John Paul Jones

Father of the United States Navy (1747-1792)

Undoubtedly, one of Kirkbean’s most famous sons is John Paul Jones, "Father" of the United States Navy, who was born on July 6th, 1747, in a cottage in the grounds of the Arbigland estate, southeast of the village.

John Paul (who added Jones to his name in later life) was the son of a gardener at Arbigland.

His parents John Paul (Sr.) and Jean Duff married on November 29th, 1733, in the neighbouring parish of New Abbey. John Paul started his maritime career at the age of 13, sailing out of Whitehaven in the county of Cumberland, as apprentice aboard the “Friendship” under Captain Benson. His older brother had married and settled in Virginia, the destination of many of John Paul’s early voyages.

For several years, John Paul sailed aboard a number of different merchant and slaver ships, but after a short time in this business, he became unhappy with the cruelty in the slave trade and, in 1768, whilst in port in Jamaica, he found passage back to Scotland to find another position.

During his next voyage, the young John Paul’s career quickly advanced when, by chance, both the captain and a ranking mate suddenly died of yellow fever, leaving John to successfully navigate the ship back to a safe port. The vessel's owners appointed him master of his own crew.

But his reputation was to suffer equally as quickly as he had advanced in his career when he was accused of cruelty to a deck hand, then, in another incident, killed a member of his crew, a mutineer, with a sword in a dispute over wages. He later claimed he had acted in self defence.

Fearing he would be tried for murder, he felt compelled to flee to Virginia, leaving his fortune behind.

Historians believe he took the surname Jones for disguise. Because of his merchant navy experience, the Continental Congress commissioned him a lieutenant in 1775 and promoted him to captain the following year.

Cruising as far north as Nova Scotia, he took more than 25 prizes in 1776.

It was in Europe, however, that Jones won lasting acclaim. In 1777, he sailed to France in the Ranger and in Paris, he found American diplomat Benjamin Franklin sympathetic to his strategic objectives: hit-and-run attacks on Britain.

Early in 1778, Jones attacked the port of Whitehaven, where his seafaring career began.

France became America's ally, but Jones had to be satisfied with a good deal less than he had hoped for in men and ships. With an old vessel renamed Bon Homme Richard (in honour of Franklin) as his flagship, in the summer of 1779, Jones led a small squadron around the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, taking several small prizes.

Then, off the coast of Flamborough Head on September 23rd, he fell in with a large British convoy from the Baltic, escorted by the Serapis (50 guns) and the Scarborough (20 guns).

The most spectacular naval episode of the Revolution followed - a duel between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis, a new copper-bottomed frigate. In the ensuing battle, Jones and his crew managed to board the Serapis, take it over and sail for Holland.

He made a final visit to the United States in 1787, when Congress unanimously voted to award him a gold medal for his outstanding services. He was the only naval officer of the American Revolution thus honoured. Soon afterwards, he accepted a commission in the Russian navy and was put in command of a Black Sea squadron with the rank of rear admiral before returning to France where he died.

In 1905, Jones' body was ceremonially removed from his interment in a Parisian charnel house and brought to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn, escorted by three other cruisers.

On April 24th, 1906, Jones's coffin was installed in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, following a ceremony in Dahlgren Hall, presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt who gave a lengthy tributary speech.

On January 26th, 1913, the Captain's remains were finally re-interred in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.