ENTRY

Robert G. W. Jones (July 10, 1826–by March 15, 1900)

SUMMARY

Robert G. W. Jones, member of the House of Delegates (1869–1871), was reportedly born free in Henrico County in 1826 but lived most of his life in Charles City County. On July 6, 1869, he easily defeated a Confederate veteran to win election to the House of Delegates representing Charles City County. He voted to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, as Congress required before it seated senators and representatives from the state. He considered running for reelection in 1871, but a new district had been created and he was shut out of the race. At various times Jones owned property in the county and identified himself as a farmer in census records. He served as one of the trustees of the Union Baptist Church formed during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Winning election as a justice of the peace for the county’s Harrison district in 1883, 1885, 1887, and 1889, he also served as acting coroner on at least one occasion. Jones died on an unrecorded date between August 19, 1899, when representatives of the Lincoln National Building and Loan Association filed suit against him, and March 15, 1900, when an administrator was appointed to oversee his estate.

Early Years

Jones was reportedly born free in Henrico County, but he evidently lived most or all of his adult life in neighboring Charles City County. The names of parents are not known. His full name likely was Robert George Washington Jones, but he was generally known as Robert G. W. Jones or R. G. W. Jones. On March 15, 1866, he married Frances (sometimes spelled Francis) J. A. Harris, who had probably been enslaved and thus their previous marriage during the 1840s had no legal standing. They had six children, among them two sons and two daughters who were all born into slavery and who lived to adulthood.

Political Career

            Charles City County had an African American majority by about a two-to-one margin after the Civil War. In October 1867 Jones and other Black men voted for the first time for members of a convention called to rewrite the state’s constitution as required by Congress. Informed accounts of the political dynamics in the county during the years immediately after the war do not disclose how Jones emerged as the successful candidate for the House of Delegates in 1869. The county was not far from Richmond, but the city’s newspapers seldom reported on the county’s politics. Perhaps Jones’s having been free before the war gave him an advantage over formerly enslaved men. When voters went to the polls to ratify the state’s new constitution on July 6, 1869, they also voted for members of the General Assembly. Charles City County voters easily elected Jones to the House of Delegates over John Lamb, a Confederate veteran who later served in the House of Representatives, 616 to 338, with 54 additional votes cast for other men.

            The Speaker of the House, a white member of the Conservative Party, appointed Jones to the lowest-ranking seat on the relatively inconsequential Committee on Public Property. In the brief October 1869 special session Jones voted to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, as Congress required before it seated senators and representatives from the state. Late in November, he attended the state convention of Radical Republicans and as a member of its resolutions committee called on Congress and the president to protect African American voters. Toward the end of the long regular session of the assembly in June 1870, Jones voted to delete a provision for mandatory racial segregation from the bill to establish the state’s first system of free public schools and for an amendment to prohibit racial discrimination in the appointment of county school trustees, both of which failed. He then joined several other African American delegates in voting against the bill, which they favored, as a symbolic protest of what they regarded as an unjustified discrimination against them and their children.

            On March 28, 1871, shortly before the conclusion of the final session of his term, Jones and most of the other African American members of the General Assembly voted to pay the full principal of the pre–Civil War public debt at 6 percent annual interest. Because of the high interest rate and the tax-receivable character of the interest-bearing coupons on the bonds the state issued to pay the debt, the Funding Act led to more than a decade of unanticipated budget deficits, reductions in appropriations for the schools, and political turmoil. Jones considered running for reelection in 1871, but a new district had been created by combining the counties of Charles City and New Kent and conflict over the nomination between Jones, the New Kent incumbent William Henry Brisby, and others kept him out of the race. Brisby’s friend and neighbor William H. Patterson eventually won the nomination and later the election. In 1872 Jones was elected an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Ulysses S. Grant for a second term as president, although it is not clear whether he attended the convention in Philadelphia. Jones was a delegate at the Republican Party‘s state convention in Lynchburg in July 1873. During the next decade he won election as a justice of the peace for the Harrison district in Charles City County in 1883, 1885, and 1887, and served as acting coroner on at least one occasion.

Later Years

            Just a few months after the Civil War ended, Jones and another man borrowed $900 to purchase five hundred acres in Charles City County, although the property was sold at auction in 1873 when they were unable to pay off their debt. While Jones was a member of the General Assembly in the summer of 1870, he paid $179 to purchase a seventy-acre tract of land adjacent to the pond at Edna Mills. Census enumerators then and thereafter identified him as a farmer. Early in 1873, Jones was one of the trustees of the Union Baptist Church, which had been formed in Charles City during the Civil War, who paid $20 to purchase two acres of land for a burying ground. If, as later reported, he was one of the first people to teach music in the county, that may have been in connection with his membership in the church.

            In May 1886 Jones and his wife mortgaged their land for $300 to buy a forty-one-acre farm. Elected a justice of the peace in May 1899, he took his oath on June 15. He had borrowed $200 to purchase shares of the Lincoln National Building and Loan Association in June 1893 and he and his wife pledged their seventy-acre farm as security. Robert G. W. Jones died on an unrecorded date between August 19, 1899, when representatives of the building and loan association filed suit against him in the local court of chancery for not keeping up his monthly payments, and March 15, 1900, when an administrator was appointed to oversee his estate. He may have died on January 23, which was the date carved on his gravestone in the cemetery at Union Baptist Church, although with the erroneous year of 1899 instead of 1900. The court sold his property in January 1901.

MAP
TIMELINE
July 10, 1826

Robert G. W. Jones is born free in Henrico County. His full name likely is Robert George Washington Jones.

March 15, 1866

Robert G. W. Jones marries Frances J. A. Harris.

October 1867

Robert G. W. Jones and other Black men voted for the first time for members of the convention called to rewrite the state's constitution as required by Congress.

July 6, 1869

Robert G. W. Jones easily defeats Confederate veteran John Lamb to win to a two-year term in the House of Delegates representing Charles City County.

July 6, 1869
Voters ratify a new state constitution that establishes free public schools and includes full suffrage for all males twenty-one years or older, including African Americans. Voters reject disfranchising former Confederates.
October 1869

Robert G. W. Jones votes to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, as Congress required before it seated senators and representatives from the state.

November 1869

Robert G. W. Jones attends the state convention of radical Republicans and as a member of its resolutions committee called on Congress and the president to protect African American voters.

1870

Robert G. W. Jones pays $179 to purchase a seventy-acre tract of land.

June 1870

Robert G. W. Jones votes to delete a provision for mandatory racial segregation from the bill to establish the state's first system of free public schools and for an amendment to prohibit racial discrimination in the appointment of county school trustees, both of which failed.

July 1870

Robert G. W. Jones joins several other African American delegates in voting against the bill to establish the state's first system of free public schools as a symbolic protest of what they regarded as an unjustified discrimination against them and their children.

1871

Robert G. W. Jones considers running for reelection in 1871, but he is shut out of the race as a new district had been created by combining the counties of Charles City and New Kent.

March 28, 1871

Shortly before the conclusion of the final session of his term, Robert G. W. Jones and most of the other African American members of the General Assembly vote for the Funding Act to pay the full principal of the pre–Civil War public debt at 6 percent annual interest.

1872

Robert G. W. Jones is elected an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention that will nominate Ulysses S. Grant for a second term as president.

July 1873

Robert G. W. Jones is a delegate at the Republican Party's state convention in Lynchburg.

1873

Robert G. W. Jones is one of the trustees of the Union Baptist Church, which had been formed in Charles City during the American Civil War.

1880s

Robert G. W. Jones wins election as a justice of the peace for the Harrison district in Charles City County in 1883, 1885, 1887, and 1889. He serves as acting coroner on at least one occasion.

May 1886

Robert G. W. Jones and his wife mortgage their land for $300 to buy a forty-one-acre farm.

June 1893

Robert G. W. Jones borrows $200 to purchase shares of the Lincoln National Building and Loan Association.

1899–1900

Robert G. W. Jones dies on an unrecorded date between August 19, 1899, when the Lincoln National Building and Loan Association files suit against him, and March 15, 1900, when an administrator is appointed to oversee his estate.

FURTHER READING

Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Va: Guide Quality Press, 1945.

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Tarter, Brent & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Robert G. W. Jones (July 10, 1826–by March 15, 1900). (2022, January 18). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/robert-g-w-jones-july-10-1826-by-march-15-1900.
MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Robert G. W. Jones (July 10, 1826–by March 15, 1900)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (18 Jan. 2022). Web. 02 Dec. 2022
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