Revolutionary War Historical Article

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the Winter 2006 Edition of the California Compatriot

Captain John Paul Jones, the Father of the American Navy and naval legend was born in Kirkbean, Scotland on July 6th, 1747, the son of John and Jean (MacDuff) Paul (1). His famous statement: "I have not yet begun to fight" has echoed throughout our history making his name a household word. His exploits during the American Revolution are the material that legends are made of. There is no need to recall this well documented part of his life in this short article.

After the Revolutionary war ended, our newly created government was absolutely penniless. Our national debt was massive and potential income minimal. Congress had no choice but to disband our very small navy. Captain Jones was unemployed. He accepted an Admiral's commission from Catherine the Great of Russia to command her navy in her war with Turkey. It was not surprising that he again excelled and Russia won the war. Although a hero, whose reputation was among the very best, he found himself, again, unemployed.

Jones felt his best chance for another command would be in the west. So he set out for Paris, France. Unfortunately, the severe weather gravely impaired his health on the long coach ride from St. Petersburg. By the time he arrived in Paris in May 1792 he was critically ill.

He took an apartment at 52 Rue de Tournon, nor far from the Palais de Luxenbourg.

During the afternoon of July 18th, 1792, The American Minister (Ambassador) to France, Gouverneur Morris, received a message that his friend Jones was on his death bed.

He immediately left for Jones' apartment, picking up two public notaries along the way. When they arrived, they found Jones "sitting in an easy chair sick of body, but of sound mind, memory, judgement and understanding." At Morris' insistence, the great naval hero dictated his last will and testament. Captain Jones left all his property to his two sisters, Mrs. Jenette Taylor and Mary Ann Lowden. Morris decided that he could keep an important dinner engagement and left after he witnessed the signing and notarization of the will.

Morris was obviously very concerned for the ailing Jones, and excused himself from his dinner meeting, picked up Doctor Vicq d' Azyr of the famed Academie Francaise and returned to his friend's apartment. He was too late, John Paul Jones was already dead. He was only 45 years old.

Colonel Samuel Blackden (2) who, except for a lone servant was the last to see John Paul Jones alive, reported that he had found Jones laying face down on his bed, with his feet still on the floor.

Gouverneur Morris instructed Jones' landlord, a Monsieur D' Arbergue, that Jones was to be buried as inexpensively as possible. Morris feared that the expenses of an elaborate funeral would fall on him. Fortunately, Col. Blacken and District Commissaire Pierre Simonneau were better off financially, and undertook the responsibility of seeing that the naval hero received a funeral befitting his status. It appears that some thought was also given to the possibility of returning Jones' remains to his adopted country sometime in the future, as Simonneau arranged to have the body preserved in alcohol and placed in a lead coffin. He did this at his own expense, spending 462 francs.

Two days later, the funeral was held. It started at Jones apartment, proceeded in solemn fashion across Paris, with a company of French grenadiers serving as an honor guard and their regimental drummers beating the death march cadence. The funeral party ended up in a little cemetery set aside for foreign Protestants. The grave side service was conducted by the Rev. Paul-Henri Marron.

The coffin was lowered in the prepared grave and the French grenadiers fired the traditional volley as a final salute. Thus was paid the final tribute to an American Hero. It was paid for by the French Government and a handful of loyal Americans.

Colonel Blackden wrote to Mrs. Jenette Taylor, of Dumfries, Scotland, the eldest sister of Captain Jones, in response to her letter of August 3rd. She had received a letter from Monsieur Beaupoil advising her of her brother's death, dated July 19th, 1792.

"Great Tichfield Street, London
August 9th, 1792

I had the honor of receiving your letter of the 3rd instance and shall answer you most readily. Your brother, Admiral Jones, was not in good health for about a year, but had not been so unwell as to keep to the house. . . . his disorder had terminated in dropsy of the breast. His body was put into a leaden coffin on the 20, that in case the United States, whom he had so essentially served, and with so much honor to himself, should claim his remains, they might he more easily removed. This is all I can say concerning his illness and death. . . .

I have the honor to be,
Madam, your most obedient
and humble servant.
S. Blackden"

Exactly why the American Government did not make an effort to have the remains of Jones brought back is still a mystery. Perhaps the young country did not realize the importance future generations would place on memorializing our Revolutionary War heroes.

On August 10th, 1792, just three weeks after the death of John Paul Jones, a Paris mob stormed the Royal Palace of the Tuileries and "arrested" King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Many of the famed Swiss Guard died in their attempt to protect the King and Queen. They were unceremoniously buried in a common grave alongside Captain Jones.

Little was done to recover the remains of Jones until John H. Sherburne published the earliest biography (1851) of the naval hero - - "The life and Character of John Paul Jones". He had made a serious effort to locate the final resting place of the Captain, but after a year of searching, he became frustrated and gave up.

Brigadier General Horace Porter, was the third President-General of the Sons of the American Revolution, and was elected for an unprecedented five terms (1892-1896). His keen interest in the heritage of our country led him to establish our Society's stated objectives: Patriotism, Education and Historical. He had served as a Brigadier General in the Civil War and served on the staff of Ulysses S. Grant. In 1897 he was appointed American Ambassador to France by President McKinley (also a member of the SAR). For six years Porter searched for the grave of John Paul Jones. He hired historians, researchers and in some cases charlatans, spending a great deal of his own money on the project.

Finally with the help of those mentioned he was able to identify the long closed, and built over cemetery (3). His first attempt to have the site excavated was met with requests for outlandish sums of money. He waited for the excitement die down, obtained the necessary permits and in April of 1905 started what amounted to an archeological dig. He employed dozens of workmen, who sank shafts and dug trenches. They uncovered the bones of the murdered Swiss Guards and then two leaden coffins. Both were opened on the spot and found to contain two unidentified civilians. On April 7th, a third lead coffin was found and upon opening it discovered the well preserved remains of Jones.

The coffin was immediately rushed to the Paris Ecole de Medicine for closer examination.

In addition to officials of both the United States and France, two noted anthropologists and France's foremost pathologist, all of whom were hired by former President General Porter, made the formal identification.

Their examination revealed that the body had been packed tightly with straw and preserved in alcohol. They also discovered that the body had not been embalmed. The remains had been wrapped in tin foil, then over wrapped with a sheet. The body was unclothed except for a shirt and a linen cap. This confirmed the fact that they expected the body to be transported to the United States.

The specialist conducted meticulous external examinations using every tool then available to them. They found the body to be that of a man approximately 45 years old, 5'7" inches tall. His long hair was brown, with a touch of gray and was covered in a linen cap monogrammed with the letters "P" and "J".

A detailed comparison was made between the body's head and Houdon's bust, known to have been made from life. Houdon had employed calipers and rulers to obtain the exact measurements of Jones's features. The ear lobes were carefully examined against those on the bust and again there was no difference. When they were satisfied that nothing more could be determined by that method, they turned the remains over to the pathologist for the autopsy.

The pathologist's findings were interesting. It was generally believed that Jones had died of a lung ailment, probably tuberculosis, however, the lungs which were remarkably well preserved disclosed that he was suffering from chronic pneumonia. Jones was also described as having been jaundiced before he died. but, his liver showed no such ailment. The pathologist concluded that the cause of death of kidney disease.

John Paul Jones' body was then placed back in the lead coffin, which in turn was put into a beautiful mahogany casket for transporting back to the United States.

On the 158th anniversary of his birth, a proper memorial service was held at the American Church on l' Avenue de l' Alma in Paris. After the service Jones was given a hero's send off. A parade led by 500 American sailors followed by the hearse, American and French officials and units of the French cavalry, infantry and sailors escorted the body to the Paris railway station. The body was then transported to Cherburgh, where with elaborate ceremonies it was placed aboard the U.S.S. Brooklyn. President Theodore Roosevelt, also an SAR, had followed former President General Porter's progress with great interest. When he was notified that Captain Jones' remains had been found, he sent Admiral Charles D. Sigsbee (4) to bring back the great naval hero. Sigsbee commanded a Cruiser squadron consisting of the U.S.S. Brooklyn, his flag ship, the U.S.S. Chattanooga, U.S.S. Galveston and U.S.S. Tacoma.

Thirteen days later, on July 19th, Sigsbee's squadron rendezvoused off Nantucket Shoals with the North Atlantic Fleet. The combined fleet entered Chesapeake Bay with the U.S.S. Maine (5) leading, followed in column by the battleships, U.S.S. Missouri, U.S.S. Kentucky, U.S.S. Kearsarge, U.S.S. Massachusetts and U.S.S. Alabama - - then came Admiral Sigsbee's cruiser squadron.

Arriving at Annapolis, the casket was transferred to the torpedo boat U.S.S. Standish and taken ashore. With great ceremony Captain John Paul Jones' remains were placed in a temporary brick vault to await the building of the permanent crypt under the chapel at the Naval Academy where he now rests.

In 1912 "The Cathedral of the Navy" depicted below, and commonly referred to as the Chapel, designed by Earnest Flagg, was completed. Beneath it is the crypt of John Paul Jones. Its design was obviously influenced by the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, in Paris. The magnificent sarcophagus, supported by dolphins and surrounded by marble columns was carved by Sylvain Salieres. The floor around the sarcophagus is inlaid with the names of the ships Jones commanded during the Revolutionary War as well as his name.

When the commemorative services were held dedicating the tomb, 12,000 people attended including Compatriots Theodore Roosevelt and Horace Porter.

The United States Congress voted its appreciation to President General Porter for his efforts in the recovery of the remains of John Paul Jones. They also awarded him $35,000.00 to reimburse him for the expenses incurred by him in said recovery. Porter declined the money and requested it be applied to the cost of the crypt instead.

It took 113 years, but John Paul Jones finally received the honors due him - thanks to this SAR Compatriot.

The Maryland Society, SAR, placed a plaque honoring Jones in the crypt. For additional information on John Paul Jones, including the return of his remains, we highly recommend the South Coast Chapter, web site:



The emblems at either end of the header of this Web Page are both sides of the gold medal presented by Congress to John Paul Jones for his victory over H.M.S. Serapis of 50-guns, off Flamboroug Head on September 23rd, 1779.

(1) John Paul added the surname "Jones" to his name after legal problems in the West Indies.

(2) Colonel Samuel Blackden, of North Carolina, was a Revolutionary War veteran, having served as an officer in Colonel Elisha Sheldon's 2nd Continental Dragoons. He was in Paris on business and was not affiliated with our government, just an American that befriended Jones.

(3) The exact location was at Rue Grange-aux-Belles, Paris.

(4) Admiral Charles D. Sigsbee was the Captain of the ill-fated Battleship U.S.S. Maine, which was sunk in Havana Harbor, Cuba in 1898.

(5) This Battleship U.S.S. Maine was the second American Battleship to carry this name, and not the ship sunk in 1898. which started the Spanish American War.


On July 6th, 1747, John Paul (Jones) was born near the Scottish village of Kirkbean on the west coast of Scotland. It is a tiny two room cottage and has survived the years.

The reason for its survival is that on July 30th, 1834, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Alexander B. Pickerton purchased, with his own funds, the cottage and small plot of land on which it stands. He paid local landowner William Craik for it, purchased a plaque and set up a trust fund to pay for its maintenance.

Today it has a delightful museum, well worth a visit.

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