Tag Archives: Richmond

Cart Before The Horse, and Other Random Tales of Woe.

Thoughts from the other side of the wall….

The Delight of Research Never Ends!

From The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect project… never-ending research is bliss to me.

Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect – Book Promo Site

BookCover3DWell, I have been quiet for many months…  revising drafts, making changes, editing, editing, getting distracted, traveling, research, reading, more revisions…. and the book promo web site “The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect“.

Hope you’ll follow the link, have a close look, and let me know what you think. Load up the comments either here or there. Share the link. Tell a friend. And please, if you see anything at all that needs to be corrected – LET ME KNOW. As important is general feedback. This is still in beta and it’s better to correct errors now before I start to really promote it.

I seriously hope you will leave me a comment – either good or bad. I REALLY want to know what you think.

Just Finished Drafting the Final Chapter of the Book!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

As some of you may have noticed, I have been very quiet. That’s because I have been very busy.

Tonight I finished the last sentence of the last chapter of “The Book”; the Biography and Civil war Diary of my g-g-g-grandfather, William Ellis Jones, II. The book is going to be called “The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect”, which is an homage to a line in William’s Civil War Diary, and (I think at least) a perfect metaphor for the mythology of the Lost Cause.

There is much more work to do. I have to complete the footnotes, finish two Appendices, write an Acknowledgements page, and go through the thing with a fine tooth comb for style, grammar, etc. – but it’s damn close.

Monday morning I begin searching in earnest for publishers.

I am so happy, and so proud of this accomplishment (I started working on this project in 2006), that I could just dance a jig and then spit!

Civil War Christmas, 1862

From the diary of William Ellis Jones, II, of Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, Hill’s “Light Division”, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Thursday, December 25, 1862
Christmas Morn broke very threatening, but cleared off beautifully and warm. The boys started at seven o’clock to go on picket, after which the camp was dull and lonesome. During the morning we were called up and paid off until the 31st of October; $119.10, for clothes and wages. After dark the boys of ours and other batteries enjoyed themselves by having a battle with lighted port-fires, which presented a handsome pyrotechnic display.

Friday, December 26, 1862
Christmas has come and gone, and I sincerely hope I will never spend another in the army.

William, my great-great-great-grandfather, would endure two more Christmases in the Confederate Army. He was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864, but miraculously survived the War, despite seeing hot action in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Gaines Mill, in May/June of 1862, Second Battle of Mananas in August of 1862, the Battle of Sharpsburg, September, 1862, the Battle of the “Crater”, in Petersburg, July, 1864, Vicksburg, Second Battle of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and finally was present at the Fall of Richmond, in April, 1865.

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.

Taking It to the Next Level – Crowd-funding my Book

However, I will settle for your money.

However, I will settle for your money.

Over the last year (more), I’ve studied my Civil War and related history books and performed countless hours of online research. All this has led me to some truly amazing places; discoveries about my family’s past that I could not have imagined in ten lifetimes of imaginings. It’s been great – to say the very least.

That said, there are just some things that can’t be found through Google. I need to “go to the source” in order to get at some details that professional historians haven’t yet ferreted out or seen fit to publish. I’ll provide a few examples of what I mean:

The original manuscript of William Ellis Jones’s Civil War Diary is in Ann Arbor Michigan. I need to sit down with the original, compare it against the transcription my grandfather copied into The Baby Book, and note any errors or corrections into my own transcription for my book. In addition, I’d like to photograph the document if the library will allow that.
– Cost of that trip is going to be around $1800.00

I need to spend at least a few days at The Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia, going through their archives and learning what I can about William Ellis Jones, his business, his associations, etc.
– That trip is going to cost around $500.00

I need to spend at least two days in Richmond researching property records and wills, to determine why William Ellis Jones, III was left essentially penniless, even though his grandfather was a successful man who owned a good deal of property. (I want to prove or disprove that his uncles stole his inheritance.)
– That trip is going to cost around $500.00

I need to take several weeks (broken up over the course of several months), visiting the Civil War Battlefields that are relevant to William Ellis Jones’s 1862 march. In addition, I need to see Gettysburg, which I believe is the last battle William fought in, before Spotsylvania. And of course, I need to visit Spotsylvania, where William was wounded in 1864, effectively ending his career as a Confederate soldier.
– These trips will cost around $300.00 each (some more, some less, totaling around $3000.00)

What I would LOVE to do (although I doubt I will get the opportunity) is go to Caernarvon, Wales and do some research on Thomas Norcliffe Jones, the father of William Ellis Jones, in order to add some flavor to the section of the book that deals with William’s upbringing, his father’s devoted Welsh Wesleyan roots, and the Welsh Jones clan dynasty of authors, poets, and book publishers.
– By my best estimate, that’s a $8000.00 trip abroad.

Last but not least, I need to join the North Carolina Writer’s Network so I can get the final draft of this thing in front of some critical readers, as well as possibly luck into an interested publisher at one of the workshops or conferences (not to mention benefit immensely from the company and insight gained from co-mingling with other writers.)
– Joining fee is $75.00
– Annual Conference is $350.00 – $500.00 (depending upon where it is.)
– Workshops $75.00
– Travel for all of the above events will set me back $400.00 – $500.00

That’s quite a Christmas list. Since I stopped believing in Santa a long time ago, and since $8.00 per hour, 12 hours a week, isn’t going to get me there either – I’m taking this thing to the streets.

I am going to put together a proposal for GoFundMe.com, and start soliciting money for this project – just the same way my ancestors solicited subscribers prior to publishing a book of poetry or sermons or political rantings about ironmongers in South Wales. If people can raise thousands of dollars for pee-wee football teams or cheer leading or bone marrow transplants or breast implants, I can raise at least a few bucks to get this book printed.

I’ll let my fair readers know once I get my prop up on GoFundMe.com.

I’m building a Facebook profile and Page for this project too. (Don’t start… I know…)

I look forward to your support.

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!

Another Reader Challenge – Wanted: Reunion Photos of Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Artillery, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia

William Ellis Jones at his home on "Shrubbery Hill", in Richmond, Virginial"

This is the only photo I know of, of William Ellis Jones, II, outside his home in Richmond, Virginia, a townhouse he dubbed “Shrubbery Hill”. Do you have another, better image. Please share?

I have exactly one photograph of my great-great-grandfather, William Ellis Jones, II, and that photograph is not good. I am seeking any existing photos of the many civil war veteran’s reunion images captured between 1880 and 1910, featuring members of Ellet’s Company, Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, A.P. Hill’s Regiment, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (gosh that’s a mouthful of southern Confederate pomp and organization!)

At the moment I am about to take up Draft #2 of the “Book”, and after many months of letting the thing lie quietly, I realize I still have many gaps to fill in the story of William Ellis Jones, II, my great-great grandfather. Among the many lacking “things” is a reasonably accurate physical description – an image – of the man who exists in history and now exists in my head, but who is lacking a countenance equal to his spirit. I would really love to find a good photograph of William Ellis Jones, II, of Richmond, who served the whole of the War in Ellet’s Company, Pegram’s Battery.

William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951) Poet & Playwright

William Ellis Jones and his young son Thomas Ellis Jones

William Ellis Jones and his young son Thomas Ellis Jones

William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951)
William was born at “Summerfield” on August 7, 1899. We’ve already learned a great deal about his parents (F. Ellis Jones and Addie Gray Bowles) and his grandparents’, their lives and their deaths; therefore I’ll begin his story as best I can, opening with the few details of his life that I know of as fact.

William enlisted in the US Army on October 3, 1918 – precisely eleven days before his mother died from the Spanish flu. He was just nineteen years old. The Army records indicate that he was in good health, of fair complexion with blue eyes and light colored hair, and that he was five feet, five inches tall. He was honorably discharged from the Army on December 9, 1918, having served just two months. (World War I was just concluded and the Army didn’t require his services any longer.)

We know that his occupation was listed as a “student” on his enlistment record, but neither he or my father left a record that indicates where or when he attended college. That he did attend and graduate college is relative certainty, as he was earning his living as a school teacher by 1923. Though it’s not recorded by anyone as far as I can determine, my father told me that his father taught high school English, which makes sense.

I know that his grandfather’s business, William Ellis Jones & Sons, ceased to exist under that imprint in 1919, after almost fifty continuous years of publishing under “Jones” in one form or another.

On October 20, 1923, he married Dora Georgia Thomas of Chesterfield County, Virginia. She was just fifteen years old, and she was one of his high school students. The specific school she attended and where William taught her are not recorded, although family lore indicates that she attended, and he was teaching at one of the Chesterfield County schools when they met.

Their first child, Dora Ellis Jones, was born January 11, 1925 in Pulaski, Virginia. William was teaching in Pulaski at the time. Their second child, Thomas Ellis Jones, was born May 1, 1930 in Richmond, Virginia. Their third child, Georgia Ellis Jones, was born April 7, 1933 in Richmond, Virginia. At the time of the births of his last two children, it appears that William was trying his hand at making a living as a writer, but he may also have been teaching in Richmond to supplement his income.

William apparently began his first draft of the family history that eventually became The Baby Book in 1930, if not before. He did not conclude it until 1936 or possibly later. He wrote a good portion of the document from New York City, where he was working as a stockbroker up until late 1935 or 1936. In addition to his “day job”, William also worked consistently on writing plays; usually one or three act comedies that he had some success in getting published. From 1932 to 1948, he had at least twenty-eight plays published by at least ten different publishers.

At some point prior to 1935, William and Dora’s oldest child, Dora Ellis, became gravely ill. It’s not recorded exactly what her ailment was, but it was debilitating. The physicians who attended her advised her parents to remove her from the northern climate and pollution of New York City in order to improve her condition. William tried to organize his small family and his smaller finances in order to make a move to Florida, but for unknown reasons their plans to relocate south were delayed. Dora’s condition worsened as the weeks passed, and before William could get the family moved out of New York, his daughter died on June 3, 1935. She was just ten years old.

The death of his little daughter Dora Ellis was absolutely crushing.

It’s at this crucial moment in this little family’s history where facts, family lore, and supposition conflate into a sad and very confusing story.

Before we go forward, however, we need to go back.
William’s Grandfather was a successful man of excellent reputation who owned two very nice homes and a thriving business. The printing business continued to function – under his imprint – for eight years after his death. We know that F. Ellis involvement in the business ceased after his death in 1910, but his 1/3 interest in the business would have passed to his wife, Addie Gray, and then after her death, to her only son William. Addie Gray died in 1918 – precisely when we see “William Ellis Jones & Sons” cease to exist.

The way I see this scenario played out is that William Ellis Jones (1838 – 1910) left his printing business in shared partnership to all three of his sons. No one of them could force a buyout of the other unless all three “partners” agreed. When F. Ellis Jones died in 1910, his share passed to Addie Gray, and she – needing an income to support herself and her son – refused to be bought out. The properties in Richmond and at Dumbarton were probably willed in the same fashion; giving life rights of occupancy to any one heir or all three, but preventing the disposal of the property without the agreement of all three in unison.

The other two Jones brothers, Fairfax and Thomas, probably wanted to buy out their deceased brother’s portion, but they could not coerce his wife Addie Gray to move. She would have continued to draw an income from the business for eight years after her husband’s passing, and continued to have a life right to the house(s) as long as she lived. Upon her death this same right would have passed to young William.

When Addie Gray died, Fairfax Courtney Jones and Thomas Grayson Jones made their move. William, their nephew, was just nineteen years old and had just enlisted in the Army – fearing he would be sent to Europe – and still reeling from the death of his mother, his grandmother, and Aunt “Deitz”. He had never worked in the printing company and had no sense of its value. Nor did he probably even understand the papers that were put in front of him by his uncles, or just how small the check they gave him was.

William goes from being a fairly well-to-do teenager who floats between two homes and has access to everything he needs – to a young man who is scraping by from job to job, borrowing money from his grandfather’s old friends (this he admitted in The Baby Book!) and within fifteen years of his Mother’s death is so destitute that he cannot pull together enough cash to save his daughter’s life.

I propose that William was swindled out of a substantial portion of his inheritance by his uncles (who, interestingly, he barely mentions in The Baby Book.)  I further propose that any money or investments he still had remaining by 1929 were completely wiped out in the Stock Market Crash. I believe that’s why he was in New York in 1935 – trying desperately to win back his lost money. If this is the case it was a desperate maneuver, as he had no natural talent or training in that arena. If that is what he was attempting – he failed miserably – in truly tragic ways.

William probably blamed himself for taking the family to New York where Dora contracted her illness, and for getting them into such financial straits that they could not leave when they needed to.

Mr. Hyde – or Dr. Jekyll?
This is where the story gets really confusing, and why police officers seldom believe eye-witness accounts of accidents and crimes. Two people standing side by side on the same street corner will recall the same event with vastly diverging details – and they both claim that their story is the absolute fact of what happened.

After Dora’s death, William had two living children remaining. The oldest, Thomas Ellis, was five years old when his sister died. His younger sister Georgia was barely two. Neither of them would have retained enough memories of the actual events surrounding her death to be able to offer any precise information on the matter, or to say with certainty what either of their parents’ emotional state was in the aftermath.

What’s more interesting though, is that Thomas Ellis Jones, his son and the older of the two, recalled almost nothing of the event – and was reluctant to even discuss the subject – only saying that it was something his father “never got over.” Georgia, on the other hand, did discuss the loss of her sister (a sister she never knew) with her children and grandchildren. And she went even further and explained the death of this girl as the reason that her own childhood was miserable.

Thomas, when asked about his father, would light up like a Christmas tree and start recounting vivid, happy memories. He had so many stories – each one more grandiose than the next – that I truly suspect the voracity of any of them. I do know that he worshipped his father and believed him to be a nearly genius writer. (Except for the single poem that is quoted in Chapter I of the book, Stumbling in the Shadow of Giants, I have seen little of his work that would qualify as genius, but I am a hard critic, and I have not seen much of his work beyond his plays.) Thomas spoke glowingly of William Ellis Jones. I think he truly believed his childhood was happy, and that he was adored by his father.

His one negative word in regard to his father had to do with alcohol. He said that his father drank too much, and that the disease ran in the family. This was given to me with gravity when I was well past thirty years old, when I offhandedly mentioned on a call that I was going “out to the bar” with friends later that evening. It was a figure of speech in the company I kept at the time, and probably did not mean the same thing to me as it implied to him. I heard the concern in his voice and I filed the information away for future reference.

Twenty-years later I tracked down the children of Georgia Ellis Jones. Georgia passed away in 2007, and so she could not be interviewed, but Georgia’s daughter, who had nursed both her mother and her grandmother (William Ellis Jones wife, Dora Thomas) through their last days, was more than willing to share. She did not know William Ellis Jones either. She heard of him only through the recounting of her mother and her grandmother. The picture she painted for me was one I had not been prepared for, given the glowing words Thomas always laid down when he talked about the man.

I will not go into absolute specifics, but in essentials the story is as counter to what Thomas reported as any could be. The only points the two positions agree on is that William Ellis Jones did drink too much. From Georgia’s perspective this over-indulgence manifested itself in blind drunken rages in which he beat his wife and his daughter within an inch of their lives. I was told that when these fights occurred, Thomas (her brother) would lock himself in the bathroom or in his bedroom – with a book. Or he’d simply leave the house if he could get away without getting involved. She said that afterward both he and his father acted as if nothing had ever happened, and it was never talked about.

One specific that I do think is worth mentioning; Georgia told her daughters that William blamed Georgia for Dora Ellis’s death, and when he would get depressed and drunk, he’d tell her that it was her fault and he wished that she had died and not Dora…

…All this begs the question – how much pain and loss can one person endure before he breaks?

William knew profound loss; the loss of every blood relation he had in a very short span of time, at a very formative period in his life. He lost both his father and his much beloved grandfather at ten years old, his adored Aunt “Deitz” at sixteen, his mother at seventeen, and finally his grandmother at nineteen. That is too much for one young person to endure. But then he lost his place in society, his financial security, and finally his little daughter. It was just too much.

He was a shattered man. He had no tether to anything substantial whatsoever. He was just running.

From the point of Dora’s death onward, the family story is one of constant movement. First, they relocate to Miami Florida; the plan to get to a warmer climate finally coming together some months after Dora had already passed. They stay in Florida until about 1939, then they return to Virginia. William taught school in Clarksville, Virginia; then back to Pulaski; then in Richmond; then in Wytheville. By 1951 the family was in Bristol, Virginia, and Thomas Ellis, his son, was in the Air Force hoping not to get sent overseas to Korea.

On July 29, 1951, William sat down in his favorite easy chair with a glass of Kentucky Bourbon, a book, and a piece of dark chocolate. He died with the drink in one hand, the book in the other, and the chocolate still melting on his tongue.
Or so my father said.

Whatever the case, I like this version of his passing. It seems as good a way to slip over to the other side as any way I can think of. William’s pain finally saw an end; and a peaceful end at that.

Unfortunately he still had two living children who carried the seeds of his pain with them….

To learn more about William Ellis Jones, his life and his descendants, see the forthcoming book Stumbling in the Shadow of Giants, by C.H. Jones.


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For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, must suffer. - Odes of Horace

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