What Remains: Searching for the Memory and Lost Grave of John Paul Jones


October 13, 2017
by Patrick H. Hannum Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

Book Review: What Remains: Searching for the Memory and Lost Grave of John Paul Jones by Robert Hornick (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017)


The title Robert Hornick selected for his recent analytic and meticulously researched and documented book on John Paul Jones says it all, “What Remains.” John Paul Jones’s journey into obscurity and his revival as an American naval hero are the subjects of this text. The American Revolution was perhaps a unique event in the evolution of political and human thought and behavior. The English-speaking people of colonial North America rebelled against their royal masters and embarked on an experiment in government that continues to this day. A rebellion against a powerful and well entrenched government is not an easy thing to sustain and nurture; it requires the energy of many individuals. Immediately after the Revolution general knowledge of the lives and activities of many participants of the American Revolution drifted into obscurity. The new American Nation and people were interested in surviving and prospering in their newly formed republic.

John Paul Jones, one of the many significant contributors to the success of the American rebellion, disappeared into obscurity until his contributions were reevaluated by those who understood the importance of the deeds of Revolutionary War heroes. Foremost among these individuals was President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt assumed leadership of the U.S. at a critical time in the evolution of American maritime strategy. After the Spanish American War, the U.S. became a nation with extensive global interests tied to the projection of American maritime power. Roosevelt, thrust into the presidency and as former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was a loud and consistent voice for increase maritime power and the legacy of Jones’s Revolutionary maritime exploits played into his narrative. Jones stated, “In a time of peace, it is necessary to prepare, and be always prepared for war by the sea.” Roosevelt, supported by key policy makers, leveraged the need to recognize an American naval hero to support the changing naval strategy and reignite the informational value and significance of the naval service exemplified by men like Jones.

The story of John Paul Jones is the American story with an international military and diplomatic flavor, and supported by the French, much like the American Revolution. The identification, timing and pageantry associated with the return of Jones’s remains to America and reinternment served an important political purpose for the Roosevelt administration. Jones’s accomplishments in war and in creating the American republic are representative of the actions shared by many forgotten Revolutionary War figures. President Roosevelt viewed Jones’s return as an opportunity to reignite the American spirit and to showcase and advance America’s position in the world as a legitimate maritime power and justify improvements to naval capabilities. Recent world events show this is prudent approach for the U.S. to continue to pursue, making Jones’s legacy and this work relevant to the current and future generations.

The author points out that Jones would understand the symbolism and informational value associated with his return to America and his reinternment. “Jones was a man for whom symbols and grand gestures mattered greatly.” In command of USS Ranger, in the French port of Quiberon Bay, he received the first formal salute from a foreign navy, the French Navy, on February 14, 1778. This recognition was the first public acknowledgement of the Franc-American treaty signed two week earlier.

If you have any interest in the American Revolution, you will appreciate this book. Well organized, you may read it from cover to cover or a chapter or section at a time. Either way, you will gain an appreciation for the life of John Paul Jones, born John Paul in Scotland, and his place in the American Revolution. You will also appreciate the significance of his return and the power of the press and the informational value in the pomp and ceremony accompanying the recognition of citizens who advanced the cause of the American Revolution at great personal sacrifice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *