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JONES, George Wallace

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George Wallace Jones
Family History: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=:3292273&id=I0448

JONES, George Wallace (Vincennes, IN, Apr. 12, 1804--Dubuque, IA, July 22, 1896). "Iowa's Godfather." Jones spent much of his early life in slave states. He attended Kentucky's Transylvania University and became friends in October 1820 with Jefferson DAVIS who later served as the president of the Confederate States of America. (1) Jefferson Davis was appointed to West Point in President Monroe in 1823 while homes remained at the university from which he graduated in 1825. They met again in 1828 when Davis, then a lieutenant stationed at Fort Crawford, Wisconsin happened upon Jones' cabin near Sinsinawa Mound. They both saw military service in the Back Hawk War. (2)

Living in the Wisconsin area of Michigan Territory, Jones developed business interests in LEAD MINING, smelting, and merchandising near Sinsinawa Mound. (3) With two others, Jones discovered what became the Karrick Mine two miles from the center of Dubuque. (4) During the BLACK HAWK WAR he served as an aide to General Henry Dodge, father of Augustus C. Dodge, another Iowa senator. Dodge and Jones later became well-known for supporting pro-slavery initiatives while representing Iowa. (5) In 1833 Jones was chosen to serve as a judge of the U. S. District Court. (6)

Jones was elected a territorial delegate to the United States House of Representatives from 1835 to 1839 first for Michigan and then from Wisconsin. He convinced Congress to create a new territory-which he named Wisconsin-from land remaining after Michigan became a state. A powerful advocate for what were then called "internal improvements," Jones supported legislation to fund road construction, improve navigation along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, and establish the legal machinery including surveys and land offices that would encourage economic development in Iowa. (7) Jones was by then a successful businessman and owner of the ferryboat right, which in 1837 had an estimated value of $25,000. In January, 1840, George W. Jones was authorized to keep a ferry on the Mississippi at Dubuque for twenty years; he was not to conflict with ferry charter of Timothy Fanning and was permitted to use either horses or steam. (8)

He was instrumental in establishing Iowa Territory. In 1838 over half of Wisconsin Territory's fifty thousand residents lived west of the Mississippi River. (9) Hope for creating a new territory, however, seemed doomed by the opposition of Senator John C. Calhoun who saw in the effort an attempt to create another abolition state. It is said Senator Jones persuaded Calhoun's daughter to ask her father to leave the Senate chamber to meet her. With Calhoun gone, Jones asked for the bill creating the new territory to be called. When Calhoun returned twenty minutes later, the bill had been passed. (10) His efforts as a Territorial Delegate resulted in John PLUMBE, Jr. on July 7, 1838 receiving $2,000 appropriated by Congress for the survey of a railroad route from Milwaukee to Sinipee, Wisconsin just north of Dubuque. (11)

Jones' service in Congress ended on January 14, 1839, and he was named Surveyor General for the Territories of Wisconsin and Iowa by President Van Buren on January 29, 1840. (12) He was removed by President Harrison on July 4, 1841, but was reappointed by President Polk on January 3, 1846. Jones settled permanently in Dubuque. (13) Jones held the position of Surveyor General until December 1848.

Jones lived in a mansion he called 'Alta Vista' (High View) at the northeastern corner of what became Alta Vista Street and University Avenue. This house, used by the Visitation Sisters in 1875, was torn down in 1904 to allow room for an addition to ACADEMY OF THE VISITATION (THE). JONES JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL later occupied the same site.

Free frank letter of George Wallace Jones
In 1848, two years after Iowa achieved statehood, Jones left for Washington, D.C., as one of the state's first elected senators. Within days of his arrival, Jones led an unsuccessful effort to pass another railroad bill that would have built lines south from Dubuque. It was Jones, however, who successfully had a railroad bill designed for Illinois amended to bring the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD past Galena to the shore of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. This ended Galena's dreams of being the terminal of the line and opened up Dubuque and the Tri-State region to an era of tremendous growth. He also helped win for several railroads federal lands grants to cross Iowa from east to west. (14)

Jones' early southern influences, however, came to haunt his political leadership. While living in Iowa, Wallace had owned slaves. He had also supported the harsh Fugitive Slave Act and the Kansas-Nebraska Act which opened the slavery question along Iowa's western border. Jones supported the Lecompton Constitution, a failed idea that would have made Kansas a slave state. (15) Years later, he was one of a few Northerners who attended the funeral of Jefferson Davis. As a Democratic politician with political ties to Southern leaders, Jones was given the status of a "doughface," a free state leader who supported pro-slavery positions. (16)

In part because of his pro-slavery activities, Jones was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1858. The Daily Express and Herald in December, 1858 described him as politically bankrupt in Iowa and took great offense at his "vindictive language and unsenatorial discourtesy" toward Stephen Douglas" with hopes of winning an appointment by Abraham Lincoln. (17) A loyal Democrat, he was also on the wrong side of the political rise of the Republican Party in Iowa. (18) He had, however, remained loyal to the Buchanan administration. Jones was appointed Minister Resident of the United States to New Granada by President Buchanan on March 8, 1859. (19) He served in Bogota until recalled by President Lincoln in July 1861. Before Jones returned with his family to the United States, two of his sons George Jones and Charles Scott Dodge JONES left Dubuque to fight for the Confederacy.

Arrested in New York City, Jones was jailed for sixty-four days on charges of treason. Secretary of War, William Seward, used as evidence a letter Jones had written to his old friend Jefferson Davis in May 1861. (20) Lincoln hoped the jailing of Jones and newspaper editor Dennis MAHONY would quiet what he felt were other pro-slavery supporters in Dubuque. Jones later filed a $50,000 damage suit against Seward on the grounds that he had been imprisoned without trial and without charges. Seward died, however, before the case came to court and the issue was dropped. (21)

Jones returned to Dubuque where he was given a very formal and cold reception. Jones' southern heritage, his sons fighting for the Confederacy, and his attitude toward slave states meant that he would never again serve in elective office. While living in retirement on West 14th, Jones was approached by Senator William Boyd ALLISON to sell the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD several acres of land. A shrewd negotiator, Jones received five thousand dollars and a pass on the railroad for himself and his family for as long as he lived. (22)

Jones' political clouds eventually disappeared. In 1879 an effort was made to encourage him to campaign for sheriff. (23) He was granted a pension by Congress of twenty dollars per month for his first jobs in the public sector: drummer boy in the War of 1812 and a small role in the Black Hawk War. Congress also voted to pay him for debts he had as United States ambassador to Columbia. Both pension bills began in the Senate Pension Committee that Jones had once chaired. In 1890 he was elected president of the Indiana Association of Iowa. (24)

The claim of George W. Jones against the government "for funds advanced in the transmission by special messenger of reports of a revolution in progress in Bogota when he was United States minister" was allowed by Congress in 1893, largely through the influence of Senators Allison and Sherman. (25)

In 1891, Jones was a popular speaker at reunions of early Iowa settlers. In August of that year, he spoke at such an event in Lee County and recounted important moments in his life. (26) In September he spoke before a similar group in New Hampton. (27) Long overdue honor for Jones came on April 4, 1894, when the Iowa Legislature invited him to Des Moines for a day-long celebration. (28) Governor Frank Jackson escorted Jones to the legislative chambers where members of both houses, meeting in rare joint session, recounted Jones' many contributions to the state. (29) Not to be outdone, the Dubuque City Council issued a grand statement in his honor. (30)

On news of his death, the Council called itself into a rare special session in his memory. Overflow crowds packed ST. PATRICK'S CATHOLIC CHURCH as a final tribute to Jones was said by Archbishop John HENNESSY. The State of Iowa named Jones County in his honor. Dubuque remembered this prominent Iowan by naming a street and Jones Junior High School in his honor.




1. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. "George Wallace Jones." Online--http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=J000221

2. "The Two Old Friends," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 29, 1889, p. 2

3. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008 p. 270

4. General George Wallace Jones. Extracted from: Portrait and Biographical Record of Dubuque, Jones and Clayton Counties, Iowa, 1894. Reprinted by Higginson Book Co., Salem, Massachusetts, p. 151. Dubuque County Genealogy hosted by RootsWeb. Online--http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~iadubuqu/biographies/gwjones.html

5. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren, p. 270

6. Silag, Bill,"George Wallace Jones," Iowa Heritage, Summer and Fall, 2002, p. 109

7. Ibid.

8. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 816-817

9. Thayer, Shelly A. "The Delegate and the Duel: The Early Political Career of George Wallace Jones," The Palimpsest, Sept/Oct 1984, p. 181

10. "General G. W. Jones Had Big Role in Early Days," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 1946, p. B7

11. Donovan, Frank P. Iowa Railroads, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000, p. 102

12. Ibid p. 187

13. Dictionary of Wisconsin History. "George Wallace Jones." Online--http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary/index.asp?action=view&term_id=2742&search_term=jones%2C+george

14. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. p. 271

15. Ibid. p. 271

16. Silag, Bill.

17. "Latest News," Daily Express and Herald December 19 1858, p. 4

18. Silag

19. Dictionary of Wisconsin History.

20. United States House of Representatives. George Wallace Jones Online--http://history.house.gov/People/Listing/J/JONES,-George-Wallace-%28J000221%29

21. "Pen, Powder, and Sketchbook," Telegraph Herald, March 29, 1964, p. 21

22. Parish, John Carl. George Wallace Jones, 1804-1896, Iowa City: The State Historical Society of Iowa, p. 265 Online-http://archive.org/stream/cu31924032767158/cu31924032767158_djvu.txt

23. "Senator Jones for Sheriff," Dubuque Herald, August 9, 1879, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18790809&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

24. "An Honored Hoosier," Dubuque Daily Herald, August 21, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900821&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

25. Oldt, p. 816-817

26. Tigges, John. They Came From Dubuque. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1983, p. 57

27. "Personal," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 18, 1891, p. 4

28. "General Jones at Fort Madison," Dubuque Daily Herald, August 30, 1891, p. 4

29. Dubuque County Genealogy hosted by RootsWeb

30. Parish, p. 65