Florence Ellis Jones (1875 – 1910)

F. Ellis Jones

F. Ellis Gravestone at Shockoe Cemetery

Florance Ellis Jones (1875 – 1910)
Florence Ellis Jones was the eldest son of William Ellis Jones (1838 – 1910) and Ella Cordelia Smith (1851 – 1919). He was born May 29, 1875 in Richmond, in the final days of the Federal occupation of Richmond following the Civil War.

His father was a proud Confederate War veteran. His mother was a product of the southern aristocracy and an unreconstructed rebel until her dying days. He was born in a rambling three story brownstone town house in one of Richmond’s best, upper middle class neighborhoods, and he spent his vacations and holidays in the family’s spacious second home “Summerfield”, in the country north of the city.  His father William was an established, successful, and well-respected businessman. William and his wife Ella Cordelia (ne. Smith) moved in the very best social circles in town, and indeed in all of Virginia. F. Ellis was doted on by a devoted aunt, his mother’s sister Lemira Virginia Gibbs (ne. Smith), who dedicated her life to the care of her adopted Jones relations. “Ellis”, her oldest nephew, was her presumed favorite among the three sons born into that clan.

Florence Ellis Jones godfather was the Right. Reverend Francis McNeece Whittle, D.D., who had become assistant bishop of the Episcopal Church in 1867 and became the fifth Bishop of Virginia in 1876. Reverend Whittle was one of William Ellis Jones closest friends and a source of not-insignificant income to William’s business through printing contracts with the Diocese of Virginia.

Unlike his father William, who was the son of a stern and somewhat resentful emigrant, Florence Ellis Jones had every advantage imaginable. His father was a generous and affectionate man, a progressive thinker with tolerant tendencies and a philosophical bent that made him amiable and warmly welcomed in any company he chose to move in. His mother was a socialite from the best stock that “old Virginia” could produce. F. Ellis Jones was educated at the McGuire’s School in Richmond (one of the best, most rigorous, and highly respected private preparatory schools in all of Virginia) and later at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. (He didn’t graduate.)

When Federal Troops pulled out of Richmond as a result of the Compromise of 1877 (F. Ellis was just two years old), the social order of the town quickly reverted to the way things were prior to the Civil War. While it’s true that most of the major industry of the city had been dismantled or destroyed, it didn’t take long for new money to arrive in town and start up a new wave of building and investing. This created an economic and population boom that didn’t cease until the 1950’s. Civilly and socially, any temporary advantages gained by former slaves and their supporters after the Civil War and during Reconstruction almost instantly reversed to the pre-slavery status quo.

By the time F. Ellis Jones was coming of age, Jim Crow was in full effect. African Americans were disenfranchised once more and subjugated by new laws and compensation systems which differed from slavery only in name, but not in intent or in effect. In many ways African-Americans were sometimes worse off under the post-Reconstruction system than they had been prior to the abolition of slavery. In the post-reconstruction era they did not enjoy the protection and obligation of care that they had in the days prior to emancipation, and they were deprived of the legal protections they enjoyed under Reconstruction. (Despite our contemporary horror at the idea of slavery, this fact is supported by many narratives recorded by former slaves in the decades after slavery was abolished.)

What we know about F. Ellis Jones is hardly insignificant, though it lacks a good deal considering his relative closeness to our time.

We know he was a member of the Democratic Party in Virginia (the conservative, segregationist segment of the body politic that was in the majority in post-Reconstruction Virginia.) [1]

We know he went to work in his father’s printing business and that the business adjusted its imprint accordingly; from “William Ellis Jones – Printer” to “William Ellis Jones & Sons – Printer”. This is an indication that at least in appearance, F. Ellis (and possibly his younger brothers) were considered by their father to be near partners, and certainly heirs to the operation.

We know that he shared his father’s appreciation for literature. He tried his hand at writing short stories, some of which appeared in the Argosy under “F. Ellis Jones” [2] and possibly under the nomme de plume “Fitzgerald Ellis Jones.” He also, according to my grandfather, was for a time co-editor of the old Richmond Journal (competitor to and eventually acquired by the Richmond Times Dispatch.)

On October 18, 1898 (when he was just twenty-three years old), he married Addie Gray Bowles (1881 – 1918), the daughter of an old and very prominent Virginia family with roots in the western part of the state and in Richmond. (We’ll learn more about Addie Gray Bowles later in this chapter.) Together they had only one child; William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951), my grandfather.

F. Ellis Jones, at least later in his life, became a deeply religious man and inclined himself to the “high” side of the Episcopal Church. He was a vestryman and warden of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, and his friendship with the rector, John H. Dickinson, was one of the bright spots of his last days. He expressed to his immediate family that he regretted not taking orders and entering the ministry. This predilection for an intense level of faith may have been brought about by the fact that early in his life he contracted tuberculosis, which damaged his health and rendered him fragile throughout the greatest part of his adulthood. [3]

Since his son knew him personally and wrote from experience and observation, I’ll let his voice contribute to our portrait:

“…As I remember him and heard him spoken of, he was a serious man and a good husband and father. I do not believe that he ever developed the broad tolerance that made his father a philosopher, but that well might have come with the years. He had some literary talent which fell short of genius…

…His love for my mother was deep and lasting, and his letters to her, some of them written after ten years of marriage, are the best writing he ever did….

…I inherited one trivial trait from him – his love for tobacco. He was passionately fond of smoking and died with a cigar in his hand.
William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951)

Unfortunately Florence Ellis Jones was not long-lived. He died due to complications resulting from tuberculosis on November 16, 1910. He was just thirty-four years old. He was survived by his widow, Addie Gray Bowles and his young son, William Ellis Jones, who was just ten years old when his father passed away.

He was buried on November 18, 1910 in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

Addie Gray Bowles and her young son remained in Richmond with her in-laws until her own death in 1918. It is to be presumed that she and her son were supported by her father-in-law and her brothers-in-law during this period.  It’s unusual that she would have stayed with her in-laws; tradition usually dictating that a young widow returned to her family of origin upon the death of a spouse. In this case there seems to have been an especially close tie to her husband’s people in Richmond.

———————–

1] The Richmond Times Dispatch., October 01, 1903, Page 2

2] “Two Scoops” By F. Ellis Jones, appeared in The Argosy, v 36 #2, May 1901, Frank A. Munsey, editor.  pp. 247

3] The Baby Book | William Ellis Jones Jr. Family History, By William Ellis Jones Jr. (1936) Note 2

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