John Paul (he added "Jones" later) was born in Kirkbean, Scotland. He attended parish school and then went to sea as an apprentice. Within four years, he captained his own trading ship, sailing between English ports and the West Indies. During the early 1770s, he was involved in a series of controversial command decisions that resulted in the deaths of two crewmembers. He fled to America. In 1775, he moved to Philadelphia under the name of John Paul Jones. There, he obtained a Continental navy appointment and captained several ships in raids against the British. In 1776, he commanded a worn-out French merchant ship, which he renamed the Bonhomme Richard (after Benjamin Franklin's nom de plume ;Poor Richard”), against the British frigate Serapis. Jones's refusal to accept defeat in this battle, even as his ship sank with nearly all her guns disabled, was one of the Continental navy's most celebrated victories during the Revolution.
After the Revolution, Jones lived in France, where his naval exploits gained him the reputation of a romantic, swashbuckling privateer. Despite his appointment as commander of the Russian fleet against the Turks in 1788, he continued to consider himself an American citizen. Jones died in Paris. In 1913, his remains were reinterred in the U.S. Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis.