RECOVERY OF THE REMAINS OF PATRIOT JOHN PAUL JONES

When the 93rd General Court is held in Maryland next year, attendees are encouraged to visit the burial site of this famous hero at the U.S. Naval Academy, In this story Historian General James A. Williams recounts the amazing facts behind how the Patriot's remains came to their final rest in Annapolis.

John Paul Jones, hero of the American Revolution, died alone and unattended in his Parisapartment in 1792. He was 45. No member of his family was with him. All the glamor of this 18th century bachelor soldier of fortune was gone. The victorious commander of the naval war between the American Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis was no more. Behind him lay the struggle of the Revolutionary War.

Born in obscurity, this distinguished officer of the sea, who had given so much of himself to America, left an imperishable legacy of greatness which extended not only from the shores of New England, but to the glamorous Court of Versailles.

John Paul Jones
Illustration of John Paul Jones from an etching by John Michel Moreau.

Jones was a native Presbyterian Scots-man who had transferred his allegiance from his home in Scotland when he professed to have fallen in love with America at first sight. When he was 21, he had already established himself as master of a merchant vessel. By age 25, he was in a fair way to become well to do with a small fortune of 25 hundred pounds sterling, which he had made as a skillful trader and navigator.

He had a gunpowder temper, yet with women, he was a seagoing casanova. He was a small man, no more than five foot five, but he was quite handsome as is preserved in a sculpted bust from life made by the artist Houdon. His features were sharp, with high cheekbones and he had a strong cleft chin. He was also known as a "dandy skipper" who dressed well, having adopted the port and manners of a young gentleman.

Gains Navy Commission
With a letter of recommendation from a North Carolinian member of the Second Continental Congress, John Paul Jones was commissioned into the newly formed Continental Navy in 1775. His was one of the earliest naval commissions granted by Congress and Jones was assigned to the ship Alfred.

It was not long before this Scottish sea captain began to distinguish himself when he was credited with the capture of 16 prize ships. Later as Commander of the Providence, he became the target of international forces by the British as well as the lover of French Court society. He was touted liberally in Dutch and Spanish newspapers of the day His ships were sponsored by Benjamin Franklin who was our emissary to France.

Jones sarcophagus
John Paul Jones was finally interred in this sarcophagus at the U.S. Naval Academy.

There were other naval luminaries during the Revolution, but none achieved the fame and attention of Jones. As Commander of the Ranger, he designed a_ hit-and-run scheme to bother English seaports with aview to force the British government to exchange American sailors taken prisoner on the high seas. Then, with great daring, Jones navigated the entire coast of England without intervention from the British fleet. He raided Whitehaven and St. Mary's Isle and boldly invaded the coastal estate of Lord Selkirk. He was the toast of Paris. He was the darling of New York, Philadelphia and Boston. But perhaps his most famous exploit was the defeat of the British warship Serapis by the Bon Homme Richard. When charged by the British captain for quarter when his ship was sinking, Jones cried out, "I have not yet begun to fight!"

Accepts Russian Offer
When the Revolutionary War ended in 1781, Catherine the Great of Russia invited Jones to her service, and upon Thomas Jefferson's encouragement, Jones accepted her offer. He was received by this imperious daughter of Russia, who made him an Admiral and sent him to take part in the naval campaign against the Turks in the Black Sea.

In the Russian campaign, things went against him. Jealous subordinates were given credit for his victories and soon Catherine ordered his recall to St. Petersburg. He returned to Paris a disappointed and lonely man. Undue exposure and exertion in Russian winters had wasted his strength. He returned in ill-health and gradually grew weaker.

Jones spent the last months of his life trying to recoup losses from his creditors and arrearages of salaries due him from the United States and Russia. Efforts by Jefferson as Secretary of State came too late and Jones died July 18, 1792.

Body Given Special Attention
Officials of the Government of France, believing that this hero of the American Republic would one day be returned to soil in the United States, ordered that his body be especially prepared for reinterrment.

The remains were dressed in a shirt and then wrapped in a sheet of pure linen bearing his initials worked in silk thread. The body was then carefully preserved and packed in straw. His legs and hands were wrapped in tinfoil. The body was then placed in a casket made of lead and the lid tightly soldered on. Through a small aperture above the face, the casket was then filled with alcohol and the hole sealed. The lead casket was then installed in one made of wood.

It contained neither uniform, sword nor decorations. Owing, perhaps to preserve all Jones' effects until his heirs claimed them, all his American and Russian uniforms, the gold medal presented to him by the American Congress and other effects, were saved and later sold at auction.


Bust of John Paul Jones
This bust of Jones by Houdon helped n the identification of his remains.

Gouvernor Morris, our Minister to France, bid for his French Cross of the Merite Militare and his Order of the Cincinnati Eagle. The gold-hilted sword given to him by Louis XVI was reserved for his family along with his commission signed by John Hancock and his elaborate certificate of membership in the Order of the Cincinnati.

Buried In Protestant Cemetery
The funeral took place on the 20th day of July, two days after his death. Although the Admiral had shown little or no interest in religion during his lifetime, he was considered a Church of Scotland Protestant and the French Assembly therefore decreed burial in a Protestant cemetery outside the walls of Paris.

From 1792 until 1899, the remains of John Paul Jones lay undisturbed in his grave while the city of Paris flowered to new dimensions and sprawled over the ancient cemetery with streets and buildings.

Our Ambassador to France, Horace Porter (3rd President General of the Sons of the American Revolution) felt a deep sense of humiliation that the grave of Jones had been lost to the American people. He was also galled to learn that no effort had been made to recover the remains of this great naval hero. And under his direction began a systematic search that was to end in a most sensational discovery.

This project went on for five years until 1905 when the site of the old cemetery was finally pinpointed under streets, alleys, shops and shacks. Shafts were sunk and gangs of workmen were employed to tunnel deep in an effort to locate Jones lead casket.

Search for body of John Paul Jones
Scene of the search for the body of Jones in the Rue Grange Aux Belles

Congress Approves Funds
President Theodore Roosevelt, upon learning of the project, sent a message to Congress and asked for an appropriation of $35.000.00 which was approved.

The first shaft, opened in one of the yards to a depth of 18 feet, revealed the bones of many 18th century Protestants in this all Catholic country. Two more shafts were sunk and two in the Grange Aux-Balles, making five in all.

Ambassador Porter had given orders that he be present when the first leaden casket was discovered. This proved not to be Jones and the search went on. On March 23rd, over a month later, the second lead coffin was revealed and by its inscribed plate again revealed that it was other than Jones. On March 31st, a third leaden coffin was unearthed, superior in quality and workman-ship to the others. It was decided to open thiscoffin, but as the odors became impossible in this part of the unventilated gallery, examination was postponed until it could be moved to a better site. The lid was removed with considerable difficulty and upon its removal, a strong alcoholic odor rose from the remains.

The body was covered with a winding sheet and firmly packed with hay and straw. A rough measurement indicated it was the height of John Paul Jones. Half a dozen candles were placed near the head of the coffin and the winding sheet was removed from the head and chest exposing the face. To the surprise of everyone, the body was marvelously well preserved, all the flesh remaining intact, very slightly shrunken and the surface of the body and the linen with which it was covered were moist.

The die from the Admiral's Congressional Medal was placed near the face, comparing the other features, and the broad characteristics of Jones began to emerge — his forehead, brow, high cheek-bones and prominently arched eye orbits were considered. Instinctively, those in charge of this research operation knew that these were the remains of John Paul Jones.


Facsimile of a copy of the gold medal ordered by Congress in 1787 in commemoration of the valor and brilliant services" of "the Chevalier John Paul Jones."

For the purpose of submitting the body to a thorough scientific examination by a competent medical team, it was taken by night to the Paris School of Medicine where an autopsy was performed by well-known anthropologists of the day.

In order not to disturb the body in any way, the surrounding lead enclosure was cut away andthe body then placed upon a large dissecting table. The remains with all the flesh intact appeared like an anatomical specimen at a medical museum. The joints were, flexible and the knuckles could easily be bent.

Physical examination from the autopsy revealed that Jones died of a renal affliction complicated by pneumonia. Viscera, lungs, liver and heart were all removed and thoroughly examined. The gall bladder was intact and the stomach was contracted andsmall. The kidneys were well preserved and provided microscopic evidence of "Bright's Disease".

Complete verification by the autopsy team of all these symptoms upon a corpse 113 years after death was heralded as a scientific triumph.

Attendance at the autopsy beside the medical staff of the school was Ambassador Horace Porter and important members of the embassy staff in addition to officials of the French Government. The affirmative identification of the Commodore's body after six days was positive and unanimous.


Dr. Papillault finished his report by saying:

"I am obliged to conclude that all of the observations which I have made plead in favor that the body examined is that of Admiral John Paul Jones"

Working Conditions
Note the conditions under which workers had to toil, here in the first shaft.     

Remains Come To America
President Theodore Roosevelt then ordered a squadron of eleven war vessels to proceed to Cherbourg and convey the remains to the United States Naval Academy where eventually he would be interred in a crypt beneath the Chapel floor. Coupled with efforts of the President of France, a large ceremonial was planned with naval forces of both governments. On July 6th, 1905, Admiral Sigsbee brought 500 bluejackets to Paris. Highest dignitaries of both governments at Holy Trinity Church included the celebrated Senator, Henry Cabot Lodge.

 

Horace Porter l
With Horace Porter (left) watching, a workman held the point of the pick where he had struck the leaden coffin. U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.


In July 1905, the body of America's greatest naval hero was ceremoniously brought to the Academy on the tug Standish amid the booming of guns fired in his honor. However, it was not until almost a year later that a great commemorative ceremony was held at the Naval Armory with addresses by Theodore Roosevelt and French officials.

Finally, years later, Congress appropriated funds for a permanent resting place in a marble sarcophagus reminiscent of the Tomb of Napoleon. And today, in a crypt beneath the Academy Chapel, a United States Marine Captain stands silent guard, tribute to the man who gave so much to this country, but waited so long to come home to the land that he had adopted and loved and which was, in the end, his native land.