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Horace Porter
An American Soldier and Diplomat

An American Solider and Diplomat
Horace Porter
written by Elsie Porter Mende
in collaboration with
 Henry Greenleaf Pearson
 1927

Elsie Porter Mende
Français

Horace Porter - Ambassador to France

On March 16, 1897, the American President William McKinley nominated Porter to the post of Ambassador to France.    Porter and his family arrived in Paris on May 13, 1897.  On May 27, 1897 at the Palace of the Elysée, General Porter presented his Credentials as Ambassador to Mr. Faure,  the President of the French Republic.

Ambassador and Mrs. Porter visited Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia  in the summer of 1899.  On a trip to Turkey they met Sultan Abdul Hamid.   During the winter of 1901 Ambassador Horace Porter received an invitation to attend Queen Wilhelmina's marriage to Henry, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin on February 7, 1901.  In January 1902, the Porter family attended a court in Berlin where the Ambassador was presented to the Kaiser.

John Paul Jones - "The father of the American Navy"

When Horace Porter was appointed American Ambassador to France in 1899, he commented "I feel a deep sense of humiliation as an American citizen realizing that our first and most fascinating naval hero had been lying for more than a century in an unknown and forgotten grave... Knowing that he had been buried in Paris, I resolved to undertake personally a systematic and exhaustive search for the body (E. Mende p.294)."   The investigation began in June, 1899.

A search for the certificate of burial indicated that this document had been burned by the Commune in 1871.  After an exhaustive search, finally a magazine called the "Correspondance Littéraire," written by Charles Read provided a copy of the certificate of burial, which he had made from the Commune register in 1859.    Although it was now known that Commodore Jones had been buried in the long forgotten cemetery of  "Saint Louis," also known as the Cemetery for Foreign Protestants," the exact location of the grave was not known.

In following up every possible source of information about the burial of John Paul Jones, it was realized that for the first time that, the hero who had once been the idol of the American people, had been buried by charity.  Although Jones did not die broke,  his investments of over USD 30,000 took some time to collect.  Gouverneur Morris, the American Minister to France, refused to spend on "such follies" as a public funeral "either as money of Jones' heirs or of the United States."   A French admirer of Jones, M. Simonneau, donated three times the price of an average funeral for a top-of-the-line leaden coffin.   The bill of 462 francs had provided for thorough preparation of the body to insure its preservation, in case the Unites States should claim his remains one day.

When U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt learned of the undertaking to repatriate Jones' body, he sent an urgent message to the Congress in February 1905, recommending an appropriation of USD 35,000 for carrying the work.

The old "St. Louis" cemetery was situated in an uninviting section of the northeastern quarter of Paris, at the corner of two streets now know as Rue Grange-aux-Belles and Rue des Ecluses Saint Martin.   Two old maps of the property in 1773 and 1794 showed the cemetery as occupying a garden, some eight feet below a courtyard, containing a house and a shed.

The project begun on  February 3, 1905 and it immediately presented serious difficulties from the fact that the filling of earth above the cemetery was composed of loose soil.   The shafts and galleries had to be lined and shored up with heavy timbers.  The excavation proceeded under difficult circumstances including trouble from water, slime, mud and mephitic odors.  The first excavation proved that most of the bodies were buried in trenches and that there would be very few leaden coffins found, as few people could afford them.     "Day and night gangs of workmen were employed... The excavated earth had to be carried to a distance of two miles.  Galleries were pushed in every direction and soundings were made between them with long iron tools adapted to this purpose, so that no leaden coffin could possibly be missed (E. Mende p. 301)."   Within the area enclosed by the cemetery wall, there were excavated "80 feet in length of shafts, 800 feet of galleries and about 600 feet of soundings."   On two separate occasions two leaden coffin were discovered which did not contain the remains of the American naval hero.

On March 31, 1905 a third leaden coffin was unearthed and opened in the presence of Ambassador Porter, Colonel Blanchard, M. Weiss and M. Géninet, superintendent of the work.  The body was covered with a winding-sheet and firmly packed with hay and straw.  A rough measurement indicated the height of Commodore Jones.  "To everyone's surprise the body was marvelously well preserved, all the flesh remaining intact... and the face presented quite a natural appearance (E. Mende p. 302)."

That night the coffin was taken to the Paris School of Medicine in order for the "presumed body" of John Paul Jones be scientifically examined by experts in anthropology and pathology for the purpose of complete identification.   After six days passed an investigative panel of Americans and French persons unanimously certified that it was the body of John Paul Jones.  The identification of the remains was rendered comparatively easy based on two busts by Houdon, one of which was life-size and furnished reliable anatomical measurements.

Upon receiving the "official certification of the body of Admiral John Paul Jones" issued by the American Embassy and Consulate, President Roosevelt had ordered a squadron of four battleships to repatriate the naval hero.

John Paul Jones' coffin sat nearly a year at Annapolis (Maryland U.S.A.) until the next grand ceremony was held on April 24, 1906 (http://seacoastnh.com/jpj/burial.html)

Upon his return to America, Horace Porter pressed Congress for the construction of a crypt under the chapel at the Naval Academy, in which the body of John Paul Jones should rest.  In 1913 his coffin was finally placed in an ornate sepulcher beneath the chapel at Annapolis.           

Reference:

Mende, E. (1927).  An American Soldier and Diplomat.  Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York

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