THE WOMEN OF JOHN PAUL JONES
By: James Bliss, J.D.
When Abigail Adams met John Paul Jones in Paris in 1784, she found him to be more novel than she had envisioned. Writing to her sister, Betsy, later that year, she offered;
“Chevalier Jones you have heard much of. He is a most uncommon character. I dare say anyone would be as much disappointed in him as I was. From the intrepid character he justly supported in the American Navy, I expected to have seen a rough stout warlike Roman. Instead of that, I should sooner think of wrapping him up in cotton wool and putting him in my pocket, then sending him to contend with cannon ball.”
Abigail, impressed with his effortless ability to captivate the ladies in the most elite social circles of Paris, and his undying love for America and brave accomplishments against the enemy, would often speak highly of him.
Around that same period, an English gossip columnist named Caroline Edes, found John Paul’s love life of great interest to her readers. On one occasion, she wrote for a London newspaper from France, “He is greatly admired here, especially by the ladies, who are all wild for the love of him.” In a second installment she confessed that she too had fallen victim to the charm and romantic grace of John Paul Jones. One could almost feel the pain in her heart when she admitted, “Since my last, Paul Jones drank tea and supped here. If I am in love with him, for love I may die”.
Whether John Paul had a school sweetheart is both unknown and unlikely given his young age. His education ended when he was 13. His school master in Kirkbean was the Reverend James Hogg, who kept the local parochial school. An alumnus of King’s College, his lessons to John Paul in poetry and writing would turn out to exceed that of John’s Continental colleagues. He had the great ability to express his feelings to the gentler sex and his poetry was well written.
We first learn of a possible love interest during the months that he spent in Fredericksburg, Va. before leaving to join the Continental Navy. The evidence of such a relationship is circumstantial at best. In 1778, John Paul received a letter from his close friend, Dr. John Read, whom he had spent a great deal of time with in Virginia. In that letter, some three years after Dr. Read last saw his close friend, he wrote, “You tell me you are under expectation of purchasing a Virginia estate, but some more agreeable idea will I fear call you off and deprive us of you, Miss Dandridge is no more, that is, she a few months ago gave herself into the arms of Patrick Henry”.
The woman Dr. Read referred to was Dorothea Dandridge. Just what kind of relationship existed between Dorothea and John Paul has been the subject of much debate and perhaps is nothing more than a fictitious tale that began with the Oliver and Boyd biography published in Edinburgh in 1830. While it is possible that Jones may have contemplated a marriage to Miss Dandridge, it would have been frowned upon by her family.
Certainly, John Paul knew of the illustrious pedigree of Dorothea, who is believed to have been a woman of beauty and grace. Her paternal grandfather, Captain William Dandridge, had been a leader in the British Navy. His mother, Lady Unity West, was a great-granddaughter of Baron de la Warr, Thomas West, for whom the Delaware River, Delaware Bay and even the State of Delaware had been named. Her paternal grandfather, Alexander Spottiswood, was the Governor of the Colony of Virginia and some claim he may have descended from Robert the Bruce. For the young unemployed sea captain without a home, a marriage to Dorothea Dandridge would have catapulted him to the top of colonial society.
In reality, not a single biographer in more than 200 years has been able to state that this was a serious relationship in Jones’s life. For a man who documented most of his existence, there is not a shred of evidence that John Paul ever gave Dorothea a passing thought after having left for Philadelphia to seek his commission in 1775. Jones wore his heart on his sleeve and any event that greatly affected him would eventually find its way in some letter. On Dorothea’s part, her parents would gain their wish that their daughter would wed someone of standing and power. On October 19, 1777, she became the second wife of Patrick Henry who was then a widower with six minor children and the Governor of Virginia. Whether or not Dorothea would ever regret marrying a man almost twice her age and bearing him an additional eleven children we will never know. It was, without question, a much different life than she would have experienced with the handsome and brave John Paul Jones.
Now a full Captain, between the summer of 1775 and March of 1777, when he put up for the winter in Boston, John Paul commanded the Alfred and the Providence and had just returned from several missions for his adopted America, capturing much needed supplies for Washington’s army from British ships and conducting raids on Nova Scotia to destroy its fishing fleet which fed British divisions. While lodging above a Boston tavern, he made many influential friends that he later referred to as his “Boston family.” While it is probable that our suave and debonair young captain was not often alone in his bed chamber, no hint of a serious debutante has yet been discovered. In later March, as snow began to melt into the Charles River and couples strolled along its banks, if John Paul felt the pinch of loneliness, he had little time to dwell on feelings of the heart. Round trips to Philadelphia, along the soft mud trails in April and finally a trek to Portsmouth, N.H. to refit and command the Ranger in July 1777, left him with little spare time. Yet another two years had passed in the life of the brave lad from Kirkcudbright alone and still married to the sea.
When Jones arrived in Portsmouth, N.H., he found good lodging with the widow, Sarah Purcell in her beautiful two- story Georgian home. Sarah’s husband died in 1776, leaving her in debt and with five children. Because John Paul had chosen to stay with the widow Purcell, both during this period in 1777 and for a brief time in 1781-82, some biographers have surmised that he and Sarah were lovers. That assumption is a bit farfetched. Never did John Paul mention her in any of his writings or attempt to communicate with her once Ranger set sail.
John Paul’s letters reflect that he was very happy in Portsmouth. The village had the Saint John Lodge of Masons and the young ladies clamored to meet and share time with the unattached famous naval officer. Some writers have rumored that John Paul had an affair with the wife of Woodbury Langdon.
Her name was Sarah Sherburne Langdon and she was not quite a year younger than John Paul. At that time, Woodbury was nine years her senior. John Paul stood about 5’6” and sported a strong, muscular build. His long brown hair would have been pulled back and his dress in his captain’s uniform, impeccable. With his charm, good looks and the attention and gossip of the local women, rumors of various affairs likely abounded at the time. Sarah Langdon might have had a few children by the time she met John Paul. It is also probable that Sarah was related to Robert Langdon whom John Paul relied upon to outfit the Ranger. Since the morals of the women of France and those of the women of colonial New Hampshire were markedly different and since Sarah was still married, any affair between the two was not likely to extend beyond rumor. With Ranger finally ready for sea, he set off for France on November 1, 1777 but his joys in Portsmouth had not left his thoughts. Upon arrival at Nantes, he wrote his good friend, John Wendell, asking him to make his best compliments to the “agreeable Ladies of my acquaintance in Portsmouth”. However, like Sarah Purcell, no mention was ever made of her once he left Portsmouth.
Once in Paris, he would make his way to the Hotel Valentinois where the popular American diplomat, Benjamin Franklin lived. Dr. Franklin was the reigning talk of Paris’s most prominent ladies and he and John Paul quickly became great friends. Franklin was especially intimate with Madame Brillon de Jouy, who would sit on the diplomat’s lap and play chess with the smooth-talking Franklin while she bathed.
Dr. Franklin lost no time introducing the handsome captain to his lady friends. One of the first he would meet was Madame Le Ray de Chaumont who lived in the main part of the Hotel and was married to its owner, Jacques Donatien Le Ray. Of course, John Paul chose to stay at Valentinois while in Paris and soon, rumor had it, fell in love with the beautiful Madame Chaumont. Since John Paul had to rely upon the Madame’s well-connected husband to resupply his ships and to sell the prizes and goods that he had captured on the voyage over, the relationship with his wife was awkward at best. His mentor, the amorous Franklin, had advised Jones that the best way to learn French was to find a “sleeping dictionary” and John Paul took him at his word. In Paris during that period, it was not unusual for both husbands and wives to take on lovers. So, it was not long before Madame became very intimate with John Paul and the gossip of the house staff was that the two would make passionate love whenever her husband would be absent on his frequent business trips. This secret affair quickly become the talk of Paris and it was the first time that we know about when John Paul may have actually fallen in love. Dr. Franklin, being ever vigilant in looking out for his young captain, had also warned him that mistresses were easier to acquire than to sometimes shake off. While she later tried very hard to downplay her love for John Paul, Madame de Chaumont would visit her lover in Brest, along with her two sisters when duties required that he return to his ship. In just a few weeks, Jones bid his mistress goodbye and set out from Paimboeuf on February 13, 1778 on what would be one of his celebrated cruises. While his stock with the lovely gentry of Paris was about to go up, his affair with Madame de Chaumont would soon cool.
The British Isle had not been attacked in over a century. On April 22, 1778; Jones led approximately 30 of his crew to attack Whitehaven, England. His historical attack did little damage, but the fear instilled into everyone in Great Britain was enormous and had a great effect on shortening the war. The next day, he led an armed, noon assault on St. Mary’s Isle which terrified its residents, then when he proved he could walk right up to the door of the British elite with his visit to the estate of Lord Selkirk. Finally, he went gun for gun against the well commanded and trained crew of the British sloop, HMS Drake in a battle lasting over an hour. Cannon balls of 6 and 18 pounds flew back and forth until the Captain of the Drake was killed and his First Officer mortally wounded. Finally, the Drake’s third in command called for “Quarters” and as the smell of gun powder and the large blooms of smoke moved away across the waves, John Paul had captured a British ship of war. He had been gone from France for only three months and he returned to a hero’s welcome.
Following Rangers return to France with HMS Drake in tow on May 8, 1778 until around Christmas when John Paul left for Lorient to begin preparations for his new ship, Duc de Duras, soon to be the Bonhomme Richard, he had plenty of time to renew his friendships, political connections and love interests in Paris and Passy.
As close as he was with the most powerful and beauteous women of Paris, Passy and Versailles, this magnanimous American captain whose humble beginnings included time as a lowly ship’s boy, stood in great stead with the husbands of his mistresses, members of the Royal Court and King Louis the XVI himself. His platonic friendship with Marie-Adelaide, the Duchess de Chartres and wife to Prince Phillip de Chartres, would no doubt help him precure his next ship. Marie-Adelaide was said to have had a slim and porcelain figure and was once described as having that “quality of fervor which makes saints.” Though her husband was often seen in the company of other women, she remained loyal to “dear Phillip”, as she often referred to him, despite her admiration and love for John Paul and he enjoyed her company with the same fervor. A spat with Madame de Chaumont allowed the two of them to spend a great deal of time together. Years later, the son of the Duchess de Chartres would say he never saw his mother happier than when she was with John Paul. Alas, had circumstances only been different the cabin boy from the merchant ship, Friendship, may have emerged as royalty.
As for the spat between Madame de Chaumont and John Paul; around February of 1779 when he left the Hotel Valentinois and his Madame for business in Lorient, he had left behind one of his uniforms in the closet of his room. While there, he received a letter from Dr. Franklin which as more of side note, added a story that Dr. Franklin assumed Jones might find humorous.
It seems that in his absence, a carnival was being held where costumes were part of the celebration. Finding the captains uniform in his room, Mademoiselle de Chaumont’s femme de chambre maid, put on the uniform and disguised herself. Hiding her face, she then made fun advances to the old hag in the dark of the garden. The old woman turned out to be the gardener’s wife and the old man threatened to kill John Paul to restore his wife’s honor. Since John Paul was absent, it did not take long for the truth to emerge. Dr. Franklin who found the incident hilarious assumed that Madame de Chaumont would have already informed Jones. She had not and Jones found the whole event to be embarrassing and disrespectful and his fury was increased by the fact that Madame had not informed him straight away.
Love interests aside, John Paul never steered from the path of Liberty and for as much attention as he paid to the ladies of beauty and fashion, he paid twice that to those in position to obtain a ship worthy of his skill and daring. Back home, the results of nepotism and incompetency had not faired well with the Continental Navy. Congress, always short of money, did the best they were capable of to appease the demands for ship building contracts of the northern colonies, only to see them captured or burned to prevent them from falling into British hands. They sincerely hoped that Franklin would convince France to find a ship for the energetic John Paul Jones.
His efforts to obtain the new ship L’Indien being built by the Dutch slipped through his fingers when pressure from England not to give the ship to the Americans scared off the neutral Dutch. But by this time, John Paul’s circle of powerful friends had grown considerably and with support from French Admirals such as d’Orvilliers and Vaudreuil and even Marquis de Lafayette himself. M.de Sartine, the Ministre de la Marine wrote to Jones that King Louis XVI felt that his bravery and passion required that he be given command of the Indiaman merchant ship, Duc de Duras, which he could refit into a ship of war at the expense of the crown. He would also be given a squadron of vessels that he could direct as he saw fit.
Finally, Jones not only had a ship, albeit a bit old and slow, that he could go head-to-head with a British ship of war, but also an escort of support ships of which he would be Commodore. Even better, the mission was his to decide. Since the day he boarded Alfred in Philadelphia in 1775 and the years to follow in the ragtag fleet of the Continental Navy, his wish had come true and while his deployment would have its own share of insanity, it would lead to one of the greatest naval battles and make Jones infinitely famous. A battle which will forever rein in the annuals of naval history.
On September 23, 1779, Jones, having renamed his ship, “Bonhomme Richard”, in honor of his friend and hero, Benjamin Franklin, Jones would go blow for blow against a senior and the very experienced British Captain Richard Pearson and his new ship, HMS Serapis. The battle took place just off Flamborough Head, off the English coast and for the next four hours crowds gathered and witnessed a vicious exchange of cannon fire. As darkness fell and the moon rose, great circles of red and orange rose from both ships as the acidic smell of sulfur crossed the water and the huge clouds of smoke balls covered each ship.
On board both vessels, the casualties mounted as sails tore and masts cracked in splintered halves, falling to the deck. At the onset of the battle, two of Bonhomme Richard’s old, French 18-pound cannons exploded from age, killing several of the gun crew and buckling the upper deck above. On more than one occasion, both ships had caught fire and the crews agreed to mutually cease fire until the flames could be put out. Captain Pearson could see that the Bonhomme Richard was holed both above and below the water line. Pearson’s shout to John Paul asking if he would strike, due to the condition of the Bonhomme Richard, was met with the now famous retort, “I have not yet begun to fight”. Jones would not be denied. The Serapis was not fairing any better when a Scottish sailor from Richard, named Hamilton, dropped grenades from out over the mainyard, into Serapis’ partially open, main hatch. Luck was on is side, one of these small bombs, fell through the hatch, bounced around and caused a massive deadly explosion. Captain Pearson knew that his rival would never quit. More than half of Serapis’ crew were dead or dying and as blood flowed across his deck, he decided he must strike his colors. Jones had secured his place in the annuals of war.
The savage battle with HMS Serapis had been costly in both lives and damage to the Bonhomme Richard. After a 36-hour fight to save his ship, Jones realized that saving his ship from a trip to Davy Jones locker was a battle he could not possibly win. Sadly, he would watch her slip below the waves after transferring his men and his command over to the Serapis. Realizing there was nothing more he could accomplish with the damaged British ship, over five hundred prisoners and dozens of wounded still being tended too, Jones turned his canvas toward the Netherlands and led his small squadron across the North Sea to the Dutch Island of Texel, along the north Holland shores. There, he would spend the next two months. With the American flag flying in the port of Texel, his presence presented a diplomatic nightmare for the Dutch. Despite this, many supported the American cause and viewed John Paul as a fierce and brave warrior. Not to be outdone, even tucked away in the small ports of Holland, the fair young women of the Netherlands felt the same heart aches for John Paul, as did the ladies in France. He was followed as he walked the narrow streets where shouts and offers for his attention carried the same enthusiasm as did his evening strolls through Passy. One would think that with only eight weeks ashore John Paul could not possibly have become entangled with affairs of the heart, yet to believe that, would be to underestimate his ever-growing reputation as being as stubborn in love as he was in war.
As congratulations made their way to Jones, Dr. Franklin not only praised his captain but suggested that he look up a certain young woman who he was certain Jones would find interesting. Ever dutiful to his mentor, John Paul did just that. Her name was Mademoiselle Anna Jacoba Dumas and although very young, he would spend as much time as possible with Anna over his last four weeks in her country. Jones’s affection for Mademoiselle was so great that he would write her a song that has since become known as the “Virgin Muse”. Like so many of his affairs, his duties would prevent him from exploring the beauty and charm of this gorgeous young woman. Like so many others who had interested Jones, they never saw each other again.
Turning command of HMS Serapis over to another captain, Jones set sail around New Year and eventually made it back to Lorient in February 1780. His duties would occupy his time for the next couple of months, but by April, he would be welcomed back to Paris and his favorite Passy, as a hero of the French. He was recognized wherever he went. It was said he was entertained by the most powerful of men and that women literally threw themselves into his arms. Jean-Antoine Houdon produced the now famous life-size bust of John Paul; at Versailles, he was presented to King Louis XVI who would later bestow upon him the Ordre du Me’rite Militaire and the title of “Chevalier”, the equivalent of an English Knight. This title, given with the approval of the American Congress would be cherished by John Paul until the day he died. Many portraits of Jones sport the King’s medal on his uniform. The King also awarded Jones, a gold-hilted sword, inscribed and of remarkable beauty. It rests today on display at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. With all this attention, it is not surprising, that he would, once again, find a new love.
Her name was Madame la Comtesse de Lowendahl. She had been born into royal blood as Charlotte-Marguerite de Bourbon, the daughter of Prince Charles de Bourbon Conde’. Although married to General Lowendahl, her beauty, youth and commanding presence captured John Paul’s heart immediately. The Comtesse would play down the rampant rumors that circulated Paris and Versailles. Perhaps having the man that all the women of France wanted was all that interested her. In the end, it seemed that Madame Lowendahl was only out for herself. Jones on the other hand, read her attention as sincere love and her passion as unbridled lust, when he would spend the nights with her. Certainly, she had affection for Jones. The Comtesse, who had many talents, was a fair miniature portrait artist. She would paint John Paul’s portrait and affectionately present it to him, a treasure he preserved until he died. Before sailing again in the cause of liberty, he had felt so strongly for the Comtesse that he asked her if he could leave his gold-hilted sword in her care until his return. Mindful of her husband, he also sent her a letter offering a cypher that only he and the Comtesse would understand. Her response was rather cold and her reply letter asked if perhaps he had sent her a letter meant for someone else? This caught John Paul off guard. That letter, oddly enough, was delivered to Jones by her husband who was seeking Jones help to find him a position with Washington’s army back in the colonies. As much as the General would hand deliver the reply, it is submitted for consideration that he also had come into possession of John Paul’s romantic letter when the post reached the Lowendahl’s home, when the General handed the letter to his wife. What could she say? “Surely, this must be meant for another of the Commodores many affairs”, as the General likely read Jones post over his wife’s shoulder. It’s likely Jones may have surmised much the same as he had made a couple other attempts to communicate with the Comtesse secretly. Many biographers of Jones believe she only used John Paul to help her husband find work. However, one cannot read the saga of the Jones and Madame la Comtesse de Lowendahl without feeling the break of John Paul’s heart. He was 36 years old and the prospect of ever settling down with a wife and shading himself under a Virginia apple tree must have seemed bleak at best.
Never one to give up, it did not take long for John Paul to replace his broken heart with yet another relationship and this time, unlike the selfish motivations of the Comtesse, this new prospect appeared to love him back with an unrelenting, almost fanatical passion. In May of 1780, Jones would be introduced to La Comtesse de Nicolson at a party near Sennonville. Both would claim that arrows passed into each other’s hearts that evening and that they fell instantly in love. Of course, like all of the young beautiful women of France, and as John Paul’s luck would have it, she too was married. Her husband, was a Scotsman, of no particular standing, named Count William Murray. Jones, perhaps not wishing to again be reminded of his lover’s marital status, chose to call her “Delia” after his favorite song. Still, they were able to spend a fair amount of discrete time together outside of Lorient, periods that only fueled a rather reckless lust she had for Jones. It was almost as if she could care less if Count Murray found out. John Paul for his part, had to return to his duties in America and throughout the summer of 1780, Delia would write some of the most heart wrenching love letters pouring out her pain over the absence of her beloved Jones. Perhaps still feeling the pain of Madame Lowendahl or not knowing where his service would take him, he tried to avoid the pleas of the love sick, Delia. After having to return to America, Jones would receive welcomed news that he was being appointed to oversee the building of a magnificent frigate to be known as the America currently under construction in Portsmouth, N.H.
John Paul would arrive in Portsmouth to begin work on America on August 31, 1782. The lonely, rocky coast of Portsmouth must have given Jones time to contemplate his lost loves and the time he spent alone, because we know he had written to Madame Lowendahl trying to repair their damaged relationship. Two letters he wrote, one long overdue to Delia, he actually wrote on Christmas day, when the emptiness of companionship and the dread of the gray skies over New Hampshire, must have had him feeling fairly despondent.
It is not likely that John Paul had to spend too many evenings alone, regardless of what port required him. In both March and September of 1782, he writes to his friend in the office of Secretary Robert Morris in Philadelphia and inquiries about some “affair of the heart” he had during his five weeks stay there. It is yet to be discovered who that might have been. For now, we can only speculate. It was during his time in Philadelphia that he would be recommended to build and command the America and when some members of Congress had proposed promoting him to Admiral, the wife of Captain Thomas Read would learn of it and alert both her husband and Captain James Nicholson. Both would lobby to end the discussion of Jones promotion. Did this angry wife have a beef with John Paul or was she simply concerned with her husband’s position on the seniority list?
John Paul would not return to France until late 1783, news that Delia most certainly would have been made aware of. Now a widow and living alone in an apartment, Jones did not try to visit her and Delia was sad beyond measure. She wrote,
“O most amiable and most ungrateful of men, come to
Your best friend, who burns with desire to seeing you…
Come, in the name of Heaven!”
The two instant lovers would never see each other again and eventually Delia would escape France to avoid the perils of the French revolution. Jones would spend short periods of time in Philadelphia, Boston and Portsmouth during this era but no evidence has yet come forward to indicate any serious relationships in any of those American cities. In Boston, he struck up a friendship with Phillis Wheatley, the celebrated black poet though since Phillis was tightly married at the time, the relationship was probably platonic.
The Chevalier still pined for Madame Lowendahl and held out hope for whoever that mystery woman was that he had met in Philadelphia. He turned his energy to getting the America ready for sea, only to be crushed once again, to learn that his ship would be given to France, to replace the French ship that had been damaged outside Boston. In September, Congress was in dire financial straits and hoping to show some appreciation to France. The loss of the French ship presented the perfect opportunity to repay them and so Congress gifted to King Louis XVI our only existing ship of the line and John Paul’s dream of his own frigate. There seemed little hope that John Paul would gain another ship in the colonies and with the war coming to a close, he traveled back to Boston and Philadelphia to handle various business issues.
Finally, In September 1783, after 8 long years, the American War for Independence came to a close and the colonies celebrated their separation from Great Britain. Jones, still unattached and with a great deal of prize money to be collected throughout Europe, did not return to Virginia, nor to the mystery woman in Pennsylvania, nor did he return to relax in Mrs. Purcell’s parlor with the warm fireplace and antique windows. With the permission of the Congress to finish his financial work, Jones sailed back to France. It would still be some six years before Parisian mobs would storm the prison Bastille and kick off the deadly French Revolution. This time Paris, the Passy and the Versailles would have a quieter, more conservative tone. This time, he did not bother to look up Delia, the Comtesse de Nicolson, or consider re-establishing a relationship with Madame Lowendahl. Perhaps by this time he had realized that she was hopeless and beyond his reach.
Jones duties and travels would keep him busy for long periods of time after the end of the war. Eventually, he would begin a relationship with a woman, who for many years remained a mystery to historians. Jones only referred to her as “Madame T” and it appears as though he may have moved cautiously with her for some time. She claimed that she was the illegitimate daughter of Louis XVI. Jones felt that she carried herself with a poise and grace that projected royal blood such that her claims did not seem all that far-fetched. Unlike Madame Lowendahl, she was a widow and claimed that her Mother had abandoned her when she was very young. She asserted that she was to be presented to King Louis XVI and obtain a pension but whether because her story was untrue or the turmoil of the upcoming problems facing the crown intervened, it never took place. At the time Jones had met Madame T and become enamored with her, she was deeply in debt and somewhat destitute. From the time he had left for France until the end of 1787, John Paul had traveled extensively, including back to America but he kept in touch with what must have been a very attractive woman. Out of obvious concern for her, in September 1787 while he was in America, Jones wrote a letter to then Ambassador Thomas Jefferson, telling him about Madame T’s financial problems and her inability to seek the help of the crown and asked Jefferson to “look her up”.
We have since learned that Madame T was actually Therese Townsend, the French widow of an Englishman of whom nothing is known. In one letter that John Paul wrote to Madame Townsend, he makes a rather odd fleeting reference to a godson, obviously a child of hers that many believe may have been Jones’ child. It remains one of the many subjects regarding John Paul Jones yet to be explored. What we do know is that Thomas Jefferson did follow up on Madame Townsend for the Chevalier. Jones returned to France for a short period before leaving for an Admiral’s commission in Russia and when he did not hear from Mrs. Townsend for seven months, he wrote again to Jefferson in September of 1788, asking what had become of her. Jefferson had heard nothing. The year before, she approached Jefferson and asked if she might borrow money from the Ambassador in order to travel to England to sell some stocks. Jefferson told her he was unable to help her and she seems to have disappeared with her son shortly after Jones departed on his journey to Russia in February 1788. He never saw Madame Townsend or her son again, no mention of her ever appeared in his letters and when he wrote his will, he made no mention of them.
Wishing to remove the Turks from the Russian Black Sea, Catherine the Great knew she needed skilled, fighting captains of war. Impressed by many of the English and American naval officers who were now out of work, Catherine was insistent that she must have the famous John Paul Jones to lead half her fleet. To entice Jones, Catherine offered impressive wages and the rank of Rear Admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy. Jones, fearful of losing his hard-fought citizenship in America, requested the permission of Thomas Jefferson to allow him to take the position without consequence to his status as an American. Jefferson assured him his citizenship would be preserved and consented to the Russian tour of duty.
John Paul Jones’s promotion to Rear Admiral gave him much more than he had bargained for when he agreed to lead part of the Russian Navy. Unlike his popularity in France, most of the senior officers in the Russian Navy viewed him with distain. These jealous and difficult officers would lobby to be rid of Jones but his performance proved his worth. Catherine, who showed tremendous respect and admiration for Jones when he arrived, had grown tired of the bickering, and by the end of 1788 the Queen was worn down by her complaining senior officers. These same officers, not assured that Catherine would relieve Jones from duty and let Russian officers carry the day, plotted to remove him themselves. Well aware of John Paul’s reputation with women, they paid the Mother of a young girl to swear that she had been forcibly raped by Jones whilst she had tried to sell him butter in his flat. Aside from a bout of pneumonia that he came down with, that would permanently damage his lungs, the well-rehearsed tale that he had raped a 10-year-old girl had emotionally taken its toll. Eventually, the plot would be revealed as a fraud and Jones cleared of all charges. He would soon be decorated by Catherine, given an audience with her and then he returned to France by May 1990.
As for love in Russia, it appears as though Jones had no time to develop any type of relationship, nor did he ever speak of one. Interestingly, In the mid-twenties, a woman appeared at the American consulate in Riga, one of Russia’s largest cities, claiming that she was a descendant of John Paul Jones and demanding a passport to the United States. She claimed her father’s mother was Princess Anna Kourakina, a bridesmaid of Catherine II. She presented evidence which proved to be fake and she was dismissed. In 1934, The New York Times would run the story of Princess Anna enticing its readers to consider the possibility. It was an old familiar lore; John Paul would spot this beautiful princess at an embassy party and fall madly in love. A torrid intimate affair would begin that night and carry on until the two would birth a son. In the words of one of my favorite Jones historians, “hog wash.” Not even Russian officials as of late have been able to locate such a Princess. If nothing else, it was the end of stories that would be told of presumably the greatest lover the sea has ever known.
The France that John Paul returned to resembled nothing of his times there in the past. Most of his friends had fled to the country, the King and Queen were being held captive and there were few receptions in Passy or Versailles. Eventually, John Paul would become quite ill from kidney disease and on July 18, 1792, he died alone and unmarried in his Paris apartment at Rue de Tournon, kneeling on the floor and laid over his bed. Then Ambassador, Gouverneur Morris, had visited John Paul to take his will earlier in the evening but left so that he could dine with his Mistress. The story of his burial and the next 114 years that he was left in a lead coffin below a garbage dump, is one of the greatest disrespects ever paid to an American hero. Eventually, in 1906, Gen. Horace Porter, using some of his own money to find John Paul and with the support of President Teddy Roosevelt, would bring him home with great fanfare to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, where he lies today.
John Paul Jones had given his life to the liberty of his adopted country and the colony of Virginia that he so cherished. He devoted his life to a Navy that could barely pay him, often paying his sailors from his own coffers. He never made plans to leave and offered his services to build an effective American Navy after the war. As an experienced merchant captain and with or without the Letters of Marque issued to privateers by Congress and the States, allowing them to capture British merchant ships and goods, Jones could have become a very rich man indeed.
In addition to wealth, he gave up his hope for “poetic ease and quiet contemplation” and his heart to a Navy he loved more than life itself. So, many times he had the opportunity to have a partner in life, a woman to love and grow old with and to have children and build an estate on the Virginia country side. Without question, he gave up all this for love of his country. When he died, there was no one at his side. No one held his hand.
In his now famous letter to the Countess of Selkirk, apologizing for his crew having removed her silver setting from her home during one of his raids while aboard Ranger, he wrote:
“Before this War began, I had at an early time of Life, withdrawn from the sea service, in favor of ‘calm contemplation and poetic ease.” I have sacrificed not only my favorite scheme of Life, but the softer affections of the Heart, and my Prospects of Domestic Happiness.”
On one occasion, the Mademoiselle de Menon asked him at a gathering if he had ever been wounded in battle. John Paul replied, “Never on the sea Mademoiselle,” he said, “but on land I have been bled by arrows which were never launched by the English.
Perhaps, if one does not have a heart, they would not feel the pain when it is broken or lonely. The chevalier did. He once wrote,
“The loveliest form, the fairest face, the brightest eye, the gentlest
Mind, and every virtue, charm and grace, should be endless fame
Such was a man who loved his country and the women who afforded him affection.
James Bliss is a naval veteran and historian. James holds degrees from Central Michigan University and has a Juris Doctorate in law. He practiced law for over 33 years before turning his attention to preserving the memory of John Paul Jones. He is a sought-after speaker on the great Naval Captain.