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.
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.
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.
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.