Famed US naval officer John Paul Jones was born in Scotland in 1742. At age 13 he began his career at sea, as a ship’s boy on the Friendship sailing between Britain and Virginia and the West Indies. By 21 he was the captain of his own ship.
Jones joined the Continental Navy during the American Revolution he was in Philadelphia shortly after the Revolution began. His friend, Joseph Hewes, a delegate to the Continental Congress, commissioned him as first lieutenant on the vessel Alfred. He later commanded the sloop Providence.
Jones proved himself a capable officer and commander. Congress sent him to France as captain of the Ranger with orders to attack enemy commerce in British waters. In 1778 he captured the sloop of war Drake in a fierce struggle, and his capture of prizes and prisoners was creating a furor in the British press.
The French now took note of Jones and sent him off in August 1779 in command of a fleet of five naval vessels and two privateers. Jones’s ship was the Bonhomme Richard, around nine hundred tons and slow, but the most heavily armed vessel he had commanded.
On September 23, Jones fought one of the great battles of the Revolution off the Yorkshire coast. The enemy was the Serapis, one of the British escorts of a large convoy. In the battle, mostly fought in moonlight, the Bonhomme Richard grappled with the Serapis. With the two vessels lashed together, the British captain asked Jones if he wished to surrender. Jones shouted his famous reply, “I have not yet begun to fight.”
Surely Jones had not, and by dawn he had accepted the enemy’s surrender. This victory was the highlight of John Paul Jones’s career and life.
Jones was always a rough and ready type, not willing to give up, and was in his element when the chips were down. When a roaring charge was needed, Jones was the fellow to get. When life is hanging in the balance, fear and indecision are your enemies, and Jones was nothing if not decisive and unafraid. He once wrote these words in a letter:
“I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go into harm’s way.”
After the war, he served in the Russian navy in the Black Sea in a war with the Turks. He died in Paris,in 1792, still an American citizen, and one of the great heroes of the U.S. Navy.
Today we still honor John Paul Jones by flying his unique American flag, called the Serapis after the ship he captured.
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