An Introduction to Calvin and Octavia Jones

Before I head out today, I want to introduce these two, and explain a little about why I am on this journey. Many years ago, when I was still a young girl, my grandfather embarked on a mission to research and document our family's history. He spent many, many years gathering materials, visiting archives, traveling, and meeting with other family members to finally organize and transcribe several volumes of correspondence and ephemera. It was a huge undertaking, but one that he found endlessly rewarding. He would regale us with stories about these people, and his enthusiasm was contagious. When he passed away, my father took it upon himself to finish transcribing, to edit, and finally compile these manuscripts into both digital and printed copies. From this meticulously documented and organized manuscript, I was able to easily alight on the the part that was immediately fascinating to me. Namely, how is it that a man in his sixties, along with his 18-year-old daughter, embark on a 4-month voyage to Europe? What did they discover? What was going on in Europe at that time? And the question that is actually the most interesting, knowing what I know of U.S. history: how were they able to take such a journey? The short answer: They were wealthy southern landowners. The long answer (and the part that will take more reckoning, as well as accountability, on my part) is one that will involve much more reading and research into the family history that occurred before this trip in 1844. I have a feeling that this project is just beginning, and that this will be something that occupies me for many years. My next journey will inevitably be to North Carolina and Tennessee. 

 Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones

But before I go there, here is a brief bio of Calvin Jones (a quick history written by my grandfather, Jameson M. Jones, in a letter when he was attempting to track down family papers.)

Calvin Jones as a fledgling physician of 20 years emigrated from his birthplace in Sheffield, MA, to Smithfield, a village quite near Raleigh, NC, about 1795. He quickly established himself as an interesting and respected member of his profession, a member of the NC militia (ultimately a Major General and Quartermaster General in the War of 1812), and a proponent of education. He became a member of the Board of Trustees of UNC about the time he moved into Raleigh shortly after the turn of the century. Very soon he became partners with Thomas Henderson in publishing a newspaper in Raleigh, The Star. He was one of the founders of a professional medical society in NC and corresponded with leading physicians across the state. He was a elected for a term to the NC Assembly (legislature) and to the office of Intendant (mayor) of Raleigh.

He became acquainted with the Williams family in Franklin and Warren counties (north of Raleigh) and became engaged to Ruina Williams, who died of consumption in 1809, before they could marry. Ten years later (April 15, 1819) he married Ruina’s older sister, Temperance Boddie Williams Jones, a widow with a 9 year old boy.

He and his wife moved in 1821 from Raleigh to Wake Forest. Before and after his marriage, he became engrossed in exploring and buying lands in Tennessee, an idea finally carried out  in the fall of 1832, when he settled in Hardeman County, near Bolivar, TN.

 Octavia Rowena Jones

Octavia Rowena Jones

His daughter, Octavia Rowena Jones, was 18 at the time of the trip. Her journal was actually more complete than that of her father, and she proved to be an indispensable traveling companion, taking care of all the bills and currency conversions, as well as practicing her languages, communicating with the Europeans on behalf of her father. 

The introduction to the transcribed journals reads as follows:

CALVIN JONES (1775–1846)  AND HIS DAUGHTER OCTAVIA (1826–1917), 18 years of age, left their home in Bolivar, Tennessee, on 8 April 1844. They boarded a steamboat in Memphis three days later and proceeded up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Pittsburgh and then took another boat to Brownsville, PA, on the Monongahela. They traveled by stage coach to Cumberland, MD, and from there they went by railroad to Washington, DC. After a stay in Washington and Baltimore, where CJ attended the national Whig convention that nominated Henry Clay for President, they went to New York, where they boarded the American packet Sylvie de Grasse on 16 May. They landed at Le Havre in France on 7 June.

So now I am in Europe, and as I immerse myself in current-day experiences, being mindful of current events and the political and social aspects of contemporary society, I am simultaneously engaging with history. I am currently reading a history of Europe from 1815-1914 in order to better understand the circumstances in which they traveled. As mentioned earlier, Calvin Jones was a Whig and had some progressive thoughts on education and other things (more on that later). In Europe, he met with various political figures, most notably visiting Daniel O'Connell (known as the great Irish liberator) in prison in Dublin. These facts intrigue me and confound other aspects of the family history, so I am trying to read and inform myself as much as possible. As I move forward with the project, there are several specific points of interest that are beginning to take shape:

Boundaries: Political, geographical, personal, cultural

Memory: specifically as it relates to the idea of collective memory and writing/recording history

Archive: need to unpack this as a concept, container, and vehicle for thought, documentation, and history

Gesture of Re-enactment (this is a term borrowed from the artist Doug Ashford): using the passing of time as a part of the structure, part of the reason for the work being made.

Some other keywords that might frame or shape the direction of my thinking:

  • Psychogeography
  • Mapping/mental maps
  • Mediated space
  • Perspective
  • Relics
  • The Grid (potentially as a metaphor for rigidity, architecture, edifice)