Title: Navy Seaman, Revolutionary War; centenarian
Birthdate: 1751
Death Date: July 12, 1851
Plot Location: Naval 2, Row 10, Grave 23

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John Lundevig and Ingeborg Nielsdir were married in Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway and had a son, Oley, who changed his name to Thomas Johnson when he came to America in 1774. His birthdate is open to speculation. The ship’s manifest said he was 23 so his birth was around 1751. A birth record that might be his put the date “about 1753” but a baptismal record is dated January 14, 1753, so he could have been born in 1752.

The former Norwegian wasted no time in seeking to defend his new homeland, joining the Navy during the American Revolution. A merchant ship was given to America by a French shipping magnate in 1779, and it was rebuilt as the 42-gun USS Bonhomme Richard, to be commanded by Captain John Paul Jones. Thomas became a seaman aboard that ship. 

It was the lead ship with five others in the North Sea when it encountered a merchant convoy off the Yorkshire coast of England on September 23 of that year. A British naval vessel, HMS Serapis was running interference for the convoy so the ships exchanged gunfire. Clearly outgunned, the Commodore’s strategy was to lock the ships together and, in his response to a demand for surrender, he was supposed to have shouted, “I have not yet begun to fight!” His  crew was able to clear the deck with gunfire and grenades, forcing a surrender. The successful outcome for John Paul Jones is one reason why France became America’s ally in their fight for independence.

That experience would be Thomas’ greatest adventure. Unfortunately, it is the only experience in his life that can be documented, other than being admitted to the Philadelphia Naval Asylum, a home and hospital for retired sailors, in 1843. Their record said he was 83 at the time, while his obituary claimed he was at least 100 when he died eight years later. 

Perhaps it was his senility that caused him to forget his actual birthdate, or there were clerical errors. Centenarian or not, it does not diminish his rightful claim as the last surviving crew member of the USS Bonhomme Richard. John Paul Jones died at age 45 in 1792 but our local hero outlived his captain by almost 59 years.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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