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Full text of "A biographical sketch of the late Dr. William Jones, read before the Association of the oldest inhabitants of the District of Columbia"

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DECEIIMIBEK. 4, 1867. 





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XJECJEiyEBEI?, 4, 1SG7. 




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Dr. William Jones, the subject of this brief Bio- 
graphical Sketch, was born April 12th, 1790, near 
Rockville, the county town of Montgomery county, 
in the State of Maryland. His father, the late Evan 
Jones, was a substantial farmer, and much respected 
and esteemed by his neighbors and fellow-citizens gen- 
erally. He had intended his son William for the same 
pursuit which he followed ; but an accidental circum- 
stance diverted his attention, and resulted in making a 
professional man of him. The late Rev. John Breck- 
enridge, a Presbyterian clergyman, kept a classical 
school on his farm, near Washington city, now known 
as "Harewood," the property of Mr. W. W. Corcoran, 
and he was in the habit of performing divine service 
at several points in the surrounding country within 
convenient distance of his residence. A small Pres- 
byterian meeting-house, in the vicinity of the Great 
Falls of the Potomac, generally known as "Cabin John 
Chapel," was occasionally favored with his ministerial 
offices, and after having preached at this chapel on a 
Sabbath, and in returning home early the next morn- 
ing, he overtook young Jones, who was on his way to 
the mill. 

He entered into conversation with him, and being 
most favorably impressed by the sprightly intellect and 
great intelligence of the youth, he ascertained from him 
the name and residence of his father, and promised, 
when next in the neighborhood, to call and see him. It 
was not long before he had an opportunit}^ of redeem- 

ing his promise. In his interview with the father, he 
urged him to abandon the intention of making his son 
a farmer, as he was physically disqualified for the hard 
labor of agricultural life, and prevailed upon him to 
give the boy a liberal education, with the view of 
devoting him to one of the learned professions. It was 
agreed between them that William should become a 
pupil of Mr. Breckenridge, and as soon as it was pos- 
sible to get him ready for leaving home, he was sent 
to the academy of the reverend gentleman. The pupils 
of this school were the sons of residents in Washing- 
ton and Georgetown and the adjoining country, and 
many of them have been among our most respected 
and valuable citizens. Young Jones grew in favor with 
his preceptor by his respectful conduct, his application 
to his studies, and his rapid advancement. His school- 
mates entertained for him the warmest friendship, re- 
sulting from his genial disposition and gentlemanly 
bearing towards them. The rivalry of scholarship 
engendered no unkind feelings between them, and all 
rejoiced at the progress and success of their young 
friend. After having been at this school for about 
two years, Mr. Breckenridge was elected Principal of 
the llockville Academy, which had just been erected, 
and having accepted the position, young Jones was 
transferred to that institution, that he might continue 
under the instruction of the reverend gentleman, who 
had manifested such a deep interest in his welfare. 
The Rockville Academy soon acquired a high reputa- 
tion under the direction of Mr. Breckenridge, and 
many of the prominent men of that section of the State 
were either prepared for college or wholly educated at 
it. One of the only three survivors, who attended 
the academy at the same time with Dr. Jones, in a let- 
ter recently addressed to the author of this memoir, 

gives the following account of his connection with the 
school : *' I was entered as a pupil about the year 1808 
or 1809, on the day the building was first opened in 
which the academy was then and is still kept, and I 
think that Jones, who was several years my senior, 
was entered about the same time, and we continued in 
the academy about two years, or perhaps a little more, 
chiefly engaged in learning the Latin and Greek lan- 
guages. The school averaged about fifty or sixty in 
number, and among them many nearly full-grown 
youths. Our teacher was very successful in impress- 
ing us with the importance of learning, and in pointing 
out the beauties of the authors we were studying, and 
in general we were diligent students, and correct in 
manners and deportment. There was an annual exam- 
ination of the pupils of the academy just before the 
commencement of the August vacations, which was fol- 
lowed by an exhibition, at which we delivered speeches 
and took part in dialogues, or in acting short plays, 
which was a gay season, and attracted large crowds, 
and among them the beauty and fashion of the sur- 
rounding country. The subject of your inquiry (Dr. 
Jones) always acquitted himself with the best, whether 
in school or at these annual trials. His manners were 
agreeable and courteous, for which we, who have also 
known him in later life, have alwa^^s found him to be 

Mr. Breckenridge, whilst Principal of the Rockville 
Academy, continued to discharge his duties as a mis- 
sionary, appointed by the Presbytery of Baltimore, and 
kept together a little flock he had collected in AYash- 
ington; and, in 1810, he resigned his position in the 
academy and resumed his residence on his farm con- 
tiguous to the city, and commenced the erection of the 
building formerly known as the "Little White Chapel 

Under tlie Hill," but now as " Bethel Meeting-Honse," 
a celebrated place of worship for colored people. The 
chapel was finished and consecrated in 1812, and Mr. 
Breckenridge was duly installed as its pastor, and con- 
tinued in the discharge of its duties in an acceptable 
manner -until September, 1817, when, being admon- 
ished by advancing years and feeble health that he 
should rest from his labors, he tendered his resignation 
of the charge, which however was not accepted until 
the follovfing May. From the "Little White Chapel 
Under the Hill " sprang the magnificent edifice of the 
First Presbyterian Church, on Four-and-a-Half street, 
and its large and respectable congregation, of which 
Dr. Byron Sunderland is the pastor. 

When Mr. Breckenridge retired from the Bockville 
Academy, young Jones entered, as a student of medi- 
cine, the office of Dr. Wm. Tyler, of Fredericktown, 
Maryland, who was one of the most skillful and emi- 
nent physicians of the State. By his close application 
to his studies, his ready apprehension and rapid pro- 
gress, and his deferential and gentlemanly demeanor, 
he soon became as great a favorite with Dr. Tyler as 
he had been with Mr. Breckenridge. The doctor, in 
after years, always regarded him with pride as his 
pupil, and the warm friendship existing between them 
never suffered an}' abatement. Dr. Jones attended a 
course of lectures in the University of Pennsylvania, 
and had the advantage of the instruction of the great 
lights of the profession — Rush, Physic, Wistar, and 
their distinguished colleagues ; and there he manifested 
his usual indefatigable assiduity and thirst for know- 
ledge. On returning home, during the recess, and 
finding that there was a great demand for surgeons in 
the army, owing to the then existing war with Great 
Britain, he appeared before the " Medical and Chirur- 

gical Faculty of Maryland '' for examination, acquitted 
himself in the most satisfactory manner, and received 
the degree of "licentiate of medicine.'' Thereupon 
he applied for an assistant surgeon's appointment in 
the army, which was readily granted on the strong 
recommendations of character and competency that 
accompanied his application, and he was assigned to 
duty with the army in and about Washington. The 
alacrity with which he discharged his duties, the deep 
interest he manifested for his patients, and his skillful 
and successful treatment of diseases, soon directed at- 
tention to him as a most promising physician, and the 
utmost confidence was reposed in him by the officers 
and men of the division to which he was attached. 
After the capture and evacuation of Washington by 
the enemy, the row of brick houses on P street 
south, immediately fronting the Arsenal grounds, and 
others in the vicinity, were taken possession of by the 
Government and used as hospitals for the accommoda- 
tion of sick and wounded soldiers. Dr. James H. Blake, 
a prominent physician, and mayor of the city, was ap- 
pointed by President Madison as visiting medical 
intendent of these hospitals, and some dozen or more 
assistant surgeons of the army were ordered to them 
on duty. Among them was Dr. Jones ; and it was 
there that he m.ade the acquaintance of Dr. Blake, who, 
on close observation of his personal deportment and 
professional skill, formed an exalted opinion of his 
worth as a gentleman and phj^sician. When the army 
was reduced, in 1815, Dr. Jones was among the num- 
ber retained in the service on the recommendation of 
the board of officers established to determine the merits 
and claims of officers, with the view of securing to the 
service those most likely to preserve and promote its 
efficiency. On receiving intimation that he would soon 


be ordered to a distant post, and being about to visit 
his home, he called to take leave of Dr. Blake, to whom 
he had become very much attached. In the course of 
the conversation that ensued between them, the doctor 
inquired of him if he contemplated passing his life in 
the service, to which he responded that he entertained 
no such intention, but, on the contrary, designed to 
avail himself of the first favorable opportunity to en- 
gage in private practice. Dr. Blake then remarked to 
him, "You are aware that I have a very large prac- 
tice, and, as I begin to feel the infirmities of age, I am 
satisfied it is too burdensome for me, and that 1 ought 
to have an assistant ; therefore, if you are disposed at 
this time to relinquish your position in the army and 
enter into private practice, I will form a partnership 
and divide my business with you. But, before receiv- 
ing your assent, I should like you to consult your 
friends upon the subject." Dr. Jones had no expecta- 
tion of such an offer, and was much gratified with the 
compliment it conveyed, but said he would act upon 
the doctor's suggestion, and confer with his friends be- 
fore giving a decided answer. After a short visit to 
his home in the country, he returned to Washington, 
resigned his commission in the army, and in a few 
days the firm of Blake and Jones was announced to 
the public. Dr. Jones was well received by the citi- 
zens of Washington in his professional and social rela- 
tions, and soon ranked among the foremost of the 
faculty, and was esteemed in society among the most 
respectable of its citizens. His partner died in the 
summer of 1819, and he succeeded to and retained the 
large practice of the firm. 

He was married December 21st, 1821, to Sarah L. 
Corcoran, a daughter of the late Thomas Corcoran, 
Sr., of Georgetown, a highly respectable and popular 

gentleman, who had been the mayor of the town. 
Mrs. Jones was an amiable and charming lady, and 
sought to accomplish her own happiness by promoting 
that of her husband. She departed this life Septem- 
ber 24th, 1843, after a long illness, during which he 
was most constant and devoted in his attentions to her. 

Possessing popular manners, Dr. Jones was selected, 
much against his will, as a candidate for the city coun- 
cils, and was elected without difficulty. Finding that 
the faithful discharge of its duties would interfere with 
his professional pursuits, he declined a re-election, and 
no persuasion could induce him to relinquish his deter- 
mination not to allow his name to be again used as a can- 
didate for that or any other office under the corporation. 
He confined himself exclusively to his profession, and 
from over-work and exposure to inclement w^eather, 
night and day, he had several severe spells of sickness, 
which were near terminating his mortal existence be- 
fore he had attained the meridian of manhood. 

On the 10th of March, 1824, a rumor was rife through 
the city that a miraculous cure had been wrought on 
Mrs. Ann Mattingly, through the intercession of Prince 
Hohenlohe, a Catholic priest, at Bamberg, in Germany. 
She had been confined to her room for six 3'ears, with 
a painful tumor in her left breast, the precise nature of 
which could not be determined by her attending, or 
the several consulting physicians, who had at different 
periods during her illness been called in to consider her 
case. Her general health was wretched, and her suf- 
ferings intense, and she had become exceedingly ema- 
ciated, so much so, that she was perfectly helpless, and 
her death was looked for almost daily. Up to the 
moment of her wonderful relief from her sufferings, 
it was stated, she thought herself dying, when in an 
instant all her pains left her, and she arose from her 


bed, dressed herself, and appeared in good health, the 
tumor and all other evidences of her recent illness 
having disappeared, with the exception of her emacia- 
tion. She was a sister of the late Capt. Thomas Car- 
berry, who w^as at that time mayor of the city; and he 
and other members of her family, and a number of 
intimate friends, among the most respectable residents 
in Washington, testified to the truth of these state- 
ments. Dr. Jones was the family physician, and had 
attended her throughout her sickness. He had advised 
the family, that in his judgment and that of the con- 
sulting ph3^sicians, the disease was incurable, and that 
all that could be done was to administer palliatives to 
diminish her pain and afford her slight temporary relief. 
A request was made of him for a statement of her case, 
with which he cheerfully complied, although no believer 
in modern miracles. He had not seen her for five days 
before the occurrence of her miraculous recovery, when 
Capt. Carberr}' stopped at liis house and assured him 
that his patient was wqII. He closed his statement as 
follows : "I called, and to my great surprise and grati- 
fication, she met me at her chamber door, in apparent 
health.'' Hundreds of persons of all religious per- 
suasions visited Mrs. Mattingly, and all came away 
amazed, and utterly unable to account for her wonder- 
ful cure, except upon the hypothesis of the members 
of her own faith, that it was a miracle accomplished 
through the prayers and intercession of Prince Hohen- 
lohe, which those of a different faith were unwilling to 
concede. A full and minute account of this reputed 
miracle is to be found in the third volume of the works 
of the distinguished first bishop of Charleston, the 
Right Reverend John England. 

In the winter of 1823 and 1824, Wm. H. Crawford, 
then Secretary of the Treasury, was nominated by the 


congressional caucus as the democratic candidate for 
tlie presidency, and during the canvass he was taken 
dangerously ill, and Dr. Jones was called in as one of 
his phj^sicians. Great interest was excited throughout 
the country in his case, and the most eminent men of 
the profession in Philadelphia and Baltimore were 
summoned to his bed-side in consultation. Dr. Jones, 
though but comparatively a young man, appeared to 
no disadvantage among that array of distinguished 
medical talent and skill, and impressed all who partici- 
pated in the consultations most favorably of his ability 
and knowledge as a physician. His attendance upon 
Mr. Crawford brought him into the societ}^ of the lead- 
ing statesmen of that day, and lie then acquired a taste 
for national politics. John Quincy Adams having been 
elected President by the House of Representatives, the 
Jackson party was immediately organized in opposi- 
tion to his administration, and the contest was excit- 
ing and bitter. Dr. Jones espoused the cause of the 
hero of N'ew Orleans, and was a member of the noted 
Jackson central committee, of which Gen. John P. 
Van Kess was president, and Capt. Henry C. IN'eale, 
secretary. The committee was composed of gentle- 
men among the most prominent citizens of Washington 
and Georgetown, and the addresses sent forth from it 
told with killing effect throughout the countrj^ upon 
the opposite party. Gen. Jackson was triumphantly 
elected, and on the 20th of April, 1829, he appointed 
Dr. Jones the postmaster of Washington, which situa- 
tion he held until the 23d of March, 1839, being a 
period of nine years and nearly eleven months. He 
was again appointed to the same ofiice Julj- 10, 1841, 
and held it until March 31, 1845, a period of three 
years and eight months. On March 30, 1858, the 
same office was for the third time conferred upon him, 


and he occupied it until May' 10, 1861, a period of 
three years and one month. The whole period of his 
incumbency of the office was sixteen years and eight 
months, and in all that time he discharged the duties 
with an ability and fideUty unsurpassed, and gave sat- 
isfaction to the Government and community. In the 
distribution of the mails, and forwarding newspapers 
and public documents, he showed no favor; friends 
and opponents were treated alike, and all had confi- 
dence in the fairness with which the office was con- 

President Jackson held Dr. Jones in high estima- 
tion, and reposed in him the utmost confidence. Pres- 
ident Tyler entertained the same opinion of him, and 
towards the close of his administration remarked to a 
number of gentlemen that Dr. Jones and Col. Thomas 
H. Blake, then the Commissioner of the General Land 
Office, were his only friends who liad the candor and 
manliness to tell him that in their judgments he had not 
the least chance of a re-nomination for the Presidency. 
President Buchanan and Dr. Jones had been long 
friends, and from no promptings but his own kind feel- 
ings for him and his personal knowledge of his peculiar 
fitness for the office, he conferred the postmaster's ap- 
pointment upon him. 

During the long period Dr. Jones was in public life, 
he made the acquaintance of most of the prominent 
statesmen of his day, and was on terms of intimacy 
with a great number of them. They had confidence 
in his judgment and foresight, and admired him for his 
frankness and sincerity. He never flattered any one, 
but spoke his mind freely; and if in doing so he in- 
flicted a wound, however much he might regret it, he 
had the approbation of his own conscience for not sac- 
rificing truth to policy. 


Whilst Dr. Jones was in public service, although he 
earnestly desired to relinquish entirely the practice of 
his profession, there were very many of his old patients 
who were unwilling to give him up, and whenever 
they needed the services of a physician would send for 
him and insist upon his attending them. Owing to 
the great confidence in his skill and the consequent 
frequent demands for his services, he retained a close 
identity with the practicing members of the faculty, 
and took great interest in whatever tended to the pro- 
motion of medical science and the elevation of the 
profession. He was, until within a very late period, 
the president of the Medical Society of the District of 
Columbia, and also of the Medical Association of the 
District of Columbia, and his retirement from both sit- 
uations was voluntary, occasioned by a sense of his 
inability to attend the meetings with his accustomed 
punctuality, owing to advancing years. He practiced 
medicine upwards of fifty years, was one of the orig- 
inal members of the Medical Society of the District of 
Columbia, chartered in 1S19, and was the last survivor 
of the number who suggested and organized that re- 
spectable and venerable institution. His never-flagging 
attention to his patients, and deep solicitude for them, 
connected with a ready and accurate diagnosis of dis- 
ease and skillful treatment, caused his practice to be 
attended with marked success. 

Dr. Jones was a member of the Washington Monu- 
ment Society, and was exceedingly solicitous for the 
completion of that great work, which will commemo- 
rate the gratitude of the nation, as well as the virtues 
of the world-wide renowned patriot in whose memory 
it is to be erected. He was scrupulously punctual in at- 
tendance upon the meetings, and took an active part in 
their proceedings. That society has publicly expressed 


in appropriate and feeling terms the sense of the loss it 
has sustained in his death. He was also a member of 
the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District 
of Columbia, and one of its respected and most cher- 
ished vice presidents. His regular attendance at its 
meetings was a subject of remark, considering his en- 
feebled condition, and he manifested the liveliest inter- 
est in all of its proceedings. It was a source of great 
pleasure to him to mingle with the members of the 
association, with most of whom he had been intimate- 
ly acquainted for years, and with some for more than a 
half century. He had a cordial grasp of the hand and 
a cheerful smile for all of them, and his conversation 
was of the most lively and interesting character. His 
memory of the early residents and incidents of the Dis- 
trict was surprising, and he would describe persons 
and transactions of years long past with the greatest 
accuracy and minuteness of detail. The eulogistic 
preamble and resolutions adopted by the society on 
the occasion of his death was a just tribute to his 
memory, and a fitting expression of the deep sense of 
the loss it had sustained. 

No one had more devoted friends than Dr. Jones. 
He was exceedingly affable, and' his pleasing manners 
and genial disposition made him a very attractive ac- 
quaintancCc His demeanor showed him to have been 
well bred, and, having had the advantages of the best 
society, he was an elegant and refined gentleman. A 
high-toned honor regulated his intercourse w^ith his 
fellow-men, and sterling integrity marked all his trans- 
actions. Dauntless courage and rigid adherence to 
truth were distinguishing features of his character. 
He was strictly moral, and a firm believer in the Chris- 
tian faith, the precepts of which he carried into prac- 
tice in the daily walks of life. Humane, benevolent, 


and charitable feelings filled his heart and excited in 
him the deepest sympathy for the afflicted, the poor, 
and oppressed. He never made a charge for profess- 
ional services if he had reason to believe that it 
would subject his patient to inconvenience to pay for 
them, and only in one case did he ever resort to the 
courts for the collection of his dues, and that was under 
circumstances that left him no alternative. He was 
devoted to his adopted city, jealous of its good name, 
and whatever promised to promote its welfare kindled 
in him the most intense interest, and he was always 
ready to lend a helping hand to the accomplishment of 
the object. He saw with pride its recent rapid growth, 
and predicted for it a successful and prosperous future. 
His native State, and especially his native county, 
(Montgomery,) were very dear to him, and he mani- 
fested the greatest concern in whatever tended to their 
benefit, or in any other manner aftected their interests. 
Patriotism was a sentiment with him, and he sided 
with his country in every conflict, domestic or foreign, 
whether right or wrong. He regarded the Constitu- 
tion as the perfection of human wisdom, and the 
Union formed by it as a tower of strength. Subordi- 
nation of the military to the civil authorities was a 
cardinal principle with him, and nothing but to save 
the life of the nation would justify a recourse to mar- 
tial law ; and to continue the exercise of it after the 
emergency had ceased, was. in his judgment, treason- 
ably criminal. 

Dr. Jones was confined to his room only two or 
three days before his demise. He saw his end ap- 
proaching, and met it with perfect composure. Self- 
possessed to the last moment, he designated his 
pall-bearers and gave all necessary directions for his 
funeral. Two friends had called in to see him, and he 

16 ' / , 

sat up in bed and conversed with them. When about 
to recline, he made, without assistance, a comfortable 
adjustment of his pillow, and, laying his head upon 
it, breathed his last in a few moments without a 

t " Without a sigh, 

A change of feature, or a shaded smile, 
He gave his hand to the stern messenger, 
And, as a glad child seeks its father's house. 
Went home. 

It was not meet 
Tliat he should longer tarry from that bliss 
^ Which God reserveth for the pure in heart." 

His exit from life was so sudden and serene, that 
those present could scarcely realize that his spirit had 
taken its flight to that better land. 

Such were the last moments of a truly good man, 
with a conscience void of offence, leaving an hon- 
ored name that will long be remembered. This event 
occurred on the 25th of June, 1867. His funeral v/ as 
largely attended by the members of the several socie- 
ties to which he belonged, and by his fellow-citizens 
generally. A notable feature in the funeral cortege 
was the long train of buggies and other vehicles of 
physicians. Plis remains were taken to Oak-Hill Cem- 
etery, in Georgetown, for burial, and they now repose 
by the side of his beloved wife. 

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