The first great American naval hero was Captain John Paul Jones. A strong, resourceful, and skilled sailor, he loved a battle. His words, “I have not yet begun to fight,” are famous throughout the world.
Jones was born on July 6, 1747, in Scotland. When only 12 years old, he was signed on as an apprentice aboard theFriendship, a merchant vessel, sailing from England to the American colonies.
When the youth finished his apprenticeship, he joined the British navy. Then he became first mate on a slaver, a ship that carried slaves, but soon quit. Ashore in the West Indies, he became an actor. In a single season, he earned enough to sail home as a passenger. On the way, however, the capt5ain and first mate died of typhoid fever. Jones was the only person aboard who could navigate a ship. He guided the ship into port, and the grateful owners kept him on as captain.
At port in the West Indies, Captain Jones had a sailor flogged for mutinous conduct. The sailor left the ship, took berth on another, and died some weeks later. Jones was blamed for the death. He fled his ship. In Virginia and North Carolina, he found old friends. Settling down, he led the placid life of a planter.
When the American Revolution started he offered his services. His first command was the Providence. In 1777, he became captain of the sloop Ranger. He carried th3e news of British General John Bourgoyne’s surrender to France. In France, he was given command of the converted merchant ship Bonhomme Richard.
On the afternoon of September 23, 1779, the Bonhomme Richard engaged the British 44-gun frigate Serapis in one of the most famous sea battles in history. For hours, the ships blazed away at each other at short range. Then Jones maneuvered to lash the bowsprit of the Serapis to his own ship. The Bonhomme Richard was badly damaged, and the English captain called upon Jones to surrender. Jones’s proud reply has become a classic retort, “I have not yet begun to fight!” Victory came when an American sailor tossed an exploding grenade into a gunpowder magazine located just below the main deck of the Serapis.
After the war, Jones served the new American nation as its agent in Europe. His health was poor and he retired to Paris, where he died on July 18, 1792.