Posted by: Emma Hutchins, Public Diplomacy Intern
Many American students are familiar with the legendary U.S. Naval Officer John Paul Jones, whose daring bravery during the American Revolution has often captured the attention of textbooks and the imaginations of schoolchildren. However, beyond his role as one of the “Fathers of the United States Navy,” John Paul Jones was involved in a number of international naval battles, including the Battle of Liman, where he fought with the Russian Imperial Navy alongside Ukrainian Cossacks against an Ottoman fleet. On June 16-17, U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft visited Ochakiv and Kherson, respectively, to commemorate the 225th anniversary of John Paul Jones’s induction into the Cossack Brotherhood after the battle.
Born the son of a gardener in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, John Paul was first apprenticed at sea on the Friendship when he was just thirteen years old. John Paul, who later added “Jones” to his name in the United States, quickly ascended through naval ranks by working on trade ships that conducted lucrative voyages to the West Indies. However, in light of growing rumors of war with Britain and after a series of personal controversies, Jones traveled to Philadelphia during the summer of 1775 to enlist himself with the U.S. Navy. Shortly after his enrollment, and with the additional support of the well-known Virginian statesman Richard Henry Lee, Jones began his U.S. naval career aboard the Albert.
John Paul Jones’s most often quoted moment came several years later, on September 23, 1779, while he was commanding a squadron that included the Bonhomme Richard, which Jones named after his good friend Benjamin Franklin’s penname, Poor Richard. Off the Yorkshire coast of England, Jones’s crew confronted a large convoy of British merchant ships accompanied by HMS Serapis and HMS Countess of Scarborough. Although Serapis attacked Bonhomme Richard so severely that her hull was holed and began to take on water, when British Captain Richard Pearson of Serapis asked if Bonhomme Richard was ready to surrender, Jones reportedly replied, “Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!” By the end of the Battle of Flamborough Head it was Pearson who had surrendered, leaving Jones’s crew victorious in one of the most celebrated naval battles in U.S. history.
After his tenure with the U.S. Navy, Jones, like many other naval officers following the war, found himself unemployed as the United States turned its focus to internal politics instead of building up a Continental Navy. Feeling restless, Jones accepted an offer from Catherine the Great to serve in the Russian Imperial Navy, prompting him to adopt the name “Pavel Dzhones.” It was during his service under Catherine the Great that Jones got to know the Cossacks, a courageous people located mainly in Ukraine who continue to be a source of cultural pride for many Ukrainians. During the Battle of Liman in 1788, Jones’s bravery so impressed the Cossack fleet under Antin Holowatyj and Sydir Bilyj that Jones was awarded the rare privilege of being inducted into the Cossack Brotherhood.
Despite his victories, John Paul Jones attracted the resentment of other Russian naval officers, eventually leading Jones to retire to Paris for the remainder of his life. Over a century after his death in 1792, Jones’s remains were returned to the United States, where he was finally laid to rest at the United States Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland. The elaborate circumstances surrounding Jones’s second burial – including a large naval procession across the Atlantic, a ceremony led by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and an ornate bronze and marble tomb – symbolize the United States’ recognition of John Paul Jones’s important contributions during the Revolutionary War and his legacy in shaping the character of the U.S. Navy.
The feeling of camaraderie and mutual respect between Jones and the Cossacks that developed during June 1788 is an early and powerful historical connection linking Ukraine with the United States. As Ambassador Tefft emphasized in his speeches at Ochakiv and Kherson, he hopes that U.S.-Ukrainian relations will continue to mirror the same bonds shared between John Paul Jones and the Cossacks 225 years ago.