John Paul Jones (naval officer), original name John Paul (1747-1792), American naval officer, born on July 6, 1747, in Kirkcudbright, Scotland. At the age of 12 he went to sea for the first time, as a cabin boy, sailing to Fredericksburg, Virginia. By 1766 he was first mate of a slaver brigantine. While sailing (1769-1770) in the West Indies, he flogged a crewman who later died. John Paul was subsequently arrested but proved his innocence. In 1773, as commander of a merchant vessel in Tobago in the West Indies, he killed the leader of a mutinous crew. Rather than wait in prison for trial, he escaped from the island and later returned to Fredericksburg. The British thereafter considered him a pirate and a fugitive from justice. To hide his identity he added the surname Jones.
In 1775, on the outbreak of the American Revolution, Jones went to Philadelphia and entered the newly established Continental navy. He was commissioned a lieutenant and attached to the first American flagship, Alfred. In 1776 he was promoted to captain and given command of the sloop Providence. During his first cruise on the Providence he destroyed the British fisheries in Nova Scotia and captured 16 British prize ships. In 1777 he commanded the sloop Ranger, and after sailing to France, he cruised along the coast of Britain, destroying many British vessels.
Jones was next promoted to commodore and placed in command of a mixed fleet of five French and American vessels. His flagship was the Duras, the name of which he changed to Bonhomme Richard. On this ship, on September 23, 1779, off the British coast, Jones defeated the British man-of-war Serapis in one of the outstanding engagements of naval history. He returned to the U.S. in 1781 and supervised the building of the America, the largest vessel in the U.S. Navy; he was scheduled to command the America, but it was presented to France. He last visited the U.S. in 1787 and was given a gold medal by Congress. He was the only naval officer so honored.
In 1788 Jones accepted an offer by Catherine the Great of Russia to enter her navy. He took a leading part in several engagements against the Ottoman navy, but intrigues on the part of Russian rivals prevented him from receiving proper credit for his successes. He retired and went (1790) to Paris. In 1792 he was appointed U.S. consul to Algiers, but he died on July 18 of that year, before the commission arrived. In 1905 his remains were brought to the U.S. from their long-forgotten grave in Paris and in 1913 were buried in the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.