Famous Exhumations American Naval Hero John Paul Jones

About the American Naval Hero John Paul Jones and his exhumation.


JOHN PAUL JONES (1747-1792), American naval hero

Jones died in Paris, France, of a kidney infection and was buried in the St. Louis Cemetery, a burial ground for foreign Protestants. He reposed in a lead coffin, packed for shipping and filled with alcohol in the event he would be sent back to the U.S. for a hero's burial. But the French Revolution and Jones's relatives intervened, and the body was never removed. The burial ground was closed and forgotten. It was used as a garden and later as a dump for dead dogs and horses.

In 1899, Gen. Horace Porter, America's ambassador to France, quietly took up efforts to find and return Jones's body. After years of searching, the old cemetery was located. Excavations began in 1905 under Porter's supervision. On Mar. 31, a coffin that could have been Jones's was discovered, and it was opened on Apr. 7.

"To our intense surprise," said Porter, "the body was marvelously preserved, all the flesh remaining intact, very slightly shrunken, and of grayish brown or tan color." The body had hair 30 in. long, tucked into a small cap with Jones's initials, and it wore a fancy ruffled shirt. The face matched exactly a bust of Jones known to be accurate, and an autopsy confirmed the cause of death and Jones's medical history. The body was beyond doubt that of the hero.

After ceremonies in France, a squadron of American ships sent by Theodore Roosevelt escorted the body to Annapolis, Md. It was interred in a grand ceremony at the Naval Academy on July 24, 113 years and 4 days after its first burial.

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