Biography - John Paul Jones: Captain Of The High Seas
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His sense of adventure brought him to America. His bravery made him the country's greatest naval hero. The son of a Scottish gardener, John Paul Jones went to sea at age 12 with the British navy, making his way to America after killing a sailor in self-defense during a mutiny. He joined the fledgling American Navy, and in 1779 became captain of the Bon Homme Richard. In an epic battle with the British frigate Serapis, he responded to the enemy captain's premature assumption of victory with the immortal words, "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight," and went on to win the battle. Maritime experts, leading historians, and Naval officers reflect on the legacy of the swashbuckling hero in this definitive look at his life. And learn about his many accomplishments after the Revolution, when he went on to fight in the Russian navy and lived in Paris during the French Revolution. Join BIOGRAPHY for the story of an inspirational leader and the founder of the American naval tradition.
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Born in Scotland, John Paul left home at the age of 13 to learn the art of shipping; by his mid-20s, he was a very successful ship master and merchant, but his life took a drastic change in a Mediterranean dock in late 1793. His seamen, wanting their pay immediately rather than at the prescribed time, mutinied, and John Paul ran a man threw in self-defense. He immediately turned himself in and would certainly have been acquitted by any naval court, but Mediterranean justice (or injustice) was a far cry from that of Britain, and he was forced to flee for his life. He showed up almost two years later in Virginia, now bearing the name John Paul Jones, and he sought and won the commission of a vessel in the nascent Continental Navy. Over the course of the War for American Independence, Jones' remarkable exploits garnered him widespread fame in America as well as France, and few British sailors would speak his name without a note of trepidation in their voices. We often say that so-and-so really took it to the enemy, but let me tell you, John Paul Jones forevermore took it to the Royal Navy during the war.
The Continental navy was as raw and inexperienced as they come, but Jones set out winning numerous victories at the very start of his military naval career, capturing a number of British ships off the American coastline. He was disappointed when he did not make the list of the top 13 naval commanders, but the new frigates those more senior officers were given never had a chance against the more experienced Royal Navy lying in wait outside the ports of origin. It was about this time that Jones put forth a radical strategy; let's take the war to England's ports and shores, he said, and he soon crossed the Atlantic and began wreaking havoc on British merchant ships setting sail for the New World. Just as he and Benjamin Franklin (whom he had met with in Paris upon arriving in Europe) had predicted, British leaders went off half-cocked over the brazen audacity of this "pirate" John Paul Jones. While the Royal Navy searched for his ship in earnest, Jones took things even further, staging several landings on shore, almost kidnapping an English Lord on one occasion.
Despite a long list of amazing victories over English ships, the pinnacle of Jones' success still lay in the future. Sailing an old French merchant ship (being temporarily without a ship when he had to let his men sail home to America), John Paul Jones led an engagement between his own ship, the Bon Homme Richard, against one of England's newest frigates, the Serapis. These two ships went toe to toe, blasting away at each other for some three hours; in the middle of the battle, one of Jones' French allies (back then, Americans didn't know not to trust the French) arrived (two hours late for battle) and immediately fired upon none other than Jones' ship. John Paul Jones won the day, however, cementing his name in the history books. After the war ended, this warrior without a war actually fought for imperial Russia for some time; a few years later, America stood ready to call upon his services once again, to help protect American vessels at sea, but the Captain of the High Seas died of pneumonia at age 45 before receiving the papers.
John Paul Jones led an incredible life, and the story as presented here would be thrilling with even the most boring experts pontificating on the man's accomplishments. This particular video, though, comes with a significant extra bonus in the form of historian/novelist Thomas Fleming. You don't get any dry history from this man, as his exuberant love for and fascination with the subject at hand comes through loud and clear. While he is only one of several scholars contributing to this documentary, he truly makes the history of John Paul Jones come alive.