During September–October 1789, two heroes of the American War of Independence, both members of the Society of Cincinnati, were in the Polish capital of Warsaw. While they were aware of each other’s wartime exploits, they had never met. What brought these two Revolutionary War icons together in 1789?
In November 1783, Congress gave naval hero Capt. John Paul Jones the assignment to return to Europe to collect unpaid prize money that was owed to the United States and the crewmembers of three ships: Ranger, Bonhomme Richard, and Alliance. This took three years but finally on July 7, 1786, Jones turned over to Thomas Jefferson, the American Minister in Paris, the sum equivalent of $36,000 in gold. Captain Jones returned to New York in July 1787 where Congress was now meeting. Some members questioned the prize money accounts. Eventually Congress accepted his accounting and on October 16, 1787 Congress voted him a gold medal. Then once again he left for Europe on a mission to collect prize money the United States felt it was owed from the Danish Government. It was at this time that Jones was approached by the Russians to become an admiral in the Russian Navy.
Russia had naval forces in both the Baltic and Black Seas officered mainly by foreigners. Russia was facing the possibility of fighting a war in both seas; in the Black Sea was the on-going war with Turkey and in the Baltic a looming conflict with Sweden. Receiving permission from the American government, Jones decided to travel to Russia and meet with Catherine II (Catherine the Great). He was pleased with his meetings with the Tsarina and accepted the position of rear admiral (kontra-admiral) for the Black Sea Fleet; finally achieving his great desire—flag rank. James Fenimore Cooper, however, in his biography of Jones, noted: “The history of Jones’ service under the Russian Flag is a revolting account of intrigues, bad management, and disappointment.”
When he reached the Black Sea he found, to his dismay, he was only one of four rear admirals under the overall command of the Tsarina’s favorite, Field Marshal Prince Grigory Potemkin. Jones’ command known as the “Squadron” consisted of eight frigates and forty other vessels. His area of operations was the Liman, the estuary where the Dnieper and Bug Rivers met then empty into the Black Sea. Between June and October 1788, Jones led his squadron in two major battles and a number of skirmishes that drove the Turkish fleet commanded by Hassan el Ghazi, known as “Caputan Pasha,” out of the area.
Due to the jealousy and machinations of Potemkin and particularly that of Prince Nassau-Siegen, Jones was relieved of his command and ordered to return to St. Petersburg. Upon his return, beginning in 1789, Jones experienced the nadir of his life and career. In April 1789, the chief of police accused him of raping a ten-year old girl. Ultimately the accusation proved to be untrue. Regardless of the truth of the story, Kontra-Admiral Jones’s time in Russia was at an end.
The same year that Captain Jones was first sent to Europe—1783—Col. Thaddeus Kosciuszko was present at George Washington’s Farewell at Fraunce’s Tavern in New York City. In May 1784, he was at the meeting in Philadelphia of the Society of Cincinnati of which he was a charter member. Finally on July 15, 1784, he sailed from New York, arrived in L’Orient, France, on August 8, then made his way back to Poland. For the next five years he ran a family estate in Siechnowicze that had been freed from debt with the help of his sister Anna and her husband.
Changes in the Polish Commonwealth started in 1788 when the King (Stanislaw II Augustus Poniatowski) and Parliament (Seym) began reforms with the intention to lessen Russian influence. One reflection of this posture was the increase in the size of the Polish Army from 20,000 to 100,000 men. Kosciuszko, who still had influential patrons among the reformers, traveled to Warsaw where he sought a leadership role in the new Royal Polish Army. Thereby the stage was set for the meeting of two American Revolutionary War heroes in Warsaw, Poland.
Warsaw: September–October 1789
Following the distasteful incident in St. Petersburg, the Tsarina decided to grant Kontra-Admiral Jones two years paid leave, along with permission to go to France. Leaving in late August, Jones had with him letters of recommendation along with notarized documents detailing the attempt to defame his character and proof of his vindication that were supplied by his friend and fellow Society of Cincinnati member Count de Segur.
Lewis Littlepage, a Virginian from Fredericksburg who was the personal secretary/chamberlain of King Stanislaw Augustus, invited Jones to visit Warsaw on his overland route to France. During his two-month stay, “The King entertained the American hero, Warsaw society treated him with greatest hospitality and politeness.” Adding to Jones’s acceptance was a developing friendship with Thaddeus Kosciuszko, now a major general in the Polish army.
Kosciuszko had once expressed concern with Jones’s service with Poland’s long time oppressor, Russia: “The brave Paul Jones is at Petersburg, . . . I am sorry he is in the service of Russia, a Republican and American . . . to fight against the arch-enemy of humanity; . . . this would be a far more honorable to a famous veteran of the American Revolution.“ An avenue that Kosciuszko felt Jones should pursue would be to join with the Swedes in their struggle with Russia.
The King of Sweden, Gustavus III, for various political reasons felt that while Russia was fighting the Ottoman Empire in the Black Sea, it would be the time to take on the Russian Baltic Fleet. However the Swedes were not having much success. Jones was at first reluctant to resign his position with the Russian Navy and join with one of her enemies. Eventually he came under Kosciuszko’s sway and told him he would consider a Swedish offer. Kosciuszko then got in touch with the Swedish minister in Warsaw, Count Lawrence Engestrom. A result of this inquiry, on October 7, 1789 Engestrom wrote to King Gustavus:
MG Kosciuszko, who served with Jones in America, has told me he (Jones) might be willing to enter Swedish Naval Service. It was suggested Jones be given a special commission perhaps a number of ships with which to attack Archangel.
By the end of October, not having received a reply, John Paul Jones decided it was time to leave Warsaw. In a letter to Kosciuszko dated November 2, 1789 Jones wrote of his esteem for him:
I intend to set out this day for Vienna, where I shall only stop a few days. I shall then go to Strausburgh, and from thence to Holland, where I expect to arrive before the 1st of December . . . As I shall be in relations with our friends in America, I shall not fail to mention on all occasions the honorable employment and the respect you have attained in your own country, and the regard you remain for the natives of America, where your character is esteemed, and your name justly beloved for your service.
Captain Jones did not arrive in Amsterdam until December 18 and during his time there he had no word from Kosciuszko or the Swedes about an appointment. He wrote another letter to Kosciuszko on January 21, 1790 inquiring about the Swedish offer: “I am afraid that the project which you mentioned to me was not accepted, or that my letter did not reach you. I am leaving for the Hague for a few days, and will return here, where I will be glad to receive more news from you.”
Finally, Jones received a letter from Kosciuszko dated February 15,1790 with what he believed was good news:
MY DEAR SIR: I had the honor to write you the 1st or 3rd of February, I do not recollect; but I gave you the information to apply to the Minister of Swede [sic] at Hague or at Amsterdam for the propositions, according to what M. D’Engestrom told me they both had order to communicate you. I wish with all my heart that it could answer your expectations. I am totally ignorant what they are; but I could see you fight against oppression and tyranny. Give me news of everything I am dear Sir Your most humble and obedient servant, T. Kosciuszko, MG.
Jones now seemed reluctant to meet with the Swedish minister. In a reply to Kosciuszko he wrote:
You propose, if I am not mistaken that I should apply to a gentleman at The Hague who has something to communicate to me. But a moment’s reflection will convince you that considerations of what I owe to myself as well as the delicacy of my situation do not permit me to take such a step. If that gentleman has anything to communicate to me he can either do it by writing, by desiring a personal conference or by the mediation of a third person.
This was the final correspondence between Thaddeus Kosciuszko and John Paul Jones. In March, Jones left Holland and arrived in Paris. While in France, Captain Jones, with the help of Gouverneur Morris, the American envoy at large in Europe, made one more inquiry to the Swedes of a possible commission in their navy. Regretfully, from Kosciuszko’s point of view, Jones never received a reply. So why didn’t an offer from the Swedish King ever materialize?
Historian Miecislaus Haiman noted a variety of reasons that Jones did not become an officer in the Swedish Navy:
Far removed from Kosciuszko’s pressure, Jones was unable to shake off the influence of Catherine II. Moreover, he evidently became offended by the way the Swedish Government tried to enlist him for its cause. John Paul Jones always thought very highly of himself. The Empress courted his favor through special couriers and exploited his vanity in other ways in order to entice him to her side. How different did the Swedes treat him; before them he was one asking a favor and not one of whom a favor is asked. Jones, therefore, abruptly broke off further negotiations, advising Kosciuszko of it in a rather dry manner.
In all reality Jones never lost the belief that Catherine was going to recall him to active service with the Russian Navy. During the two months he spent in Warsaw, he composed a narrative describing his actions in the Black Sea and further decrying the false charges against him. Further, Potemkin’s cadre carried on a dual campaign of continued slander throughout European capitals about Jones’s character and reminders that Jones was still a Russian naval officer. These actions most likely played a part in the Swedish reluctance of offering him a commission.
Capt. John Paul Jones spent the last two years of his life in Paris, which was now in the midst of the French Revolution. He kept up correspondence with friends in America, including the newly-elected President George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. As a way to recognize his service to America, on July 1, 1792, President Washington commissioned Captain Jones to negotiate a treaty with the Dey of Algiers for the release of American sailors captured by the “Barbary Pirates.” The next day he was appointed as the consul to Algeria. Sadly due to complications from his many health problems (deteriorated lungs, congestive heart failure, and kidney dysfunction), on July 18, 1792, John Paul Jones died at the age of forty-five before his commissions ever reached him.
Thaddeus Kosciuszko led two unsuccessful revolts against Russian oppressors in 1792 and 1794. The crushing of the 1794 Insurrection in October found Kosciuszko severely wounded and taken prisoner to St. Petersburg, where he was held until the death of Catherine II in December 1796. Upon his release, Kosciuszko decided to return to America, arriving in Philadelphia on August 18, 1797, where he received a hero’s welcome. He made his home at 3rd and Pine Streets where he received a number of distinguished visitors.
Originally Kosciuszko intended to spend the remainder of his days in America, but after a number of meetings with Thomas Jefferson a plan developed for Kosciuszko to return to France. It was to serve a dual purpose: help settle the undeclared naval war between France and the United States and request aid from the French Revolutionary government to help free Poland. While the undeclared naval war was settled; no help for Poland was forthcoming.
Kosciuszko remained in France for the next fifteen years. Later, Napoleon intimated that if Kosciuszko helped recruit and lead a Polish Army on his invasion of Russia, he would free Poland. Kosciuszko declined, never believing Napoleon would keep his promise for a free Poland. Following Napoleon’s defeat and the Treaty of Vienna that codified the partition of Poland, Thaddeus Kosciuszko moved to Solure, Switzerland, where he died on October 15, 1817, at seventy-two years of age.
The chance encounter of these two icons of the American Revolution in Warsaw in 1789 had no lasting impact. It was like two ships going in opposition directions, hailing each other, passing on news, and then continuing on their own courses. John Paul Jones, who was in failing health, still clung to the notion that Catherine II, to whom he was still devoted, would recall him to her service. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who detested the Russian domination of his beloved Poland, felt he could convince a fellow American Revolutionary to quit the service of a ruler whom he viewed a despot, and join in the fight against tyranny. Neither achieved their goal: Jones died in Paris still awaiting his recall and Kosciuszko, after two disastrous insurrections, was never to see a free Poland.
Aside from his American Gold Medal, Jones was made a member of two foreign orders of merit: in 1780 King Louis XVI presented him with a gold sword and made him a Chevalierof the l’Ordre du Merite Militaire; then on June 8, 1788 the Order of St. Anne was granted by Russian Tsarina Catherine II. See: Order of St. Anne, militarywikia.org.
Jones was recommended by Thomas Jefferson to M. Simolin, the Russian minister to France. Simolin first met with Jones on February 1, 1789. Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1959), 362.
When he was sent by Congress to collect the prize money he requested that he be made an admiral to “increase the prestige of his mission” but Congress declined. The United States Navy did not have an admiral until David Farragut in the Civil War. In Russia he was known as Kontra-Admiral Pavel Ivanovich Dzhones.
For a detailed description of the Battles of the Liman from Jones’ point of view see: Memoirs of Paul Jones: Late Rear Admiral in the Russian Service (London: Henry Washbourne, 1843), 2:4-117. Also Life of Rear Admiral John Paul Jones: Complied from his Original Journals and Correspondences (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1853), 214-287.
Charles Henry, Prince Nassau-Siegen, born in Somme, France, had assumed the title but was not recognized by the family or Holy Roman Empire. He was an adventurer/soldier of fortune. He served in the French Navy, led an unsuccessful attack on the Isle of Jersey and experienced a number of other failed military engagements. Eventually he married a Polish Countess. For more details on his conflict with John Paul Jones during the Black Sea fighting, see: The Turkish Foundation for Underwater Archaeology, “John Paul Jones: The Father of the American Navy,” 23-24, tinaturk.org.
Jan S. Kopczewski, Kosciuszko and Pulaski, trans. Robert Strybel (Warsaw: Interpress, 1976), 169-170. Princess Louise Lubomirski (nee´Sosnowski), who styled herself “your best girlfriend,” was the love of his life and though he had many female friends, like Jones, he never married. She sent Kosciuszko a letter to go to Warsaw and seek a role in the new Polish Army. Alex Storozynski, The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Age of Revolution (New York: Thomas Dunne Books – St. Martin’s Press, 2009), 132. On October 17, 1789 Thaddeus Kosciuszko was commissioned a major general in the Royal Polish Army.
For an interesting insight to Lewis Littlepage’s relations with Jones see Horace E. Brown, Virginia Genealogies: A Genealogy of the Glassell Family of Scotland and Virginia (Wilkes-Barre, PA: E. B. Yordy, 1891), 409-411.
The correspondence between Jones and Kosciuszko can be found in a number of sources; I have chosen to quote from: John Paul Jones and Benjamin Walker, Life of Rear-Admiral John Paul Jones, Chevalier of the Military Order of Merit, And of the Russian Order of St. Anne (Philadelphia: Walker & Gillis, 1845).
As late as July 1791 Jones was still writing from Paris to Catherine reminding her of his devotion to her and hoping to be recalled to her service. Walker and Gillis, Life of Rear Admiral John Paul Jones,345.
Ironically, in July, the Russian Fleet under the command of Jones’ nemesis Prince Nassau-Siegen suffered a disastrous defeat and the Russians sued for peace. See Lincoln Lorenz, John Paul Jones: Fighter for Freedom and Glory (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 131.
Jones was buried in the St. Louis Cemetery in Paris in a forgotten grave. It wasn’t until 1905 that his grave was found and the remains reinterred at the U.S. Naval Academy where a marble plaque notes: “He gave our Navy its earliest traditions of Heroism and Victory.” For a description of how Jones’ grave was found see Ellen Hampton, “When John Paul Jones Crossed Over,” Military History Magazine, July 5, 2019.
For a firsthand account of Kosciuszko’s return to the United States in 1797 written by his friend and aide-de-camp, see Julian U. Niemcewicz, Under Their Vine and Fig Tree, trans. and ed. Metchie E. Budka (Elizabeth, NJ: The Grossman Pub. Co., 1963), 3-33.