John Panl Jones, an American naval officer, born at Arbigland, on Solway firth, Scotland, July 6, 1747, died in Paris, July 18, 1792. His name was John Paul, that of Jones having been assumed in after life. At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a merchant of Whitehaven, who was engaged in American trade.
His first voyage was to Virginia, where his elder brother was established as a planter. He was afterward engaged for a short time in the slave trade, which he left in disgust, and made a number of voyages to the West Indies, realizing, it was said, a fortune by commercial speculations. At the commencement of the American revolutionary struggle he was in Virginia, and entered the colonial service as a lieutenant in the navy, Dec. 22, 1775. It is said that Jones hoisted on the Alfred (of which he was first lieutenant), the flag ship of a squadron of eight vessels, the first American flag ever displayed. The device it bore is believed to have been a pine tree with a rattlesnake coiled at its root. From the Alfred he was soon transferred to the command of the sloop Providence, of 12 guns and 70 men, in which vessel he made 16 prizes during a cruise of six weeks between the Bermudas and the gut of Canso. He was appointed a captain in 1776, receiving command of the Alfred, and in 1777 of the Ranger. He made many prizes on his cruisers and broke up the fishery at Cape Breton. In November, 1777, he sailed to Europe, harassed the coasting trade of Scotland, and made a bold attack on Whitehaven. He also attempted to capture the earl of Selkirk, who resided upon his estate near Kirkcudbright, on the river Dee, in order to bring about a system of exchanges of prisoners, to which England had hitherto showed a reluctance.
This design failed, owing to the absence of the earl from home. The crew plundered the house of the silver plate; but Jones bought it of them and restored it to Lady Selkirk. During this cruise the Ranger captured the Drake, a sloop of war superior to her in force. On May 8, 1778, the Ranger arrived at Brest, with her prize and 200 prisoners, being nearly double the number of her own crew. From this time until February, 1779, he used every effort to obtain another and better command. The Ranger was despatched by the commissioners to America, Jones being retained by them in France. After many months of disappointment, he set out for Paris, and made such strong personal appeals to the minister, M. de Sartine, that on Feb. 4 he was appointed to the command of the ship Duras, an old In-diaman converted into a ship of war, and then lying at Lorient. In compliment to Dr. Franklin, Jones changed the name of this ship to "Bon Homme Richard." After many delays she was equipped for service, though in a very inefficient manner. On her main or gun deck she mounted 28 12-pounders, and on her quarter deck and forecastle 14 9-pounders, making an armament of 42 guns in all. But Jones, determined to make the most of her, caused 12 ports to be cut in her gun room below, where 6 old 18-pounders were mounted.
This expedient did not add to the efficiency of the ship, but, on the contrary, as will be seen, produced disastrous consequences. On Aug. 14, 1779, Jones sailed from Lorient, having under his command a squadron of five vessels. By the middle of September 26 vessels had been captured or destroyed by them, which created great alarm upon the E. coast of England. On Sept. 23 the Bon Homme Richard was off Flamborough Head, having in company the Alliance, Capt. Landais, and the Pallas, a ship mounting 32 light guns, commanded by Capt. Cottineau. Soon after noon the headmost ships of a fleet, known to be from the Baltic, were seen standing out from under Flam-borough Head, and beating down toward the straits of Dover. This fleet was under convoy of the Serapis, 44, and Countess of Scarborough, 22. Signal for general chase was made by Jones, and the Alliance, being the fastest of the squadron, took the lead; but no sooner had she discovered the force of the English vessels of war than she stood off from them. About 7 1/2 o'clock the Richard came up with the Serapis, commanded by Capt. Pearson, and closed with her, upon her weather quarter, to about half pistol shot.
At the commencement of the action two of the old 18-pounders mounted in the Richard's gun room burst, blowing up the deck above and killing or wounding a large portion of the men stationed at them. This part of the battery was then abandoned, and the ports were closed. A close and heavy cannonade was now maintained by both ships for about an hour, when they fouled each other, and Jones with his own hands assisted in lashing the jib stay of the Serapis to the mizzen mast of the Richard. The ships being in actual contact, fore and aft, each discharged her guns into the side or through the ports of her antagonist. The effect of such a fire was terrible to both. Soon after 10 o'clock the Serapis struck, and Dale, the first lieutenant of the Richard (afterward Commodore Dale), was ordered on board to take possession of her. In the morning the spectacle presented by the Richard was singular and dreadful. She was on fire in two places, and had 7 ft. of water in her hold. Her counters and quarters on the lower deck were driven in, the whole of her main battery was dismounted, and she was cut to pieces in a most extraordinary manner.
The after part of the ship, in line with the guns of the Serapis, was so completely beaten in that the upper deck was only sustained by a few frames, which had been missed by shot. It being deemed impossible to carry her into port, the wounded were removed, and she soon after sank. The Serapis suffered much less. She was a new ship, in excellent condition, and much superior in force to the Richard, mounting 50 guns, though rated at 44. Her crew numbered 320, while those engaged upon the Richard were only 227, Irish, Scotch, Portuguese, Norwegians, etc, with but very few Americans. During the action the Countess of Scarborough surrendered to the Pallas, the captain of which requested Capt. Landais of the Alliance to take charge of the prize, to enable him to go to the assistance of the Richard; but Landais, instead of complying, actually opened fire upon Jones's ship. Jones carried his prize into the Texel. On his arrival in France he was received with the most distinguished honors. A sword was presented to him by Louis XVI., who also requested permission of congress to decorate him with the military order of merit.
In 1781 he sailed for the United States, arriving in Philadelphia in February, where congress voted him a gold medal, and Washington addressed him a highly complimentary letter. He was afterward employed to superintend the construction of a line-of-battle ship, the America, at Portsmouth, N. H., which he was to have commanded; but the ship was presented by congress to France. He then went to Paris as an agent for prize money, and while there was invited into the Russian service with the rank of rear admiral, but was disappointed at not receiving command of the fleet in the Black sea. He quarrelled with the admiral, the prince of Nassau, and owing to the intrigues of enemies fell into disfavor at court, and was finally permitted by the empress Catharine to retire from the service, with a pension which was never paid. He took up his residence in Paris, where he died in poverty and neglect.