America is often called a nation of immigrants, and Scottish-born John Paul Jones is as much a citizen of his adopted country as is any other immigrant. Jones was not unique as a foreign-born officer in the Continental Navy. John Barry, born in Ireland, Denis-Nicolas Cottineau de Kerloguen, born in France, and John Manley, born in England, are a few other examples. Although, in the spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Jones called himself a “citizen of the world,” Americans today can justly embrace him as their own.
While it is true that in accepting appointment to command in the navy of Catherine the Great Jones sought personal glory, the story is not so simple as that. First, in the eighteenth century the desire for glory was considered a virtue. Second, there is reason to believe that, in joining the Russian Navy, Jones sought to expand his experience in fleet operations, as opposed to command of a single warship, in preparation for the day when the United States would create its own fleet. He had sailed with the French fleet to gain similar experience for that purpose.
Although the United States dissolved the Continental Navy at the end of the American War of Independence, Jones expected that the implementation of the United States Constitution would lead to the reestablishment of a United States Navy. As an officer of the Continental Navy of the American Revolution, John Paul Jones helped establish the traditions of courage and professionalism that the sailors of the United States Navy today proudly maintain. Jones is remembered for his indomitable will, his unwillingness to consider surrender when the slightest hope of victory still burned.
Throughout his naval career Jones promoted professional standards and training. Dr. Dennis M. Conrad sums it up well: “His strategic vision that placed the nations’ interest over his own personal gain, his rise to the top levels of the new American navy through dint of hard work and application, his skill as a naval architect, his continued study to better himself as an officer and commander, and his attempts to reform the navy and to substitute merit and ability in place of nepotism and influence, all marked him as one who sought to professionalize the early Navy.”
Sailors of the United States Navy can do no better than to emulate the spirit behind John Paul Jones’s stirring Declaration: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” John Paul Jones is unusual in having served as an officer in the navies of both the United States of America and Russia. He brought his experience in the Continental Navy to his service in the Russian navy, and may have hoped to bring his experience in the Russian navy back to a reestablished United States Navy.
Thus, he represents a link between the two countries’ navies.