John Paul was a Scottish member of the British Navy and captain of a British merchant ship. In 1773, John Paul had a mutinous crew on his hands. During the struggle for the regaining of control of his vessel, John Paul shot to death a member of the crew. Landing in Tobago, the British government decided that John Paul would have to stand trial for the ‘murder’ of the mutinous crew member. Knowing that a trial would cost him his life since the mutinous crew would unanimously give testimony against him, John Paul decided to leave the unjust and corrupted British government behind. Picking the lock to his cell, John Paul escaped into the storm-lashed night and into oblivion.
John Paul’s adventurous life would next lead him to the American colonies. The colonies were on the verge of rebellion against the British government for a multitude of reasons. While the political turmoil of the day raged, John Paul took up with a wealthy family in Virginia by the name of Jones. The Jones family, also strongly opposed to British tyranny and corruption, were so fond of John Paul that they let Jones take up their family name. John Paul, from then on, became John Paul Jones, a ‘long, lost cousin’ of the Jones clan. Jones became a patriot and a founder of the United States Navy. He fought and defeated the British Navy with zeal with his tiny, fledgling American fleet, and earned his place in the history of the heroes of the American Revolution.
After the Revolution was won, and the United States was formed, John Paul Jones found himself restless and unsuited for a life of tranquility. He heard about the conflict in the East, and soon joined the Russian Navy of Catherine the Great. The Russian fleet, under the command of John Paul Jones, trounced the highly-regarded Turkish fleet and won one of the few naval victories in the history of Russia. Although Catherine the Great was lavish in her praise for the indomitable Scotsman, John Paul Jones headed for Paris.
Time, however, had finally run out for the seafaring warrior. At the age of forty-five, after his heroic service in preserving the sovereign freedom of two countries, John Paul Jones died quietly and alone. He was interred in the royal family’s St. Louis Cemetery.
It wasn’t until 1905, one hundred and thirteen years later, did the embarrassed United States government decide to go look for one of its heroes. A frantic search disclosed that John Paul Jones had indeed died in Paris. This was just the beginning of the odyssey to locate the remains of the naval hero. The French Revolution had left the cemetery abandoned for many years. The land was eventually covered by shops, factories, and a hospital. How was the United States government ever to find the remains under such conditions?
It took six years. Thanks to an admirer of Jones, a Monsieur Perrot Francois Simmoneau had the wisdom and foresight to inter Jones’ remains in alcohol inside his lead coffin “in the event that should the United States decide to claim his remains, they might more easily be identified.” The embalmers had done a magnificent job. The body was so well-preserved that an autopsy proved that Jones had died of Bright’s disease, as the certificate of death also listed as the cause of Jones’ demise.
John Paul Jones’ remains are now resting among other heroes at Annapolis. Let us never forget the man, or the courageous, freedom-loving spirit that uttered the famous phrase, “I have not yet begun to fight!”