The Story


George Morgan Jones

George Morgan Jones: From 11865 until his death, was a leading business man of Lynchburg, Virginia. He was president of the 2National Exchange Bank for twenty years, president of the first 3Cotton Manufacturing Company in that city, first president of the Lynchburg Board of Trade, principal partner in the firm Jones Watts and Company, and a leader in educational and philanthropic movements of that great city. George Morgan Jones had built a record of strict integrity, business ability, unaltered devotion to duty, and public spirit seldom equaled. A remarkable feature of his life story, is the unfailing courage with which he met lifeís difficulties.

George Morgan Jones was born on the 4th day of May, 1824, the son of 4Warton and 5Nancy (Wood) Jones, at 6"Pleasant View", his fatherís home on Jeremyís Run, in Page County, Virginia. Through every line of ancestry he was descended from pioneer landowners of English stock, who as substantial farmers and merchants did much for the development of the new colony and the creation of itís wealth.

Wheaton Jones 7died on 23rd day of October 1836, and left no will, and his estate had to be divided a few thousand dollars in land and slaves vested in each child. It was the realization of his ownership of this capital that turned the attention of his young son George, to the money-making possibilities of the mercantile world. 8With permission of his mother he went to their neighboring town of Luray, to accept employment as clerk in a general store owned by Mr. Gabriel Jordan. He was only fifteen years old when he left school and started out on his career as a merchant. From the beginning he showed that he had found his true vocation. Even though he was only a boy, he made his impressions upon his employer and his customers by his careful attention to business, and his courtesy and consideration for the rights of the buyer. George Jones spent six years with Mr. Jordan in Luray, developing his business talents in this excellent school. The close confinement and irregular hours finally proved to much, and at age twenty one he encountered his first serious obstacle, Ill Health, which compelled him to resign his position, and with his brother set out on a horse-back journey, thinking a summer spent in the open air would repair the damage done by years of close confinement. He spent six months traveling through the little developed middle west, reaching Missouri, and then retracing his way back home to Virginia. This wandering summer restored his health and added greatly to his knowledge of men and places, broadening his outlook and enlarging his experience. On his return home he formed a partnership with his cousin A. A. Jones, and again entered the mercantile life, opening a general store at 9Peaksville in Bedford County, Virginia. Later when George Morgan Jones had fully recovered, he established himself alone in the hardware business in Bedford City (then Liberty), a venture that was successful from the start as to bring quick recognition of his ability as a merchant. In 1855 a new possibility opened up for George Jones, when he and his cousin A. T. Jones entered the hardware business in Salisbury, North Carolina, and conducted his most successful business venture until the outbreak of the Civil War.

  He was opposed to succession, and had no military ambitions, but true to the traditions of his people, he was ready to quietly do his part in the struggle, at whatever cost. He closed his business in Salisbury and returned to Virginia to follow the fortunes of his native State

When Virginia succeeded, he enlisted as a private in the Second Virginia Cavalry and served in the commissary department through the four years to Appomattox with the same diligent adherence to duty, however harsh, that always characterized him. His commanding officer General T. T. Munford writes of him: "He was a modest unpretending soldier who did his whole duty and never thought it necessary to parade it. He stood his post and did his best and was a true Confederate soldier with a clean record, commanding respect by winning it."

After Leeís surrender in April 1865, until December of that year, he remained on his farm in Bedford County, gathering up the loose ends of his business and piecing together the fragments the war had left of his capital. In December he moved to Lynchburg and formed a partnership with 10B. R. Markham, and his two brothers-in-law, 11Richard T. and 12James W. Watts, under the firm name of Jones, Watts, & Company, and they immediately began business as wholesale and retail hardware merchants in Lynchburg. As the Lynchburg store became over-taxed, branches were established in Danville, Bedford City, Roanoke, and Salem all owned by the parent firm. The owners of this firm had all just emerged from the hard school of the Confederate army, where they had known need of the simplest comforts of life. They brought to their business the keen realization of the commercial truths, that dollars at work are the most profitable of servants. The foundation of George Morgan Jones fortune thus laid was built up steadily and rapidly as the city recovered from the ravages of war and developed into an important business center.

As his business methods brought reputation to the firm of Jones Watts & Company, their trade stretched out through the state. His prominence in the mercantile world created many demands upon him outside of his hardware business, and all that was conducive to the material welfare and prosperity of Lynchburg had his earnest support. The twenty years that he was president of the National Exchange Bank were the years of itís greatest growth. He was the first president of the Lynchburg Board of Trade, and was connected with all the general business activities of the town. He was largely interested in the development of the Virginia coal mining industry, and one of the contributing sources of strength of that and many other industries of the state.

Mr. Jones was essentially a domestic man, and in the home circle he manifested an indulgent tenderness and a generosity in spending that proved his family to be the main-spring of his business energies. He was married, September 14, 1848, to 13Mary Frances Watts, of Bedford County. The children of this marriage were: Nannie Isabelle Jones, born July 28, 1858, died July 25, 1859; Georgie Lee Jones, born October 8, 1864, died unmarried, January 5, 1884; Lily Frances Jones, born June 5, 1869, died unmarried, August 12, 1885.

His whole life and interest were bound up in these two daughters. It was for them he worked, that every opportunity might be given them. With the sudden death of his eldest daughter, Georgie, in 1884, his spirit began to break. She was the "understanding " one, temperamentally in close accord with him. Bereft of her, he poured affection upon the remaining daughter. Soon after her sisterís death, her health gave way, and her father subordinated everything to restore her strength, and save her life. One year and a half later, she too died, at Carlsbad, Germany, where as a last resort they had taken her.

This blow blotted out all joy left in life for him. He was literally bowed down by his sorrow, and the alert, erect well-dressed business man so familiar on the streets of Lynchburg was gone, and in his place an old man passed, stooped and tragic-eyed. The fruit of his hard years of business struggle for financial success was as chaff because it could never give happiness to those for whom he had toiled. His suffering was increased by his intense reserve and his sensitivity. His early entrance into business had stopped his schooling at fifteen years of age. He lacked the self-confidence and ease of social intercourse that comes from competition with youthful contemporaries in the formative years belonging to school and college training, and the power of expression that cultural education gives. All the finer spirit of him was imprisoned except as expressed in his unselfish devotion to his children.

He tried to move on in the old grooves, but the zest was gone. In June, 1887 less than two years after the death of his youngest daughter, the business of Jones, Watts, & Company was sold to associates, and the founder retired from active work.

He was a devoted Methodist and for nineteen years a pillar of strength to Court Street Methodist Episcopal Church, taking a active interest until health no longer permitted. His liberality is attested by stained glass windows of the most perfect art, pulpit furnishings of costly design, given in memory of his two daughters. He was a liberal supporter and is credited with being originator of the plan that brought to Lynchburg a branch of Randolph-Macon College system of higher education facilities for young women, donating generously to the cost of the buildings now constituting 14Randolph-Macon Womanís College and aiding in many ways to insure itís success.

After the death of his daughters, he conceived the project that for years lay closest to his heart, the founding of a public library in Lynchburg. The plans were drawn, a central location was partially decided , the design to be the finest and most complete in the south. This project was nearly ready to be commenced when death took away the head of the movement and it was abandoned. Later, however, a part of the money he donated was used for the intended purpose, and a fine building was erected, that being The George Morgan Jones Memorial Library. This library was erected and donated to the city, by his wife Mary Frances Watts Jones, with an endowment fund for its maintenance. The influence of George Morgan Jones life was always felt for good and the lesson it teaches will live forever. Mrs. Mary Frances Watts Jones survived her husband, and resides in Lynchburg, Virginia, at her beautiful home on 15Rivermont Avenue.

This document is presented by:

Thomas A. Markham

End Notes

1 This is the year that George Morgan Jones moved with his family to Lynchburg, Virginia.

2 His cousin and business partner James W. Watts, was also President of this bank after George.

3 This venture was brought about by his interest in the question of employment for idle woman-labor.

4 Wharton Jones was the son of George Jones & Margaret Morgan born March 31, 1786 (Shenandoah County, Virginia)

5 Nancy Wood was the daughter of Benjamin Wood & Sarah Follis born Oct. 15, 1799 (Shenandoah County, Virginia)

6 "Pleasant View" was the name of Wharton and Nancy (Wood) Jones home in Page County., Virginia.

7 Wharton Jones left his wife of thirty-seven, with eleven children and one unborn when he died.

8 His mother was gentle-mannered, tender and sympathetic, but adamant in matters of right and wrong.

9 Peaksville is a small community and county store C. 1800ís just south of the "Peaks of Otter"

10 B.R. Markham , husband of Jane Calpurnia Lee, first cousin once removed of Mary Frances Watts Jones, George Morgan Jones's wife.

11 Richard Thomas Watts b. July 5, 1838, son of Richard Davis Watts, and Isabella Newell Watts.

12 Col. James Winston Watts b. April 19 1833, son of Richard Davis Watts and Isabella Newell Watts.

13 Mary Frances Watts b. May 4, 1824, daughter of Richard Davis Watts and Isabella Newell Watts

14 George Morgan Jones built the Library Room at the college and gave generous donations for books.

15 This was the wealthy section of town where George and Mary Frances Jones Lived. Later after Mr. Jones death, The George Morgan Jones Memorial Library was built on this street.

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