Title: Navy Seaman, Revolutionary War; centenarian
Birthdate: 1751
Death Date: July 12, 1851
Plot Location: Naval 2, Row 10, Grave 23 GPS: 39* 56.185 N / 075* 14.403 W

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John Lundevig and Ingeborg Nielsdir were married in Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway and had a son named Oley. He changed his name to Thomas Johnson when he came to America in 1774. His exact birthdate is open to speculation. The ship’s manifest said he was 23 so his birth was between 1750 and 1751. A birth record that might be his put the date “about 1753.” A baptismal record was dated January 14, 1753, but it was a common practice to not perform baptisms before the child was one or even two years old.

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. 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, 1779. 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. 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 the enemy’s 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 naval experience in his life that can be documented. He was 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.

The graves at the Naval Asylum Cemetery were later removed and transferred to the Naval Plot at Mount Moriah. More than 2,400 navy officers and sailors have been buried here since the first interment on March 26, 1865.

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

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