George Jones: Man of Great Principles


 by Joan A. Jones

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I would like to acknowledge Mr. Paul Boyce, the (former) Curator of the museums of East Poultney Historical Society, who gave me access to the file on George Jones, which along with my research of NY Times microfilms, provided the information for this article.

MR. GEORGE JONES, Co-Founder of the NEW YORK TIMES was born August 16, 1811 in the little town of East Poultney, Vermont in a lovely New England house, which still stands just east of the village Green.  I will continue to refer to him as “Mr.” Jones, as it was his policy for his journalists to treat the subject of their articles with that respect.

He was the youngest son of John Jones, a highly educated and cultivated gentleman and wealthy manufacturer of broadcloth in Montgomeryshire, Wales and Lady Barbara Blaney, daughter of an Irish peer.  When Mr. Jones’ parents met and fell in love in London, opposition developed because he did not have a title, so she married John under the name of Davis, in a dissenters’ chapel, as the Baptist churches were called at the time. This caused a TIMES article published after his death in August of 1981 to state that, “the father and mother of Mr. Jones were of that sturdy Welsh stock that has contributed prominent and successful men to so many of the older communities of this country”.

Mr. Jones’ parents came to America in 1799 and settled first in Johnsburg, Warren County, New York. After a few years they came to East Poultney, where John again resumed his profession as a manufacturer of woolens. Tradition says he became the first to make fine broadcloth in this country.

The Meeting House on the village green

Mr. Jones’ father was a Deacon in the Baptist church in East Poultney. At that time it was the only village in the town. Mr. Jones’ brother John was the leader of the singing.

This MEETING HOUSE on the Village Green, perhaps the most photographed in the State of Vermont, was built 1803-05 by Elisha Scott of Tolland, Connecticut who later made his home here. Mr. Jones’ name was cast in the New Bell (1881) that sends its invitation from the Tower – “Let him that hearth, say – Come…”

At a meeting if the Historical Society in 1936, it was suggested by two grandsons of Mr. Jones that they head a drive to be supported by them and others to undertake the reconstruction of the Tower, as a permanent memorial to George Jones. The Tower had been damage first in a storm of 1898 when the weather vane was blown down, and ten years later the beautiful Lantern Tower fell. These grandsons, as well as, the then Governor of the State of Vermont, George D. Aikens, spoke at the dedication ceremony in 1937.

The Melodeon Factory had also been purchased by his family and was restored as a Community House and home of the Historical Society.

The TIMES article goes on to say that, “the story of his youth is the familiar story of slender means and hard toil. His father and mother died when he was thirteen years old, and he was left to make his own way and take care of himself in the world.”

Friendship with Horace Greeley

My research established that, at the age of fourteen, Mr. Jones went to work for Amos Bliss who operated a store in East Poultney, as well as a publishing newspaper called the NORTHERN SPECTATOR. Mr. Bliss employed Mr. Jones as a clerk and errand boy and at about the same time in his composing room was a printer’s apprentice by the name of Horace Greely. The two boys became friends and playmates and thus forged a friendship that was to shape journalism for years to come. They later established two of America’s greatest newspapers.

In reflecting on this friendship in 1937, a newspaper account stated that, “neither the clash of politics nor the strains of Civil War days ever affected their relationship to each other.”

When Mr. Jones left East Poultney, he went to Troy, N.Y. where on October 26, 1826, he married Sarah Maris Gilbert. She was the daughter of Benjamin J. Gilbert, the leading merchant at the time of Troy. They had four children, Emma, Elizabeth, Mary and their only son, Gilbert.

In 1830 Mr. Bliss’ NORTHERN SPECTATOR suspended publications and Mr. Greely left East Poultney. After 10 difficult years he established the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, asking his old friend, Mr. Jones to join him as a partner. This Mr. Jones declined to do, but he did go to work on the paper for a time and it was here that he met Henry J. Raymond, who was later his Co-founder of the TIMES.  Mr. Raymond had just graduated from the University of Vermont and even then, they discussed founding a paper of their own. Mr. Raymond left Mr. Greely to work for another paper and Mr. Jones went to Albany, N.Y. where he conducted a lucrative business in redeeming bank notes.

Jones and Henry Raymond

In a book entitled HENRY J. RAYMOND AND THE NEW YORK PRESS… FOR THIRTY YEARS… PROGRESS OF AMERICAN JOURNALISM, written by Augustus Maverick in 1870, it states that a peculiar combination of political events in the year 1848 led Mr. Thurlov Weed to contemplate a final retirement from the Albany EVENING JOURNAL, which paper he had elevated to the rank of a controlling power in the State of New York. The JOURNAL was offered to Mr. Raymond, who had not yet begun his political career.

The offer to transfer proprietorship of the JOURNAL was formally made through Mr. Jones, then a banker in Albany. A letter from Mr. Jones apprised Mr. Raymond of this proposition and the latter went immediately to Albany to consult with Mr. Jones and Mr. Weed. The negotiation fell through, as a consequence of the refusal of one of Mr. Weed’s partners to sell his own interest in the paper. If it had succeeded, Mr. Jones and Mr. Raymond would probably have been partners in an Albany paper.

A few years later both Mr. Jones and Mr. Raymond were in Albany where Mr. Raymond was Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Assembly and Mr. Jones was a proprietor of a news agency and banker. As noted in the TIMES, one incident of the 1851 session that Mr. Jones often retold, helping bring him materially to an agreement with Mr. Raymond in the establishment of a Whig paper in New York.

It appears that Mr. Jones was still engaged in a profitable banking business, but in a conversation with Speaker Raymond one day he remarked, if the Legislature should pass a bill then just introduced, reducing the rate of redemption on the notes of country banks, his banking business would be ruined. “If that happens, will you start that paper with me?” asked Mr. Raymond. “Perhaps so,” replied Mr. Jones. “Then I’ll see that the bill passes”, said the Speaker.

The bill did pass and Mr. Jones and his partner Mr. Wesley were among those who retired from the business. There was now on the part of Mr. Jones no obstacle to forming the newspaper partnership in which Mr. Raymond had so often urged him to engage.

The birth of the Times

According to Maverick’s book, before the session of the Legislature of 1850-51 was broken up that winter, the plan of the forthcoming daily journal had been substantially agreed upon. Mr. Raymond’s health had failed and he was to go to Europe for the summer with plans to return in the fall to assume the editorship. Mr. Jones was to remain at home to prepare the details of the organization.

Seven gentlemen contributed the capital with George Jones and Edward B. Wesley each holding 25% of the shares. Mr. Raymond selected the name THE NEW YORK DAILY TIMES. It was unanimously agreed upon, that Mr. Jones should be the publisher and the responsible manager. Mr. Raymond’s shares were presented to him all paid up by the other stockholders the suggestion of Mr. Jones.

From the beginning of their business partnership in 1851, until the early death of Mr. Raymond in 1861, the two partners worked in undisturbed harmony. The other principle partner, Mr. Wesley left the two handle the TIMES while he pursued his own business interests, retiring from the Times in 1860.

The first number of THE TIMES was published on the morning of September 10, 1851.  It was a four-page paper, six columns to the page and the price was one cent per copy. There was no Sunday issue until 10 years later.

In reading a facsimile of this first issue, I noticed that one of the leading editorials involved Cuba and read with interest this statement, “the Americans will always sympathize with any people struggling… against oppression”.  Another item on the front page made mention of a bloomer costume making its appearance on Sixth Avenue. It remarked that “new ideas are compelled to wage fierce battle in the world before they obtain recognition and favor”.

“That Mr. Jones was even then a good judge of men and possessed of that insight, common sense of wisdom, which later made him so successful, is indicated by his agreement with Mr. Raymond”. This was recorded in Harpers, February 22, 1890, written when Mr. Jones was 77 years at age, and also says, “When the TIMES was started Mr. Jones exacted a promise from Raymond to give up political life and devote himself to the interest of the paper. But subsequently such pressure came that Mr. Jones released Mr. Raymond from the promise… (a few years) later he (Mr. Raymond) concluded that it was better to confine himself to the editor of the paper and did so”.

When Mr. Raymond died in 1861, Mr. Jones old friend Horace Greely came to him and intimated that he was in a position to purchase the TIMES, but Mr. Jones cut him short by saying “I shall never sell the TIMES as long as I am above the ground.”

For the following 22 years Mr. Jones was the head of the NEW YORK TIMES owning and controlling portion of stock, until his death on August 11, 1891 just 5 days short of his 80th birthday, when it was said of him… “Giving the fullest acknowledgement to Raymond for his journalistic ability, it is questionable that without Jones’ steadiness, his mastery of the many details, the facility with which he made friend and kept them, whether the TIMES might not have succumbed.”

The Tammany Tweed Ring

Several events in the life of Mr. Jones deserve particular attention. The most notable occurred after the death of Mr. Raymond when Mr. Jones was solely responsible for the direction of the TIMES. It concerned the notorious Tammany Tweed Ring which stole fifty million from the city of New York. According to a TIMES article, the deadly and decisive assault of the TIMES upon the entrenchments of the Ring was made on July 22, 1871, when it published the first installment of the accounts copy from the books of the Controller. These figures came into the possession of the TIMES through James O’ Brien, a former sheriff.

Tweed discovered his guilty secrets were about to be published and thru an emissary made desperate efforts to forestall publication. First he sent Mr. Jones an offer to buy the TIMES at any price he might ask. When that failed, Tweed’s next move was so extraordinary that Mr. Jone’s own account of what happened, taken from a report of conversations with him, and carefully revised by himself for publication in HARPER’S WEEKLY of February 22 1890, may be properly reproduced here… he was confronted by Richard B. Connolly, the Controller and Tweed’s partner in crime… Connolly then offered him an enormous sum of money to forego the publication of the documents.  The amount of the offer was $5,000,000! As Connolly waited for the answer, Mr. Jones said: “I don’t think the devil will ever make a higher bid for me than that.”  The documents were published and The Committee of Seventy was formed, the Ring was attacked on all sides, the corrupt Judges were thrown from the benches and the TIMES victory was complete.

After the Tweed exposure, Mr. Jone’s refusal to support the Republican candidate for the Presidency in 1894 is also of note. He announced that if the Republican Party, with which it had loing been intimately connected, should place Mr. Blaine, in nomination for the Presidency, it could not support him. Mr. Blaine’s name was not mentioned, but, “Suffice it to say that Mr. George Jones met what he conscientiously believed to be the moral necessities of that campaign with the same courage that he had manifested in centering upon the struggle with Tweed. Perfect liberty of action was always desired by Mr. Jones and generally insisted on. This quality of his mind made him a natural and admirable, almost an inevitable, independent journalist” (NY TIMES August 13, 1891).

Another of his notable achievements was the establishment of a retirement fund for General U.S. Grant, which assured him an income during the last years of his life, after completing his service as President of the United States.

In another similar undertaking, Mr. Jones was a trustee and manager of the funds raised after the draft riots of 1863, which were for the relief of the dependent families of policemen who had been killed or disabled in the riots growing out of resistance to conscription. When he was past the age of 75, he oversaw the building of a new TIMES building which he felt would be worthy of what it had become. He was proud of his new building and made no concealment of the fact. It was, as he said, his monument — a great one to undertake at his age — and he often expressed his gratitude that he had lived to see it completed.

Tributes to George Jones

Tributes after his death in August of 1891 include the following.

From Thomas C. Acton, President of the bank of New Amsterdam, a long account of their friendship and re-telling of the Tweed story and included the following, “Mr. George Jones completed a well-rounded and successful life. He was enabled in his declining years to look back over a busy, honorable and successful career.”

From The Hon. Thomas L. James, ex-Postmaster General and now President of the Lincoln Bank, “George Jones was a man of principle, not expedients. He was as ready to attack wrong doing in his own political party as any other party. He did not believe that all of the members of his own party were angles and all the members of the other party were scoundrels. He was constantly on guard against dishonesty and corruption and he struck a thief no matter where he found one. Not the least of Mr. Jone’s services to the public is the fact that he published a clean newspaper.” … “The TIMES has always been on the side of the government and pure politics, and no matter what it costs, the TIMES has always had the courage to state its belief and the ability to defend its position… he had enough of the obstinacy of the Welsh race to make him persistent and unswerving in whatever he undertook to do. I was especially drawn toward Mr. Jones because he sprang from the same race that I did. He took pride in calling himself a Welshman. I remember well a delightful little speech that he made at the banquet of the St. David’s Society a few years ago. He said that he was a Welshman and that as a child he had received instruction from a Welsh mother, who read to him from a Welsh testament.”

Comments from the Press … From the New-Yorker, “Up to the time of his death he strove through the TIMES against the corruption of the press through the rage for sensation, and it is to this attitude that the TIMES owes its reputation as a worthy, earnest, instructive, and trustworthy newspaper among a large circle of cultivated and intelligent readers. In late years it has taken an epoch-making part in the emancipation of the great American press from a blind party spirit and in making it the independent advocate of great political and economic principles without at the same time falling into the error of the unpractical doctrinaire.”

From the New York-Tribune, … “it was his own personality and energy which dominated his newspaper. He reached a ripe age and leaves behind a worthy monument.”

I thing a high tribute to George Jones occurs in the Business Announcement of August 19, 1896, which announced that Adolph S. Ochs, in the interest of the new owners, became the publisher and general manager with Charles R. Miller continuing as editor. Mr. Ochs stated, “To undertake the management of THE NEW YORK TIMES with its great history for right doing, and to attempt to keep bright the luster which Henry Raymond and George Jones have given it is an extraordinary task.”

Original text for article on George Jones, submitted to NINNAU, 11 Post Terrace, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920-2498 by: Joan L. Jones, P.O Box 32, Middle Granville, NY 12849