Tag Archives: Musings

Lewis Evan Jones (1825 – 1910) — Mutiny on the Ocean Waves

The following document is a transcription from a photocopy of a letterpress set pamphlet style publication with colored paper wraps, measuring approximately 8 1/8” x 4 3/8”. Text pages number 36 pages. There is no date of publication, but the text is dated 1901 at the end of the story. The cover bears the following information; handwritten at the top of the wrap in ink (“No. 1.)”, title is indicated as “MUTINY ON THE OCEAN WAVE”, author is listed as “By LEWIS E. JONES, SR.”*, and imprint is “Herald Printing House, Hartington”.

* Note that Lewis E. Jones Sr. is actually indicated as Lewis Evan Jones Jr. for the sake of this archive, as his father’s name was also Lewis Evan Jones. Once in America, this author had a son, also named Lewis Evan Jones, who for the sake of this archive is denominated as Lewis Evan Jones III.

Note: In handwriting at the end of the editors note (between brackets) in the introduction is written “age 17” to indicate that Lewis Evan Jones was only seventeen years old when he participated in this voyage.


Mutiny on the Ocean Wave.

[The following story was written by Mr. Lewis E. Jones, from memory, and is vouched by him that every word is true and happened as it is written. This voyage was made by him from Liverpool to New York, from there to Baltimore, from there to Rotterdam, Holland, from there to Liverpool, thence to Charleston, South Carolina, in the ship St. Lawrence of New York, during the years 1842 – 43. – Ed.]

Short stories told now and then.
Relieve the craniums of some men;
Such cumbrous stuff is not to save,
Then why carry them with you to the grave.

291One day while strolling leisurely along the dockside of Liverpool, I heard two boys converse together, which attracted my attention. One said to his companion that the American ship St. Lawrence, of New York, lying in the Princess Dock, wanted a boy; that he was going to see if he could secure the place. This was near dinner time. After dinner I went down to that ship, and saw the mizzen royal flopping in the wind. This is the loftiest of the fourth sail on the third mast. One of the big boys spoken of was on his way up the rigging to furl this sail. He seemed very clumsy and slow getting up the rigging, and when he got up did not know how to gather the sail together so as to make a neat job of it. I noticed a man whom I learned was the chief mate, watching him from the dock. After he had made several attempts, the mate called him down. The boy walked off crest-fallen. After he had disappeared, I walked up to the mate, thinking that this was his way of finding out what a boy could do, I asked him if I could go up and furl that sail. He asked where I had learned to furl such sails. Answering him that many times a day in the Mediterranean it was my business to furl the royals, while the men were at the heavier sails. He doubted that such a small boy as I was could furl such sails in heavy winds. It was blowing quite stiff at this time. Finally he said I could try. I went aboard, doffed my jacket, and went up the rigging one a trot, getting out on the royal yard, gathering the sail on one side and then the other, passing the gaskets around, gathering the slack of the sail in the center, passing around a netting made for that purpose, I had the bunt in the center like a drum, all in ship shape. I descended the rigging as lively as I went up, picking up my jacket and walked where the mate stood, watching my every movement. He also walked towards me without saying a word, handing me a card which instructed the shipping master who was shipping a crew for this ship, to place me on the list. There were many of these shipping masters in Liverpool, as well as every large seaport. When a ship has taken in all her cargo, the captain a few days previous instructs one of these shipping masters to ship so many men for his ship, to sail on such a day for such a place. Master-riggers with a gang of men having bent all the sails, examined all the rigging, replacing all the defective, you will understand this was an American ship, all hands had abandoned her, when in fact they had no right to leave until she arrived at some designated port in the United States. When men are not properly treated, they abandon their ships at the first opportunity. This was the case with the St. Lawrence. Not one left but the captain, first and second mates.

Mr. Moore I found was the name of the first mate, who had given me the card, instructing the shipping master to ship me at $10 per month, and come aboard next morning. The men received $15 per month. She was bound for New York with a general cargo and 300 Irish passengers.

Captain Brown I found in the morning, a perfect gentleman, looked more like a clergyman than a sea captain. He took me to the cabin and talked very kind with me, inquiring about my nativity, relatives, etc. He seemed to be well pleased with me, instructing me to come to him if I should want anything during the voyage. He asked me to take care of the cabin until he could engage a steward, and gave me perfect liberty to make the cabin my home should he get a rough crew – he knew not what kind of men the crew would turn out to be, for he had never seen one of them. I thanked him very much, but stated that I would like to be with the men as much as possible, that I went to sea not of necessity, but to learn to become a seaman. He commended my resolution and promised to assist me in my endeavors.

In three days after this ship was ready for sea, and the crew came on board as well as the passengers. We went out of the Princess Dock and dropped anchor in the Mersey. Next morning the captain came on board, ordered the anchor to be raised and sails set loose. I loosed the three sails on the royal masts, by order of the mate, for he had learned, he said, I was an expert with these light sails. Most of the men were heaving up the anchor. When I came down the rigging, I took hold of the long leaver, for she had what was then called patent windlass – two long levers working up and by 15 or 20 men. When I took hold of the lever the next man to me was a splendid, fine looking man. His bronzed face indicated he had seen service in the tropics. This was the first time I had ever seen him, but he struck me as an ideal seaman, such as I would like to pattern after. He wore a red flannel shirt, white duck pants and a jaunty straw Manila hat on his head. He smiled on me as I took hold of the leaver by his side. I was glad to be noticed by such a powerful and perfect man as I considered him to be. Whilst I was doting on him the mate came along with loud curses on his lips, telling the men that they were not half heaving; passing along after abusing nearly all the men, he came to where I was. He was rolling up his shirt sleeves, for he had taken off his coat before. He roared out, “you man, with the red shirt, why don’t you heave?” This shipmate, for I was glad to call him such, answered he was doing his duty. At this the mate jumped about with his clenched fist, saying he was the first man he would commence on when we got under way. The man with the red shirt paid no attention to his threats, only he turned to me and thanked the mate for this timely warning, so that he could be on his guard. After the mate had left, he smiled on me and said, “if I am the first he is going to pick on, he will have a tough chicken to pick.” Thus we left Liverpool with fair wind and all sails set.

The first thing when a ship is well underway is to divide the crew into two watches, when all the men are assembled on the quarterdeck. Thus we were all ordered to come aft, and the division was made, by the captain having the first choice, named the man at the wheel. The mate then selected the man whom he called “the man with the red shirt.” Then the captain made another choice, then the mate, and so on until whole crew were selected, and the watches formed. On this particular occasion the men were all selected, the mate had to take me, for I was the last. I was glad that the man with the red shirt was on the same watch with myself. I had taken a great liking to him and he also to me. We were strangers to one another. I had never seen one of them before. However, that night, when on watch, I learned from my newly made friend, the man wearing the red shirt, was a countryman of mine, who lived in a small seaport only twelve miles from my home. He also informed me there were two other men on board from the same place, one of whom was on our watch. He stated they always sailed on the same ship – they had been together in the English and American Navies, and had been together for many years in vessels of both nations. I was glad to learn I had countrymen on board, the first I had since I went to sea. The name of my friend with the red shirt was Jack Thomas, the other in our watch was named Dick Lewis, and the one in the captain’s watch was named John Evans. There was another young man in our watch that I had taken a liking to. He was a native of New York City, named Wm. McFarlane, whom we called Yankee Bill. All this crew were more intelligent than the common run picked up in foreign ports.

After a few days out from Liverpool we had very high winds and disagreeable weather. The sea was very rough. The poor passengers were very sick and suffered much. The captain had appointed me store keeper to deal out water and provisions to the emigrants. At that time steerage passengers in sailing vessels had so much water and provisions dealt out to them daily. At night I had to stand watch like the balance of the crew. It is the custom on all ships to wash the decks every morning at six o’clock, whether they need washing or not. On the third or forth morning out of Liverpool, the weather was very stormy and the sea running high. Buckets, scrubbing brushes, brooms, etc., were brought out for that purpose, when the mate came forward and ordered Yankee Bill to go out on the fore poop deck to wash to pump water to wash decks. We had a small hand pump, such as is used in cisterns, for that purpose, on the larboard bow. The wind was blowing almost a gale on that side, and sea splashing over continuously. The men all wondered at the mate giving such an order, when water was plentiful on deck. Bill told him he could furnish all the water required from lee-scuppers, as the water was almost knee deep as the ship careened over. This would not satisfy the mate. Bill dipped up water in buckets as fast as required. The mate became boiling mad because his orders were disobeyed. He walked back to the stern of the ship and took an iron belaying pin out of the rail. These pins were used where very heavy weight is to be sustained, otherwise wooden pins are to be used. These iron pins are about a foot in length and one and a quarter inches in diameter. With one of these pins in his hand he rushed to where Bill was filling water buckets. He aimed a full blow with this weapon on Bill’s head, but the ship plunged at the moment and he only received a light blow on the side of his head. Bill was bleeding profusely. At that moment Jack Thomas came like a flash of lightening, grasping the iron bolt from the mate’s hand and threw it overboard, telling Bill he was a better man than Mr. Moore, to settle his grievance there and then, and he would see no one should interfere. By this time Bill had the mate more than a foot of water with his foot on his neck. The ship was rolling and plunging, the water rushing backward and forward, so that occasionally Mr. Moore could see about him. He saw and begged me to call the captain, for I was an eye witness to the whole transaction.

The cooks gally was close by. The cook, a large negro hailing from Sierra Leone, a British West African Colony, rushed out of the galley with a large carving knife in his hand, to the assistance of the mate. Dick Lewis, who had come on the scene, saw the negro rushing into the fray, gave him such a blow under the ear, that he also fell in the water by the side of the mate, while Dick Lewis disarmed him of the knife, throwing it overboard.

They did not mutilate the two prostrate me, but made them swallow their fill of salt water. At this time I thought it my duty to call up the captain and the second mate, who were asleep in the cabin, informing captain Brown the men were killing Mr. Moore. He hurriedly slipped on his pants, boots, and coat, rushing on deck with a cutlass in his right hand (a short sword about a foot and a half long) and a book containing the riot act in the other. By the time he came on deck the men had released the half drowned bullies. Mr. Moore, like a drowned rat, went to his room to put on dry clothes. The negro went to the gally, where he barricaded himself, swearing he would scald the first man who came there.
The captain instructed me to tell the first watch to come on the quarterdeck. All the men came cheerfully. The first thing the captain did was to read the riot act, from the book he brought with him from the cabin, whilst I held his cutlass. After this reading he commenced to examine witnesses to get at the origin of the riot. Jack Tomas was the first witness to the whole affair. While he was explaining the mate’s actions, gentlemanly and cool, Mr. Moore leaped on deck, passing the captain and myself, who were standing before the men, pulled out a heavy claw hammer from under his coat-tail, and made a desperate attempt to strike Jack Thomas in the head with the hammer. Dick Lewis, who stood by the side of his friend, saw the mate’s movements, jumped to the front of him, receiving quite a cut on his head. In less time than it takes to write this, Jack Thomas knocked him down. Whilst both him and Dick Lewis, who was bleeding, took the cutlass from me and threw it overboard, together with the hammer taken from the mate. After this the men carried Mr. Moore to the cabin and placed him in bed.

Here were men well formed by nature
In deadly combat for their rights;
The elements above and the waters below,
Protesting against these unholy fights.

The men after this went forward to consult the other watch, which was called yup for breakfast, who knew nothing of what had taken place during the morning watch.

After learning all that had taken place, and fully argued among themselves, they came to the conclusion to send word to the captain, through me, for I was the only confidant both sides had, and to tell the truth I had seen the whole trouble, besides hearing Mr. Moore’s threat while hoisting anchor at Liverpool, that the whole affair rested on his shoulders, and that he received nothing more than he deserved.

The decision of the men of both watches was that the mate should be put out of commission, that the captain could find a man among the crew fully as able as Mr. Moore, to take his place until we arrived at New York, and if they violated any law they were willing the courts to decide.

Receiving this message, I went to the cabin, to tell him the decision of both watches. He tried hard to pump out of me if Jack Thomas and Dick Lewis were not the leaders, and that they were bad men. I told him what Mr. Moore had said and threatened the first time he ever saw them when hoisting anchor in the river Mersey. I told him also that the two men he mentioned were gentlemen in every sense of the word, and by what I had seen of them, they had a perfect right to defend themselves as they did, and if they did not, I would consider them craven cowards, that all this unfortunate affair was entirely the work of Mr. Moore.

He sent the second mate on deck to take charge of the ship, and told me after breakfast to come to him, so that I could carry his decision to the men. After breakfast the men waited to know what to do, and I went to find out what the captain had decided on. He inquired of me which of the men I thought the most capable for the position of mate, for he had seen very little of them. I told him that I had never seen a single one of them in my life before they came on board his ship, and it was not right for me, a mere boy, to give advice to a man of his mature age, but if he would allow me to give my opinion, – if it had not been for the unfortunate occurrence that had happened, Jack Thomas or Dick Lewis could have filled the position with honor, but since neither of the two could be considered, there was a man in his watch that I thought well suited to take the place. He is of a mature age, a sailor every inch of him, had the appearance of having seen much service. He is of course in your watch, but you should take one from the mate’s watch, to keep the division even. If you want my advice, I have but formed little friendship with the crew thus far, I would appoint Mr. Mitchell, second mate, to be first mate, in place of Mr. Moore, and take a man from your own watch for the place of second mate, who will always be under your eye. That man, I opine, you already have in your mind – it is old John Evans, the oldest and one of the most able among your crew.

The captain seemed surprised at the able advice given him by a person of my age. He, however, seemed to be pleased with my logic. He considered for a moment and then told me he would like to speak with John Evans. In passing out of the cabin I had to pass Mr. Moore’s room, and saw that he had been listening to our conversation, for the door was partly open. He had partly recovered from the terrible beating he had received. Arriving on deck I saw the men sitting on some spare spars always carried in case of accidents. They were conversing about the output, which they called “Mutiny”.

I told John Evans the captain would like to speak with him. He went down to the cabin. He was down about half an hour and arranged with the captain to work his watch while Mr. Mitchell would take Mr. Moore’s place. When this became known to the crew they were delighted, for everyone on board loved and respected old John Evans, the oldest man on board, and the one who had seen the most service on all the oceans of the world. From this out we had a pleasant voyage, but sometime very rough. We arrived in New York in four weeks, dropping anchor in the river, the captain going ashore in a boat. While in harbor at anchor two men at a time keep watch all. I was on watch from 10 to 12. In the morning it was discovered that six barrels of the cook’s grease (this grease is part of the cook’s emoluments) the brass bell on the poop deck, several ropes and light sails had disappeared during the night. No one seemed to know anything about them. Ten men had been on watch during the night, no one seemed, or pretended to know anything about them. The captain came in a tug-boat which took us to the wharf. A dozen or more boarding house runners with hacks ready to dispatch the crew with their respective baggage to their respective houses were on the dock. In less than ten minutes all the crew had abandoned the ship, and no effort was made to trace the robbery of the night before, as there were several bum-boats visiting vessels at anchor that night, likely it was sold to them more for revenge than depravity. The crew had received as they always do, a month’s wages in advance at Liverpool, therefore they had no pay coming to them. Mr. Moore did not appear on deck after he was deposed. I went ashore with the men, since the voyage was at an end, therefore not wanted. In this way I boarded for about a week, the boarding master promising me he would get a good ship in short time. I was getting tired and did not know how to pass the time away.

One fine morning sitting on a bench in Central Park, Capt. Brown came and sat by my side, asking me what made me leave his ship in the way I had. I told him it was my understanding that all crew leave when the voyage is at an end. He said he did not want me to leave, and asked if I would not like to go with him another voyage. I asked if Mr. Moore was still with him. He said he was, that Mr. Moore was a good man, but once in awhile a little hot-headed, that he would be kind to me. I told him if Mr. Moore would treat me right I would go with him another voyage. He was pleased and gave me ten dollars to pay what I owed my boarding house and bring my clothes on board. Next morning I went down to where the St. Lawrence was. I did not see anyone on board, so I took my clothes down to the forecastle, took off my best clothes and put on a working suit. Coming on deck the first person I saw was Mr. Moore. He asked me what business I had on board. I told him Capt. Brown had hired me, and asked what he had for me to do. It seemed that my presence was not agreeable to him. He walked off without saying another word. I picked up a broom and commenced sweeping the deck, seeing nothing else I could do. I went over several times, thinking that he could see I was only killing time. After some time thus employed, I went down the forecastle, intending to change my clothes and go ashore, for I did not deserve to be treated in this way.

After sitting down a short time thinking of how to act, I heard the voice of Captain Brown on deck giving some orders. I went up and told him I was there according to promise, what work did he want me to do. He asked me to come with him to the cabin, where he told me that he was going to take in ballast and sail for Baltimore, for he had engaged to take a cargo of tobacco to Rotterdam, Holland.. All he had for me to do was to act as watchman and take care of the cabin until the crew were shipped, when he would have a steward employed, or if I wished he would keep me as steward. I thanked him for his kind offer, but declined for the reason I stated to him before, that I went to sea for the purpose of learning to be a seaman, not a steward or sea cook. He saw my point and said I was perfectly right. For the present he hoped I would take care of the ship and gave me the keys of the state room. He said that Mr. Moore was perfectly satisfied that I would take care of the ship, which would give him more time to visit his relatives for he had many in New York. By degrees Mr. Moore and myself became friends, for the reason I never had been his enemy. When he had trouble at sea with the men, he knew it was his own fault and I told him so more than once. Because I lived with the men forward I did not consider I lived with brutes, but with men who knew their rights and were able to maintain them. We lived thus about ten days. I always showed him civilities his position entitled him to receive.

On Sunday morning, the second I had spent in New York, I walked along the wharves on East River, looking on all the large ships lying there, I spied a number of drays bringing provisions to a large, full rigged ship, according to amount, I thought she was destined for a long voyage. By inquiring I found the ship was called Columbia, bound for New Zealand on a trading which might take several years before her return. I was surprised to see my old friend John Evans in full command. He saw me and invited me to come on board. I found by him that through the influence of some captains he had sailed with before, he got the position of chief mate, that Jack Thomas was second mate, Dick Lewis, boatswain, their newly made friend, Yankee Bill, was with them before the mast. In remarking what strange coincidence that they should be together again on the same ship, old John Evans, who had been with them for many years, said he could not go without them, they were as worthy as any men who ever trod a ship’s deck, and as true as steel. I saw the whole four in prime health and spirits. Jack Thomas jokingly remarked to old John Evans that he should share the extra pay he got from the St. Lawrence as mate, with me, for it was me who got him the position. The old man put his hand in his pocket and handed me a ten dollar gold piece, which he insisted on me to take. I was never more glad than to see those men on a good ship, but in all probability, would never see them again. The ship soon after cleared the harbor with fair wind and all sails set. I made up my mind never to mention their names when Mr. Moore was present.

In the course of ten days we shipped a new crew at New York for a run to Baltimore. These men were all foreigners, Sweeds, Danes, Norwegians, and all from the northern part of Europe. There was not an American or Englishman among the crew. The weather was stormy and the passage rough. Mr. Moore as usual finding there was not an Englishman nor an American among the crew, commenced his brutality on them as he had done before. I felt sorry for them but knowing they came from military empires, where a poor man has no right to protest against their superiors. However the poor fellows were glad to reach land, for they had only shipped for the run from New York to Baltimore.

Having discharged ballast and taken on a cargo of tobacco for Rotterdam, Holland, we shipped another crew, a duplicate of the last, Mr. Moore had a lively time kicking and knocking these men to his entire satisfaction. I was treated humanely, and as these men had no spirit to defend themselves I had nothing to do but pity them. It took us two months to reach Rotterdam. As usual the men all deserted, leaving a months wages behind. I was pleased to find that some of the men were acquainted here, who went to an old Jew merchant and made arrangements with him to pawn all their wages, half cash and half clothing, this accomplished they all deserted. In a few days the old merchant came down to the captain with the bills, which he refused t pay because they had deserted. The old fellow did not seem to care much for this refusal, but smiled and took considerable snuff.

This vessel made considerable money by making it untenable for the men to stand the abuse. We had shipped in Baltimore two Chinamen, one for cook the other steward. They were fine, quiet, gentlemanly and remarkably clean, understanding their business thoroughly. The mate found they were packing up to leave, had them put in irons and fastened to the ringbolts below decks, for he did not want them to leave as they were experts at their business. They called me to the cabin to act as steward while we remained at Rotterdam. I had these two men to wait on as well as the officers. The second mate acted as cook. The first opportunity I had, my resolution was put in force. I went straight to the American Consul and told him there were two American citizens, for such they had become on board the American ship St. Lawrence in irons. He told me very surely he would see to it. The next day he came down in his carriage, and arm in arm with Captain Brown, went down to the cabin, drank a bottle of champagne, then both came on deck, the captain taking him to his carriage, and shook hands very cordially. In an hour or two the Chinamen were released. The first opportunity they had (the mate having gone ashore on business) they left the ship, thanking me, for they suspected I had been the cause of their release, and said I could have all their effects left behind, consisting of fine clothing, hair mattress and fine blankets to the value of $200. In a couple of weeks we had unloaded our cargo and taken in ballast for Liverpool. A new crew had been shipped, something of the same character as the last. Just as we were ready to cast off two officers came on board and told us not to touch the cables with which the ship was fastened. They told the captain that the Jew merchant had got a judgment against the ship for the sailors wages which had to be paid before we could leave. Nothing could be done but pay the judgment with costs. Captain Brown told me, for I was the only confidant all hands had, that it was preposterous to make him pay when the men were deserters. I reminded him that when in Venice we had to comply with the laws of Venice. We were delayed a long time in a canal coming out of Rotterdam on account of stormy weather and head winds. We made a long voyage to Liverpool, but when we reached there, the crew, as usual, deserted. I could not leave for I had too much wages coming to me. They treated me kindly, and all I had to do was act as watchman. I was allowed to board with a friend, and night watchman hired. No fires are allowed in Liverpool docks, consequently everyone has to board ashore.

Here we found a cargo of general merchandise for New York, and I made up my mind to leave when we reached there, as my voyage would expire then. The crew we got here were but little better than the last two or three we had run across, for we had few Americans and Englishmen among them. We did not have such men as Jack Thomas, Dick Lewis and John Evans, who dared to do right in any position they were placed. Mr. Moore had many of these men under his thumb. We had a long and stormy voyage. Our masts were sprung, so that we could carry but little canvas. Provisions and water giving out rapidly. Many vessels spoke us and offered. We refused every offer. The mate getting uglier daily. I was determined to make some effort to get better treatment. I spoke with several of the men that we should go boldly and inquire of the captain the reason for refusing assistance when offered, and we on short allowance. I could get no one to go with me, but went alone. Captain Brown had always been my friend, and was not averse to speak with me on the subject. He stated the reason he refused assistance was that we had been long on the passage and the voyage had been disastrous to the owners financially. He asked me to inform the men that if the wind continued in the same direction it was in for two days longer we would be in Charleston, S.C., for we had already passed the stormy Cape Hatteras, that in the condition the masts were in he had to run in the direction the wind blew. We had sailed more than one thousand miles beyond our destination – New York, he begged the sympathy of the men in his unhappy condition. He thanked me for acting as medium between him and the crew.

I went forward where the men were waiting the result of my visit. I passed Mr. Moore on the way. He looked daggers at me but said nothing. I explained to the men what the captain informed me, with a great deal of sympathy in my words. All were glad to know were we were, but were surprised that we were near Charleston in place of New York. They all agreed to take things as they were, for a few days at least, hoping soon to be ashore. That evening when our watch was on deck from eight to twelve o’clock, Mr. Moore came forward and ordered me to fore top sail yard to keep lookout for land. Thinking nothing wrong, as this is always a rule when nearing land at night. I felt very sleepy and fearing to fall asleep I tied myself to the halliards so I could not fall off, finding a gasket on the yard for that purpose. I had been there about two hours and thought it was near twelve o’clock when the watches changed, and a man come to relieve me. All at once the yard went down without notice given, and came down with a thud. It was well I had the foresight to lash myself to the halliards and went down with it, as the sudden jar would sure throw me overboard. When I came down on the deck the bell struck eight bells and the watch relieved. Mr. Moore was jumping about the deck saying he would kill the man who let go of the top sail halyards if he knew who he was. I said nothing, but suspicioned it was him who was guilty.

Next day in the forenoon watch he came to me, said he thought next day we would be in Charleston, all the hands were busy cleaning the paint work as was the custom. He ordered me to get a pail of water and ashes and scrub the martingale. I knew this was a risky job with the swell that was then in the sea. This martingale reached within five or six feet of the water and when the ship plunged it often dipped. The voyage was then so near up that I did not wish to disobey my superior officer, willingly went at it. The vessel often plunging until my feet was in the water, and dozens of dog fishes, a species of shark, trying to get at them. Little scrubbing was done by me and glad to hear the sound of the eight bells, when I came up on deck and the other watch coming on duty. I pretended to be cheerful, but my mind was far from being so. That evening we sighted land, and the next forenoon we landed at one of the wharves of Charleston, S.C. having been ninety days out from Liverpool. The captain soon went ashore.

I was glad this unpleasant voyage was at an end. As soon as the vessel was fastened I went down to the forecastle to change and pack up my clothes and go ashore. Mr. Moore came to the companionway and said that the Captain wanted me to came and take care of the cabin, for the sheriff had taken the cook and steward to jail during the vessel’s stay in port. This was the law then, when slavery was in full force, and half the city’s population being slaves, free negroes talked too much politics to the slaves therefore, would have no access to them. He told me the ship had to have new masts and rigging, which would consume about seven or eight weeks, the captain was going to New York, there would be only him, second mate, and myself in the cabin, and the captain had gone ashore to find a negro woman for cook and my work would be light. I told him this was the opportunity I had been looking for, that I could help and learn to rig a ship and that it would be a school for me. He would not listen to this philosophy, but must come to the cabin. I told him plainly that I could not think of it, as it had come to this my voyage was up, and I was going ashore. He said I could be arrested as a deserter. I then stated I had signed articles in New York to go from there to Baltimore, from there to Rotterdam, from there to Liverpool then to any port in the United States and thought I was now in a port of the United States and my voyage at an end. He went back to the cabin, got the articles, but I discovered and told him that those were the articles signed by the present crew to go from Liverpool to New York. I agreed with him that the voyage of these men was not up until they reached New York. Finding he could do nothing with me he walked off with curses on his lips, I walked ashore.

My first inquiries was for the Mayor’s office, and after walking quite a number of streets found the Mayor at his office in the court house. This was the same Mayor Brown, who a year after, sent to Liverpool for me as witness in a state case which I described in a story written to the News last Christmas. I explained to the Mayor that I wanted to part with my ship, and gave him my reasons for doing so, and whether I could collect the wages due me. He said the St. Lawrence was in the hands of the Underwriters, that the captain or owners had nothing to say until she was thoroughly repaired and ready for sea. I then asked the status of the men who shipped from Liverpool to New York. He answered that their voyages was also up as well as my own.

After I learned this I hired a spring wagon and went down after my clothing. I also informed the men of the result of my inquiry. Every man quit work and followed me up to town. We had not gone more than a quarter of a mile when the second mate overtook us and said the captain had sent him to inform us to come down next morning he would pay us all off. This was a jolly night for the crew of the St. Lawrence. All happy it terminated as it did.

Next morning we all went down on board the ship and settled with the captain satisfactory. I was the last and expected a good lesson for the part I had played, but the captain did not mention a word on what had passed. He had given me money on several occasions. I had kept an account of all sums I had received and told him the amount. He said, “never mind, that was my gift and not charged to you.” We shook hands on parting. He hoped I would prosper as I deserved.

In a few days the hands had scattered on different vessels and different destination. I found employment in a cotton press, where I often met Captain Brown. One day sitting down in the office he told me his ship repairs would soon be completed and asked me if I would go with him to Liverpool, as the ship was loaded with cotton and the riggers had nearly completed their work, another vessel had taken his freight to New York. I told him I would be glad to sail with him, but as long as Mr. Moore was on her I would not set a foot on the deck, not because I feared him physically, but feared his treachery. I told how he tried to throw me overboard from the topsail-yard and the way he sent me to scrub the martingale, hoping no doubt that sharks would get hold of me. Captain Brown was horrified at such villainy. He told me the reason for his being mate that he and his friends in New York were in New York were nine-sixteenths parts of the ship, while he and his friends owned but seven-sixteenths parts (you will understand that a ship is divided into sixteen parts or ounces as they are called, so that one man may own hundreds of ounces in different ships without owning a whole one.) The captain told me that he had tried many times to sell his interest but ship owners were so well acquainted with Mr. Moore, that they would not buy as long as Mr. Moore and his friends owned controlling interest. He also told me that the friends of Mr. Moore did not want to elevate him as captain. After hearing this I told him that as poor as I was I would not change positions with him. With this he left the office, parting as friends.

To finish this story I must tell what happened a few years after, when working on a weekly newspaper in a small town on the west of England – a watering resort. Many of the aristocracy living in the neighborhood, having parks and gardens extending down to the seashore, with sailing yachts anchored before their doors. With these they go on pleasure excursions often during fine weather in summer. They generally keep an old seaman by the year to take care of and the sail the small crafts. In summer they have regattas at the different water resorts, and set time to run at the different circuits. The editor of the paper on which I worked went around to report the incidents of the races. He asked me to go with him in his buggy, there was an exciting race to take place next day about fifteen miles from our town. Arriving there the little town was in its holiday attire, the yachtsmen in uniforms were the lions of the day. The morning turned out fine, but the wind blowed hard and the sea was rough for the small crafts that were there to test their valor. The course to run was about twenty miles. A ship was anchored at both ends which they had to go around. Twenty yachts were booked for the race. The programs were printed and held by most of the excited crowd, naming the yachts and captains of each by the flags displayed. Thousands from the surrounding country lined the shores and housetops and every avenue from which the race could be seen. At the firing of a gun they all started. The friends of each yacht straining every nerve to keep track of his favorite. The wind blew hard. Before the wind we could not judge which was making the best time. In coming back they had to beat against the wind, and here the tug of war was displayed. They had to tack more than twenty times from one side of the narrow straight to the other, for it was not more than a mile wide. One yacht would gain on the other and their positions changed often. The men on shore becoming excited and bets were changed from one craft to the other continually. In the last half hour a yacht called Arvonia and another called Dolphin seemed to gain gradually. It was a grand sight to see these small cutters ploughing through the water, carrying such large sails that they were almost on beam ends, covered literally by foam. On and on they came, changing positions often. Experts could see the Arvonia and Dolphin, though not the fastest, but better handled, stood good chance of winning. The best were high on these two boats. Sometime these boats could not be seen for the foam they made. When the Arvonia once came in sight it was with the topmast carried away. There was excitement, among those who had bet heavy on her, that can hardly be described. Just at this moment the wind freshened to about a gale. The top mast was quickly cut away, and the Arvonia, relieved of too much canvas, rushed forward like a wounded bull. She rounded the ship anchored for mark, the cannon fired as the signal, then the other slow craft Dolphin, in two seconds had the gun fired for her. The other yachts steered away and gave up the contest. That evening the people of the town gave a grand banquet to the yachtsmen. Our editor was presented with two tickets to the banquet, one for him and one for me. The mayor of the town presided at the table, with Capt. Thomas, of the yacht Arvonia, on the right and Capt. Lewis, of the Dolphin, on the left. In a neat speech he presented the first prize, a handsome gold goblet, to the gallant master of the cutter Arvonia. Capt. Thomas in a patriotic speech acknowledged the great honor done them by the hospitality of the little town. The second prize was then presented to Capt. Lewis, of the Dolphin, a miniature ship made of ivory, with rigging of gold thread. He also made a neat little speech in acknowledgment of the kindness they had received during their stay by the kind and happy of the town and surrounding country. Many others made patriotic speeches, commemorating the innocent and recreative pleasures of yachting. After the inner man had been satisfied the meeting broke up, with all present singing “Brittania Rules the Waves”.

In breaking up all the present took the two gallant captains by the hand, with great praise for the manner of handling their crafts.

I was considerably excited and waited till the last, when I took those two gallant tars by the hand, never having given a thought until I heard their voices that they were my shipmates on the ship St. Lawrence. Jack Thomas and Dick Lewis. I spent the next day with them on their yachts, for they were as glad to see me as I was to see them.

To end this story. They told me that when I saw them leaving New York, on the ship Columbia, they went to New Zealand and traded in the Orient about three years: that our old friend John Evans had died with cholera at Calcutta; that Yankee Bill had fell from the yard arm off Cape of Good Hope, and lost: that they were both married and settled down at their old home and lived comfortable and both were happy.

Peace to their ashes is the tribute of an old shipmate who has also retired from the hardships seen at sea.

Dear friends I’ll keep your memory green.
You were men when I was sweet sixteen:
No doubt you’ve paid the debt of nature.
Like gallant chiefs at last surrender.

Yours respectfully,

L. E. Jones, Senior
St. James, Nebraska, January 1, 1901.

Reading Between the Lines – Civil War Diary

COVER1862For months now I have been parsing through William Ellis Jones, II’s Civil War diary, plucking details, context, and hidden subtext from his scribbles. While the diary has been previously used by many Civil War scholars and is quoted in a countless list of books and articles about the 1862 Peninsular and Shenandoah marches and battles, no one to date had done a comprehensive study of the whole text.

Despite my lack of academic pedigree or publishing chops, I have the advantage over most of those scholars in that I’ve spent eight years studying William Ellis Jones, II’s family history. Having those details – knowing who, where, and what he came from – has given me a really precise lens through which to examine the intent and implications of the diary’s author.

That lens has allowed me to pluck meaning from seemingly benign statements. For instance; in August of 1862, William and his battery witness the advance of the whole of Jackson’s Army marching brigade after brigade into the Shenandoah Valley. He describes the endless lines of soldiers as “stretched out to the crack of doom.” This statement appears on its face to be a simple description of a very large, ominous looking advance of troops, until you dig deeper and discover why William chose to enclose the description in quotes.

“…stretched out to the crack of doom.” is a quote taken from the speech of a Mr. Stanton, published in the “Proceedings of the General Anti-slavery Convention” from the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, published in London in 1841. (Page 479.)

Mr. Stanton used the phrase in reference to the United States’ desire to extend and legalize institutionalized slavery not only within her own borders, but to use the nation’s growing international strength and influence to extend industrialized slavery into Mexico, Latin America, South America, and beyond. Today the idea that such an expansion of slavery was ever conceived seems preposterous to us, but a study of the antebellum, pro-slavery coalition operating inside and on the periphery of the United States Congress prior to the Civil War shows us that this kind of international expansion of slavery was exactly what the proto-Confederates intended. This was to become a central component of the United States foreign policy; if southerners could manage to wrest a majority in the House and Senate.

The idea that William read this speech, was familiar enough with it to quote from it, and had a firm conceptual grasp of the idea that the massive army he was watching (and serving in) represented a real physical manifestation of the policy that Mr. Stanton warned against in 1841, is simply amazing to me. He was just twenty-four years old, and had been born and reared in a city (Richmond, Virginia), whose very foundations were laid by the hands of slaves.

William in no way celebrated the idea of slavery in the use of this quote. Rather, I believe, he carefully selected it to record his true feelings about what was happening, while remaining just ambiguous enough for self-preservation (should his diary fall into the hands of one of his commanders.)

The diary is dotted with examples like this one; statements that show us the veiled concerns and conflicted loyalties of a less than enthusiastic confederate soldier.

When viewed from this perspective, it becomes clear why William chose to never write or publish any of his own words about the War, and why he chose to rear his sons with social and political leanings that were anything but in keeping with the spirit of glorification of the “Lost Cause”.

More to come.

The Ghost of the Ashley Wilkes Archetype Haunts Me

Ashley Wilkes; effete, tortured, loading with fear and self-loathing. And fascinating to me.

Ashley Wilkes; effete, tortured, loading with fear and self-loathing. And fascinating to me.

My head is a swimming blur of conflicting priorities. On one hand, I have William Ellis Jones, II, the Civil War Diarist and book publisher demanding that I “get back to original programming”. On the other hand I have his grandson, William Ellis Jones, III, and his dead daughter and his two living, but very tormented children, agitating for an expansion of the fiction “assignment” I produced for Mr. McNair.

I shipped McNair the deeply revised story (Is it a short story? Is it a novella? Is it a draft of a book I didn’t know wanted to be written?) yesterday – with tremendous trepidation.

I’ll tell you why I have trepidation. It isn’t about my weak verbs, or too many adjectives, or lulls in the prose, or even the fact that the damn thing is too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel. All those things can be resolved if the thing has any legs underneath it at all. My trepidation has to do with something that I have dealt with my whole life, and can’t do a damn thing about.

It’s about who I am, where and who I come from – and what that all means – in this case, to Mr. McNair as a person.

Yeah… yeah… yeah. I know I’m not making any sense.

I’ll spell it out for you.

McNair’s protagonist in Pickett (and I suspect Land O’ Goshen too, tho I have not read it yet), is an Alabama “cracker”; a man from the dirt-farmer class of southern folks who make fantastically tough, very colorful characters in modern literature. They’re just interesting to read and write about because they’re so damn uncivilized and irrational that they’re actually “novel”, in the original sense of the word.

When McNair and I first met, and I told him I was writing a bio of my g-g-g-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War, he instantly recommended a book for me to read. He said it was the best piece of autobiographical / historical prose he’d ever read, and it demonstrated near perfectly how to draw out a character and bring him to life.

That book is ‘All Over But The Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg. And I agree that it is incredibly well-written. It’s a great book about a whole lot of tragically broken, complicated, very colorful misfits.

But here’s the thing… Bragg’s misfits, like McNair’s protagonist, are of a “class” of Southern stereotypes that, while interesting, are about as remote from my experience and understanding as it gets (I could come up with a lot of nifty comparisons here, but that would just be trying too hard.)

Bragg, in his memoir, writes “White people had it hard and black people had it harder than that, because what are the table scraps of nothing? This was not the genteel and parochial South, where monied whites felt they owed some generations-old debt to their black neighbors because their great-great-grandfather owned their great-great-grandfather. No one I knew ever had a mammy.”

Well guess what? My own Mother (born 1936) had a Mammy. And her Daddy had a black wet-nurse. And both sides of my mother’s parentage descended from the “Plantation Class”. And I grew up with an overwhelming sense that we “…owed some generations-old debt to their black neighbors because their great-great-grandfather owned their great-great-grandfather…”, because the fact was that we knew every advantage we had (and even by the 21st century, there are still many) came at the expense of someone who our ancestors “owned”. I grew up understanding that my intelligence and ability to converse and move with ease through any social or business setting was literally stolen from the descendants of the people my ancestors enslaved.

I find the struggles and torments of the fallen southern aristocracy to be dark, often quite tragic, but more than anything else – complicated. And I’ll never be able to shed my fascination with the concept or the characters – because they are the people I know. They are, in fact, me, as well.

All that said, I wonder if Mr. McNair– given the characters and culture he knows best and who he respects – will be able to stomach reading about a somewhat effete, fallen aristocrat, who is full of self-loathing and guilt on so many levels that he can’t think his way out of his wet paper bag of pathos.

Looking at me and my characters from his (or better perhaps, from Rick Bragg’s point of view), we’re not a very sympathetic lot. We’re the people who built the system that stole every opportunity from everyone “below” us on the social ladder, and now that the ladder has upturned we’re sitting in the dirt feeling sorry for ourselves, trying to figure out what happened and where we went wrong. Pathetic really.

The reality is that we’ll probably never escape the class issues that define and divide us at least as much as the race issue. It makes me sad. I wonder whether this issue is enough to sink any hopes I might have had that McNair might actually help me become a better writer, and then do something with it.

I’m just hoping that all the above is just my own pathetic insecurity – and not what Mr. McNair actually sees in me or my work.

Maybe I just think too much.

Epic FAIL | Confessions of a highly speculative genealogist.

Ouch! That Hurts!

Ouch! That Hurts!

I fell down the rabbit hole. And now I have to climb back out.

Let me explain (I need to explain it to myself) how I got to the edge of this pesky pit, and how I foolishly (naively, if completely optimistically) scurried down and then tumbled head over arse, chasing a (highly suspect, if attractively romantic) idea – only to find that I was chasing a complete fiction.

First I need to tell you what the heck I am talking about:

In researching my Jones family history, I had a number of questions I wanted to answer. Among them;
1] How did a family of barely literate shepherds manage to quickly produce; three generations of religious fanatics and ardent Welsh-nationalists; a famous poet and first novelist in the Welsh-language (William Ellis Jones, aka “Gwilym Cawrdaf”); an infamous radical (Lewis Evan Jones, Sr., of Carnarvon); a reluctant Confederate Rebel-Philosopher-turned-historian who was renowned to have one of the most extensive personal libraries in all of Virginia (William Ellis Jones, II, of Richmond); a gifted (but sadly crippled by drink) poet and playwright (William Ellis Jones, III, of Richmond, grandson of the Rebel-Philosopher); and me and my generation, who so far, I cannot find a succinct label for, as we are so unfocused and lost, and yet certainly “interesting” in our own particular peculiarities.

2] Why did Thomas Norcliffe Jones (the first Welsh ancestor to immigrate to America) chose to come to Richmond, Virginia of all places (as opposed to Utica, NY, or Pennsylvania, where most of the Welsh immigrants to the US congregated)? It seems an unlikely destination for a Middle Class Welshman. The only Welsh in Richmond in the 1830’s (when he arrived) were laborers at the Tregader Iron Works – a people who were not well-regarded by the more gentile, “Old Virginia” residents of that very race and class-conscious city.

In my quest for answers to these questions, I had precious little hard and fast information to go on. One of my primary sources is “The Baby Book”, an unpublished manuscript and collection of documents, created by my grandfather; William Ellis Jones, III, between 1929 and 1936. This document includes lovely prose style biographies of relatives, a few original documents, family trees of Welsh ancestors; most without complete names, dates, or geographical locations. The sources he cites are generally from correspondences with long-dead, distant relatives in Wales. He didn’t save the correspondences themselves; he just notes the name of the individual who supplied the data. There is one source that he did include; a letter from a college professor who supplied the translation of the preface of a Welsh language book about our ancestor, William Ellis Jones (aka “Gwilym Cawrdaf”), the famous Welsh Eisteddfod winning bard. That translation included a very enticing translator’s note, a piece of information that I glommed onto and ran with… down a deep hole.

The thing I glommed onto was this:

“…Richard and Ann Jones, grandfather and grandmother of the subject of this memoir on his father’s side, resided at Tyddyndu, between Dolgelley and Barmouth; the place, as well as Pontddu and Thy’nybuarth, was owned by them. They had two sons, William and Ellis. When they came to the proper age they were sent to the grammar school at Pwllheli. The school at that time had great distinction under the Rev. Mr. Owens. (*Note—That Goronwy Owain was in this school is seen from the Latin ode he wrote there in 1742.) Here they remained for several years…”

Who was this “Goronwy Owain”, and why did he deserve an asterisk in my family history?

The quest began thusly… I went to Wikipedia. Here’s what the wiki entry states about Goronwy Owen:

“Goronwy Owen (1 January 1723 – July 1769) was one of the 18th century’s greatest Welsh poets. He mastered the traditional bardic metres and, although forced by circumstances to be an exile, played an important role in the literary and antiquarian movement in Wales often described as the Welsh Eighteenth Century Renaissance…. A perfectionist who only published reluctantly and whose literary output is consequently relatively small, his work nevertheless had a huge influence on Welsh poetry for several generations and his poetic genius and tragic life gave him a cult status in Welsh literary circles…”

Really? And “exiled”? Where to? Well now. The answer to that question leads into a deep dark hole that I spent nearly a year exploring.

He was exiled to Virginia, not very far at all from Richmond. You can see where I am going with this?

And to make it all the more convenient, my grandfather, in his manuscript, neglected (or more likely, never managed to obtain), any birth dates for the two boys, William and Ellis Jones, who – according to the translator’s note – attended the school associated with Goronwy Owen.

I spent several weeks (months) tracking down the details of Goronwy Owen’s life and career. I managed to pin down a period of three years between 1741 and 1744 when Goronwy Owen was a young teacher at the grammar school at Pwllheli. Once I had these critical dates in hand, I did the thing that no detective or historian should EVER do – I built a plausible history (a story I wanted to be true), by forcing the few facts I had about my own family, to fit in with the well-documented history of Goronwy Owen’s spectacularly tragic life.

In essence, the story I created was this:
– William and Ellis Jones met Goronwy Owen at Pwllheli, and there they (illiterate heathens from the outback of Wild Wales) were introduced (through Goronwy Owen’s  luminous brilliance) to the enlightenment of literature, poetry, art, and intellectual pursuit.

– The relationship they formed with Owen was deep and lifelong. When others abandoned him, they stuck with him. They even maintained communication with him after his exile to Virginia (when, as history records, Goronwy Owen fell silent for several decades, only to be heard from once prior to his death in 1769.) I had absolutely NO facts to back up this theory, just enough thinly circumstantial evidence to make me believe it had to be true.

– Finally, I reasoned that even long after Goronwy Owen’s death in Virginia, that my Welsh relations (who would have been children or grandchildren of the two ‘boys”, William and Ellis Jones), stayed in contact with Goronwy Owen’s descendants in Virginia, and THAT was the reason that my ancestor, Thomas Norcliffe Jones came to Virginia.

In order to make this rather unlikely story seem even remotely possible, I had to do something to the dates that even caused me to furrow my brow. Since I did not know the dates of birth for the boys, William and Ellis, I had to make them fit the 1741-1744 dates of Goronwy Owen’s tenure at the school at Pwllheli. To make that work, the boys would have had to have been born about 1730 (give or take a couple years either way.) Which looks fine on paper. That is…

…until you consider the FACT that I did know the dates of their marriages to their respective wives, the ages of their wives at marriage, the dates of their children’s births, etc. If you examine all of this data, in context with the manufactured birth dates, the result was that both William and brother Ellis first married and began their large families (William had nine children and Ellis had at least five children) when they were in their late sixties!

In order to explain away this inconvenient circumstance, I manufactured yet another completely plausible theory about cultural tradition and an overly long-lived father who controlled the boys’ lives and means of independence, and who prevented them from pursuing their dreams and ambitions. It was a terribly romantic notion. It read well too. But the fact of the matter is that it was just one more fiction that I convinced myself was based in fact – because I wanted it to be so.

And then my bubble got busted. Big time. Ingloriously.

About nine months ago I obtained a document from the Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Records Society; “A Merioneth Family of Printers in Wales and the U.S.A”, Vol XII (iv), 1997, written by the late, esteemed Welsh historian, Dr. Lewis William Lloyd (d. 1997).

When I first got the article I was in the depth of my research into Goronwy Owen’s life. I thumbed through a page or two and planned to return to it as soon as I returned to researching my Jones ancestors. Then I promptly forgot about the document. Until last week. I pulled it off the shelf and started reading. And there was my busted bubble, complete with sourced footnotes:

“…This resourceful and enterprising family (the Richard Jones family of Dolgelly) descended from Richard Jones of Tyddyn Du, Llanaber, gent., who died in April, 1785… His modest freehold estate was located where the settlement of Bontddu took shape in the course of the nineteenth century, some four miles from the port at Barmouth on the Dolgellau road. Richard Jones had two sons, at least, by his wife Ann, namely William Jones (1757-1830), who was baptized on 3 April 1757; and [David] Ellis Jones, who was baptized on 3 April 1758…”

My whole story about Goronwy Owen providing the ignition spark of the family “genius” just blew into a thousand insignificant little pieces. The boys, William and Ellis, were almost thirty years too young to have ever come in contact with Goronwy Owen. In fact, he was already in Virginia by the time they were born.

So much for my grand, romantic, IMAGINATIVE, ideas.

Now I have to go scrub all the stuff I wrote last winter that alludes to our “Owen” connections. And now I have to start over completely; going back to the original two questions (see above), with no plausible answers on the horizon.

Let this be a lesson. Never tell the story before you have the facts to support it. To do so is to create fiction (which has its place, but not here!)

Oh well. What else am I going to do with my time? It sure has been fun being down this rabbit hole. The climb out may lead me somewhere else even more fascinating!

Musings on Nicotiana Tabacum

17th century tobacco smoker

My Jacobean ancestors made me do it.

Some of the Jones’ have “the book gene”, while others among us have “the Wanderlust gene”. Those two are pretty much mutually exclusive as far as I can tell. But there’s at least one more gene that is indiscriminate – it’s an equal opportunity expression of “bad men made worse.”. It can express “on” in any of us, without warning, and with the gravest of consequences.

You know how the American Medical Association says that alcoholism and drug addiction are “diseases”?  What they are really saying is that the predisposition towards getting “addicted” to these substances is genetically predetermined. Once upon a time this was a radically controversial theory. It was once believed that people who had drinking or drug problems were considered of weak moral character; they were just plain bad people. Today we know better. (At least some of us know better.)

I’m no geneticist, but I know a little bit of the biochemistry of the human condition; production of dopamine and how it interacts with receptors in the brain, as well as other chemicals released by our nervous systems to either bring-on or reduce anxiety, hunger, fatigue, you name it. We’re all just a big old bundle of complicated chemical and protein processes going on inside us all the time. From time to time our genetics reveal that some of us are genetically predisposed to chocolate, some to booze, and some to the evil weed… Nicotiana Tabacum.

You know when you go to the doctor they take a family history to assess your risk of every-friggin-disease-imaginable? Well, if you are a Jones or Crews (or a Crew or a Crewe) whose people hail from the general vicinity of Virginia, let me give you a little family history that will show you what your risk is of becoming instantly addicted to tobacco actually are.

The Crews’ History with Nicotiana Tabacum
Your earliest ancestors in America came here in 1607 and almost as soon as they got off the boat they started growing some of the best damned tobacco the world had ever smoked. They sold the stuff all over the planet, addicting poor saps from Australian Aboriginals to Eskimo’s to Queen Elizabeth I. They became exceedingly wealthy off the stuff, but more to the point; they used it themselves to an extreme that today seems outlandish. They smoked constantly! Mostly from pipes, but they also piled it in bowls and lit it and just let the smoke fill the rooms in their homes. Can you imagine?

Yeah, me neither. So… the Crews ancestors all became tobacco farmers (and tobacco addicts.) They kept up that line of work, as well as their smoking habits, right up through the late 20th century. That’s a ridiculous 300+ year, generation-upon-generation, bit of genetic engineering that created offspring ever more susceptible to the addiction. With the exception of my grandmother (a woman of Temperance to the extreme if ever there was one), every single one of my “Crews” relations (as well as their offspring) smoked cigarettes. Including my mother – while she was pregnant with me. (Hey, they just didn’t know…)

Oh – wait – I almost forgot. All those Crew’s line relations? They suffered with and died from some pretty predictable diseases; emphysema, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems. Pretty stuff.

Jonesing for a Smoke
The Jones line was not much smarter. I know this about my immediate Jones lines’ history:
– Thomas Ellis Jones smoked cigarettes most of his life. He died of a heart attack at 68 years old. Too soon!
– His father, William Ellis Jones, smoked cigarettes most of his life. He died of a heart attack at 52 years old. That’s too young.
– His father, F. Ellis Jones, smoked; whether pipe or cigs, I do not know. He died of some serious lung ailment at 35 years old. Sobering.
– His father, William Ellis Jones, smoked a pipe. He survived getting shot in the Civil War, and then lived to ripe old age of 72 years old. (This guy had the best luck of anyone, ever, in all my family histories. Fate loved this man. His life story is simply amazing. Son-of-a-gun should have passed some of that mojo to me!)
– His father, Thomas Norcliffe Jones, smoked a pipe. He died of unknown causes at 67 years old.

I grew up in a house filled with cigarette smoke. I absolutely reviled the things. Nothing in the world was as unappealing to me as the smell of cigarettes. One of the highlights of getting out on my own was getting away from the cloud that hung over everything – and stank up everything I owned.

In college I was a bit of an athlete; raced bicycles, swam laps, worked out. I took my health quite seriously. Ate really well (as well as a poor kid in college can eat.) I was never tempted by peer pressure to smoke or over-indulge in alcohol, use drugs. It just wasn’t in my plan for my life.

A few years after my first marriage broke up, and when things at my job were going really rough (I was damn near thirty years old!), a friend (who smoked), exasperated at how high-strung I was, lit a cigarette up, put it in my hand, and said “Just try it… it’ll calm you down. You need it.”

He was right of course. It did calm me down. Almost instantly. Made me feel a lot better. (They call that “oxygen deprivation”. It’s a natural chemical thing your brain does – inducing a slight sense of euphoria – because your brain thinks you’re about to suffocate to death and it doesn’t want you to suffer while you die.)

From that moment onward I was addicted. It was just that fast. It wasn’t a choice I made. It isn’t weakness of character. God knows, I have overcome some really hard stuff in my life – but this affair with Nicotiana Tabacum is one nasty affliction I cannot cure. (And I have tried all the so-called cures.)

I got the “book gene”. Happy about that.  Got the “Nicotine gene” too. And it stinks.

Just don’t start. Don’t even think about it. You don’t know what’s in your genetic soup.


Clay Pipe stems from Jamestowne, VirginiaDid You Know? Clay Pipe stems and bowls discarded by Jamestown settlers can help date an archeological site.  Over 50,000 have been found by archeologists at Jamestown.
(That covers the Crews and Beheathland ancestors.)


From Marionethshire in Wales, very near where our Jones ancestors hail from, we have this:

Perhaps the most singular Will was that of a woman named Margaret Thompson who died more than a century ago.  She was a noted snuff-taker, and left behind her a Will, redolent from first to last with the fragrant dust with which the good woman had been accustomed to regale her nose during life.

The following is a copy of it:

“In the name of God Amen, I Margaret Thompson being of sound mind etc. do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following:   I desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trusty servant Sara Stewart, to be put by her, and by her alone, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for the purpose, together with such quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I always had the greatest delight) as will cover my Deceased body; and this I desire the more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffins of departed friends, and nothing can be so fragrant and refreshing to me as that precious powder.

But I strictly charge that no man may be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and as it is necessary to carry me to my burial which I order in the following manner:  Six men to be my bearers who are known to be the greatest snuff takers in the parish of St. James, Westminster.

Instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff coloured beaver hat which I desire to be bought for the purpose and given to them.  Six maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff to take or their refreshment as they go along.

Before my corpse I desire the Minister may be invited to walk and to take a certain quantity not exceeding one pound to whom I also bequeathe five guineas on condition of him doing so.  And I desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse and to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scotch snuff to the ground and upon the crowd who may possibly follow me to my burial place on which condition I bequeathe her £20.  And I also desire that the least two bushels of the said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.”

The Jones Family Wanderlust Gene

The Wanderlust Gene at play.

The “Wanderlust Gene” at play.

In our family there is this well-known “gene”. My father and I called it “the book gene”. It’s been closely associated, at least in my family, to the name ‘William Ellis Jones’. This is due to the fact that we have at least three accomplished men of that name in the family; William Ellis Jones (Cawrdaf), the Welsh bard; William Ellis Jones, the Civil War diarist, historian, editor, and publisher; and William Ellis Jones, the playwright and poet.

My father said “the gene” skipped a generation, just like the name skips each generation as it has pretty consistently since about 1730-something. He named his son according to this tradition in a firm belief that the gene would latch on and his son would become the next great author or great something in the family. (My brother is pretty damn great in every way that matters. He didn’t need the name to get that way. He did it all by himself.)

After all my research and pontifications on this Jones family of ours, I can now say with reasonable certainty that the name itself has nothing to do with whether you get “the gene” or not. The gene doesn’t follow sentimental or prejudicial naming preferences. It goes wherever the hell it wants to go. Sometimes it even goes to girls.

I think my father realized this long before I ever did. It’s why he started sending me the documents, the photos, and the books. It’s why he reached out after all those years of distance. He saw the “book gene” in me and he somehow knew that I was going to carry all this nonsense forward – if anyone chose to carry it at all.

Lord, I do digress….

In researching the family history, I discovered another gene; one no less curious and awesome and inspiring than the “book gene”, upon which all this family insanity is founded.

I wish I had my father here with me to discuss this with. Lacking him, you’ll have to do. You won’t be nearly as excited as he would have been. But never mind, here we go…

It’s the “Wanderlust Gene”. (Smile. I like that name.)

It occurred to me as I researched and wrote the accounts of so many of my ancestors who lived across nearly three centuries, that most of them had this absolutely pure loyalty and lifelong bond to their homeland of Wales. So much so that they were willing to endure just about anything – censure, shunning, even jail – to defend and improve Wales, the Welsh language, and the general condition of the Welsh population. But – oddly – there were a few others in the very same family who could not wait to shake the dust of Wales off their soles and see what adventures the wide world had to offer.

Richard Evan Jones and Lewis Evan Jones were just such young men as I describe. At sixteen years old Lewis left Wales and signed on-board a frigate, destined for Constantinople. He saw the greater part of Europe and America before returning to Wales to fetch his younger brother; the two of them heading out for the port city of New Orleans.

If you have children, can you imagine your sixteen year old boy having the maturity and sense of things to safely conduct himself across half the known world, and then establish himself successfully and profitably in a new country? I would imagine not. But that’s just what Lewis and Richard Jones did – quite on their own without a soul in the world to guide them except their genetic sense of adventure and survival. (There may be a few Roman Centurions in our genetic pool, after all.)

My brother, just like Richard and Lewis, left home at sixteen years old. He’s been from Japan to the South Sea Islands, from one end of Mexico’s California, all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia.

When he was a kid (his teens and twenties) my brother liked to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, just for the thrill of it. He got his pilot’s license to fly those same airplanes as soon as the law would allow. He’s surfed giant waves from Hawaii to Fiji to Baja (and still does every chance he gets.) And at fifty years old he successfully ascended Mt. Rainier with a group of twenty-something’s coughing and wheezing behind him. He’s hiked the Cascades and cycled from Mexico to Los Angeles. He hand-builds Galileo type telescopes in his spare time, because he loves to study the stars, the planets, the cosmos. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was a boy, and I’m still not quite sure why he didn’t pursue that. His adventurous spirit is without known limits. Today, in his mid-fifties, he’s still tempting avalanches along the crazy-difficult ski runs not far from his home.

He’s made his way, wholly independent of his East Coast family or ties to any particular place, lo these forty years. What’s more, he’s thriving! He loves the adrenaline-charged life of the barely tethered, adventure junkie.

Not me. I got the “book gene”. I write. I read. I pontificate. I piddle in my garden and mess with my honey bees. I like to talk to my chickens, and when I’m really feeling adventurous, I carry an old worn copy of Thomas Harriot’s escapades in Virginia and take a long walk through the grove on my property. I have traveled extensively (not as extensively as my brother.) From my perspective the best part of any trip I ever took was when the plane’s wheel touched down on home soil.

Thomas Harriot, (explorer, writer, astronomer, genius, friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, etc.), and my brother were kindred spirits. They would have reveled in one another’s company. I would love to be the third-wheel at their introduction, just listening to them recount every detail of their adventures in the world. Two fearless minds discussing the as-yet undiscovered opportunities awaiting us in the cosmos. Good Lord what a conversation that would be to record for posterity!

Lewis Evan Jones and Richard Evan Jones were just like my brother. Adventurers. They knew no fear. They were not sentimental. This is a recurring gene in our Jones family history. It’s not as common (I think the bio-science-PhD-types call it “recessive”), and not as well documented as the “book gene”; but it’s no less real.

Without this gene extant in our family line, I would not be here today, writing these lines. Thomas Norcliffe Jones got the “Wanderlust Gene” gene – though perhaps in somewhat of a lesser full-on expression than my brother, Richard, or Evan. He got it none the less. As a result I am here to pass along this small observation about my family, its genetic eccentrics, and how we all came to be precisely who, what, and where we are – and may yet be.

I hope the current and future generations are paying attention. Their genes are making some pretty important decisions for them (which is just as it should be. Don’t fight it!)

I’m not done yet with this whole line of Genetic Predestination, Genetic Memory, Genetic Conundrum thing… There’s more to come and this one stinks!

Musings on the Jones Family Genetics

Cader Idris Snowdonia

Cader Idris, rising over Snowdonia.

Over the course of the last two months, while I have spent every single day, 16 to 18 hours of it, up to my ears in this project, I’ve made some silly discoveries that I think are worth sharing. But first I have to give you a bit of background concerning my rather strange spiritual, chemical, and biological “philosophications”. (Yes. That is a new word. I just invented it. Somebody notify Webster’s, Please!)

Here’s the thing. It is my most ardent, indisputable belief that genetics determine far more about us than the color of our eyes, our hair, our height, build, etc. So what? You say. That’s nothing new.  The bio-smart-type-PhD-people are making that fact more and more obvious every day.

Not the way I see it.

I believe that our genetics include far more than a digital on-off switch for predisposition to disease, right or left-handedness, or an ability to dunk a basketball. I’m going way farther than that. I think our genes include (encode) actual memories, and emotions.

Let me tell you why I believe this. (It’ll take me a minute. Be patient I’m a story-teller. Don’t rush me.)

The first time I ever traveled abroad was 1997. I had to go to Sweden  for several weeks for something related to my job.  My flight was an American Airlines jet out of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. The route used to be called “The Nokia Breakfast Club”, because it left at some silly hour like 7:45 in the evening, and flew all night into an early morning arrival at Gatwick before we changed planes for the “All-Seats-Smoking-All-the-Time”, SAS Airlines leg into Stockholm (arrival about 10:00 a.m.)

Most of the flights’ occupants were employees of Nokia Telecom; the company then having headquarters in Raleigh and in Stockholm. They drank copious quantities of alcohol all night long, then woke up rearing to go to work, probably still a bit drunk, with just a few hours’ sleep. (You have to know a few Swedes to fully appreciate this. They are amazing drinkers. And they get up way too early, and are happy about it. But I digress.)

So I’d never been anywhere except California, Mexico and Hawaii before that trip. (All of them excellent vacations, by the way.) I was a little apprehensive and excited to finally get a chance to head off to an exotic, European destination like Stockholm, Sweden. In prep for the trip I boned up on my tourist Swedish, planned a few hoped-for side trips (assuming the work schedule permitted them – it didn’t) and boarded my plane with too much baggage in-tow (newbie mistake.)

We encountered some weather late in the flight and the pilot had to change our course a bit. Not long after sunrise, he came on the intercom and announced that we were about to fly over the west coast of Wales – across Snowdonia (a place I had never heard of before) – and if I looked to my right I would be able to see Cader Idris rising up, still capped with snow even though it was already April.

I lifted the shade on my tiny porthole window (I had been trying to sleep, despite the snoring Swede next to me), and I leaned forward to see what I could see. At first all I saw was blue water beneath us. Then a coastline and a small city near the shore… we were flying lower that I thought we should have been… and then a river a valley below and lovely rolling hills, and green, green pastures, and Oh-My-God!look at those mountains… I can see little thatched-roof houses down there… and churches with graveyards… and garden patches… oh, look at the sheep… there’s a black one!…look at that mound… that’s an ancient burial site… and there… there… that house. That little town there… the streets look so familiar the way they are laid out…. the chapel there, with the little wall around it…

And suddenly my stomach was in my throat and my chest was heaving and my eyes were full of tears – and I didn’t want my eyes to be full of tears because I wanted to see what was below because I missed it so much and it was home and then… it was gone.. behind us. I could breath again… as the mountains flattened out and the hills receded… and we were over England. My breathing returned to normal. The tears withdrew from my eyes. My pulse slowed and I recovered myself… and I shook my head and I laughed and I said to myself, “What in the hell was that?”

That was ten years before I had even an inkling of a clue about my Welsh ancestors and their absolutely passionate attachment to their homeland. More specifically their native attachment to the Mawddach Valley that I had just flown over, and the tiny hamlet of Dolgellau with it’s little houses and odd streets, and its little chapel and it’s little wall all around. My ancestral home. Going back at least a thousand years.

That was genetic memory. When I saw that landscape, that snow-capped peak, those tiny little villages down in the winding Mawddach Valley; some gene inside me suddenly clicked on and I knew I was home. If only – unfortunately – 15,000 feet above it and passing over within minutes. Something in my body recognized it – reacted to it viscerally– with a pulsing energy and power that still moves me to tears to this very day.

Scientists and psychologists can tell me any stories they want to tell me (they used to treat menstrual cramps with electro-shock therapy, you’ll recall) – but I know this was ancestral memory. A memory encoded into my DNA as clearly and as unmistakable as my height, my build, the cut of my jawline; and my inexplicable predilection for books.

But there is more. There is more than one weird gene in this family of ours. I’ll let you in on all of them if you care to follow along.

Next stop; the “Wanderlust Gene“.

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