John Paul Jones: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Thomas Davis

Thomas has taught high school age students for 34 years, undergraduate 12 years, and graduate courses for the last 8 years. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University in Evanston, Illinois.

John Paul Jones was the first naval hero of the American Revolution. His success against a superior British Fleet helped build him a international reputation as a great naval tactician.

United States First Naval Hero

John Paul Jones was the first hero of the United States Navy. His life was one of mystery and intrigue. There are many serious gaps in the history of his life that can be attributed to his being a world traveler and military innovator. We do know that he was the leader of our naval fight against England in the Revolutionary War. Also, we know that his rise through the levels of seamanship was meteoric. In this lesson we will examine the life and famous quotes of John Paul Jones.

John Paul Jones

Destined For the Sea

Coming from common heritage, John Paul was born in Scotland, within the parish of Kirkbean, on July 6, 1747. He was named after his father, who was a gardener. His mother Jean was the daughter of a small farmer. John was the fourth of seven children. When he was twelve he finished school and decided to pursue his lifelong dream, taking to the sea.

With the assistance of his relatives he found an apprenticeship with a local ship owner. At the age of thirteen John Paul made his first overseas trip to Fredericksburg, Virginia, aboard the Friendship. He made several trips to Virginia which allowed him to visit his brother who had moved there years earlier. In his spare time he read naval books and studied navigation. At the completion of his apprenticeship he served as a midshipman for the British Navy.

John Paul then served as a third mate and then chief mate on a ship called Two Friends. That ship was a slaver. He did not care for the conditions on the ship or the treatment of the slaves so he left. On his way home, the captain and chief mate on the ship died of fever. He took over and brought the ship back safely. The owners were so appreciative that they gave John Paul command of a cargo ship at the age of twenty-one.

Great Rewards Lead to Greatness

When those owners went out of business, John Paul took command of a ship named the Betsy in Tobago, which was a part of the British West Indies. In 1773 he experienced a mutiny, and in self-defense John Paul killed a rebellious sailor. He reported this to the officials on shore. He was to face a military tribunal, but he fled.

Historians do not know how he left, who he sailed with, or why he added Jones to his name at this time. We do know, however, that he went to Philadelphia and offered his services to the navy for the conflict that was brewing in the colonies. They accepted.

Grand Union Flag

Naval Leader for Revolutionaries

On board the Continental Navy's first ship, the Alfred, John Paul Jones hoisted the Grand Union Flag (the first national flag) with his own hands. He officially held the rank of first lieutenant. It was actually the first time the flag was hoisted anywhere, as Washington did it about a month later at his headquarters, before the attack at Boston. People were initially impressed with the philosophy of Jones. It can be summed up in his own words, 'If fear is cultivated it will become stronger, if faith is cultivated it will achieve mastery.' He achieved mastery with faith in his own actions.

Bringing the War to Britain

In May 1777, the Providence became Jones's first command. Not long after that, he returned to the Alfred as a commander, with a squadron to lead. In November 1777, while in command of the Ranger, Jones sailed to Nantes, France. On his way he captured two British ships. While in European waters, Jones got the idea of attacking along the English coast. He wanted to force the British Navy away from the coast of America with the idea they would have to defend Britain. This move would open up the supply lines needed by General Washington. On patrol around the British Isles he engaged a British warship called the Drake. Following an hour long battle, the Drake surrendered and Jones was now considered a hero when he returned to France.


Paper work and requisitions tied his hands for the period of time that followed this victory. He could not get his prize money and his requisition for food and clothes for his crew was denied. The Ranger was ordered to return to the states where Jones was promised a new, larger ship and a squadron to return to Britain. The promises fell through and Jones frantically searched for a ship to go to battle. Jones was so desperate that he planned to write a letter to the French King Louis XVI and inform him of his troubles.

Attitude... Go in Harms Way

Jones was finally allowed to select a ship, the Indianman. It was in poor shape, but it was the best he could get. Jones searched all over France for guns, cannons, rigging, a crew, additional ships, and more. His effort was heroic. By August of 1779 his squadron of seven ships was ready to take sail. He cared very much about the shape of fleet; concerning this, he said, 'I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way'

Bonhomme Richard vs. Serapis

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