Report of Doctor J. Capitan on the Body of John Paul Jones

(Translation of autopsy report.)

THE 7th of April, I905,
having been informed by Mr. Vallet, superintendent of mines, by order of the engineer, Mr. Weiss, of the discovery in the explorations in Grange-aux-Belles street, No. 43, of a new leaden coffin appearing to contain a corpse well preserved, I recommended that it should be immediately covered with plaster.The next day, April 8, I went to the place, and ascertaining that it was impossible in the gallery of the excavations to study the corpse, together with Mr. Weiss I had the necessary measures taken for the removing and transporting of the coffin and the corpse to the Medical School of Practice of the Faculty of Medicine.

Thanks first to the extreme kindness of Mr. Lepine, prefect of police, whom I saw during the day and to whom I explained the facts, thanks also to the kind cooperation of Doctor Rieffel, chief of the anatomical service of the School of Medicine, and of Mr. Himbert, superintendent of material, the coffin was removed the same evening, in entire secrecy, to the School of Practice, where the next morning it was opened.

My colleague, Doctor Papillault, whom I had requested to be good enough to take charge of the anatomical descriptive branch and of the measurements, questions for which he has a very great capacity, made a very careful study of the corpse and drew up the report which has been read already.

I will therefore confine myself solely to my personal observations relating either to the pathological anatomy of the subject or to the various manipulations to which the corpse had been submitted, and which we can verify, thanks to the traces that have been left upon the corpse.

I must say also that at various times we have exchanged ideas, Doctor Papillault and I, and that we have always been of the same opinion, namely, an accumulation of proofs, all leading, often by very different ways, to this conclusion: That there can be here no other corpse in question but that of Paul Jones.

The following observations will show some of the proofs which I have gathered on the subject: The opening of the coffin took place April 9. I will not dwell upon the particulars, either as to the care exercised in putting it in the coffin (the packing by means of straw and hay) or of the clothing [winding sheet, shirt, and cap], having specially to concern myself with the anatomical branch.

The consistency of the tissues, their aspect, even their special odor (recalling the old anatomical specimens preserved in alcohol) enables one to affirm quite surely that the subject was preserved in alcohol or an aromatic alcoholic liquid without its having been subjected to any other preparation, for it presents no traces of any incision having served to inject any liquid whatever in the veins, according to the present process of embalming. Besides, as we shall see later on, the viscera are intact. We can thus determine the particularly careful means employed in the preparation of the corpse and agreeing fully with the idea which the friend of Paul Jones had at the time of his death to preserve it as long as possible, so as to be able to transport it in perfect security to America when the moment should arrive.

In the first place, the corpse had been probably completely, and at all events surely over the hands and feet, covered with tin foil, carefully applied upon the tissues. We found it there. It is, besides, a process still in use at the present day.

Once clothed in its shirt and wrapped in its winding sheet, the corpse was placed in a solid leaden coffin; then the empty spaces were carefully stuffed with hay and straw, probably rendered aromatic. The whole must have been immersed in alcohol or an alcoholic mixture and the lid soldered, which could be easily done by soldering the edges of the lid turned over and hammered down. A small orifice of about 2 centimeters diameter had been made at the top of the lid, over the head. It might have served, also, to introduce alcohol, or at least to complete the supply introduced and to admit of the escape of air or gas after or at the time of closing the coffin. This small orifice was closed with solder at the time of burial.

Under those conditions and according to the information which had been furnished by the employees of the amphitheater, accustomed to prepare corpses, a slow saturation takes place — of the muscles first, then of the viscera themselves, which causes their perfect preservation.

The teguments, in fact, of a brownish gray, had retained their flexibility. They were notably contracted. The muscles were of a brownish gray also, strongly saturated with the preserving liquid. They had the odor of anatomic specimens long preserved in alcohol. The tendons and aponeuroses had retained all their solidity, and the subject could be lifted up bodily.

Tuesday, April 11, my friend Mr. Monpillard, the very distinguished and very well-known microphotographer, was kind enough to take the very fine photographs of the subject, full size, and the head, annexed to this report. They give very accurately the appearance of the corpse.

It was indispensable afterwards to make the autopsy. I did this on April I3. In order not to alter in any way the appearance of the corpse, I made the autopsy by opening the back.

Upon opening the thorax I was greatly astonished to find the viscera much contracted, but very well preserved. The lungs presented some adhesions to the pleural walls, especially in the upper lobe. When cut open, they show a brownish parenchyma. Upon the surface and in the interior of the pulmonary tissue there exist, especially at the level of the diaphragmatic edge of the lower lobe, small white hard masses, varying in volume from a grain of canary seed to a diameter of from 3 to 4 millimeters, and having the appearance of calcified tubercles. But in view of the existence of concretions of an analogous appearance at the surface of the teguments of the lower limbs, this diagnosis can not be sustained. Besides, as will be seen in the annexed report of Professor Cornil, it is a question of a mass of tyrosin.

The heart, small, contracted, the color of dead leaves, has its valves absolutely normal and still perfectly flexible; the walls of the two ventricles measure 5 to 6 millimeters in thickness. There is no hypertrophy of the left ventricle. On the surface of the right auricle there were observed some flat concretions sous-endocardiques and recalling the appearance of those of the lungs.

The liver was of a yellowish brown. When cut open, it presented a tissue rather dense and compact, from which escaped the preserving liquid, with which it was deeply saturated. It was also rather contracted. The gall bladder was healthy and contained a pale yellowish brown bile, of a pasty consistency.

The stomach was very small and contracted. The spleen appeared comparatively more voluminous than it ought to have been, considering the marked contraction of all the viscera. It measured from 6 to 7 centimeters upon its greater axis. Its tissue appeared rather firm.

The two kidneys, on the contrary, small, hard, and contracted, appeared more reduced still in volume than they should have been.

The intestines were completely contracted and empty.

Considering the alteration of the appearance of the head, which always results from the removal of the brain, I thought that there was no need to remove this viscus. Previous observations had, besides, shown me that the liquid on the outside could not penetrate the brain, which certainly must have been completely deteriorated.

Not wishing, out of respect to the distinguished personality of the subject, to retain the viscera, I had them carefully replaced in the thorax, after having removed several small fragments intended for microscopic examination, which Professor Cornil, professor of pathological anatomy of the faculty of medicine of Paris, was good enough to make in person with his great ability. But before giving the result of this examination, the impression derived from this autopsy was, first, the astonishing preservation of the viscera, which had enabled one to make so very clear an autopsy one hundred and thirteen years after the death of the organs of a patient rather pronouncedly consumptive, with viscera emaciated and contracted. Thus the kidneys, on a simple microscopical examination, had the appearance of kidneys affected by interstitial nephritis.

Besides, the microscopic examination, of which we can see a full account in the report hereto annexed of Professor Cornil, well corroborates these first verifications.

I have been able to recognize very clearly on the fine microscopic preparations executed by Professor Cornil in person, and which he has been good enough to show to me, the following various peculiarities:

The heart is normal, with streaks of some muscular fibers still very clearly visible.

The liver seems likewise normal, with its anatomical disposition very clear. The cells of this organ were badly preserved. It was therefore not possible to see whether there had been such cellular lesions, more or less grave, as accompany the acute liver troubles analogous to symptoms of jaundice which Paul Jones presented at the end of his life.

The lungs contain in sufficiently large number these white granulations, which seem to have, under the microscope, the appearance of masses formed by a felting of fine needles of tyrosin (product of the decomposition of azotized substances). This particularly curious circumstance may be due to the fact (if it is admitted that the corpse had simply been immersed in alcohol) that before the alcohol could have penetrated all the viscera there took place a beginning of decomposition which brought on the production of these crystals.

The microbes are equally abundant upon the sections of the lung. They are the ordinary microbes of putrefaction, in the form of round grains and small sticks. Professor Cornil tried in vain to discover the tuberculous bacilli.

Besides, the only lesions that one could locate were small rounded masses, hard and at times calcified in the lungs, which correspond to small patches of broncho-pneumonia partially cicatrized. This fact agrees well with what we know of the disease of Paul Jones, who, after his sojourn in Russia, coughed a great deal and to such an extent that he could not speak at the session of the National Assembly where he was received.

As to the kidneys, the sections presented the appearance, very clearly, of chronic interstitial nephritis.

The vessels at several points had their walls thickened and invaded by sclerosis. A number of glomerulia were completely transformed into fibrous tissue and appeared in the form of small spheres, strongly colored by the microscopic reactions. This verification was of the highest importance. It gave the key to the various pathological symptoms presented by Paul Jones at the close of life–emaciation and consumptive condition, and especially a considerable swelling, which from the feet gained completely the nether limbs, then the abdomen, where it even produced ascites (exsudat intra-abdominal). All these affections are often observed at the close of chronic interstitial nephritis. It can therefore be said that we possess microscopic proof that Paul Jones died of a chronic renal affection, of which he had shown symptoms toward the close of his life.

In a word, like my colleague Papillault, and by different means, relying solely upon the appearance of the subject, on the comparison of his head with the Houdon bust, and besides considering that the observations made upon his viscera absolutely agree with his clinical history, I reach this very clear and well-grounded conclusion, namely, that the corpse of which we have made a study is that of Paul Jones.

I will even add, always with Papillault, that, being given this convergence of exceedingly numerous, very diversified, and always agreeing facts, it would be necessary to have a concurrence of circumstances absolutely exceptional and improbable in order that the corpse here concerned be not that of Paul Jones.

In closing I may be permitted to express, always with my colleague Papillault, the extreme satisfaction that we have had in bringing to the solution of this important problem that Gen. Horace Porter, ambassador of the United States, assisted by Colonel Bailly-Blanchard, secretary of the American embassy, has pursued with such remarkable and intelligent perseverance, the cooperation of our special qualifications, thanks to which the identification of the great American Admiral has been realized, when, without these means of investigation, it would have been impossible to arrive at the knowledge that at last the corpse of Paul Jones has been discovered, and that thus the honors which he has awaited for one hundred and thirteen years might at last be rendered him by his country.


Professor in the School of Anthropology

Member of the Municipal Commission of Old Paris.