Source: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
JONES, JONAS, lawyer, militia officer, politician, judge, office holder, farmer, businessman, and jp; b. 19 May 1791 in Augusta Township (Ont.), third son of Ephraim Jones* and Charlotte Coursol (Coursolles); m. 10 Aug. 1817 Mary Elizabeth Ford in York (Toronto), and they had 11 sons (3 of whom died in infancy) and 3 daughters; d. 30 July 1848 in Toronto.
Jonas Jones was raised in an atmosphere of privilege. His father was a loyalist who had risen in wealth and influence after settling in Augusta Township. Young Jonas was educated, as were many children of the province’s early élite, at John Strachan*’s grammar school in Cornwall. There he formed friendships with other pupils such as John Beverley Robinson*, John Macaulay*, George Herchmer Markland*, and Archibald McLean*. In 1808 Jonas embarked on a career in law as a student in Levius Peters Sherwood’s office at Elizabethtown (Brockville).
After their school days in Cornwall, the coterie of friends corresponded regularly for a time. But gradually the glow of those years faded as differences in personality and deportment became more apparent. In Robinson’s opinion Markland was too effeminate, McLean’s personal appearance left much to be desired, and Jones’s single-minded sexual interests were (though Robinson himself was no prig) inappropriate to a gentleman. In May 1809 Robinson wrote to Macaulay that Jones’s frequent letters “often . . . to be sure do not afford much mental food for he talks of nothing but what he calls ‘pieces.’” The randy young squire from Elizabethtown pursued this topic to a point that made Robinson terminate their correspondence the following year.
The death of his father in 1812 did not affect Jones’s career. He was left approximately 900 acres of land, £200 to purchase law books, and a sum for “reasonable expences, till he shall be admitted to the bar.” The War of 1812 intervened in his career but did not deter his professional advancement. Jones enlisted as a lieutenant in the 1st Leeds Militia and saw action under George Richard John Macdonell* at Ogdensburg, N.Y., on 22 Feb. 1813. By the conclusion of hostilities Jones was a captain commanding a flank company. He was admitted to the bar in 1815 and set up a practice in Brockville.
Jones took easily to politics. His family, along with the Sherwoods and the Buells, dominated Brockville, the district town. With his strong regional base he was elected in 1816 in the riding of Grenville to the seventh parliament (1817–20), and was re-elected in 1820 to the eighth (1821–24) and in 1824 to the ninth (1825–28). From the political standpoint of the late 1820s and early 1830s, it was easy for oppositionists such as William Lyon Mackenzie* to lump Jones with Robinson, Macaulay, and Christopher Alexander Hagerman as if their political opinions were identical. In 1824, however, Mackenzie believed Jones to be an opponent of the administration of Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland*. Jones was certainly never as unabashed a supporter of the executive as Robinson and Hagerman, and, in fact, moved closer to a ministerialist position only during the turmoil of the ninth parliament. In the previous two parliaments he was an independent. Yet disagreement with the pre-eminent courtiers was a matter of emphasis rather than fundamentals. Jones had, for instance, played a part in the opposition to Robert Gourlay* in 1818. At a meeting held by Gourlay in Augusta Township on 27 May Jones attempted to dissuade “the people . . . from falling into his delusive schemes.” Moreover, at Gourlay’s trial for libel on 31 August Jones acted as the prosecutor. To him, Gourlay’s activity was illegitimate for it seemed to call the nature of government into question.
Jones’s criticisms in the seventh and eighth parliaments concerned measures which would, he thought, threaten the balance of the British constitution. In 1817 he questioned Robert Nichol*’s legislation of the previous year which had provided the executive with a perpetual annual grant of £2,500. During the parliamentary session of 1821–22 he initiated a bill to repeal this grant against the opposition of Attorney General Robinson and Hagerman. In his view, it was a matter of constitutional principle that “all grants to his Majesty’s government should be annual, and not permanent.” It was, he thought, “an injustice to the country at large to put the privilege of disposing of the public money out of their [the assembly’s] own hands” and he read from Sir William Blackstone to support his point. Jones, in a speech which later caused Mackenzie to suppose him a radical, was astonished that Hagerman appeared willing to surrender not only the “privileges of the house, but the liberties of his constituents, and of the whole country” to the executive. He supported royalty, he exclaimed to applause which “shook the building to its very base,” “but not by slavish obsequiousness.” The assembly’s power was “the constitutional check of the democratic upon the other branches of the Legislature,” and Jones wanted it “inviolable.” The same constitutional concern led to his opposition to the proposed union of the Canadas in 1822. At a Brockville meeting chaired by Sherwood on 19 November, Jonas and his brother Charles were among those objecting to various clauses of the imperial bill for union. Most objectionable were provisions calculated to reduce the prerogatives of the assembly and increase those of the executive. Jones had already written to Macaulay, the chief advocate of the union in Upper Canada: “You are a Staunch Gov’t man. I am as much disposed to support the Govt in what I consider right as you or any other man can be; but I will never consent to yield the privileges of the people and sacrifice all to the Influence of the Crown.”
Jones showed his independence on other issues. Although an Anglican, he was a moderate with respect to the Church of England’s privileges. On several occasions he supported bills which would have liberalized the province’s restrictive marriage law. In 1821 he seconded William Warren Baldwin’s bill to repeal the Sedition Act of 1804, which had made possible Gourlay’s banishment. The act had few defenders, among them Robinson and Hagerman. Jones supported his profession in defending the Law Society Bill of 1821, which his brother, then mha for Leeds, attacked on the grounds that “to give this power to such a society was dangerous.” Furthermore, Jonas was capable of supporting initiatives on non-political issues made by political opponents. In 1825 he supported Marshall Spring Bidwell*’s bill to abolish the statutory provision for punishing women by whipping.
In his early parliamentary career Jones approached the 18th-century English tradition of a country opposition on such matters as executive power, protection of individual liberty, and the rights of the assembly. Here there was little difference between him and Baldwin or, after 1816, Nichol. But on a range of issues crucial to provincial economic development, Jones moved close to the court tradition best articulated by Robinson and Hagerman. They emphasized a strong government (albeit, in contrast to Jones, one dominated by the executive) and a positive role for the state in matters such as finance and economic development, particularly the building of large public works. Improvements to navigation had been a favourite and early topic of Nichol’s, but the first substantive attempt to direct the house’s attention to it was by Jones. On 23 Feb. 1818 he moved that the house take “into consideration the expediency of improving the Navigation of the River St. Lawrence.” The occasion marked the public beginning of his longstanding interest in canals and economic improvement. He was named chairman for the assembly’s representation on a joint parliamentary committee. Its report, tabled on 26 February, claimed improvement of the St Lawrence to be of the “very first importance” to Upper and Lower Canada. By 11 March the assembly and Legislative Council had agreed to a joint address urging President Samuel Smith* to raise navigation with the governor-in-chief, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke*. The address led to the appointment of commissioners from both provinces [see George Garden*], who adopted, in August 1818, six resolutions favouring improvement. In October Jones brought the commissioners’ report before another joint parliamentary committee, which supported its thrust but concluded that provincial financial resources were inadequate to the task.
The assembly slowly adopted an expanded role in the planning of large public works, especially canals, through the 1820s. The principals in determining strategy were Nichol, Macaulay, and Robinson. Jones, whose family had firm roots in the Laurentian trading system (Charles owned mills and a store), played an important role as an assemblyman in assisting Robinson’s initiatives. In January 1826, for example, he seconded a bill introduced by the attorney general authorizing the government to borrow £50,000 on debenture to be loaned to the privately owned Welland Canal Company [see William Hamilton Merritt*]. Such loans were anathema to oppositionists such as Bidwell and John Rolph*. Jones’s support, however, was not unqualified. During a debate early in 1827 he flatly opposed another loan to the company “unless . . . the resources of the Country would authorise it, independent of the necessary sums for other public works.” Jones feared undue concentration of resources upon the Welland Canal at the expense of canals along the St Lawrence, which he considered to have priority. With Charles Jones, Robinson, and McLean, among others, he was a member of the joint parliamentary committee struck in January 1827 to study improvement of the St Lawrence. It reported, later in the month, that the proposed canal should be undertaken as a “public measure” and be able to accommodate navigation by schooners, the largest lake-travelling vessels, but no action was taken.
Jones’s early reputation for political independence had crumbled by the late 1820s. More important, and perhaps related, the base of his political success was weakening. In 1827 Mackenzie described the two Jones brothers as ministerialists, supporters of the tainted Maitland administration. To the diminutive Scot, they were “the bullies of parliament: Noisy, ill-bred, and quarrelsome from disposition, they are rendered much more so by the indulgence of the assembly.” As the general election of 1828 approached, the rumour was, Mackenzie reported, that they would maintain their political hegemony “chiefly thro’ Irish influence.” But it was not to be. Charles was appointed to the Legislative Council and, running in Leeds, Jonas finished a poor third behind John Kilborn and William Buell* Jr. Three years later a return to the assembly was thwarted by Hiram Norton in a by-election in Grenville.
Several circumstances contributed to Jones’s defeats. Factionalism was rife within the local élite and, though suited to the rough-and-tumble of politics, Jones suffered the consequence of those divisions. Moreover, his appearance of independence had suffered. During the Maitland administration he had acquired a plurality of offices: notary for the Johnstown District (1818), trustee of the district board of education, judge of the Bathurst District Court and Surrogate Court (both 1822), judge of the Surrogate Court for the Johnstown District (1824), and judge of the Johnstown District Court (1828). He had also been appointed colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Leeds militia in 1822. He had become, to a growing opposition, a symbol of the favouritism which seemed to mark Maitland’s governorship. Thirdly, the old loyalist townships fronting on the St Lawrence, whose interests were represented by men such as Jones, faced a challenge from the back townships and the Irish who settled there. And, on one particular issue, the alien question, Jones was vulnerable. He had played a leading role during the seventh parliament (1821–24) in unseating Barnabas Bidwell* and then in the attempt to expel his son Marshall Spring. But the alien question, as it unfolded during the 1820s, had potential repercussions for Irish immigrants as well as Americans. Jones introduced in 1826 the petition of Joseph K. Hartwell, a local Orangeman, and others of the Johnstown District to be naturalized under a private member’s bill if a public act was not forthcoming. Jones supported their petition and, according to Robert Stanton*, “this staggered a good many.” Jones expended much time in the spring of 1827 clarifying his support for the government-sponsored Naturalization Bill. In characteristic fashion he quoted from Blackstone as an authority validating his stand. Mackenzie certainly thought the Irish would support Jones in the election of 1828 and perhaps they did. Their presence had made an impact by 1826, and within a few years, under the leadership of Ogle Robert Gowan*, they became a force to be reckoned with by Jones and others.
On the domestic front Jones enjoyed a growing family – between 1818 and 1840 his wife gave birth to 14 children – and affluence. His legal practice flourished. He had become a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1820 and was recognized as a leading member of the bar. He enjoyed the benefits of his judgeships. Major George Hillier, Maitland’s secretary, conferred with him on patronage within the district, and on occasion Jones undertook legal work for the government at various assizes. He sought other offices. In 1828 he applied, unsuccessfully, for the collectorship of customs at Kingston, which Hagerman had vacated upon his temporary elevation to the Court of King’s Bench. Jones, in fact, had been Maitland’s first choice for this judgeship but he had been dissuaded by Strachan, who argued “that the Province would not bear two Brothers in Law on the Bench.” (Judge L. P. Sherwood had married Jones’s sister.) It was Jones’s “misfortune,” Strachan wrote to Macaulay, “to be one of a connexion which engrosses so many offices he suffers from it.” Any suffering was mitigated by Jones’s prosperity. In addition to the land he had inherited, he himself received several grants from the crown as the son of a loyalist and as a militia officer during the war. To these lots he added many acquired by purchase, thus becoming one of the leading landowners in the Johnstown District. When the construction of the Rideau Canal opened up new areas for settlement, Jones could offer for sale in 1829 more than 60 lots scattered across four districts.
A gentleman farmer well known as a “spirited Agriculturalist,” Jones oversaw a thriving farm near Brockville. He specialized in breeding livestock, particularly sheep. In 1830 he purchased pure-bred animals from Commodore Robert Barrie of the Kingston dockyard. Five years later his sheep won prizes in competition at local fairs; in 1837 he was offering brood-mares, colts, draught-horses, oxen, and sheep for sale. As well, Jones had business interests. With his brother Charles he owned mills at Furnace Falls (Lyndhurst). In January 1837 they offered to sell their site there as well as the Beverly Copper Mine to two Americans. In the 1830s Jonas had badgered the president of the Bank of Upper Canada, William Allan*, to open a branch in Brockville but Allan was, he wrote to Macaulay in June 1830, “not in favour . . . at Present.” Undeterred, Jones chaired a meeting at Brockville in August calling upon the legislature to charter a local bank. In 1833 a branch of the Bank of Upper Canada was established and Jones was appointed a director of it. That same year he became a director of the Saint Lawrence Inland Marine Assurance Company and in 1834 he was made its president.
Jones’s continued interest in navigation on the St Lawrence became a preoccupation during the 1830s. At the opening of the second session of the tenth parliament in 1830 Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne* drew the notice of the legislature to the great river. Within a short time an act was passed providing for three commissioners to determine the best mode of improving navigation. Chaired by Jones, the commission estimated costs for the appropriate canals. An act establishing another commission for the improvement of the St Lawrence was passed in 1833. Jones was appointed its president, and John Macaulay and Philip VanKoughnet* were among its members. The commission first met on 19 Feb. 1833, whereupon Jones and two other commissioners travelled to New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to gather information and confer with American engineers. Jones tabled the commission’s report in December. On the basis of a survey by Benjamin Wright, the dean of American canal-builders, it “safely” estimated that £350,000 would provide obstacle-free navigation for steamboats from Lake Ontario to Montreal. The commissioners urged borrowing the entire sum even without the co-operation of Lower Canada since Upper Canada “could not possibly incur any risk of financial embarrassment.” Jones had attempted to raise a loan of £70,000 while in the United States but failed. As a result of the commission’s recommendations the 1833 act was repealed and a new one was passed in 1834. The following year parliament approved a bill to appropriate £400,000 for building the St Lawrence canals and refinancing the public debt. No single piece of legislation in provincial history furnishes such tangible evidence of the Upper Canadian faith in canals and economic development, and Jones had been one of the faith’s first prophets. In 1834, under his presidency, work had begun on the first project, the Cornwall Canal, and within two years plans were under way to extend work to other sections of the St Lawrence.
Politically, developments in the early 1830s had been less edifying. The bruising and at times violent entry of Gowan and his Orangemen into politics brought about a major realignment of political power in the Johnstown District. In 1833 Jones and Henry Sherwood* were elected to represent the East Ward on Brockville’s Board of Police, and Jones became its president. The contest had been a bitter struggle with the Orangemen. Further acrimony resulted from the disruption of a board meeting presided over by Jones in October. The culprit was James Gray, a disgruntled political rival of Jones’s and a friend of Gowan’s. On 9 Jan. 1834 the barn, stables, and sheds of Jones’s farm were burnt. Gray was charged, convicted of arson, and imprisoned without benefit of bail. His wife and friends, including Gowan, petitioned on his behalf, complaining of Jones’s “unbounded influence . . . over the Sheriff, and the great Majority of the Magistrates.” The following month Gowan found even more reason to complain. He had arrived back in Brockville from a trip to find his nephew in jail. Unable to secure his release, Gowan was on the verge of going to York when, he wrote, Jones procured a “Warrant against me, for a conspiracy to injure his character, founded upon the Affadavit of a Girl of ill fame, and the inmate . . . of a Bagnio in this town.” He was astounded that his bail was set at £400 and that he would be tried before Jones and other magistrates, “the majority highly excited against me, and having Mr Jonas Jones, as my Judge and Accuser.” Tension between the camps of Jones and Gowan heightened during the election of 1834, in which Jones supported reformers William Buell Jr and Matthew Munsel Howard. Jones and his followers were apparently duped by Gowan, who topped the polls in Leeds with a fellow tory, Attorney General Robert Sympson Jameson*. In one fracas of an election marred by Orange violence Jones was roughed up while trying to restore order. His last electoral triumph – he failed to win the tory nomination over Richard Duncan Fraser* for the spring by-election in Leeds in April 1836 – came in Grenville in the general election later that year. By an uneasy anti-reform truce with the Orangemen, Jones and Gowan defeated Buell and Howard.
Jones was nevertheless tiring of politics. In the first session of the thirteenth parliament (1836–40) he showed little of the relish of his early days as a parliamentarian. He was, with Archibald McLean and Allan Napier MacNab*, a candidate for the speakership. McLean would win but the prospect of Jones as speaker dismayed W. W. Baldwin, who thought he would “probably offend half his side of the house – his rough and confident manner is often provoking.” On one notable occasion in February 1837 Jones supported Hagerman’s unrepentant defence of the Anglican rectories recently established by Colborne. His most important contribution came as chairman of the house committee on finance. It was examining the provincial debt, which had reached almost £600,000, most of it for public works and especially St Lawrence navigation and the Welland Canal. Yet, with financial crisis looming [see John Henry Dunn*], Jones remained convinced that the works would be “a productive source of revenue.” Moreover, they were essential to the prosperity of “a new Country like Canada, with a limited revenue,” and could “only be constructed upon the credit of the Province.”
When the opportunity arose to leave politics, his law practice, and Brockville, Jones seized it. On 23 March 1837 Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head* appointed him and McLean to fill two openings on the Court of King’s Bench. Jones quickly resigned his other judgeships. He attempted to give up the presidency of the St Lawrence commission but Head prevailed upon him to wait and Jones did not relinquish it until the following year. He was succeeded by John McDonald* amidst financial difficulties resulting from the depression of 1837 and disruptions caused by the rebellion. Jones suggested to Head that he and McLean should receive registrarships of counties as a means of vacating their seats in the assembly; otherwise, he wrote on 29 May 1837, “I am apprehensive that some embarrassment and difficulty may be produced.” Head agreed and Jones was appointed registrar for Dundas County, from which office he resigned on 14 June.
Jones had barely settled into the routine of his judicial activities when rebellion broke out in December. He was immediately appointed one of Head’s aides-de-camp and commanded a small picquet; he was the first man to enter Montgomery’s Tavern after the rebels had been routed. The aftermath of the rebellion and the subsequent border raids increased the work of the judges for a short period. Jones with Robinson recommended in May 1838 that executions be kept to a minimum and banishment, “an appalling punishment,” be reserved for but a few. He repeated this advice to Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur* in December after the capture of numerous prisoners at the battle of Windmill Point [see Nils von Schoultz]. The object of the death penalty was “to hold out an example of terror and by that means to prevent as far as possible” repetition of the offence. Thus, “judicious selection” rather than “the great number of executions” was desirable as “frequent exhibitions of the last pangs of expiring nature have a tendency to counteract the end of punishment.” Jones handled several treason cases with little of the sympathy he often evinced for criminals. The jury’s verdict of guilt for Jacob R. Beamer he considered “fully warranted.” At Benjamin Wait*’s trial, the jury recommended mercy, prompting Jones to demand it produce the grounds on which the recommendation was based, but it could not.
Like most Upper Canadian superior court judges, Jones had little use for men who abused women. When John Solomon Cartwright forwarded a petition in favour of the convicted rapist William Brass, Jones reported to John Joseph*, Head’s secretary: “I consider the case a very aggravated one and unattended with a single palliating circumstance.” In October 1839 he took no notice of petitions from the chiefs of the Six Nations attacking the credibility and character of a young Indian woman who had been raped by Noah Powlis, a Mohawk. Between November 1839 and July 1840, Jones used every judicial means possible to obtain a free pardon for Grace Smith, a young black girl convicted of arson. When his own recommendation failed to convince an Executive Council anxious to make an example, he consulted his brother judges and delivered their opinion that “the Judgment of death . . . in this case is erronious.” This time the council concurred. In October 1840 he urged Arthur not to consider a pardon for Eliza Mott who had been convicted with her ten-year-old daughter of stealing. He had sentenced the girl, “apparently very intelligent and . . . an interesting child,” to a mere week in jail in the hope that, “if she is provided for, away from her mother she may yet become a good Member of Society, with her, it is not to be expected.”
Politically, Jones got on well with Head, who later described him as “the most calm fearless man it had ever been my fortune to be acquainted with,” but his influence on the administration was negligible, even though reform-oriented men such as James Buchanan, the British consul in New York, considered him one of the major figures in the “family compact.” Jones did replace Robinson as temporary speaker of the Legislative Council in 1839 after Robinson went on leave, but he resigned the position in June 1840 upon the chief justice’s return. Arthur had apparently expected much of Jones as speaker and was disappointed. When MacNab sought the position early in 1841, Arthur wrote to Governor Sydenham [Thomson]: “His connexion Mr Justice Jones with five times the natural Talent, and with rather superior legal acquirements, was quite unequal to it.”
From his appointment in 1837 almost to his death in 1848, Jones sat on the King’s Bench with some of his oldest friends (Robinson, McLean, and Hagerman). His death was unexpected. He left his chambers feeling drowsy and at Robinson’s suggestion decided to take a walk before dinner. He collapsed in a building he owned and was found hours later (a child had reported that judge Jones was lying there drunk), completely paralysed on the right side and unable to talk. He died on 30 July and was buried before many of his family had arrived. His will was unusual – he left everything to his wife. An obituary noted that his “keen talents . . . as a debater, together with his sterling consistency, did much to stem the torrent of republicanism in the stormy days of Mackenzie’s career.” Robert Baldwin* wrote to Robinson: “I ever admired the vigor and industry with which he applied himself to the administration of justice And the real kindness of heart which notwithstanding an abruptness of manner which occasionally startled even those who knew him well and was often misunderstood by those who had not that advantage, I think eminently distinguished him.”
Hagerman had died the previous year. It seemed as if an age was passing. Worn out by decades of political battle, the youthful friends had left the fray one by one. By the time of the declaration of union on 10 Feb. 1841, the political views which they represented were in eclipse. A generation of native-born political leaders was quickly, and for the most part quietly, passing from the scene. John Macaulay was disturbed by these deaths and wrote to Robinson in a long lament for the age of gentlemen: “Poor Christopher & Jonas! the former, liked by me, notwithstanding some feelings of which the world sometimes spoke too severely – more distinguished as a barrister than as judge – the other, an old & valued friend whose sudden loss I can hardly get over.”
AO, MS 4; MS 12; MS 35; MS 78; MU 1054; MU 1856, no.2179; RG 22, ser.155, Ephraim Jones (1812); Jonas Jones (1848). MTRL, William Allan papers; Robert Baldwin papers. PAC, MG 24, B7; RG 1, E3; L3; RG 5, A1; RG 43, CV, 1. PRO, CO 42. Arthur papers (Sanderson). “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1913–14. W. L. Mackenzie, The legislative black list, of Upper Canada; or official corruption and hypocrisy unmasked (York [Toronto], 1828). “Parish register of Brockville and vicinity, 1814–1830,” ed. H. R. Morgan, OH, 38 (1946): 77–108. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1825–28, 1836–37. Brockville Gazette (Brockville, [Ont.]), 1828–32. Brockville Recorder, 1830–36. Chronicle & Gazette, 1833–45. Colonial Advocate, 1825–34. Correspondent and Advocate (Toronto), 1836. Examiner (Toronto), 1848. Kingston Chronicle, 1819–33. Kingston Gazette, 1817–18. U.E. Loyalist, 1827. Chadwick, Ontarian families. Death notices of Ont. (Reid). Marriage bonds of Ont. (T. B. Wilson). Reid, Loyalists in Ont. D. H. Akenson, The Irish in Ontario; a study in rural history (Kingston, Ont., and Montreal, 1984). R. L. Fraser, “Like Eden in her summer dress: gentry, economy, and society: Upper Canada, 1812–1840” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1979). Patterson, “Studies in elections in U.C.” E. M. Richards [McGaughey], “The Joneses of Brockville and the family compact,” OH, 60 (1968): 169–84.