JONES, OLIVER, landowner, businessman, and speculator; b. 15 Dec. 1821 in Head of Petitcodiac (Petitcodiac), N.B., seventh child of Jacob Jones and Hannah Corey; m. first Elizabeth Steeves; m. secondly 2 June 1852 Catherine Garden Simpson in Fredericton; m. thirdly 21 July 1863 Elizabeth Jane Beer in Charlottetown; from his three marriages he had 21 children, 12 of whom died in early life; d. 15 Nov. 1899 in Moncton, N.B .
Little is known of Oliver Jones’s childhood except that when he was eight he spent a year in the Bend of Petitcodiac (Moncton) with his elder sister Charlotte. When his father died he left Oliver approximately £200, and in 1839 the young man returned to the Bend and ventured into real estate. He bought a property of four acres which extended from the Westmorland Road (Main Street) to the Petitcodiac River and included the Monckton Hotel, built in 1830. Jones operated the hotel in company with James Trites Dunlap until 1841, when he sold his interest in it to Dunlap for £80. Besides trading in cattle and speculating in land, Jones arranged for the construction that year of the first wharf in Moncton, at the foot of what became Duke Street.
In 1848 Jones purchased 800 acres west of the settlement from John Starr Trites for £2,250. He arranged in 1857 for a large part of this tract to be cleared and drained, thus beginning development of the area. In 1853 the Central Bank of New Brunswick had closed its Moncton agency, forcing the citizens to travel to Saint John for banking services. A number of businessmen from Moncton and southeastern New Brunswick, led by Jones, sponsored a bill to incorporate a bank in Moncton, which received royal assent on 20 March 1854. The Westmorland Bank, as it was known, had a capital of $60,000 Halifax currency. Jones went to Saint John to obtain $30,000, much of it in gold. He served as president during the bank’s 13 years of operation.
By the mid 1850s Jones was one of the prominent citizens of Moncton, which had been incorporated on 12 April 1855. Shortly after the Westmorland Bank was founded, Jones, in partnership with James McAllister, built a factory for tanning hides. By 1861 it was Moncton’s largest business, having 14 employees and assets of $30,000. Later known as the Moncton Leather Company, the concern operated for almost 20 years. Tannery Street still exists in the area, which was then known as Tannery Town. Jones and William S. Torrie were partners in a soap and candle factory begun in 1860, but Jones had withdrawn by 1870.
When the Baptists of the Bend had decided to build a church of their own in 1853, Jones had offered a site and made a proposal to build the church. Some of the conditions he attached were unacceptable to the remainder of the congregation, but it was eventually decided to accept the proposal, which allowed him to dispose of the pews in the church. Long before his death Jones clashed with church officials over his rights, and many regretted their earlier decision. In 1859 he became mayor of Moncton, but he did not run in 1860. He was never active in any political party and never held any other public office.
In 1862 Jones attempted to revive shipbuilding in Moncton, and he hired William Henry Tyler Sumner, Abner Jones, and Archibald MacKay to build four ships and three barques, which were completed between 1863 and 1865. Jones claimed to have lost money on the vessels, and because of world conditions he undoubtedly did. However, the greatest blow to his fortunes was the collapse of the Westmorland Bank on 13 March 1867. It was alleged by the depositors that Jones had been “plundering the assets” to finance his businesses, and indeed the bank’s statements after 1864 show a decline in reserves, although the bad and doubtful debts had remained constant from 1863. In addition, the two cashiers (general managers) who served after 1863 were related to Jones, and a proper audit had never been conducted. These factors caused a revulsion against “the notorious Oliver” that would outlive him.
Jones was involved in selling some land to the federal government in 1870 for the new repair shops of the Intercolonial Railway. He then began a private brokerage business which resembled a loan-shark operation. Jones led the unsuccessful fight against the re-incorporation of Moncton in 1875. It is significant that he played practically no part in the industrial growth stimulated by John Leonard Harris, Christopher Prince Harris, and John Albert Humphrey. His assets were land, mortgages, and cash loans, and he was ruthless when collecting money. Stories began to circulate about the Shylock of Moncton, some of them still prevalent.
Either a need for security or a sense of pride prompted Jones to build a wooden mansion in a park-like setting in the west end of the town. He took possession in 1877 and could be seen wandering about the estate, which contained an indoor skating-rink and a fountain. The property was surrounded by a fence complete with elaborate gates and a pair of cast-lead lions flanking the entrance. Jones’s last enterprise was perhaps his most bizarre. In 1883 he purchased a hillside plot in the Rural (Elmwood) Cemetery and constructed a vault there at an estimated cost of $15,000. On the morning of 15 Nov. 1899 Oliver Jones died following a stroke he had suffered on 28 October. His obituary made a complimentary reference to the many enterprises in which he had been engaged. Far more indicative of the feelings of the citizens was an incident on the night of his entombment. A group of men almost forced the door of the vault, and the family had to post guards there for the rest of that winter.
[In addition to the sources cited below, information for this biography was obtained in my interview of 28 April 1975 with Mr Stanley S. Jones of Moncton, N.B., a grandson of the subject. c.a.p.]
N.B., The revised statutes of New Brunswick . . . (3v., Fredericton, 1854–55), 3: 626–39. Moncton Times, 15, 20 Nov. 1899. Biographical review: this volume contains biographical sketches of leading citizens of the province of New Brunswick, ed. I. A. Jack (Boston, 1900), 126–28. Emmerson Carroll and A. J. Tingley, Years of pilgrimage: 150 years for Christ in First Moncton United Baptist Church, 1821–1978 (Hantsport, N.S., 1978), 21–22. Esther Clark Wright, The Petitcodiac: a study of the New Brunswick river and of the people who settled along it (Sackville, N.B., 1945), 41–48. E. W. Larracey, The first hundred: a story of the first 100 years of Moncton’s existence after the arrival in 1766 of the pioneer settlers from Philadelphia, Pa. (Moncton, 1970), 116–20, 181–84. L. A. Machum, A history of Moncton, town and city, 1855–1965 (Moncton, 1965), 68, 74–75, 106, 118. C. A. Pincombe, “The history of Monckton Township (ca. 1700–1875)” (ma thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1969), 69–76, 134, 178–80, 191–92, 210, app.R, app.W. R. J. Graham and J. A. Haxby, “The history and notes of the Westmorland Bank of New Brunswick,” Canadian Paper Money Journal (Toronto), 13 (1977): 41–51. [The technical portion of this account is excellent and of great interest to a numismatist. The history is condensed and somewhat confusing; however, it does criticize Jones’s questionable actions in the years leading up to the failure in 1867. c.a.p.] Moncton Times, 15 June 1927.