31 Days of History: 18 July

Between the World War II Memorial and the Tidal Basin, in the middle of a traffic island, stands the John Paul Jones Memorial. It was erected in 1912, and was the first statue in Potomac Park.

The John Paul Jones Memorial

One of the "Fathers of the US Navy", Commodore John Paul Jones, died on this day in 1792 (217 years ago).

Commodore Jones

While in command the USS Ranger, Jones was flying the new US flag off the coast of France. The Ranger was the first American Navy vessel to be saluted by the French, with a nine-gun salute fired from Admiral Piquet's flagship. Jones wrote of the event: "I accepted his offer all the more for after all, it was a recognition of our independence and in the nation."

"In life he honored the flag. In death, the flag shall honor him"

Jones in most famous for his actions during the Battle of Flamborough Head. On 23 Sep 1773, Jones was in command of the Bonhomme Richard, and engaged several British warships, most notable the HMS Serapis, a frigate who carried more guns and more men than the Bonhomme Richard. After heavy firing which shot away most of the Bonhomme Richard's masts and sails, the British commander sent word to Jones, inquiring if he wanted to strike his colors and surrender. Jones famous reply, "I have not yet begun to fight" served as an inspiration to his men as the ships were lashed together. Three hours later, the Serapis struck her colors and surrendered to the Americans.
Jones is also famous for another quote he made during the War. Congress was debating the construction and command of several new American warships. Jones was asked his opinion and he replied, "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."

The Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis at the Battle of Flambrough Head

After the war, Jones lived in Paris, fulfilling a number of roles for the young American republic. He passed away on 17 July 1792 (at the age of 45) of a severe and unexpected brain tumor, and was buried in a small, non-notable French cemetery. As the years passed, his grave went unmaintained and unnoticed and faded into oblivion.

In 1905, Jones's remains were identified by US Ambassador to France Gen.
Horace Porter who had searched for six years to track down the body.
Through a variety of means that would makes any CSI fan proud, the coffin was located and unearthed on 7 April 1905 (the cemetery had been built over, and it took weeks of tunneling through basement walls and streets). Jones's body was ceremonially removed from his grave and brought to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn, escorted by three other cruisers. On approaching the American coastline, seven U.S. Navy battleships joined the procession escorting Jones's body back to America. On 24 April 1906, Jones's coffin was buried at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt who gave a lengthy tributary speech. In his speech, Roosevelt remarked, "Every officer in our Navy should know by heart the deeds of John Paul Jones. Every officer in our Navy should feel in each fiber of his being an eager desire to emulate the energy, the professional capacity, the indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death which marked John Paul Jones above all his fellows."

His remains now rest in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus below the Naval Academy Chapel, and whenever it is open to the public, a Marine Corps honor guard stands watch over the tomb.

The crypt of John Paul Jones

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