The greatest American naval hero of the Revolutionary War, John Paul Jones (1747-1792) is generally regarded as the father of the U.S. Navy, in spirit if not in actual fact. Jones was first commissioned into the tiny Continental navy in 1775. He commanded a number of vessels in succession, raiding British shipping and capturing many prizes. As captain of the Bonhomme Richard, he captured the superior British warship Serapis in a dramatic battle in the North Sea. During the fierce engagement, Captain Richard Pearson of the Serapis asked if Jones was ready to surrender. Engraved on the memorial is Jones's famous reply: "Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!"
Jones died in Paris in 1792 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1905, after a long search by the American ambassador, his body was found and returned to the United States for burial at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, Congress appropriated funds for this memorial, now located at the terminus of Seventeenth Street on the Tidal Basin.
The memorial was unveiled in 1912, the first monument in Potomac Park. Jones is depicted in a 10-foot-high bronze statue, the work of sculptor Charles H. Niehaus of New York. Jones appears resolute, as if regarding the progress of a battle; Niehaus intended Jones to appear as one who could accomplish anything he willed. Behind the statue is a classical marble pylon, 15 feet in height. On each side, water pours from the mouth of a sylized dolphin into a small pool. On the reverse side of the pylon is a bas-relief of Jones raising the American flag on the Bonhomme Richard, said to be the first time the stars and stripes were flown on an American warship. © Peter R. Penczer 2106.
Adapted with permission from The Washington National Mall, by Peter R. Penczer, Oneonta Press, Arlington, Va.: 2007.
Copyright © Peter R. Penczer 2016