Tuesday, August 25, 2009

John Paul Jones and His Role in Our American Revolution

Our Founding Fathers excelled in their accomplishments and importance.

Others also contributed a great deal to the outcome of our revolution – men such as Sam Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry.

Also among them is John Paul Jones, dubbed “the Father of the American Navy”.

He was born John Paul in Scotland in very modest circumstances. At 13, he was already apprenticed in the British navy. He showed very quickly that he was a brilliant sailor, full of daring and cunning.

John Paul Jones wreaked havoc on British shipping during the Revolutionary War. He didn’t wait for enemy shipping to come to him – he went where it was located in Great Britain and inflicted his damage there. Astute superiors saw his skills and advanced him to larger and larger vessels.

John Paul’s life was often a contradiction. He had intense ambition, craving to impress those with higher rank and above all, background. Benjamin Franklin was his long-time friend. There were times when John Paul Jones was a celebrity with honors from foreign countries, the toast of many in Europe.

Two incidents determined why he came to the colonies in the first place. They occurred in Tobago in the West Indies. An unfortunate murder charge for the death of someone under his command put a price on his head. Jones always claimed it was self-defense. One of his crews threatened mutiny.

John Paul literally fled, leaving everything. Jones was added to his name when he arrived in the colonies, to give him a better chance of escaping the law in Tobago.

Once here, he began to make the rounds of the shipping business. He disclaimed any allegiance to Great Britain and became an ardent patriot. Not too many questions were asked of those who pledged all their effort to our Revolutionary War.

Any of you that have knowledge of ship structure and capability at the end of the 18th century have a real advantage understanding John’s victories, many against much more powerful ships. Vessels were very complicated, requiring detailed knowledge to keep them running in top shape. Jones had all that. Often he would perform needed repairs himself when necessary. On the ships under his command, he was everywhere, always came up with a plan, got top performance from his crews, and never just barked orders from a cabin.

He wanted to make admiral. The greater his success, the more jealousy he created. Some superiors were his dangerous rivals.

Jones’ most celebrated naval battle was with the powerful British HMS Serapis, when his own Bon Homme Richard (named for Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac) sank. It was at this engagement when Jones is reputed to have exclaimed his most famous quote, “I have just begun to fight”. Those words probably explain his naval philosophy and style better than any other.

He wanted fame, and got it. But it didn’t last.

Foreign engagements, such as for Catherine of Russia, were not successful. Other American sailors got the plush assignments. Jones faded from view and seemed forgotten.

We know he was very ambitious. Well, so was George Washington.

I think ambition is probably an intrinsic requisite for anyone striving to attain the top. But Jones and Washington used ambition very differently. Washington was intent on always being where the power brokers were, the social giants, the political leaders. His conduct was a success. He was sought after, admired, made President. Jones’ life took a very different direction. He was most of the time on the high seas, away from the influential people who could advance him. Later in his life, it made him bitter that he was not appreciated as he felt he deserved.

He died at 45 in France, and buried there without any real recognition and fanfare.

It took until the beginning of the 20th century for us to give him the honors he so justly deserved. The Naval Academy at Annapolis established a grave site for him, appropriate for a hero of his magnitude.

Even my minimal knowledge of 18th century shipping does not detract from my interest in Jones’ biography. It would certainly make a splendid movie. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

John Paul Jones from A&E Biography

More personalities from Friendsof1776.com: Thomas Paine | Daniel Boone

John Paul Jones on Amazon.com

No comments: