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During the American War Of Independence, the fledgling United States Congress was anxious to smash Britain’s domination of the seas and cripple British trade routes. The French, knowing any such disorder could only benefit them too, were eager to help. King Louis XVI promised to furnish and arm a ship to be commanded by an American officer who would have free access to French ports.
John Paul Jones was chosen to be that officer. Born plain John Paul on July 6, 1747 at Arbigland in Galloway, Scotland, he was the son of an estate gardener. At sea by the age of 13, by 21 he had become master of John, trading between Scotland and the West Indies. With the aim of becoming a plantation owner in Virginia, he formed a partnership in Tobago. But while he was busy hatching plans, life interfered. After killing a mutineer in self-defense and fearing a kangaroo court, he fled Tobago, enlarging his name to John Paul Jones to escape detection.
But fortune favors the brave. In 1775 on the outbreak of the War of Independence, John Paul Jones volunteered for America’s infant navy and within three years was given command of Ranger and ordered across the Atlantic. He arrived in France in 1778, but was shocked to find himself relieved of his command when Ranger was needed back in America. The politician Benjamin Franklin, based in Paris to liaise with the French government, became Paul Jones’s greatest ally. Offering constant reassurance, he guided Jones though the murky waters of the French Marine Ministry in his quest to secure a ship to fight against the British and when the task seemed hopeless, he eventually devised a plot to force the purchase of a suitable vessel. In recognition of Franklin’s efforts, Jones renamed his new command Bonhomme Richard, Franklin’s pen name when he wrote newspaper articles.
Promoted to commodore, John Paul Jones began to harry the English in their own territorial waters while battling the treachery of insubordinate French officers who commanded the other ships in his small flotilla. A year later, off Flamborough Head, just south of Scarborough on England’s Yorkshire coast, he tackled a brand new enemy frigate within sight of the very shores of England, a nation whose proud boast was its invincible navy.
And it was at the Battle of Flamborough Head in 1779 John Paul Jones became a legend.