Biographical Notes
John Paul Jones

On July 6, 1747, John Paul Jones was born John Paul, son of John Paul senior, a Scottish gardener in the employ of William Craik, master of the Arbigland Estate in Scotland on the Firth of Solway. John Paul's mother, Jean McDuff, worked as a housekeeper at Abigland and rumor had it that her son might actually have been Craik's bastard son. As a youngster, John Paul attended parish school in the nearby town of Kirkbeam. In 1760 he shipped out of Whitehaven aboard the brig Friendship, a merchant ship in the Atlantic trade. He was thirteen years of age. During John Paul's first voyage, the captain, Robert Benson, taught him the rudiments of the art of navigation. On landing in America, John Paul visited his brother, William Paul, in Fredricksburg, Virginia. In 1764, after crossing the Atlantic eight times, he qualified to join the slave ship King George as third mate. Two years later he joined the Two Friends, also a slave ship, as first mate. While aboard the two slavers, John Paul sailed primarily between Africa and the Caribbean and, although he did not like the duty, he learned a great deal about seamanship.

In 1767, at his request, John Paul was paid off in Kingston, Jamaica, and set out to return home to Scotland. Captain Samuel McAdam of the brig John offered John Paul free passage home. On the voyage back to Scotland both the captain and his first mate died of a fever contracted in Jamaica. John Paul was the only one aboard the ship who knew how to navigate and he brought the ship safely home to Scotland. The owners were appreciative of his proven abilities and made him captain of the John. He was twenty-one years old. On his second voyage out of Scotland he had trouble with his crew and had a seaman by the name of Mungo Maxwell flogged. When the ship reached port in Tobago in 1770, John Paul was taken to the Admiralty Court by Maxwell. The court decided that John Paul was within his rights as captain of the ship and dismissed the case. Maxwell subsequently died. When John Paul returned to Scotland, he was arrested by the local sheriff and accused of having contributed to the death of Maxwell. John Paul was put into irons and jailed for several days before being released to develop his legal defense. In the court hearings his father's employer, William Craick, appeared in support of the case against him. John Paul was subsequently cleared of all charges when he was able to prove that the man had died not from the flogging, but from fever.

On November 27, 1770, while he was still involved in defending himself in the Maxwell court case, John Paul joined the Ancient Society of Free and Accepted Masons. In 1772 he was made captain of the merchant ship Betsy, sailing out of London in the West Indies trade. At the end of 1773, in port in Tobago, he once again had trouble with his crew. This time John Paul was forced to kill a mutinous seaman with his broadsword. The Admiralty Court was not in session at the time and John Paul feared that if the local court heard the case he would not be given a fair hearing. A business partner, Archibald Stuart, assisted him in fleeing the island. It is not known where he went after Tobago, but legend has it that he operated as a pirate for some time before turning up in Fredricksburg, Virginia, in the winter of 1774. Somewhere between Tobago and Virginia, John Paul had added Jones to his name. His brother had died and John Paul was low on funds. The American colonies were moving rapidly toward revolution and through his association with the Masons Jones began cultivating friendships with locally important Virginians, particularly Dr. John K. Read, Mason Grand Master in the Fredricksburg Lodge. In late summer 1775 Jones traveled to Philadelphia and offered his services to the Continental Congress.

Through the assistance of fellow Masons, he was offered command of the armed sloop Providence. He declined the position in the belief that he could serve better as first mate on a larger ship. On December 7, 1775, he was commissioned a first lieutenant in the new and virtually non-existant navy. He was ordered to transform the Alfred, an elderly merchantman, into a man-of-war. That winter, under the command of Captain Dudley Saltonstall, the Alfred, with First Lieutenant Jones aboard, sailed down the Deleware River to attack the most powerful navy in the world. The Alfred was part of a motley collection of ships commanded by Commodore Esek Hopkins. In March, the Alfred supported a landing by Continental Marines at the port of Nassau on New Providence Island. Resistance was light and badly needed ammunition and weaponry was captured and sent back to General George Washington's army. On April 6, 1776, Jones and the Alfred were part of an engagement with HMS Glasgow, a 24 gun British cruiser. In this engagement Jones commanded the gun crews of the Alfred and distinguished himself, but the Alfred was disabled and the Glasgow escaped. Jones had a low opinion of both Hopkins and Saltonstall's actions during the sea battle and made it known.