Saturday, August 19, 2017

America's Revolutionary War Hero

John Paul Jones 

Born 1747, in a gardener’s cottage in Scotland, he took to the sea at an early age.  By the age of 21, John Paul had become a merchant shipmaster.  After he killed a mutinous crewman, he fled to America and added Jones as his last name.  He immigrated to Virginia and joined the fledging navy serving in the War for Independence on the flagship of its first fleet – the Bonhomme Richard.  On this ship, Jones took the Revolutionary War back to England with the fight against the HMS Serapis.  During this battle the Bonhomme Richard began taking on water and a fire had broken out.  When the British commander, seeing what problems Jones had, ask him to surrender.  Jones’ answer was his famous cry: “I have not yet begun to fight!”  In the end, it was the British commander who ended up surrendering!  Jones became known for having a strong will and a man who was averse to surrender when even a small hope of victory remained.

Coming home a naval hero, the Continental Congress assigned a new sloop of war for his command, the Ranger.  By July, 1777, he arrived in Portsmouth, NH
and rented a room from Widow Sarah Purcell, to be close to the building of the Ranger.  The sloop was under construction at John Langdon’s shipyard on Badger’s Island across the Piscataqua River in Kittery, Maine.  He stayed until November, 1777 when he sailed for France on the new sloop.  Again, John Paul Jones came back to Portsmouth as a hero in 1781, and stayed at the Widow Purcell’s boarding house while his new ship, America was built at Langdon’s shipyard.  This time, he stayed about a year.

Today, this boarding house is now known as the John Paul Jones House.  It is located at 43 Middle Street, Portsmouth, NH and has been revived as a historic museum and is considered the only known surviving structure in the United States with direct ties to the Revolutionary War’s naval hero John Paul Jones.  He stayed in this house a total of approximately 18 months while both the Ranger and America were being built.
John Paul Jones house located at
43 Middle Street Portsmouth, NH
The Georgian house is a 2 ½ story wood frame house built in 1758 by a well-known African American builder, Hopestill Cheswell for Captain Gregory Purcell and his wife Sarah Wentworth.  When the Captain died in 1776, it was suspected he had a lingering illness which left his wife and the surviving seven of their original 13 children with lawsuits and liens.
Although Sarah’s family was wealthy and well known, they were “royal” sympathizers and had been driven out of town at the start of the Revolutionary War.  This left Sarah with no visible means of support.  The only asset she had was her house to take in boarders until she died in 1783.  After her death, the house was sold to Judge Woodbury Langdon, the brother of John Langdon, owner of the shipyard where Jones’ ships were built.  Within the next 30 years, the house went through several owners and by the turn of the 19th to 20th century, the Portsmouth Historical Society was formed with its original intent to save the John Paul Jones house.

Honoring John Paul Jones
at Annapolis

By the time John Paul Jones died in France in 1792, he had been largely ignored by the country he so gallantly fought for.  It wasn’t until 1906 that President Theodore Roosevelt helped bring his body back to the United States when it was found in a leaden coffin buried under the streets of Paris. By 1913, he was re-interred at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  At this time, he was given the fame he so greatly deserved and became one of the most recognized names in American history.

Around this same time, Robert W. Traip Academy, the high school in Kittery, Maine was in its first few years of existence.  To honor John Paul Jones, it was decided the school’s nickname should be the Ranger, to commemorate the ship that was built no more than 10 miles from the school. 

During the 1970’s Sears had a television advertisement for famous American homes preserved with their paint.  The company painted the John Paul Jones house bringing it to national attention. 

In 1972, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places as well as National Historic Landmark. 

John Paul Jones is considered the Father of the American Navy.  It is very fitting that his memory should be kept alive and he should be honored as the hero that he was both at Portsmouth and Annapolis.
Crypt under the Annapolis Chapel

If you happen to be in the seacoast area and stop at Portsmouth, be sure to visit this house.  Its bright yellow stands out from everything around it. But if you can’t find it ask directions – anyone in the area can tell you where it is (as it should be). 

Sources: All pictures from Google images
Wikipedia. The John Paul Jones House
US Naval Institute Blog: John Paul Jones 266th Birthday July 5, 2013 As I Please by J. Dennis Robinson. May 20, 2000. The Many Stories of Paul Jones' House.