John Paul Jones

Posted in Scottish Military Figures

He was either a pirate or a patriot, depending on whether you are British or American! Born as simple John Paul, the son of a gardener at Arbigland, near Kirkbean in Kircudbrightshire SW Scotland, he went to sea aged 12, serving for the next 10 years on slavers. His fiery temper led to a mutiny and two charges of manslaughter, followed quickly by a flight from British justice. He went to Virginia in 1774 and renamed himself John Paul Jones. He also joined the American Revolution against the British. Having visited an older brother often in Virginia made it a natural haven, particularly when he inherited the brother's property in his twenties.

The following year, 1775, Congress procured their first vessel, the Alfred, with Jones hoisting a Continental flag. After some success in the Americas he sailed in the Ranger to the Solway Firth, planning to abduct the Duke of Selkirk (an old enemy). Fortunately for the Duke, he was not at home, so Jones settled for the family silver. (To be fair, he later returned it.)

He recorded the first American naval victory by capturing the sloop of war Drake off Northern Ireland. In 1779, while commanding the Bonhomme Richard, he led a French squadron flying the Stars and Stripes up to Edinburgh's port of Leith, which he threatened to burn. Meeting up with a convoy of 41 ships off Flamborough Head he had a desperate encounter, finally capturing two British men-of-war with a typically outrageous display of daft courage.

He went back to France a hero, was honoured by Congress and ennobled by Louis XVI of France. But his temperament, an advantage in the heat of battle, probably held back his career, and although given command of the America, the largest American ship, he never sailed in her. He had a brief stint in the service of Catherine the Great of Russia, before returning to Paris, where he had greatly enjoyed the company of the ladies. And there he died, another Scot who left his native land to burst into glorious bloom.