Sunday, August 10, 2008

Too many Joneses!

Cute post, Al, but it's obvious I'm no Obama. I'd love to take his courses. Or teach some pale semblance of one of them again someday. But first I have to get this obsession with State v. Mann behind me--which I may soon do if I'm lucky.

On Saturday my goal in the archives was to bear down on Thomas Jones of Chowan County, the Thomas Jones who died in 1822 and was father of Elizabeth Jones and owner of a slave named Lydia. (Lydia subsequently became the property of Elizabeth and was kept hired out until Elizabeth entered her majority at age 18.) Whose family did he come from? Was it true--as it seemed likely, at least, on the surface--that he was the son of the Thomas Jones of Chowan who helped to draft North Carolina's constitution of 1776? That Thomas Jones sounds like quite a fellow. According to Samuel Ashe's Biographical History of North Carolina, he

was bred to the law, was one of the very finest men of the province in genius and learning. About the time of the arrival of James Iredell at Edenton, Mr. Jones was clerk of the court. He was not a man of large means, but was esteemed one of the principal men of his community. He was married and had an interesting household that was on terms of intimacy with the Johnstons and others of that social circle. In 1771 Iredell mentions him as "one of the best as well as most agreeable men in the world."

He died in 1797, leaving a will that named three sons, Zachariah, Levi, and Thomas.

Now, the Thomas Jones who was the father of Elizabeth died in 1822, possessed of over 600 acres. He was a justice of the peace and was evidently well respected. Given the frequency with which these people named their children after themselves, it seemed likely to me that there was a direct line here. And how interesting to re-discover this founding North Carolinian who had been lost to history and to connect him to this important case.

Except, not so fast. It turns out that in the archival file of estate records titled "Thomas Jones, 1754-1798 (more than one estate)" (not even the state archivists can tell these Joneses a part), there's a document dated 1795 that says, "Thomas Jones, son of the late Thomas Jones esquire attorney of law deceased late of Edenton in Chowan County is dead," having died without leaving a will, and thus that Francis Jones, son of this Thomas Jones, is appointed his executor. More confusion ensues, because the will of the Thomas Jones who seems to be the father here, the lawyer and clerk, is dated 1797!

There must be a story here, but unfortunately not a clear enough line to determine that Elizabeth Jones was the grand-daughter, or even great-granddaughter, of Thomas Jones the forgotten old patriot, a man who had his moment but then, according to Ashe, disappeared from public life 20 years before his death.

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