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JONES, HENRY, Owenite community founder; b. 21 or 22 May 1776 in the parish of Plympton St Maurice, Devon, England, son of Richard Jones and Julia Maria Collier; m. first Elizabeth —, and they had four sons and five daughters; m. secondly Susan —; d. 31 Oct. 1852 in Maxwell (near Brights Grove, Ont.) and was buried in Plympton Township, Upper Canada.

Henry Jones, founder of Canada’s only Owenite community and perhaps the earliest avowed socialist in British North America, came of an ancient Welsh landowning family which had been settled for some generations in Exeter and the surrounding countryside in Devon. He became a purser in the Royal Navy in 1794 and served in the Channel fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. By 1815 he had been retired on half pay. He subsequently lived with his wife, Elizabeth, in Bovey Tracey, enjoying perhaps the profits of what his brother the Reverend John Collier Jones called in 1818 “a fortunate adventure not many years since.” In the early 1820s, like a number of military and naval officers with little to occupy them, Henry became interested in the ideas of the Welsh socialist Robert Owen and particularly in his proposals for “villages of unity and cooperation” – self-sufficient communities conceived as a solution to the problem of acute unemployment among the hand-loom weavers who were being replaced by machinery.

By the time the British and Foreign Philanthropic Society for the Permanent Relief of the Labouring Classes was founded in London in 1822 to establish cooperative communities, Jones was already sufficiently involved in the Owenite movement to become a member of the society’s committee. Shortly afterwards, when the society sponsored a scheme for a community at Motherwell in Scotland, he made a loan of £5,000 (approximately a third of his assets and presumably the profits of his early “adventure”) towards its funds. The sum was given to Archibald James Hamilton, a former army officer, who with Abram Combe was the leading organizer of the community. In later years the loan was to prove the cause of litigation that would consume much of Jones’s time and energy.

The Motherwell community never came into existence. In its place, in 1825, Hamilton and Combe founded a community near Glasgow at Orbiston, the estate of Hamilton’s father. Jones came to Scotland that year, subscribed towards the funds of the community, and became one of its auditors. In the summer of 1826, when Combe had to leave Orbiston temporarily because of illness, Jones took charge of it. But by 1827 the difficulties caused by the poor selection of members had made him apprehensive of its future. In a letter of 23 March he broached to Hamilton the matter of a return of his loan to the Motherwell community and accused him of an “Aristocracy of decision” in his “pronunciation respecting the identity of the friends of the New Views, – and the proper understanding of the principles of the System.” Nevertheless, Jones continued, “We may go on, seperately, to exert ourselves in what we believe will best advance the object which we profess to have in view, and where we can, conjointly.” His forebodings were justified when the Orbiston community came to an end after Combe’s death in August.

As early as April 1827 Jones had been planning to establish a new, agrarian community in British North America, influenced perhaps by Owen’s purchase two years earlier of the New Harmony community in Indiana. In the fall of 1827 Jones set off with his valet, Alexander Hamilton, to seek a location. They sailed to New York and travelled, mostly by water, to Lake Huron, where Jones found suitable land for the community in Upper Canada near the mouth of Perch Creek, about 10 miles northeast of present-day Sarnia. Jones returned to Britain later that year. In 1828 he gathered together a group of settlers from the Glasgow area and secured from William Huskisson, the colonial secretary, authority to purchase a large tract of land. His plans to acquire land in Upper Canada were favoured by the appointment in August of Sir John Colborne* as the province’s lieutenant governor. Jones’s brother John Collier, who had become rector of Exeter College, Oxford, had married the sister of Lady Colborne, a Devon girl.

Jones invested a great deal of his remaining capital in the community, which he called Maxwell, reputedly after Robert Owen’s residence at New Lanark, Scotland. He hoped eventually to settle between 50 and 100 families. The first contingent of 20 people, which arrived early in 1829 accompanied by a surgeon, consisted mostly of former members of the Orbiston community, almost all of whom were Lowland Scots and unemployed hand-loom weavers. In June, Charles Rankin was instructed to survey the tract Jones had selected in Sarnia Township and in November Jones secured patents on seven lots there, including the site of Maxwell. A log building was erected that year with Orbiston as a model, for there were individual family apartments and common kitchens and dining-rooms. A contemporary sketch shows the building, not entirely completed, occupying three sides of a rectangular green; there is a central, two-storey block and the wings are single-storeyed. Jones also established a store and a school on Owenite principles. The extent of his personal commitment was shown by the fact that in August 1830 his wife and five of his children joined him at Maxwell. His eldest son, Henry John (whose diaries tell much about the settlement’s later life), became a crown lands agent at York (Toronto) and later at Chatham, but the rest of the family, and other relatives who arrived afterwards, stayed at Maxwell.

Not much is known of the day-to-day life of the community. About 50 acres were brought under cultivation during the first season and by 1830 Jones had also established a lucrative fishery at Point Edward, which, surveyor Roswell Mount* observed in March, was being operated by Jones’s “People.” The wharfs and storehouses which he erected about this time in the nearby settlement of Port Sarnia (Sarnia) may have been related to this operation. Maxwell, however, suffered in its early days from the inexperience of its members in pioneering techniques and from the presence of ample land in the vicinity which could be bought for little and privately cultivated. The Methodist missionary Peter Jones reported that even before the end of 1829 the settlers were beginning to leave, although four years later Henry Jones claimed to have brought out a total of between 70 and 80 settlers.

The major crisis in the community came in 1834 after Jones had left on a trip to England and Scotland, in part to confirm the purchase authorization made by the Colonial Office six years earlier. On 17 May a fire started in the community house and, as Henry John Jones recorded, “in less than an hour Maxwell had disappeared – the greater part of the books and light furniture was saved.” The few people remaining in the community after the fire lived in the barn and above the stables until a new building was erected. After Jones returned to Upper Canada in June he occupied himself with land matters, and in the general election that fall he unsuccessfully contested the constituency of Kent. By this time he had evidently consented to the revocation of his claim to lands in the Sarnia Township tract, which was bought a year later from the crown by Samuel Street*. Jones nevertheless retained his patented lots and a claim to additional land as the grant appropriate to his naval rank.

Jones sailed for England again in 1835 and stayed there and in Scotland for at least eight years. Archibald James Hamilton had died in 1834 and for several years Jones was involved in complex litigation to get back from Hamilton’s estate the money he had advanced to the Motherwell community. But his time was by no means entirely spent in the courts. As Henry John Jones remarked in 1839, he became “further gone in Socialism than ever.” He bombarded his reluctant relatives in Canada with letters suggesting that they should form a kind of “family community” with the few settlers who remained at Maxwell. He talked vacuously, his son recorded, “of bringing out another ragged regiment to form a community in case his own family shd fail to come to terms.” The family’s disinclination to further his wishes was certainly one of the reasons for the constant delays in his return.

At the same time Jones became involved in Britain in a series of schemes for ameliorating the lot of his fellow man there. In 1837 he suggested a “collegiate plan” (a kind of benefit society) for naval officers. Two years later, while he was trying to get employment as an emigration agent for Canada, he became involved in a “property tax association,” which anticipated the arguments of Henry George, the American economic theorist, by suggesting that all existing taxes should be abolished and replaced by a single tax on land. In 1840 Jones was planning a “Society for the instruction of music” and in 1841 a “Domestic Benefit Club.” Some time before 1840 he had encountered the phalansterian teachings of Owen’s great communitarian rival, François-Marie-Charles Fourier of France. Jones appears to have been critical of some aspects of them from the beginning, as he had also become of some of Owen’s theories, if one can judge from his poem “Collegiate life,” which was published in the London Era in 1840. A didactic work in the Byronic manner (but without the Byronic sparkle), “Collegiate life” specifically mocks both Owen and Fourier for their more extreme eccentricities of theory and, while hailing the “social state,” sees its achievements in voluntary associations of the well-to-do pooling their means. The type of association suggested by Jones seems to consist of freely organized groups modelled on colleges or “Clubs” and has a remote flavour of Rabelais’s imaginary Abbey of Thélème. Jones calls for a practical Christianity, but since he decries charity and replaces mercy with justice, his attitude must be regarded as heterodox.

Thus, when Jones returned to Upper Canada some time after July 1843, he may have partly shed his Owenism and may have largely remained immune from phalansterianism. In 1840, after Owen’s presentation to Queen Victoria had resulted in vigorous criticism of his principles, Henry John Jones had noted that his father seemed “a little ashamed of ‘Socialism.’” He nevertheless appears to have remained a utopian thinker and planner and, in the sense of desiring a social change in the direction of voluntary association apart from the state, a kind of libertarian socialist. A surviving portrait by Field Talfourd, which probably dates from this period, shows an elderly, almost bald man with a lean aquiline profile, a straight narrow mouth above a firm chin, and the clear eyes of a sailor accustomed to distances – a face suggesting obstinacy and vision combined.

Jones’s days of activity were in fact ended. He found that the few people at Maxwell who remained from the original settlement had established their own households and had no interest in forming a new community. The family home at Maxwell had been burnt down in 1839 but was rebuilt in 1842 and there Jones lived the rest of his life. Nobody in Canada was influenced by his utopian ideas, but he kept up an active correspondence, commenting on world affairs and sometimes reminiscing about his naval past, with those who shared his ideals. His death on 31 Oct. 1852 appears to have been sudden or the result of a very short illness, for letters written by him that month give no hint of sickness and suggest a man who was mentally active, morally upright, and sensitively aware of his surroundings as he praised the beauty of autumn and talked of his crops.

George Woodcock

Henry Jones is the author of “Collegiate life,” a series of cantos published anonymously in the Era (London), 23 Feb., 1, 8, 15 March 1840.

AO, RG 1, A-I-6: 9735, 10750–51, 11729–32, 11852–53, 12673–77, 13112–14; A-II-2, 1: 27, 161, 365, 370–71, 382; C-I-1, petitions of Henry Jones, 12 Oct. 1833, 27 Nov. 1845; C-I-3, 124: 102. Lambton County Library (Wyoming, Ont.), H. J. Jones, diary, 1833. Lambton Land Registry Office (Sarnia, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Sarnia Township, concession 9, lots 4–5, 14–17; front concession, lot 71 (mfm. at AO, GS 1356). Motherwell District Council Library (Motherwell, Scot.), A. J. Hamilton papers, Henry Jones to Hamilton, 23 March 1827. National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth), mss 12378B (A. C. Evans mss, 23: letters and pedigrees). Ont., Ministry of Natural Resources, Surveys and Mapping Branch (Toronto), Field book no.614: Roswell Mount, 1829: 48–48A, 50A, 51. PAC, MG 24, A40, 2: 118–20; 21: 6102–3; 26: 7890–92 (mfm.); RG 1, L3, 259: J16/7; RG 5, A1: 52555–56, 55565–66, 78125–30, 78136–44. PRO, CO 42/424: 386–87; CO 384/20: 143–44. St George’s (Anglican) Church (Sarnia), Reg. of burials, 1, no.7; 2, no.31. Sarnia Public Library, Henry Jones papers; Julia and J. H. Jones diaries. West Devon Record Office (Plymouth, Eng.), Plympton St Maurice, reg. of baptisms, 13 June 1776. Peter Jones, Life and journals of Kah-ke-wa-quo-nā-by (Rev. Peter Jones), Wesleyan missionary, [ed. Elizabeth Field and Enoch Wood] (Toronto, 1860), 244. Motherwell and Orbiston: the first Owenite attempts at cooperative communities; three pamphlets, 1822–1825 (New York, 1972). Canadian Emigrant, and Western District Commercial and General Advertiser (Sandwich [Windsor, Ont.]), 17 Aug. 1833; 12 Sept., 3 Nov. 1835. Lambton Observer, and Western Advertiser, 8, 22 May 1856. Sarnia Observer, and Lambton Advertiser, 9 Sept. 1864. G.B., ADM, Navy list, 1815, 1823. Arthur Bestor, Backwoods utopias: the sectarian origins and the Owenite phase of communitarian socialism in America: 1663–1829 (2nd ed., Philadelphia, 1970). Nevil Burke, St. John-in-the-Wilderness Anglican Church, Perche, Ontario, 1856: a history . . . , 1856–1972 ([Forest?], Ont., [1972?]). Alexander Cullen, Adventures in socialism: New Lanark establishment and Orbiston community (Glasgow and London, 1910; repr. [New York], 1971). Ian Donnachie, “Orbiston: a Scottish Owenite community, 1825–28,” Robert Owen, prince of cotton spinners, ed. John Butt (Newton Abbot, Eng., 1971), 135–67. J. T. Elford, A history of Lambton County (Sarnia, 1967). J. F. C. Harrison, Quest for the new moral world: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America (New York, 1969). J. M. Wolfe, “Some early Canadian utopias” (paper read at the Soc. for Utopian Studies, Saint John, N.B., 1982). John Morrison, “‘The Toon O’Maxwell’ – an Owen settlement in Lambton County, Ont.,” OH, 12 (1914): 5–12.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

George Woodcock, “JONES, HENRY (1776-1852),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 17, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jones_henry_1776_1852_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jones_henry_1776_1852_8E.html
Author of Article:   George Woodcock
Title of Article:   JONES, HENRY (1776-1852)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   June 17, 2024