Naval hero or pirate? You decide

By Bill Federer

Naval hero John Paul Jones

“I have not yet begun to fight!” shouted John Paul Jones when the captain of the 50-gun British frigate HMS Serapis taunted him to surrender.

Their ships were so close their cannons scraped and masts entangled, yet his American ship Bonhomme Richard, named for Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, refused to give up. When two cannons exploded and his ship began sinking, John Paul Jones lashed his ship to the enemy’s to keep it afloat. After three more hours of fighting, the British surrendered. This battle took place Sept. 23, 1779.

John Paul Jones is called the “Father of the American Navy,” a title shared with Commodore John Barry. John Paul Jones had commanded the Continental Navy’s first ship, Providence, in 1775. With 12 guns, it was the most victorious American vessel in the Revolution, capturing or sinking 40 British ships.

In 1778, sailing the Ranger, Jones raided the coasts of Scotland and England, striking terror and panic into the British Isles. Just after midnight, April 23, 1778, Jones raided the British town of Whitehaven, and spiked the town’s big defensive cannons to prevent them being fired. Jones sailed to Scotland, and seized silver plating adorned with the family emblem, from the estate of the Earl of Selkirk, who lived on St. Mary’s Isle near Kirkcudbright. For decades, British children would be scared hearing tales of the “pirate” John Paul Jones.

In “A Brief Account of Religion and the Revolutionary War Chaplaincy,” James E. Newell recorded: “John Paul Jones sought a man with a set of qualifications that indicated that the chaplain would also be Jones’ private secretary.”

After the Revolution, Jefferson arranged for John Paul Jones to fight for Russia’s Catherine the Great against the Muslim Ottoman navy in the second Russo-Turkish War.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to General Washington, 1788: “The war between the Russians and the Turks has made an opening for our Commodore Paul Jones. The Empress has invited him into her service. She insures to him the rank of rear admiral. … I think she means to oppose him to the Captain Pacha, on the Black Sea.”

In his “Narrative of the Campaign of the Liman,” John Paul Jones wrote of victoriously sailing his 24-gun flagship Vladimir against the Muslim Turks by the Black Sea’s Dnieper River.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to M. Limozin, 1788: “You have heard of the great victory (in the Black Sea) obtained by the Russians under command of Admiral Paul Jones, over the Turks commanded by the Captain Pacha.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Carmichael, 1788: “I am pleased with the promotion of our countryman, Paul Jones. He commanded … in the first engagement between the Russian and Turkish galleys … prov(ing) his superiority over the Captain Pacha, as he did not choose to bring his ships into the shoals in which the Pacha ventured. … I consider this officer as the principal hope of our future efforts on the ocean.”

When the Empress of Russia wanted to award him the St. Anne Decoration, John Paul Jones asked Jefferson if this was permitted, to which Jefferson replied in 1791: “In answer to your request to obtain and transmit the proper authority of the United States for your retaining the Order of St. Anne, conferred on you by the Empress (of Russia). The Executive are not authorized either to grant or refuse the permission you ask.”

Shortly before he died, Jones was appointed as U.S. Consul in Paris to negotiate the release of captured U.S. Navy officers held in the Muslim dungeons of Algiers.

Jefferson wrote to John Paul Jones, June 1, 1792: “Sir, The President of the United States … thought proper to appoint you commissioner for treating with the Dey (governor) … of Algiers, on the subjects of peace and ransom of our captives. … It will be necessary to give you a history. … On the 25th of July, 1785, the schooner Maria, Captain Stevens, belonging to a Mr. Foster, of Boston, was taken off Cape St. Vincents, by an Algerine cruiser; and 5 days afterwards, the ship Dauphin, Captain O’Bryan, belonging to Messrs. Irwins of Philadelphia, was taken by another, about 50 leagues westward of Lisbon.
These vessels, with their cargoes and crews, 21 persons in number, were carried into Algiers. …”

Jefferson continued his letter to John Paul Jones: “We therefore gave … instruction to Mr. Lambe to ransom our captives, if it could be done for 200 dollars a man, as we know that 300 French captives had been just ransomed by the Mathurins (Catholic Religious Order), at a price very little above this sum. … He proceeded to Algiers; but his mission proved fruitless. He wrote us word from thence, that the Dey asked 59,496 dollars for the 21 captives. … In February, 1787, I wrote to Congress to ask leave to employ the Mathurins (Catholic Religious Order) of France in ransoming our captives; and on the 19th of September, I received their orders to do so, and to call for the money from our bankers at Amsterdam, as soon as it could be furnished. …”

Jefferson ended: “This expedient was rendered abortive by the revolution of France, the derangement of ecclesiastical orders there, and the revocation of church property. … It has been a fixed principle with Congress to establish the rate of ransom of American captives with the Barbary states at as low a point as possible, that it may not be the interest of those states to go in quest of our citizens in preference to those of other countries. … We look forward to the necessity of coercion by cruises on their coast.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote in April of 1792: “President Washington wished to redeem our captives at Algiers and to make peace with them on paying an annual tribute. The Senate were willing to approve this. … He agreed he would enter into the provisional treaties with the Algerines, not to be binding on us till ratified here.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote to Colonel David, 1793: “I do not wonder that Captain O’Bryan has lost patience under his long continued captivity, and that he may suppose some of the public servants have neglected him and his brethren. He may possibly have imputed neglect to me, because a forbearance to correspond with him would have that appearance, though it was dictated by the single apprehension, that if he received letters from me as Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at Paris, or as Secretary of State, it would increase the expectations of his captors, and raise the ransom beyond what his countrymen would be disposed to give and so end in their perpetual captivity. But, in truth, I have labored for them constantly and zealously. …”

Jefferson ended: “The unfortunate death of two successive commissioners (John Paul Jones and Mr. Barclay) have still retarded their relief.”

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John Paul Jones died July 18, 1792 and was buried at Paris in St. Louis Cemetery for Alien Protestants. During the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror the cemetery was neglected and sold, resulting in John Paul Jones’ body being lost track of. When his grave was finally identified, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote Feb. 13, 1905: “The remains of Admiral John Paul Jones were interred in a certain piece of ground in the city of Paris … used … as a burial place for foreign Protestants. … The great service done by him toward the achievement of independence … lead me to … do proper honor to the memory of John Paul Jones.”

The remains of John Paul Jones were transported to the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland, where they are guarded 24 hours a day.

On May 8, 1783, Yale President Ezra Stiles gave an election address to the General Assembly of Connecticut: “While we render our supreme honors to the Most High, the God of Armies; Let us recollect … the bold and brave sons of freedom, who willingly offered themselves, and bled in the defense of their country … the (John) Manly’s, the (John Paul) Jones’s and other gallant commanders and brave seamen of the American navy. … Never was the profession of arms used with more glory, in a better cause, since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun.”

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