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Continental Congress - Papers: John Paul Jones

America's first well-known naval hero

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"I have not yet begun to fight!"

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John Paul was born in the border country of southern Scotland in 1747. He began his maritime career at the age of 13, several times visiting his brother who had settled in Virginia. Over the next decade, his career rose dramatically (by saving a ship and crew whose captain and first mate had both died) and fell just as suddenly (when he was accused of flogging a man to death ). As a result of his troubled past, John Paul appended the surname Jones, perhaps to throw the authorities off his trail.

In 1773, Jones settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to take charge of his now-deceased brother's estate. Shortly thereafter he volunteered his services to assist the newly-founded Continental Navy. He became the first man to be assigned to the rank of 1st Lieutenant in the Continental Navy, in 1775. Early in 1776, Jones raised the first American ensign over a naval vessel. His successes, however, were marred by disagreements with authorities, and he never attained a rank higher than captain. In late 1777, he sailed for France with orders to assist the American commissioners there (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Arthur Lee). You can see a letter from Benjamin Franklin to John Paul Jones by clicking on the attached image (pages 60-62).

Jones' greatest victory was, perhaps, that over the British Drake in 1778. The following year he took charge of the Bonhomme Richard and it was during the battle with the Serapis that he is credited with exclaiming, in response to the query whether he was surrendering, "I have not yet begun to fight!" In 1788, he entered the service of Empress Catherine II of Russia and took the name "Pavel Dzhones". In May 1790 he arrived in Paris and it was there, in July 1792, that he was found dead in his bed.

Originally buried in Paris, his body was exhumed and reburied in the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, MD, in 1913.

The Papers of the Continental Congress, on Footnote, contain voluminous Transcripts of the Letters from John Paul Jones, and the Correspondence of Captain John Paul Jones. These papers include topics such as prisoners of war, places, people, wine, trials, the Bonhomme Richard, and other ships and events, and much more.

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