Congress authorized a series of medals, the Comitia Americana medals, to commemorate significant American victories during the revolutionary war. In 1787 Congress passed a unanimous resolution to present John Paul Jones with one of these medals. This medal was the first naval medal authorized by Congress, and the only medal within the Comitia Americana series dedicated to a naval victory. As with the military medals included in the series, the John Paul Jones medal was designed and struck at the Paris Mint.
The obverse features a right profile portrait of Jones after Jean-Antoine Houdon's bust, with a legend that translates to "The American Congress to John Paul Jones, Commander of the Fleet." The reverse depicts the U.S. frigate Bonhomme Richard on fire, with her crew boarding the damaged British frigate Serapis in the foreground. The reverse legend translates to "The enemy's ships captured or put to flight at Scotland's shore 23 Sept. 1779." Copper restrikes have been available from the Paris Mint since the 1790s. In 1863 the United States Mint created dies from a restrike, leaving off the engraver's name.