Today in Maritime History — 6 July

The birth of John Paul Jones, 6 July 1747, in Arbigland Scotland.

One for Led Zeppelin fans this one, as the Father of the American Navy was the indirect influence for the famous rock ’n’ roll band’s bassist/keyboardist’s stage name.

Also one for the Scots, or anyone who really hates the English.

Our boy John had a knack for advancing his career early and swiftly but, alas, he would be held back by crew dying under his command. The first one was flogged after trying to start a mutiny and died shortly there after (although there seems to be suggestion that this was from yellow fever and not from his injuries).

The second death, which is definitely attributable to John’s actions, as it involves sticking a sword in someone in a dispute over wages, led our hero to flee to Virginia. Having developed a liking for killing, John joined the American Navy (the Continental Navy as it was still known) to fight against the English.

Jones took the honour of hoisting the first US ensign, the Grand Union Flag, over a naval vessel. During his command, Jones captured several vessels and inflicted significant damage to the English in several theatres. Nevertheless, he had an aptitude for pissing his superiors off and was sent to France to assist the American cause however possible.

It cannot have been all bad as John became close friends with Benjamin Franklin while in France. Not always a ringing endorsement but the French also seemed to like him.

He had a successful warring career earning the title of Chevalier by the King of France Louis the 16th, but also a medal of gold presented to him by the Continental Congress in commemoration of his valour and brilliant services.

Not satisfied with annoying the English by fighting for two of their rivals, Jones also, briefly, entered the service of the Empress Catherine the Second of Russia.

His inability to play politics shone through once more, resulting in several of his rival officers accusing him of sexual misconduct with a minor. He left Russia shortly there after with some bitterness. Still, he left the employ of the Empress with the position of Rear Admiral and a pension. Silver linings…

He died at the age of 45 in June 1792. The cause of death was interstitial nephritis. His body was exhumed and reburied in the US in 1913.

Walter Herrick described Jones as “a sailor of indomitable courage, of strong will, and of great ability in his chosen career… … He was also a hypocrite, a brawler, a rake, and a professional and social climber.“

All in all, a lovely lad and a fitting first entry to this column.

Swimmingly yours,


PS. I am not a historian, nor do I play one on the internet. This is meant to be a bit of light relief and an encouragement for you to donate to The Mission to Seafarers. If you find yourself salivating over the prospect of dates, annotations, references, footnotes, and further reading, you may want to run away now.




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Dimitris Seirinakis

Dimitris Seirinakis

Built like a silverback, swims like one.

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