Honoring Revolutionary War Naval Hero John Paul Jones

Written by: Laura McCrillis Kessler, Historian General
October 16, 2019

As we “Shine the light” on our Patriots during the Rise and Shine VanBuren Administration, it was extremely fitting that on Friday, October 11, 2019, the NSDAR held a wreath laying ceremony honoring American naval hero, John Paul Jones. You can see a short video of the ceremony here.

Over 140 Daughters and guests gathered at the site of the John Paul Jones statue in Potomac Park, Washington, DC, a few blocks from Memorial Continental Hall, to honor and pay tribute to Jones. This American Revolutionary War hero, known as the “Father of the United States Navy,” and recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal for his valor and brilliant services during the Battle of Flamborough Head, is perhaps best known for the phrase “I have not yet begun to fight,” his response to the British when he was asked if he was ready to surrender during the battle between the American ship Bonhomme Richard and the HMS Serapis.

As Historian General, it was an honor and a privilege to conduct the wreath laying ceremony for John Paul Jones, with President General Denise Doring VanBuren and Chaplain General Pamela Peterson Bork. Marguerite Fritsch, National Chair, Flag of the United States of America Committee, led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance, after which the American’s Creed was led by Beth Cagle, National Chair, Americanism Committee. Following a biographical sketch on John Paul Jones, President General Denise Doring VanBuren placed the wreath in front of the statue and delivered her inspirational remarks.

“We hope that our ceremony today will inspire you to return to your communities, your states, your local chapters, and find ways to honor men and women just like John Paul Jones.”

It is interesting to note that as commander of the Ranger, John Paul Jones made history as his was the first vessel to fly the new “Stars and Stripes.” France, the first country to salute our country’s flag, recognized Jones for his victory in defeating the British during the 1779 Battle of Flamborough Head, by honoring him with a Chevalier of the Order of Military Merit and presenting him with a gold-hilted sword. And in 1787, the United States honored Jones with a Congressional Gold Medal for the victory of the Bonhomme Richard.

On July 18, 1792 at the age of 45, John Paul Jones passed away in Paris, France. His body lay in a forgotten grave for 113 years in the Saint-Louis Cemetery (a “cemetery for foreign Protestants” in Paris), that officially closed in 1793. It was retired Civil War General Horace Porter, past president general of the Sons of the American Revolution, and U.S. Ambassador to France, who at his personal expense, conducted and persisted in the successful quest to find Jones’ final resting place and remains, and to have them returned to the United States.

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution took a great interest in the return of Jones’ remains. The American Monthly Magazine reported “The President General Mrs. Donald McLean, appointed a special committee on ‘The flag for the remains of John Paul Jones.’ It is fitting that he who first showed the stars and stripes to a foreign nation, should be borne back to the United States under the folds of the flag he loved so well. And it is fitting that the flag should be the gift of the Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.”

On July 6, 1905, the anniversary of Jones’ birth, his coffin was carried to the English church where a memorial service was held and then was placed in a crypt of the church to await transportation to the United States. Later in the year a fleet of four United States navy ships arrived to convey the body to America, and the Daughters of the American Revolution provided a silken flag which afterwards was hung in Memorial Continental Hall.

The memorial services were held on April 23, 1906. Jones was buried in the crypt under the chapel of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.

In his July 30, 1905 letter to President General McLean, Rear-Admiral Charles D. Sigsbee, U.S. Navy and Commander-in-Chief of the John Paul Jones Expedition, wrote of returning the flag. “The remains of John Paul Jones were transferred to me at Paris on July 6th, and taken on board the Brooklyn, at Cherbourg, on July 9th, where the casket was placed under a canopy outside my cabin door. The national flag provided by your society was placed over the casket, and there it remained during the entire return passage to Annapolis. I now have the honor to return the flag to you, dear Madam, with its interest increased by historical association.” (September 1905 American Monthly Magazine)

As we gathered for this tribute at the statue of our country’s first great naval hero, we stood in the same place where many were on a mist-filled and rainy day on April 17, 1912 for the unveiling of this statue. Taking place the week of the twenty-first Continental Congress, a lot of interest was shown in this event by the NSDAR. Prominent among the magnificent floral tributes placed at the base of the statue was a wreath sent by President General Julia Green Scott.

In General Porter’s words “John Paul Jones is the only commander in history, who ever landed an American force upon a European coast. He enjoyed the unique distinction of being the first to raise the American flag in its present form upon an American man-of-war; the first to receive a salute to the flag from a foreign power, and the first to raise it upon a hostile warship of superior strength captured in battle.” (The American Monthly Magazine, July 1912.)

Just as we recognized and paid tribute to John Paul Jones, American Revolutionary War and naval war hero, we hope that chapters will recognize the men and women who achieved American independence, our Patriots, by conducting Memorial and Remembrance Services honoring these individuals.

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