Builders of our Country Vol. II - G. Southworth

John Paul Jones


Far away from the American colonies, near the western shore of Scotland, lived a gardener, John Paul. His youngest son, John Paul, Jr., left his Scotland home, came to America, and later was the first man to raise an American flag over an American war ship. Let us see how it all came about.

John Paul's eldest son was called William. While William was still a mere boy, a wealthy Virginia planter, named William Jones, had come to Scotland to visit, and had taken a great fancy to young William Paul. Having no chiidren of his own, Mr. Jones offered to adopt this boy and take him to Virginia to live. The offer was accepted; William Paul became William Paul Jones and left Scotland for America.

All this had happened before John Paul, Jr., was born. But though he had never seen this brother, the fact that he dwelt in America set the sturdy lad to dreaming of that distant land.

All his life, John Paul, Jr., had lived by the sea. He was naturally strong, daring, and plucky; and he quickly learned to handle a boat. Often, when the little fellow should have been in school, he was sent to sea in a fishing yawl to do his part toward providing for the family. His great ambition was to gain his father's permission to sail on some vessel bound for America. He was only twelve years old when good fortune and his own scorn of danger won for him his heart's desire.

One summer afternoon, in 1759, an ugly squall made sailing difficult. When the wind was at its worst, a small fishing boat was seen beating its way toward the harbor of John Paul's home village. The villagers watched anxiously. Among those gathered on the shore were the gardener, John Paul, and a merchant named Younger, who had come to the village to look for sailors.

The little boat was having a rough time. Mr. Younger did not think it could reach the harbor. But, bit by bit, it made headway against the squall, until at last the watchers could see those on board. There were only a boy and a man. The boy was steering and handling the sails, while the man was merely trimming the boat according to the boy's directions.

By this time, John Paul had recognized the boat. He no longer seemed alarmed, but turning to Mr. Younger Said, "That is my boy, John. He will fetch her in. This isn't much of a squall for him." And so it proved. The little boat came safely to shore, and her twelve-year-old commander was presented to Mr. Younger. The merchant congratulated the youthful seaman and offered him the position of master's apprentice on a fine new ship about to sail to Virginia and the West Indies.

In the face of such an opportunity the father could hardly refuse his consent. Arrangements were quicky made, and a few days later the young John Paul sailed from Whitehaven on the good brig Friendship.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - II by G. Southworth


It was nearly five weeks later when the Friendship came to anchor in the Rappahannock River, not far from the wharf of William Jones. While the ship lay in the river, John Paul paid his longed-for visit to his brother William and William's adopted father.

John, too, quickly found his way into the heart of William Jones, who wanted to adopt him also. However, the boy's love of the sea kept him from accepting; and when the Friendship headed for the West Indies, he was on board. The next spring the ship returned to Whitehaven, and John Paul's first voyage was at an end.

Other voyages followed. Time and again during the next twelve years he crossed the Atlantic; and gradually he rose from shipmaster's apprentice to captain, with an interest in the profits of the voyage.

In April, 1773, he once more went to see his brother. He found William at the very point of death, and this death made a great difference in Captain Paul's future.

Soon after John Paul's first visit to Virginia, William Jones had died. He had left his estates to his adopted son, William Paul Jones. But he had added that, if William were to die without an heir, the plantation was to go to John Paul on the one condition that he, too, should take the name of Jones.

In obedience to this condition, John Paul became John Paul Jones. As the Virginia plantation was now his own, he sent his ship to England in charge of the first mate and settled down to take his brother's place. And so it was that this Scotch laddie came to be an American citizen, fitted and ready to serve in America's first naval squadron.


During his first two years in Virginia, John Paul Jones led a care-free life, dividing his time between studying and dispensing the open-hearted hospitality of colonial days.

This brought him to the year 1775, and the beginning of the war between England and her American colonies. When fighting began, John Paul Jones offered his services, to Congress, and later in the year he was appointed senior lieutenant on the Alfred. The Alfred was the flagship of the pioneer squadron of our American navy. And a weak little squadron it was, compared with the proud English ships which threatened our coast.

Early in 1776 the American fleet put to sea and headed for the Bahama Islands. After capturing two English vessels on the way, it reached Nassau, took the governor prisoner, and seized nearly a hundred cannon, besides large quantities of military supplies.

Later in this same year, John Paul Jones was appointed to the command of the Providence, with which he captured sixteen English ships, and had many narrow and daring escapes.

In 1777, Captain Jones concluded that America's best course was to send a ship, or a number of ships, to cruise along the British coast. So earnestly and persistently did he urge this plan that he convinced Congress of its wisdom. And as commander of the Ranger, a new sloop which had just been launched, he set out for foreign seas.

His first errand was to deliver to Benjamin Franklin in France certain despatches from Congress, telling the good tidings of Burgoyne's surrender. You remember that Franklin had gone to France to secure her sympathy and aid; and we have seen how these tidings stirred the French and led to the signing of their alliance with the young American nation.

John Paul Jones and Ben Franklin


When the spring of 1778 came, Jones left France and steered the Ranger to prowl about the coast of England. His audacity was past belief. Slipping into the harbor of Whitehaven, he surprised the forts, spiked the guns, and attempted to burn the shipping.

The English were alarmed, and sent out their sloop: of war, the Drake, to capture this intruder. The well armed Drake and the Ranger met in the Irish Sea.

"What ship is that?" queried the Drake.

"The American Continental ship Ranger. Come on, we are waiting for you," answered Jones.

At almost the same instant the two vessels opened fire. For an hour and four minutes broadside followed broadside. Then, the Drake, almost a wreck, struck her colors and followed her victor to France.

From France the Ranger was sent home to America, while Captain Jones remained to command a promised larger ship. For weeks and months he waited before this promise was fulfilled. In fact, it was the summer of 1779, when he at last sailed away from France with a squadron of four vessels besides his flagship, the Bon Homme Richard. This name, the French equivalent for "Poor Richard," John Paul Jones gave his ship in honor of Dr. Franklin.

The squadron spent a month or more capturing vessel after vessel and spreading consternation all along England's coast. By the latter part of September, Jones had sailed around the north of Scotland and was coming down the east of England. On the 23d, he spied a British fleet off Flamborough Head and immediately gave chase. It proved to be merchant vessels under the protection of two war ships, the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough. Seeing that they were pursued, the merchant vessels spread full sail and escaped, leaving the field to the two English men-of-war, the Bon Homme Richard, and three of the American squadron. One of these three was soon busy forcing the Countess of Scarborough to surrender; another was too small to be of much account; while the captain of the third, by disobeying orders, did far more harm than good. Thus the Serapis was left for the Bon Homme Richard.

It was past seven o'clock when the two ships came within hailing distance. Both commanders knew that the encounter meant a battle to the finish. Little time was wasted in useless signals. The roar of cannon from each ship said all that was necessary.

With the first volley, two of the Bon Homme Richard's guns burst, killing several men and damaging the ship. This lessened her power, but did not check the battle.

In the soft light of the rising moon, the two ships drifted nearer and nearer together. And all the while cannon answered cannon, and ball after ball tore through the rigging, or crashed its way through the decks. Once, for a moment, the British commander lost sight of the American flag.

"Have you struck your colors?" he shouted.

"I have not yet begun to fight," doggedly answered Jones.

But the Bon Homme Richard was old, and the battle was telling on her. She could not hold out indefinitely. At last the ships came close. Jones determined to keep them so, and seizing heavy ropes he lashed the two together.

Up into the rigging climbed the best shots in his crew and, firing down on the enemy's deck, quickly picked off every man who showed himself. Hand grenades were thrown into the portholes of the Serapis, and before long one was dropped through the hatchway. In an instant there was a terrific explosion. The hatch was blown open, and flame and smoke poured out. The grenade had struck in the midst of a line of cartridges and had fired them all. This was the beginning of the end. And when John Paul Jones ordered a party of his men to board the Serapis, the English commander, seeing them swarm forward unopposed, lowered his flag with his own hands.

It was now past ten o'clock. After the English commander had surrendered his sword to Jones, the ships were separated, and they drifted apart.

The condition of the Bon Homme Richard can hardly be imagined. Her dead and wounded lay stretched out on her decks. Water was pouring through many shot holes, and flames were threatening to destroy what little the battle had left. The vessel was a complete wreck.

Jones ordered all hands aboard the Serapis and left his ship to her fate. With her torn and tattered flag still flying, she slowly filled and sank from sight, while John Paul Jones sailed away in the conquered Serapis.

Great was the effect of his victory throughout all Europe. The King of France, the King of Denmark and the Empress of Russia each conferred honors upon him. Congress also gave him a vote of thanks, appointed him to the command of a new and splendid ship, and presented him with a gold medal in recognition of his inestimable services to our infant navy.

John Paul Jones Medal


After the American Revolution, John Paul Jones entered the service of Russia with the rank of Rear Admiral.

Later he went to Paris, and there he died in 1792. His body was carefully embalmed and was put into a leaden coffin and quietly buried in a cemetery on the out skirts of the city. As the city grew, the property was sold to a building contractor; the cemetery was effaced; houses were built over it; and the grave of America's first naval hero was lost sight of.

His fame fared better. Although at the time of his death the American people allowed the body of John Paul Jones to be buried without pomp or honor, they have never forgotten the immense debt they owe him. And at last, after more than a hundred years, the nation he so loyally served has paid his memory well-deserved tribute.

In 1899 General Horace Porter, our American Ambassador to France, undertook to find the remains of John Paul Jones. Through old letters and records he succeeded in locating the discarded cemetery, and the city authorities gave him permission to search the ground. This work was begun in 1905; and in a little under two months, the leaden coffin which held the body of Paul Jones was dis covered. So perfectly had the body been preserved that the features of the hero could be unmistakably identified with those of his portrait on the Congressional medal.

Then the United States sent a squadron to France to bring the body to Annapolis, the home of America's Naval Academy. And here the remains of John Paul Jones now lie in the crypt of a new chapel erected in his honor by the land of his adoption.