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JONES, CHARLES, businessman, office holder, politician, and militia officer; b. 28 Feb. 1781, second son of Ephraim Jones* and Charlotte Coursol (Coursolles); m. first 8 June 1807 Mary Stuart, daughter of John Stuart*, in Kingston, Upper Canada, and they had three sons; m. secondly 1820 Florella Smith, with whom he had three sons and two daughters; d. 21 Aug. 1840 in Brockville, Upper Canada.

Charles Jones was a member of one of the first loyalist families to settle in the upper St Lawrence valley, in Township No.7 (Augusta, Ont.) in 1784. For an aspiring family, satisfactory education was to be had only in Great Britain or the United States, and it was to the latter that his parents sent young Charles in the 1790s. Returning in 1800, he became clerk of the Johnstown District Court, a post arranged by Solomon Jones*, scion of another establishment family of no relation. Charles and his brothers, William, Jonas, and Alpheus, were to vie with that family for tory favours and, indeed, in late 1808 or early 1809 Solomon’s son replaced Charles. As clerk of the court, and as district treasurer from 1803 to 1814, Charles’s duties carried him throughout the counties of Leeds and Grenville, and he acquired a familiarity with the potential of the region which no doubt was helpful in his many subsequent land transactions there.

About 1802 Jones settled in Elizabethtown Township, most likely at the site of Elizabethtown (Brockville) on the St Lawrence River, and by 1803 he had opened the town’s first general store. He may have been set up by his father, a merchant, but thereafter Charles’s orders for imports were generally handled by Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy and Company of Montreal. In 1805 Jones bought 300 acres of riverfront property adjacent to land owned by William Buell*, thus bringing him face to face with another of the region’s founding families. In a lifelong rivalry for local prominence, Jones, an Anglican, was the conservative tory, while Buell, who became a Presbyterian, represented the liberal strain. They agreed on the value of education, hard work, parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law, and were even prepared to act cooperatively when it appeared in their interests to do so. A mutual undertaking which paid handsome dividends to both families began in 1808, when Jones contracted to build a new district court-house and jail at Elizabethtown and agreed to organize the public subscription for its construction. Buell donated the land. Completion of the structure in 1811 assured their village’s ascendancy over Johnstown, the old administrative centre. The new town-site grew rapidly, and the names of both Buell and Jones were suggested for it. The standoff between Williamstown and Charlestown was resolved by the death of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock* in the War of 1812, which allowed each contestant to display his pride in the British connection and agree upon the use of the revered general’s name. The rivalry was intense, but gentlemanly.

Charles Jones held lots and rental properties in Brockville, as well as rural lands, including millsites, throughout Leeds and the Rideau area. His father owned some 11,000 acres at the time of his death in 1812, some of which might have been part of the 5,200 acres held by Charles in Elizabethtown Township in 1815. Jones was constantly buying and selling lots. To contemporaries such as Joel Stone*, he seemed to display a degree of greed and insensitivity which, if real, would blemish a generally upstanding character. The proportion of his land which was cleared for farming rose from 5 per cent in 1805 to about 25 per cent in 1840. This rate matched province-wide averages, although Jones achieved it largely by selling off undeveloped land. He had an acute business sense and should be remembered as a developer and opportunist, not an absentee landlord. The philanthropic side of his land interests is evident in his gifts of land in Brockville for an Episcopal church (1812), school (1819), Presbyterian church (1825), and market square (1833). In his will he left land for present-day Victoria Park, and offered more for a military academy, streets, and other public uses.

Jones’s most valuable rural land was that purchased in 1809 in Yonge Township, west of Brockville, where William Buell had mills. A saw- and flour-milling complex, Yonge Mills had been constructed by Jones before 1806 and by 1828 flour-milling had become his principal enterprise. In 1830–31 he used the property to secure mortgages totalling more than £11,500 from Peter McGill* and George Moffatt* of Montreal. Milling- and shipping-books and more than 600 letters show that about a quarter of the milling was custom work for farmers throughout Leeds, and that the rest was performed for larger, merchant accounts. Yonge Mills was a moderately large operation for its day, producing some 12,000 barrels of flour annually for the export trade. This output amounted to about 10 per cent of all flour passing down the St Lawrence valley in the late 1830s. Jones was away from Brockville for weeks at a time, buying wheat and arranging milling contracts from Prince Edward County around the shore of Lake Ontario to the Niagara peninsula and, by 1840, in Ohio. His cousins Henry and Sidney Jones of Brockville shipped for him, and the Quebec firm of Tremain and Moir was his main agent at Quebec and Montreal for customers downstream or overseas. It was a tightly knit business involving kinship ties and loyalty to old associates.

Jones believed that industry would not take hold in the Canadas and that the future lay in agriculture, an opinion shared by William Buell* Jr as editor of the Brockville Recorder. To be marketable, Jones maintained, Canadian flour had to be of unsurpassed quality, and he did not permit his brand to be affixed to an inferior product. He employed American craftsmen and machinery where Canada’s were inadequate. Greater efficiency was achieved at Yonge Mills after 1835 through diversification: distilling whiskey, using the mills’ by-products to raise hogs, and starting a cooperage.

The existing accounts for Jones’s Brockville store cease in 1830, but correspondence regarding merchandise indicates that he was still in retailing through the 1830s. At various times during that decade he owned shares in banks, in the Cataraqui Bridge Company, in the Inland Forwarding and Insurance Company, and in the schooner Trafalgar and steamboat Brockville. As well, Jones was interested in the development of a copper mine in Bastard Township and an ironworks at Furnace Falls (Lyndhurst) [see Abel Stevens*]. The town of Woodstock, Upper Canada, and his nephew by marriage, Allan Napier MacNab*, asked him for loans. All these ventures, like his lands, Jones dealt with decisively. For instance, in 1835 he abandoned his interest in the forwarding and insurance company as a sign of his displeasure at the move of its head office from Brockville to the rival village of Prescott.

The public career of Jones paralleled his rise in business. Appointed a militia captain in the War of 1812, he was briefly held prisoner by the Americans. In 1819 he was made president of the newly founded Johnstown District Agricultural Society. The following year Attorney General John Beverley Robinson* appointed him a commissioner under the alien act of 1814, with powers to confiscate land improperly held. He was commissioned as a magistrate in July 1822 but refused the office, claiming he did not have the time because of his “different avocations.” From 1822 until his death Jones was colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Leeds militia, and took an active role in improving the distribution of weapons and in training and defence. He served, as well, with John Macaulay* and others on the provincial commission for internal navigation which, in 1823, reported on Samuel Clowes’s survey of a proposed canal route from Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River, through the Rideau region well known to Jones.

In 1816 Jones had contested the single seat for Leeds in the House of Assembly. He had been particularly incensed at the imposition of martial law during the war, and his long and tedious campaign speeches stoutly defended British parliamentary tradition. Defeated by Peter Howard, he tried again in 1821 and was successful, holding one of the two Leeds seats until 1828. He resigned his seat that year in response to attacks on a position he took in the assembly on the raising of import duties for educational purposes. Perhaps because of his friendships with Robinson and John Strachan*, he was immediately appointed to the Legislative Council, where he sat through the final years of his life.

Throughout the 1830s the Jones family was prominent in Brockville affairs. Appointed to the local board of health in 1835, Charles served as president of the Brockville Constitutional Society in 1836 and of the board of police the following year. In 1836–37 political expediency brought Charles and Jonas together with Ogle Robert Gowan*, the organizer of Orangeism in Upper Canada and a Brockville resident. Gowan used his alliance with the Joneses and other members of the tory establishment to give visibility to himself and his causes. Charles had economic interests in the regions settled by Gowan’s Irish followers and the alliance prevented the balance of political power from swinging to the Buells. In January 1838, however, Jones broke with Gowan over his wish to establish an Irish brigade in the Leeds militia. Jones opposed such efforts to “excite national distinctions,” as the Orange leader had also done during the recent rebellion, and in May he withdrew his subscription to Gowan’s Statesman because of the “incendiary tendency” of its editorials. The Joneses never regained their political primacy and in July 1839 an anonymous Orangeman, writing in the Brockville Recorder, claimed that the district’s “family compact” had been “annihilated.”

The fortunes of Charles Jones turned sadly downward in the last three years of his life. The buoyant economy had broken in the spring of 1837, and the wheat crop was of poor quality. He had trouble collecting and discharging debts, and was involved in a dispute over the Trafalgar. The political unrest of December 1837 and the militia’s call-to-arms six months later, to guard against possible invasion by Patriot forces based in the United States, were disturbing to such defenders of the rule of law as Jones, who also feared for his mills. Exiled rebels even threatened his life. Differences with his son Frederick, a student at Yale College, disturbed Jones, and another son, Stuart, died in 1839. He travelled to England for the summer of 1839 in an effort to restore his declining health, but he weakened further the following spring and died in August 1840 of unrecorded causes.

Jones died as compact toryism was decaying, a misfit in the era of union politics and administrative reform. Furthermore, rapidly rising immigration, the accelerating pace of land clearance, and massive growth in the quantities of grain and other cargoes involved in the Great Lakes trade, all combined to overwhelm the ingrown community in which Jones had led a sheltered, almost blissful life.

Thomas F. McIlwraith

AO, MS 520, John Elmsley to Solomon Jones, 26 Feb. 1800; MU 3155–88; RG 21, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, Elizabethtown Township, assessment rolls, 1800–5; RG 22, ser.155. Leeds Land Registry Office (Brockville, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Elizabethtown Township, concession 1, lots 10–11; Yonge Township, concession 1, lot 8 (mfm. at AO). PAC, MG 24, B7; RG 5, A1: 28896–97, 29818–21, 29925–27, 33631–48, 37267–326, 103404–9, 115971–72, 116012–14, 117198–205; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 447, 670. Arthur papers (Sanderson). The parish register of Kingston, Upper Canada, 1785–1811, ed. A. H. Young (Kingston, Ont., 1921). Chronicle & Gazette, 24 May 1834; 15 June 1835; 26 March, 11 May 1836; 4, 19 Jan. 1837; 22 Aug., 25 Nov. 1840. Kingston Chronicle, 28 May 1819; 17 Jan. 1823; 2, 9, 23 Feb., 16, 30 March, 6 April 1827. Chadwick, Ontarian families, 1: 173–75. D. H. Akenson, The Irish in Ontario: a study in rural history (Kingston and Montreal, 1984). Ian MacPherson, Matters of loyalty: the Buells of Brockville, 1830–1850 (Belleville, Ont., 1981). R. W. Widdis, “A perspective on land tenure in Upper Canada: a study of Elizabethtown Township, 1790–1840” (ma thesis, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ont., 1977). W. H. Cole, “The local history of the town of Brockville,” OH, 12 (1914): 33–41. E. M. Richards [McGaughey], “The Joneses of Brockville and the family compact,” OH, 60 (1968): 169–84.

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Cite This Article

Thomas F. McIlwraith, “JONES, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jones_charles_7E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jones_charles_7E.html
Author of Article:   Thomas F. McIlwraith
Title of Article:   JONES, CHARLES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   April 16, 2024