John Paul Jones House

I know I said I wouldn’t post about individual historic houses in Portsmouth, but it turned out that I have more than 500 words to say about John Paul Jones and the John Paul Jones House.  And I’m glad to feature it on its own because it gives me chance to express my support for the Portsmouth Historical Society, which owns it and gave Kathie and me an incredible private tour of their other historic house museum, the Warner House, last summer.

Oct in NH 198a

The John Paul Jones House was built in 1758 for a sea captain named Gregory Purcell. By the time John Paul Jones, naval hero of the American Revolution, showed up in Portsmouth, Purcell was dead and his widow was taking in boarders. There’s confusion on the museum website on whether that was in 1777 or 1781 but if the 1781 date is correct, JPJ was in town overseeing the building of a ship. In any case, he rented a room in the house from Purcell’s widow and based on this rather tenuous connection, the house is now called the John Paul Jones House and functions as a museum of John Paul Jones artifacts.

The first floor is set up like a house museum. Like the other house museums in Portsmouth, JPJ has the stunning woodwork. The house features furniture and items made and used in the Portsmouth area from the 18th through the early 20th centuries.

Oct in NH 212a

Upstairs, the rooms are set up to look more like exhibit space. There was one particularly neat room full of 18th and 19th century quilts and other old needlework. I didn’t take any quilt photos, but here’s a circa 1660 mirror with embroidered panels. The mirror has Wentworth and Langdon provenance.

Oct in NH 226a

My favorite objects, though, were John Paul Jones related.  Specifically, two photos of a dead JPJ.

After the Revolution, JPJ had been cast aside by the US (then the Russians) because he was, apparently, annoyingly egotistical and people just got tired of dealing with him.  He ended up in Paris, where he died of kidney disease in 1792, at age 45. A French admirer, confident that the US would one day wish to claim its naval hero, had him buried in a lead coffin filled with alcohol, so that he would be recognizable when the time came. And sure enough, a century later, the US ambassador to France, Horace Porter, decided he wanted to find JPJ’s body. He spent six years and his own money looking. When JPJ was found in 1905, in a cemetery that had long been abandoned, they knew it was him because he still looked like the Houdon bust, that he had commissioned of himself.

I think he definitely still looked like the Houdon bust. What do you think?


He was reinterred in 1906, with much pomp and circumstance and in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt, at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.




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12 Responses to John Paul Jones House

  1. and some people insist that alcohol is bad for us…

  2. Kathie says:

    I do really love this house, it’s the only historic gambrel roofed house museum open in town. Thank Goodness it has a historic name associated with it, or quite possibly it would not have survived. While I can’t remember the quilt exhibit, the room full of historic embroidery definitely sticks in my memory.

    Still trying to erase the creepy image of JPJ’s remains.

  3. nerdtrips says:

    That house is beautiful. How were the stairs?

  4. nerdtrips says:

    Just reread the post in detail about JPJ’s burial and reburial – creepy. We saw his final resting place on a tour of the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

  5. Creepy – although I suppose I can see the resemblance. That’s my kind of macabre history! And the mirror is gorgeous!

  6. Susan Barsy says:

    Great ghoulish post. Thank you for the pix of bust and cadaver.

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