JONES, JOHN PAUL - American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

JONES, JOHN PAUL (1747-1792). Born in Scotland, John Paul went to sea as an apprentice at age twelve. After inheriting property in Virginia, he added “Jones” to his name and became a lieutenant in the Continental navy in 1775. His was the first vessel to fly the Continental flag. After reporting to the commissioners at Paris, Jones raided British ports, harried British shipping, and captured ships, including the warship Drake. Given a worn-out merchantman, he renamed it Bonhomme Richard* in honor of Benjamin Franklin and captured seventeen prizes off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland in 1779. His attack on a large British convoy escorted by the frigate Serapis* and a smaller warship began a famous naval battle. He refused to surrender even when his outclassed ship was on fire, uttering a line that became famous: “I have not yet begun to fight.” Finally victorious, he took enough prisoners to exchange for all the Americans then in British prisons.

After the Revolution, Jones worked to get his crew and himself paid for the prizes they had taken. With Thomas Jefferson’s blessing, he briefly commanded the fleet of Catherine the Great in the Russo-Turkish War of 17881789. He had just been appointed to negotiate for the release of Americans captured by Algerian pirates when he died in Paris. Jones appears as a character in James Fenimore Cooper’s* novel The Pilot* (1824) and in Herman Melville’s* novel Israel Potter (1855).

Cooper’s biography of Jones, written with the aid of Jones’ niece, was printed in his Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers (1846). Samuel Eliot Morison’s 1959 biography ignored Cooper’s work and reproduced errors coming from the work of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie* (1841), commander of the Somers.* Other biographical material is found in Anna De Koven, Life and Letters of John Paul Jones (1913), F. A. Golder, John Paul Jones in Russia (1927), Lincoln Lorenz, John Paul Jones (1943), and Gerald W. Johnson, The First Captain (1947). [See also FANNING, NATHANIEL]

Kay Seymour House