John Paul Jones

One of the most famous characters associated with Whitehaven is John Paul Jones. John Paul Jones was born at Kirkbean in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, in 1747. He was the ninth child of a gardener for the Earl of Selkirk. At age 12, he was sent across the Solway to Whitehaven where he became an apprentice to Mr Younger of Whitehaven, a respective merchant.

His first voyage was made to America, the country of his after adoption. He sailed in the 'Friendship of Whitehaven.' Later he obtained command of the 'Betsy of London' in which he traded to the West Indies. During one of the expeditions to India the crew mutinied due to arrears of pay. This mutiny led to the death of the ringleader of the mutineers. John Paul's friends persuaded him to flee from Tobago to the mainland. Here he assumed the name of Jones.

In the meantime relations between Britain and the Colonies was approaching a state of high tension. Due to the ineptitude and tactlessness of the British Government war broke out. Jones applied for and received a commission in the Infant Congressional Navy. He was appointed first lieutenant of the 'Alfred' and so distinguished himself in his duties that he was put in command of the ship USS Ranger' on 1st November 1777.

In December of 1777 Jones set sail on a voyage around the British coast with a view to inflicting as much damage as possible on the enemy. Embittered by the events that had clouded his career as a merchant seaman he prepared to wreck the entire merchant fleet at Whitehaven. Prior to John Paul's raid on Whitehaven his ship, the USS Ranger, was challenged off the coast of the Isle of Man by HMS Revenue Cutter 'Hussar' from Whitehaven. Following a brief engagement, the 'Hussar' received a hit on the stern and holes in her mainsail, the cutter escaped and returned to Whitehaven where the ship USS Ranger was reported as a vessel with hostile intentions.

On 18th April 1778 he attempted a descent on the town, but was foiled by contrary winds. On the evening of the 22nd he was lying in wait off Whitehaven. His call for volunteers met with poor response, but eventually Jones set out to attack the fleet of 200 collier vessels docked at Whitehaven, but due to the defection of one of his crew, who alerted the town, he was forced to retreat having created very little damage.

Following Jones' attack on Whitehaven, the effect on the town was great, it spurred Whitehaven into considerable activity in improving its fortifications. The attack also embarrassed the British government immensely, they immediately ordered the Royal Navy to hunt him down. The Navy sent 12 ships to search the Irish Sea for Jones, but success was not forthcoming. Jones eventually accepted service as a Rear Admiral in the Russian Navy, but his career was wrecked by an accusation of rape, which was never proved or disproved. He returned to France, and there he died at the age of 45.

In 1913 his remains were removed to the crypt in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. In 1999, during Whitehaven's inaugural Maritime Festival, John Paul Jones and the United States of America were granted an official pardon by the people of Whitehaven following events during the war of independence.

John Paul, the American naval hero of the Revolution was the son of John Paul, a gardener in Scotland. He was born July 6, 1747, at a cottage on the estate of his father's employer, William Craik, at Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean. He was the fourth child of John Paul and Jean MacDuff. They had seven children in all, but two died in infancy.

John Paul went to Kirkbean school but spent much time at the small port of Carsethorn on the Solway Firth. In later life William Craik's son recalled that he would run to Carsethorn whenever his father would let him off, talk to the sailors and clamber over the ships; and that he taught his playmates to manoeuvre their little boats to mimic a naval battle, while he, taking his stand on the tiny cliff overlooking the roadstead, shouted shrill commands at his imaginary fleet.

It was from Carsethorn that at the age of 12 that he boarded a vessel to go to Whitehaven across the Solway where he signed up for a seven year seaman's apprenticeship with Mr Younger, a merchant in the American trade. His first voyage as ships boy took him to Barbados and Fredericksburg in Virginia on the Friendship of Whitehaven. He stayed with his older brother William, a tailor, who had emigrated there and flourished.

This gave him an early introduction to the country with which the fame of the future soldier of fortune was to be especially identified. The ship was in port for several months and he spent the time learning navigation.

John Paul was an active man of medium height, not robust but vigorous with a weather-beaten visage, compact and determined, with a certain melancholy grace. He was one of nature's self-made men; that is, nature gave the genius, and he supplied the industry, for he knew how to labour, and must have often exerted himself to secure the attainments which he possessed.

He was a good sea-man, as well as a most gallant officer; wise in the application of means; vain, indeed, and expensive, but natural and generous; something of a poet in verse, much more in the quickness and vivacity of his imagination, which led him to plan nobly; an accomplished writer; and as he was found worthy of the warm and unchanging friendship of Franklin.

After his return to Whitehaven he found that the Friendships' owner, John Younger was in financial difficulties. He released John Paul from his apprenticeship. At the age of seventeen he went straight into the slave trade as third mate on the King George of Whitehaven.

Two years later in 1766 he transferred as first mate to the brigantine Two Friends of Kingston, Jamaica. She was only 50' long with a crew of six and carrying 77 Negroes from Africa - it must have been a terrible voyage. The smell from 'black-birders' as the ships were called could be detected for many miles.

He quitted the slave traffic in disgust calling it an 'abominable trade' and was given free passage home on the 'John' of Kirkcudbright, a new ship. During the voyage the captain Samuel McAdam and the mate died of fever. John Paul took command as the only qualified officer and brought the ship safely back home.

The owners Currie, Beck and Co. were so pleased they appointed him master and supercargo (in charge of buying and selling the cargo) for the next voyage to America. John Paul had become a captain by his own merits at the age of twenty-one. He was known as a 'dandy skipper' and had adopted the manner of a young gentleman. He was always neatly dressed and had an eye for the ladies.

He had, however, a violent temper which manifested itself throughout his career. It was while serving on the ‘John’ that he was accused in Tobago by Mungo Maxwell, the ships carpenter of having flogged him excessively with the cat ‘o’ nine tails. Maxwell, the son of a prominent Kirkcudbright worthy, was examined and his complaint was dismissed as frivolous. Later he died whilst returning home on the Barcelona Packet and his father complained that his son was most unmercifully, wounded on his back... and of which he soon died afterwards.

Captain John Paul was arrested when he returned to Kirkcudbright and charged with murder but evidence from Tobago and a declaration from the master of the Barcelona Packet that Maxwell was in perfect health when he came on board was sufficient to acquit him. Soon after he was accepted as a Freemason which revealed that few people in Kirkcudbright believed the charge.

The story, however, dogged his entire life. Captain John Paul took command of the Betsy, a West Indian ship and remained for some time in the West Indies in commercial business. He seems to have accumulated considerable sums. In 1773, however, he had to leave the West Indies after he killed the ringleader “a prodigious brute of thrice my strength” of a mutiny with his sword in a dispute over wages.

Local feeling was against him and he fled to Virginia, changing his name, first to John Jones and later to John Paul Jones. On 10 April 1778, Jones sailed from Brest on a cruise to the Irish Sea capturing and destroying small vessels. Despite a near mutinous crew he carried out a hit and run raid on Whitehaven.

A shore party of two boats landed at midnight in calm weather. There were two forts guarding the harbour and the plan was for each boat to capture one. Jones' boat did so bloodlessly and spiked the fort's cannon but when he went to the other fort he discovered that the other boat's crew had gone to the pub instead.

He knocked out the other fort, set fire to some colliers and managed to get all the raiding party safely back to the ship. Four hours later at 10am, Jones reached Kirkcudbright Bay, more familiar territory to him. His plan was to capture the Earl of Selkirk who lived on St Mary's Isle to exchange him for captured American sailors.

When they landed they met the head gardener and told him that they were a British press gang. Word of this spread and caused the locals to flee! They learned, however, that the Earl was absent. Jones wished to leave immediately but his crew insisted on looting the mansion as they had returned empty handed from Whitehaven. He agreed to let them take the family silver only. The Countess had just finished breakfast when she saw some horrid looking wretches surrounding the house. The butler tried to hide the plate but was discovered and to be certain of taking the lot the senior officer asked for an inventory of the silver. When it was counted it was noticed that the coffee and teapot were missing. These were produced with the teapot still full of wet leaves from the breakfast. A friend of the Countess, Mrs Elliot took the opportunity to ask them 'a thousand questions' about America and she afterwards reported that they behaved with great civility. When Jones heard that the Countess had acted with great dignity he was filled with admiration for her. He purchased the silver himself and returned it after the war was over with a letter of apology.

After leaving Kirkcudbright he spotted HMS Drake, a 20 gun sloop, near Carrick Fergus in Northern Ireland. Both vessels were well matched and the battle lasted just over an hour. Captain Burden of the Drake was killed and his second in command Lieutenant Dobbs was mortally wounded. The Drake surrendered. Following these events, Jones' name a household word throughout Britain; a squadron of ships was ordered to seek him out and militia units were mobilized along the coast in case of raids. Returning to Brest he was given command of the Duc de Duras, a French East Indiaman which he had converted as a warship. He renamed her Bonhomme Richard in honour of Benjamin Franklin, whose book 'Poor Richards Almanac' had been translated into French with the title 'Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard'.

On 14th August 1779 he set sail on another cruise of Britain as commodore of a squadron of seven ships. The plan was to destroy British commerce in the North Sea and Jones sailed round Ireland and Scotland entering Leith harbour on 16th September. He intended to capture it and extract a ransom of £50,000 but he was thwarted when a gale sprung up and blew him out of the Firth of Forth. Just before that one of the most amazing incidents of the voyage took place. Sir John Anstruther who owned a mansion on the north shore of the Firth of Forth was worried that the American "pirate" might attack. He had a cannon and shot to protect himself but no powder so he sent his yacht out to borrow a barrel of gunpowder from H.M.S. 'Romney' which was nearby. The yacht mistook the 'Bonhomme Richard' for the 'Romney'. In return for information on coastal defences innocently given by the boatman, ironically Jones gave him the gunpowder!

Eight days later, on the night of 23rd September 1779, he fought his most famous battle when he engaged H.M.S. 'Serapis' and the 'Countess of Scarborough' off Flamborough Head. The 'Serapis' had superior fire powder and Jones had to manoeuvre skilfully to bring his ship alongside and lash her to the 'Serapis'. During the dreadful 3 1/2 hour fight on a millpond sea, the 'Alliance', part of Jones' squadron, fired at the 'Bonhomme Richard,' holing her so badly that she later sank.

Over half of the crews of the two ships, including Jones himself, were either killed or wounded and many men were horribly burned. It was during this battle when asked if he wished to surrender that Jones gave the reply I have not yet begun to fight.

Jones had to transfer his crew to the 'Serapis' and together with her sister ship the 'Pallas' which had captured the 'Scarborough' he sailed to the Texel in Holland with over 500 prisoners. Later he received a gold sword and the Order of Military Merit from Louis XVI. He became the toast of Paris and a bust of him was commissioned. Jones had another 20 made to send to his friends.

In 1781 he returned to America in the 'Ariel' and Congress passed a vote of thanks to him for the way he had sustained the honour of the American fleet He was to be given command of the 'America' which was still under construction and was to be the largest ship in the American navy but eventually this was denied him and he spent the remaining years of the war advising on the establishment of the navy and the training of naval officers.

When peace came Jones returned to Paris to collect prize money for the officers and men of the 'Bonhomme Richard'. He took another mistress Mrs Townsend, the French widow of an Englishman who probably bore him a son. Nothing is known of his fate.

Whilst there, Thomas Jefferson, the new American Ambassador, recommended him for service with Russia. In 1788 he was made a Rear Admiral in the Russian Navy by the Empress Catherine II, a rank higher than he had received in the United States.

As Kontradmiral, Jones he served with distinction under Prince Potemkin against the Turks in the Black Sea campaign. At the Battle of Liman he reconnoitred the Turkish Fleet in a rowboat during the night; repulsed the Turkish attacks killing about 3000 Turks, destroying 15 vessels and taking over 1600 prisoners at a cost to his squadron of one frigate and 18 killed. He wrote "I am delighted with the courage of the Russians, which is more glorious because it is without show-off."

He was falsely charged with raping a 10 year old butter seller, Katerina, the daughter of a German immigrant whilst living in St. Petersburg. The charge was dropped but in 1789 after a brief audience with Catherine, Jones left Russia never to return.

After a brief trip to England where he narrowly escaped being murdered on landing at Harwich, he returned to Paris in May 1790 taking an apartment at 52 Rue de Tournon. His health was failing and he spent his final years writing letters to Catherine, to his two married sisters in Scotland, who were not on speaking terms, begging them to make up, and to the French Minister of Marine to pay arrears of salaries due to the men of the 'Bonhomme Richard'.

On the 18th July 1792, sitting in an easy chair, sick in body but of sound mind, he dictated his will to Governor Morris, the American to France. Morris then left for an important dinner engagement and when he returned at 8pm, Jones had already died.

Alone he had walked to his chamber and had laid himself face down on the bed. Morris found him in this position. He had nephritis and jaundice but pneumonia had hastened his end. He was 45 years old. His body lay in an alcohol filled coffin in an unmarked grave in a cemetery for foreign Protestants for over a century.

The turn of this century was a time of great American naval expansion, encouraged by the President Teddy Roosevelt, an intensive search was made to find his body. In 1905 it was rediscovered.

Amid great ceremony Jones was brought back to the United States in USS Brooklyn accompanied by three other cruisers. Seven battleships met them off the American coast and as a single column sailed into Chesapeake Bay. There the first four battleships peeled off firing 15 gun salutes while the Brooklyn sailed on to Annapolis.

John Paul Jones was laid to rest in the crypt of the Naval Academy Chapel on January 26, 1913. The crypt contains the 21-ton sarcophagus of John Paul Jones and surrounding the crypt are columns of black and white Royal Pyrenees marble. The sarcophagus is supported by bronze dolphins and is embellished with cast garlands of bronze sea plants.

Inscribed in set-in brass letters around the base of the tomb are the names of the Continental Navy ships commanded by John Paul Jones during the American Revolution: Providence, Alfred, Ranger, Bonhomme Richard, Serapis, Alliance and Ariel. American national ensigns (flags) and union jacks are placed between the marble columns.

John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

Total Views: