Charles C. Jones Jr. – Encyclopedia of New Georgia
Charles C. Jones Jr. was the greatest Georgian historian of the 19th century. Also an autograph and manuscript collector and an accomplished amateur archaeologist, Jones later became a prominent Lost Cause memoirist and critic of the New South.
Youth and career
Charles Colcock Jones Jr. was born in Savannah on October 28, 1831 into a prominent family of tide planters. He spent much of his youth in Columbia, South Carolina, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his father, nationally known Presbyterian minister Charles Colcock Jones, held teaching and administrative positions related at the church. The younger Jones attended South Carolina College before going to the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), where he graduated with an AB in 1852. He received his law degree in 1855 from the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Returning to Savannah in 1855, Jones began his legal career. In 1858 he married Ruth Berrien Whitehead, and after her death married Eva Berrien Eve in 1863. A surviving daughter and son are from these marriages. In the 1850s and early 1860s, Jones helped manage his family’s rice and cotton plantations in Liberty County, and he ran his own plantation in Burke County. The Jones family’s attempts to reconcile Christianity with slavery, as well as their status as paternalistic masters, have long drawn historians into their voluminous correspondence.
Political, military and post-war career
Elected mayor of Savannah in 1860, Jones governed effectively and gave speeches in support of secession. After Georgia joined the Confederacy in 1861, he enlisted as an officer in the Chatham Artillery. Soon promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army and chief of artillery for the Georgia Military District, Jones ostensibly served during the Siege of Savannah in 1864.
Financially ruined by the war, he moved his law practice in 1866 to New York, where he made some progress in repairing his fortunes. In 1877 he returned to practice law in Georgia, settling near Augusta at a small estate known as Montrose. Over the next sixteen years, Jones gained increasing fame as a historian, collector and orator. He died of Bright’s disease at Montrose on July 19, 1893.
Ultimately, Jones published nearly a hundred books, pamphlets, and articles, many of which were privately printed at his own expense. A keen interest in the culture and history of the Southeast Indian tribes led to Jones’ first published work in 1859 and ultimately resulted in his acquisition of over 20,000 prehistoric artifacts. His archaeological interests reached their fullest and finest expression with Antiquities of the South Indians, especially the tribes of Georgia (1873), which achieved international acclaim and remains a recognized classic in its field.
Jones has published numerous monographs relating to the history of Georgia as a colony and a state, among which are The ghost towns of Georgia (1878). Although insufficient funds permitted the publication of only two of the projected four volumes, his masterly History of Georgia (1883) has been praised by other historians for its dignified style and extensive use of original sources. Negro Myths on the Georgian Coast (1888) preserved Gullah dialect versions of African trickster tales more commonly associated with Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales.
Many of Jones’ later publications were printed versions of his frequent speeches to Confederate veterans organizations. More elaborate, however, were his Chatham Artillery Historical Sketch (1867) and The siege of Savannah in December 1864 (1874), book-length studies of considerable merit.
Library and collections
Jones assembled at Montrose a splendid historical library comprising many leather-bound volumes, including many extra-illustrated copies of his own works. He also enjoyed a national reputation as a collector of autographs and manuscripts. Its complete set of autographs of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, for example, contains Button Gwinnett’s holograph testament, now considered priceless. The Jones Confederate Collection, more than a dozen bound volumes, includes manuscript documents pertaining to all civil and military officers of the Confederacy, chief among them several hundred letters from Robert E. Lee to Jefferson Davis.
More than a century after Jones’ death, many of his major works are still in print. Although an exemplary gentleman-scholar of his time, Jones was rightly criticized by modern authorities for his overreliance on paraphrase, hasty composition, and inconsistent documentation. C. Vann Woodward portrayed Jones as an anachronistic and somewhat pathetic defender of Old Southern traditionalism and agrarian values against New Southern urbanization, commercialization, and materialism. In his own words, Jones appeared in a more positive light in children of pride (1972), Robert Manson Myers’ monumental edition of the Jones family correspondence, where Jones’ intellectual gifts, family devotion and concern for honor are often highlighted.