3

The Wikipedia page for John Paul Jones states that he was pardoned in Whitehaven in 1999 for his raid, but doesn't state why. So far, the article I have found that seems to contain the most information is this one.

The main reason I can think of from that article is that there is some symbolic reason related to either the Whitehaven Maritime Festival or the peace treaty with the US Navy (or both), and that this reason is unrelated to whether John's actions were legal or should be ignored, but this reason doesn't feel correct to me.

So why did Whitehaven pardon John Paul Jones?

  • 2
    A cynic might say that it was simply to gain publicity for the town's first Maritime Festival. After all, an 'honorary pardon' by the Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners probably doesn't carry a lot of legal weight! – sempaiscuba Jan 20 at 3:41
  • 1
    @sempaiscuba: Cynic? Say realist, rather. Gaining publicity is the ONLY reason for a posthumous pardon. – jamesqf Jan 20 at 18:33
  • @jamesqf Oh, sometimes there can be a moral dimension too, but in this case it is hard to see anything more than a publicity stunt. – sempaiscuba Jan 20 at 19:08
6

The pardon was arranged by Gerard Richardson, a wine merchant in Whitehaven and founder / CEO of the International Maritime Festivals. Richardson himself has explained that:

The John Paul Jones story was the foundation stone of the Maritime Festivals and, during the first one in 1999, Jones was pardoned and the US Navy was given the rare honour of the Freedom of Whitehaven Harbour.

This part of the broader West Cumbria Tourism Initiative (WCTI)and the Renaissance of Whitehaven project, the aims of which were to

develop tourism resources in a town that previously relied upon traditional industries for its economic base.

Thus, sempaiscuba's comment is not far off the mark. The article Whitehaven Maritime Festival 1999 has more details:

On June 26th and 27th 1999 Whitehaven held its first maritime festival celebrating the history of this once important port and looking forward to a future as a marina and tourist location, thanks to a massive investment in the harbour. The event was a huge success with up to 100,000 people attending over the weekend. The weather was good except on Saturday night when torrential rain poured down on a re-enactment of John Paul Jones' raid of 1778.

According to the then harbourmaster Captain David Allan,

We offered them the freedom of the harbour, much like the freedom of the town – you can send one of your military ships to Whitehaven once a year and we won’t charge you any fees.

The Americans took this very seriously and that proclamation ended up on the desk of Bill Clinton.

It’s now on display in the American navy academy at Anapolis [sic] in Maryland,...

In short, Whitehaven has a maritime history and celebrating it has boosted the town's tourism. John Paul Jones, one of the best known historical figures associated with Whitehaven, is a part of that history and using this generated extra news coverage as the ceremony was conducted

in the presence of Lt. Steve Lyons representing the US Naval Attaché to the UK, and Yuri Fokine the Russian Ambassador to the UK.

European Stars and Stripes (July 13, 1999), quotes Lyons:

The pardon represents the respect Jones has claimed over the years, and certainly strengthens the bond between our nations and navies...

Jones also served in the Russian navy of Catherine the Great, hence the presence of their ambassador.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.