John Paul Jones lives on in Navy acclaim

Crypt: In Annapolis, the Revolutionary War hero still gets his due.

July 10, 2005|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

When the American Colonies were being pummeled by British forces during the Revolutionary War, a pugnacious Scotsman in charge of a Continental Navy ship took a daring risk: He took the fight to the British.

In battle after battle off the European continent, John Paul Jones scored stunning victories for the fledgling American Navy against larger, more powerful British ships. His famous rallying cry - "I have not yet begun to fight!" - is said to have been yelled during a pitched battle off the English coast in 1779 with a supposedly superior British frigate, which Jones ultimately captured.

More than two centuries later, Jones' words and record of success continue to serve as inspiration for the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he has been interred for the past 100 years. For years, however, the crypt of Jones, who is hailed as the father of the American Navy, had been in dire need of a makeover.

And it recently got one, thanks to the Naval Academy Class of 1955. The class raised nearly $1 million for the renovation of the crypt, where a ceremony yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the return of Jones' body to America. Inside the cool, dark crypt, Jones' sarcophagus gleamed with polished bronze and black-and-white mottled marble as visitors circled around.

"Very impressive," said Jim Brennan, 42, of Syracuse, N.Y., as he walked outside the chapel after touring the crypt with his wife, Lisa, and sons Jim, 17, and Mike, 15. "It's a real tribute to the Navy. ... It's their heritage."

On a campus steeped in tradition, yesterday's commemoration of Jones was a reverential affair. It began with a fife-and-drum corps, dressed in Revolutionary War-era military clothing, leading a procession from the academy's visitor center to the crypt's entrance under the chapel. There, Navy officials hailed Jones' heroic contributions to American independence and to the Navy.

"Outnumbered and outgunned, Jones snatched victory," Capt. Bruce E. Grooms, the academy's commandant of midshipmen, told a crowd of about 60 people gathered outside Jones' crypt. "He asserted the tenacity of a new nation and gained the respect of the world."

French connection

Though regarded by the British as a pirate, Jones was respected by the French, who aided the American colonists in their struggle for independence. He is credited with receiving the first recognition of the American flag by a foreign government when a French commander issued a nine-gun salute to Jones' ship, the Ranger, during an encounter off the coast of France in 1777.

"It was the beginning of a long-lasting friendship and a mutual respect between two navies," Cmdr. Louis-Marie Desprezt, an assistant naval attache with the French Navy, said during the ceremony.

Jones' life

Jones was born in Scotland in 1747, finished school at age 12 and was apprenticed to a local ship owner. He worked on merchant ships, rapidly gained experience and took command of his first ship at age 21, according to official Navy accounts.

All told, Jones commanded six ships during the American Revolution. After the war, Jones accepted a position as a rear admiral with the Imperial Russian Navy for two years. He returned to Paris in 1790, where he died of natural causes two years later, at age 45.

In death, Jones began another odyssey. For more than 100 years, he lay forgotten in a lead casket in a Paris cemetery. But Horace Porter, a U.S. ambassador to France, set out to find Jones' grave at the turn of the 20th century.

Jones' grave was found in 1905 and his remains were brought to the United States, where they were reinterred in a temporary vault near the Naval Academy chapel, which was under construction.

Finally, in 1913, Jones was laid to rest in the crypt under the chapel. Jones' remains lie within a 21-ton marble sarcophagus adorned with bronze garlands of sea plants and supported by bronze dolphins.

But the crypt had begun to show its age. Some alumni said they began pressing for its renovation at least four years ago.

$920,000 renovation

The $920,000 renovation of the crypt included the installation of a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system to provide better temperature control of the historical materials.

Workers also polished and preserved marble columns, stonework, metal trim and the bronze surfaces throughout the crypt.

"It needed to be done," Dennis J. Sullivan Jr., president of the Class of 1955, said while standing near the sarcophagus. "It was something we could put our name on, it coincided with our 50th reunion, and the 100th anniversary of John Paul Jones' return to the States."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.