|Delaware Military History
Commodore Jacob Jones
Jacob Jones was born in Delaware in March 1768. Initially educated in the field of medicine, he was
employed as clerk of the Delaware Supreme Court before joining the Navy in 1799 as a
Jones joined the United States Navy on 10 April, 1799 at the age of 31, very old for the times, when
a midshipman could be as young as 10. Some think after the death of his wife, he joined the Navy
because of grief. He spent 22 months as an acting midshipman.
During the Quasi-War with France, he served under Commodore John Barry in the frigate United
States and was commissioned a lieutenant 27 February 1801. Jones joined the crew of the
Philadelphia on 24 May 1803 as second lieutenant (2nd mate) on a cruise to the Barbary Coast. On
31 October, when Philadelphia ran aground near Tripoli harbor, Jones was captured by the
Tripolitans and held prisoner with the rest of the Philadelphia's crew by the Bey of Tripoli for 20
months until June 1805. Upon his return to the United States, he served in Adams and Argus.
On April 20, 1810, Jones received promotion to Master Commandant, and on June 4, he took
command of the sloop, USS Wasp. In October 1812, Jones and the Wasp sailed on an Atlantic
cruise. On 13 October he captured the British 12-gun brig HMS Dolphin.
Despite storm damage to his ship, he attacked a British convoy on 18 October and, following an
intense battle, captured the Royal Navy sloop of war HMS Frolic, in a bitter struggle off the
Delaware capes, in a battle that became quite famous. Both combatants were seriously damaged
and he soon fell victim to the powerful ship of the line HMS Poictiers. Still, Jones was widely
admired and when he returned to the United States after an exchange of prisoners, he received a
gold medal from the United States Congress.
Commissioned Captain 3 March 1813, Jones was promoted and given command of the frigate USS
Macedonian. He spent time in Decatur's squadron, which was bottled up at New London during
With his ship blockaded at New York, Captain Jones was sent to the Lake Ontario theatre, where
he commanded the frigate USS Mohawk during the last year of the war, and rendered valuable
service to Commodore Chauncey on Lake Ontario
Upon the return of peace with England, During the second and final Barbary War, in 1815,he
again commanded Macedonian, joined the Mediterranean Squadron under Commodore Decatur,
and took part in securing lasting peace with the Barbary powers. Service as Captain of the frigate
USS Guerriere followed in 1816-1818.
Jones was Commodore of the United States' squadrons in the Mediterranean in 1821-1823 and
Commodore in the Pacific in 1826-1829. He was a Navy Commissioner in Washington, DC,
between those tours at sea and held important commands ashore at Baltimore and New York
during the 1830s and 1840s. He received his final assignment, as commandant of the Philadelphia
Naval Asylum in 1847. Commodore Jacob Jones held that position at the time of his death on 3
Three ships, USS Jacob Jones, have been named for him. On February 28, 1942 the USS Jacob Jones,
a destroyer, was sunk off Delaware by the German submarine U-578. Ironically, the first American
warship sunk in European waters in World War I also bore the same name.
The Unlikely Classroom of Jacob Jones
by Michael Morgan
A dungeon in North Africa was not the best place to conduct class; but Jacob Jones had no other
choice. His pupils were a small group of naval officers, who listened intently as Jones described the
intricacies of mathematics, navigation and other topics. After Jones concluded the day’s lessons,
his pupils were free to relax; and the remainder of the day was often spent speculating about when
the captive American officers would be rescued from their Algerian prison.
Jacob Jones was born in 1768. His mother died when he was an infant; and Jacob’s father married
Penelope Holt, the granddaughter of Ryes Holt of Lewes. When Jacob’s father died, Penelope
raised Jacob in Lewes, where he was educated at the Academy. After the American Revolution,
Jacob studied medicine under Dr. James Sykes of Dover. After further study at the University of
Pennsylvania, Jones began what he hoped would be a successful medical practice; but few patients
appeared. At about this time, Jones became the owner of the Ryes Holt House, where he lived for a
few years. When his wife died, Jones decided to begin a career at sea; and in 1799, he entered the
United States Navy as a 31-year old midshipman.
Jones was soon promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the frigate Philadelphia under the command
of Captain William Bainbridge. In 1803, the United States was fighting an undeclared war against
the Algerian pirates, and Bainbridge boldly sailed the Philadelphia into Tripoli harbor. As the
frigate cruised toward the fort that guarded the harbor, a violent shudder shook Jones and the
other Americans aboard the warship. After a quick survey of the vessel, Jones and the other
officers reported to Captain Bainbridge that the ship had run aground on a sandbar.
The Algerians saw that the American warship had run aground, and they launched a flotilla of
small gunboats to attack the Philadelphia. Aboard the frigate, Bainbridge jettisoned the shop’s
anchors, cut away the foremast, and threw several of the ship’s guns overboard in an effort to
lighten the Philadelphia. All of the efforts to refloat the warship failed, and the stranded ship was
soon surrounded by enemy gunboats. Bainbridge had no choice but to surrender; and the
Americans soon found themselves locked in an Algerian prison. The Tripolitans were able to drag
the American warship off the shoals, and the Philadelphia was moored under the guns of the
Fortunately for the captured crew of the Philadelphia, the Americans were visited by a friendly
Danish diplomat who gave Bainbridge a number of books. The captain ordered Lieutenants David
Porter and Jacob Jones to set up a school for the younger officers. In the early 19th century, most
midshipmen were still teenagers. Not only would the improvised school further the education of
the midshipmen, but it would also help maintain order and discipline while they were confined.
At this time, navigation required a detailed knowledge of mathematics to convert sightings of the
sun and stars into a point on a chart. Jones drew upon his extensive background to conduct
classes that helped the confined officers develop the navigation and other skills that they would
need after their release. After Jones organized the classes, the captured officers quickly adopted the
routines of the impromptu school.
On February 16, 1804, sounds of gunfire awakened Jones and the other Americans. Stephen
Decatur and a picked crew of American sailors had entered Tripoli harbor on a small vessel
appropriately named Intrepid, and they boarded the Philadelphia. After a sharp action, Decatur set
fire to the captured American warship, reboarded the Intrepid, and sailed to safety. The
destruction of the Philadelphia was hailed as the most daring exploit in the history of the young
United States Navy.
Years later, Jones wrote to the wife of Stephen Decatur about the burning of the Philadelphia: “It
was accordingly effected in the ketch Intrepid, by your husband and 70 volunteers from the
schooner he commanded, at great hazard, not only of life or liberty, but that of reputation, and in
the season most perilous in approaching that coast. The recollection of the difficulties and dangers
he had to encounter in that expedition, of which I was an eyewitness, excites more and more may
admiration of his gallantry and enterprise—and although the results shed a lustre throughout
Europe, over the American character, and exited an unparalleled emulation in the squadron, in
our county only where it was never been duly estimated, or properly understood.”
The burning of the Philadelphia raised the morale of the captured Americans, but would be over a
year before they would be released from their prison. Decatur’s exploit inspired the Americans to
make several escape attempts; but each of these ended in failure. Throughout his imprisonment,
Jones would continue to conduct classes for the young officers. In June, 1805, a treaty was signed
with Tripoli, and the crew of the Philadelphia was released.
After his failed medical career, Jones had a long and successful naval tenure in the United States
Navy. Captain Bainbridge of the Philadelphia called him “A brave good Officer and a correct
man;” and in an unlikely classroom, Jacob Jones proved to be a resourceful teacher.