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History and Heritage

If These Walls Could Talk:

The John Paul Jones House

"I have not yet begun to fight!" The immortal words Captain John Paul Jones yelled from the deck of USS Bonhomme Richard while waging war at sea with HMS Serapis during the American Revolution.

A lesson not just on U.S. Navy history, but American history.

I have always prided myself in my New England roots, spending countless trips during my childhood to sites of the American Revolution, from walking the 2 1/2 mile Freedom Trail in Boston to gazing from the wooden decks of USS Constitution out onto the bay. Standing on the ground where my ancestor's blood spilled fighting for our independence wasn't something I truly understood until I enlisted in the Navy.

Now, sites such as the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Faneuil Hall, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Old North Church and Paul Revere's house have a new meaning to me.
Three photo collage from the John Paul Jones House (L-R) Painting of Jones; outside the house, bronze bust of Jones.

I lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for over 20 years before I left for boot camp in 2008. Portsmouth is a small seafaring town, whose population is barely more than 20,000, and was settled in 1623 and has its own ties to American history and the Navy. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, whose grounds saw the launch of the Raleigh in 1776, the first American vessel to fly the American Flag and John Paul Jones' Ranger.

It's been years since I really visited my hometown, but a chance visit in August I did not plan to waste.

The John Paul Jones House, a two and a half story wooden home the color of pale yellow hay on 43 Middle Street, has stood in this iconic spot just outside downtown Portsmouth since 1758.
John Paul Jones House.

As I wandered the halls, floorboards creaking beneath my feet, the sounds of modern day traffic muffled through the walls. I couldn't help but wonder what stories this centuries old home would tell if its walls could talk.

I sat down with Gerry Ward, a consulting curator for the Portsmouth Historical Society, with a quiet and smooth-toned voice, to tell me about the house and its famous namesake.

"The John Paul Jones House is a great mid-18th century Georgian mansion built by Captain Gregory Purcell," said Ward. "When Captain Purcell died in 1776, his wife turned the house into a boarding house."

Jones stayed at the Purcell home from 1781-82 while overseeing the building of USS America on nearby Badger Island in Kittery, Maine.

"Jones was in Portsmouth twice, once in 1777 and again in 1781," tells Ward. "Because of that tradition [that he stayed here] it's become known as the John Paul Jones House."

The famous captain, who would become known as the "Father of the American Navy," left Portsmouth in 1782, he would not return to the United States. He died in Paris, France in 1792.

By the turn of the 19th century the home had gone into a state of disrepair and was threatened to be demolished. Historians and members of the Portsmouth Historical Society came to its rescue in 1919 and kept the home from being scrapped, keeping a part of not only Portsmouth history, but U.S. and naval history alive.
Three photo collage from the John Paul Jones House (L-R) documents from Jones circa 1770s; compass, Navy artifacts.

Several renovations have occurred in the near 100 years since the Portsmouth Historical Society took responsibility of the home and in 1972 the house was declared a National Historic Landmark. Today each room provides a glimpse into a time frame that house once witnessed. It is staffed by volunteers and serves as a museum, displaying remnants of times long past including the Treaty of Portsmouth, which effectivitly ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

The house is open to the public from June through October. If you would like to learn more about the John Paul Jones House and other historic Portsmouth landmarks visit