afterwards and Jones was honorably discharged from the Navy.

He then became an Agent for the United States overseas. Being an Agent gave him power to represent the United States government, very much like an ambassador today. While in France he was approached to help Catherine II of Russia in her war with the Turks. He was given permission by the United States, and he went to Russia. After a short stay, he return to France and died at the age of 45.

In Memory of a Hero

A French investor paid for the funeral of John Paul Jones. He was confident that the United States would want his body, so he had Jones buried in a lead casket, covered in alcohol. He was buried in Paris when the United States made little effort to retrieve the body. It would not be until 1905 that President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the returning of Jones’s remains to the United States. John Paul Jones was moved to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. On his shrine it reads; ‘JOHN PAUL JONES, 1747-1792; U.S.


Lesson Summary

‘I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.

‘No quote better sums up the attitude of John Paul Jones. He was ‘full speed ahead.’ That was the key to his success. The first hero of the Navy, Jones’s ability to take risks and see them through to success was unparalleled for this period. A true measure of his importance is that without him and his victories in the Revolutionary War, history might have turned out differently.

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