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John Paul Jones Cover Story



Naval historian Joe Callo puts John Paul Jones back on the newsstands with a deliciously colorful feature in Military History magazine. Jones looks very good on the cover, yet it is a privilege rarely granted to the complex naval hero.




Paul Jones on Magazine Covers

jpjcover02small.jpgDespite his continued fame, it’s a rare day in heaven when Captain Paul Jones makes it to the cover of a national magazine these days. We’ve seen it only a few times before. Our collection includes a serene, even feminine cover picture of Jones in a 1906 issue of – no kidding – Cosmopolitan magazine. Compare that portrait to the ferociously masculine image on the front of Saga in 1956. Jones has been featured in Saturday Evening Post, Smithsonian Magazine and many others -- but not not on the cover.

Although he appears on scores of book covers by an endless parade of biographers, John Paul Jones just can’t seem to attract the mainstream press. He has been the topic of exactly one major Hollywood movie, the 1959 film starring Robert Stack. Yet his name has been used to sell cigarettes, cigars, whiskey, apples, women’s clothing and, of course, the United States Navy.

And that is where we find him now, on the cover of Military History magazine. Historian Joseph Callo, the author of this beautifully designed eight-page feature spread, is a Jones fan through and through. This article is a superb abridgement of Callo’s award-winning book "John Paul Jones: America’s First Sea Warrior".

jpjcover01.jpgMilitary History magazine is part of the Weider History Group that publishes a dozen colorful feature magazines focused on the Civil War, Viet Nam, the Wild West and WW II, Aviation and American History. The emphasis is 99% male and largely patriotic, with an emphasis on the past as one great battle after another. For many, this is where Jones fits into the American saga – as a tactical military genius, super sailor and naval visionary. Callo, a Navy man himself, tells that story with clarity and vigor. As concise short features about Jones go – this is among the best available.

And yet, despite all that, in the pantheon of Revolutionary War heroes, Jones occupies his own small private space. In major histories of the Revolution, Jones often gets little more than a footnote. He is often discussed in the company of others – as a freelance warrior for Gen. George Washington, or in France with Franklin, or trading bards with John and Abigail Adams. But as a foreign born soldier-for-hire, Jones was never part of the Washington in-crowd. He remains a perpetual outsider who fades in and out of American history.

jpjcover03small.jpgJones also gets little attention because the entire Continental Navy is an historical sidebar. With no "purpose-built" fleet, the American naval force was a rag-tag affair. The American Revolution, as we know it, takes place on land against invading British forces. But ask anyone to name the great sea battles of the Revolution, and the very few people who can, are likely to mention the raid of the Ranger on the British Isles or the Bonhomme Richard vs HMS Serapis.

Others see Jones in a different light, less for his military career than for his curious place in Americana. Why would a man who killed half his own men and lost his own ship in the Serapis battle, be considered a military genius? Modern historians have a field day with a man who attacked his own home town, made his fortune as a slave ship owner, carped endlessly about his rank and his commanders, loved the aristocratic finery of the French court and fought his final battles for a Russian dictator. How do we talk about a man who, largely ignored by the United States, returned in glory 114 years after his death as an exhumed mummy?

It is, perhaps, Jones’ very complex persona that keeps his story off the magazine covers and out of the movie theatres. The stereotypical Jones is most interesting to those who can appreciate his military and maritime skills, perfect for documentaries on the History Channel, not big in the box office. His short stature, Scottish accent, elaborate uniforms, fiery nature and strange relationships with women make him, on the other hand, difficult to flesh out fully. The man so rarely seems to match the myth. So Jones remains, for now, a fascinating person too confusing for the cinema and, except rarely, for the cover. -- JDR

VISIT: Joe Callo's web site
VISIT: Military History web site

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