Jones is difficult to track in the historical record because of confusion in the documentary record about his name. Official election and legislative records all identified him as James R. Jones or as J. R. Jones, but one standard reference work contains the name Joseph R. Jones. At the time of his first election to the General Assembly in 1876 the newspaper in the Mecklenburg County town of Boydton where he probably resided referred to him as “Dick Jones” and as “J. R. Jones nee Dick.” In the 1880s, the longtime county Republican Party leader Ross Hamilton called him Dick Jones. That indicates that Jones was known locally as Dick and suggests that his middle name was Richard. He was probably the man who as J. Richard Jones was one of twenty-two men who jointly guaranteed the $65,000 bond of the county treasurer in May 1886. Several African American men named or variously referred to as James Jones, J. R. Jones, James R. Jones, J. Richard Jones, Richard Jones, and Dick Jones lived in the county during the years when Jones was active in politics, but most of them did not live in or near Boydton, where Jones was postmaster for a time. Discrepancies and uncertainties in public records leave it unclear which information in which records actually referred to the senator, delegate, and postmaster. It is not known who Jones’s parents were, where or when he was born, whether he was born free or enslaved, how he learned to read and write, precisely when and who he married, whether he had children, or where and when he died.
Jones’s dozen or more years of participation in the politics of the divided African American Republicans in Mecklenburg County is also poorly documented. In November 1876 he won election to the vacant seat in the Senate of Virginia from the counties of Mecklenburg and Charlotte to complete the short time remaining in the term to which the late Albert P. Lathrop had been reelected in 1873. When Jones appeared to take his seat, a senator objected that the presence of soldiers at the poll had prevented a fair election from being held, but the other senators voted to seat him and later ruled that the election had been legal. Jones inherited Lathrop’s lowest-ranking seat on the Committee on Banks. The Senate’s journal indicates that Jones was not a very active member. He ran for election to the full four-year term in 1877 but lost to a white Conservative by a vote of 2,613 to 1,958.
Jones held the presidential appointment as postmaster in the town of Boydton from August 10, 1880, to January 12, 1885. He did not attend the March 1881 those Republicans and ran as a Readjuster for his old Senate seat in the autumn of 1881 and was elected with 2,441 votes over a Democrat (1,390) and an Independent (544).in Petersburg that voted to affiliate with the Readjuster Party, which had been formed in 1879 to refinance the antebellum at a lower rate of interest to allow money to be diverted from debt service to support the . Jones almost certainly agreed with the decision of
The biracial Readjuster coalition held majorities in both houses of the General Assembly in the 1881–1882 session, and Jones received an appointment to the influential Committee on Privileges and Elections (but he ranked as the sixth of seven members) and also was the third-named of the three members of the less-important Committee to Examine the Office of the Auditor of Public Accounts. During that session the General Assembly refinanced the debt to reduce the rate of interest and the amount of principal to be paid; increased appropriations for the public schools; replaced most of the county and city school superintendents with men who were more sympathetic than their predecessors to education of African Americans; founded a public college for African Americans (which became Virginia State University); reformed administration of the state’s public colleges; and submitted to a successful ratification referendum a constitutional amendment to repeal athat opponents of African American voting had placed on the suffrage in 1876. Jones was more active than he had been during his short first term five years earlier and successfully sponsored a bill to repair roads in Charlotte and several other counties. He also introduced two bills to abolish the whipping post (called punishment by stripes) and voted for a House bill that became law and terminated that painful and humiliating legacy of slavery. Jones also voted to elect Readjuster state senator to the United States Senate.
For reasons that are not evident, Jones resigned from the Senate of Virginia effective December 1, 1883, half-way through his term and shortly after opponents of the Republican/Readjuster coalition won majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. In November 1885 Jones defeated Democrat Charles L. Finch by a vote of 2,395 to 1,911 to win a two-year term in the House of Delegates to represent Mecklenburg County. Jones arrived in Richmond to take his seat in the custody of a United States marshal who had arrested him on a charge of stealing or mishandling a registered letter in 1883 while he was postmaster in Boydton. Finch tried to prevent the House from seating Jones, but the House seated him, nevertheless. Finch then filed a formal challenge to the legality of Jones’s election on the grounds that among many irregularities at several polling places in the county Jones and his supporters had intimidated African Americans who might have voted for Finch, a Democrat. The House voted on January 26, 1886, that Jones was entitled to his seat. Democrats had a majority in that assembly, and the Speaker appointed him to the lowest-ranking seat on the relatively inconsequential Committee on House Expenses. For whatever reasons, Jones was not a very active delegate during the one session of the assembly.
It is possible but by no means certain that the postmaster, delegate, and senator was the Richard Jones who married Mary Baskervill in Mecklenburg County on December 28, 1869. The marriage register indicated that they were both natives of the county and that he was then twenty-five years old (born about 1844) and she fifteen. The name of her father was recorded as Ceasar in the register, but the names of his parents were not. In the 1870 census a Richard Jones and Mary Jones appear twice, once living in the Mecklenburg County household of Ceasar Baskevill and his wife Amanda Baskevill and once living next door to the same couple. Ten years later Richard Jones and Mary E. Jones were recorded in the 1880 census, with Mary Jones identified as a twenty-five-year-old postmaster. A Mary E. Jones did hold the position of Boydton postmaster from April 1874 to August 1880, prior to James R. Jones’s tenure.
If Jones resided for any length of time in Washington after becoming a member of the Capitol Police late in 1888, his residence there is as ill-documented as his residence in Mecklenburg County. Several African Americans named James Jones and Richard Jones lived in the city in the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century, but it is unclear whether any of those Joneses was the former state senator, delegate, and postmaster.
Jones’s name appears in different forms in the county deed book references to the property he owned in or near Boydton, which indicates that all the land references are to the same man. In May 1875, Ross Hamilton and Richard Jones jointly purchased a lot adjacent to the Methodist church in Boydton. A year and a half later J. Richard Jones took out a mortgage on it to pay off a debt, but in May 1880 his wife, Mary E. Jones, purchased the house and lot when it was sold at public auction because he had been unable to pay the debt. That being three years after enactment of the Virginia Married Women’s Property Act (for which Jones voted in 1877 when he was a member of the Senate of Virginia), she secured ownership of it in her own name. It is possible that she died before July 1886, when J. Richard Jones sold his half-interest in the property, which he probably would have inherited from his wife. Two years later, J. R. Jones sold to Sallie W. Jones all his remaining interest in the estate of the late Martha Jones, but whether that was his wife by another name, a second wife for whom no marriage record survives, or some other relative is not clear in the deed. In the meantime, in June 1885, J. R. Jones paid $600 for a house and thirty-three acres of land near the Boydton Academic and Bible Institute, a private school for African Americans that had recently opened in the vacated buildings of Randolph-Macon College. J. Richard Jones used the land as collateral when he borrowed money in September 1886 to pay several debts that together totaled $170. He paid it back in full on December 23, 1891. Jones paid taxes on the property and probably lived there rather than in Washington until J. R. Jones and his wife, then identified as Martha Jones, sold it for $1,000 on August 20, 1902, the last clearly identifiable dated record of James Richard Jones, of Boydton, in the Mecklenburg County records.