A newly-published apologist tract for slavery is circulating and making glad the hearts of white slaveholders in the South. Entitled, “Slavery Sanctioned by the Bible,” the booklet-length volume, written by a Baptist layman, surveys the presence of slavery in the Bible, then concludes:
If our Southern slaveholders were all animated by this heavenly spirit of love and would act on Paul’s request to Philemon, they would indeed become the greatest benefactors of the unfortunate negro race.
It is perfectly evident then that Christianity made no direct and immediate change in the outward legal and social relation of slavery; but wherever it prevailed, it transfused a new spirit into the institution, changed the hard Roman slavery into a mild patriarchal service and subordinated the social distinction of the two parties to the religious equality and brotherhood in Christ, their common Lord and Saviour. It cured the root of the evil and produced a new order of society even where the outward form continued unchanged ….
Analysis of slavery shows, that it is a phase of government; a phase of government adapted to the special case of different races intermingled together; one capable of self-government, the other not. Such is the position of our Southern States. The African race—if there is any faith in the historical experience that a constitutional monarchy, much more a republic, has always been above its civilization—is utterly incapable of self-government. Whether they are the children of Ham or not, the curse of Noah has always been on them, and ” servants of servants” always have they literally been. Judging from fact and history, and not from theoretic assumptions of what is supposed to be the benevolence of God—but which is really the vain imagination of man—despotism and slavery seem the normal Condition of the negro race. At all events, their present habits certainly do not practically fit them for self-government. Such a race, in a country of their own, left to themselves, are necessarily not freemen, and in our Anglo-Saxon community, allowing them political privileges, at the best impairs, and when they are superior in numbers, inevitably subverts, republican institutions. The great law of necessity— which justifies despotic powers of government in preference to anarchy— justifies the domestic institutions of the South, and places them, philosophically, on the same moral platform with kings and parliaments, and constitutional sovereigns generally.
The tract, however, is not written by a southerner. Rather, it is the work of John Richter Jones (1803-1863), Philadelphia lawyer, Baptist layman, and son of legendary Baptist preacher, Horatio Gates Jones (1777-1853). The elder Jones career had included pastorates in Salem, New Jersey and Philadelphia; academic service as the holder of a D. D. degree, Greek scholar, Bible translator, president of the Board of Trustees of Haddington College and Chancellor of Lewisburg College; an organizer of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions (Triennial Convention) in 1814, serving as secretary and on the Board of Managers; organizer of the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention; and president of the Philadelphia Baptist Association of Board of Trustees, as well as service as the association’s clerk and moderator.
John, while not following the footsteps of his father and grandfather into the ministry, in adulthood did join his father’s church, the Lower Merion Baptist Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia) on November 2, 1849. By the time of his baptism, John had already amassed an outstanding career of his own. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (1821), he was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar in 1827 and practiced law until 1836, at which time he was appointed an Associate Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of the City and County of Philadelphia. Retiring in his home town of Roxborough when his term with the court ended in 1845, his adventures had just begun. Shortly after retirement:
One winter evening, three men broke into their home. These men, whom Judge Jones had sentenced, had been released recently from prison and evidently desired to even the score with Jones. In what was to foreshadow Jones’ intrepidity in the presence of an enemy, he descended the stairs of his home and attacked the intruders with a riding whip loaded with lead. His wife, meanwhile, is said to have bombarded them from the second story with bedroom crockery. The Jones’ combined efforts drove the men off, and the next day, one of the three was found dead in the snow, not far from the Jones’ home. The two other night visitors, however, escaped, and Ann Eliza Jones feared that they would return. His wife’s misgivings about their Roxborough home, as well as burgeoning business interests outside of Philadelphia, convinced Jones to move his family from Roxborough to property he had purchased in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania in 1845. Jones obtained the property—which amounted to about 6,000 acres of pristine rural land, including Lewis Lake—from John J. Adams of Washington, D.C. According to Sullivan County historian George Streby: Judge Jones moved his family to the lake in 1846.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Jones in 1847 had a post office established at the lake, which he named Eagles Mere, and around which a small settlement of some 250 persons developed. In the ensuing years, a wealthy Jones lived with his wife (Ann Eliza Clay Laussat) and children, working as a county lawyer, land developer and gentlemen farmer … and serving as an advocate for southern slavery (although apparently having visited the South only once).
And then, mere weeks after the publication of Jones’ pro-slavery volume, the war comes. Despite his pro-slavery beliefs, Jones, ever an American patriot, in July begins raising a Union regiment. In August 1, at age 58, he enrolls for a three year term of military service. Today, Jones’ early efforts at recruiting pay off in the formation of Company B, 58th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, of which Jones is soon appointed captain. Then, on February 13, 1862, Jones is appointed colonel of the 58th Pennsylvania Volunteers. To the cheers and well wishes of onlookers, he leads the 58th Pennsylvania from its Roxborough camp on March 8, 1862.
While never serving in any of the war’s major battles, Colonel Jones soon distinguishes himself as a daring and effective strategist in fighting the Confederates in enemy territory. A series of successes under his belt, Jones in May 1863 commands a brigade-size force “during a daring assault on Rebel works that he identified near Gum Swamp, North Carolina.” He surprises the 56th North Carolina during breakfast on the morning of May 22, capturing “its artillery, its munitions, 50 horses and mules, 200 prisoners, and after destroying the works retired to his camp – all without a loss” (other accounts attribute 165 prisoners taken). However, failing to move away quickly enough from the enemy’s camp, Jones and his soldiers are intercepted the following day by a Confederate force, and the colonel is killed in action.
D.H. Hill in a correspondence to Confederate Maj. Gen. Whiting … expressed genuine relief that his soldiers had killed Jones. Hill, a respected Confederate general, paid Jones and the 58th Pennsylvania a great compliment when he wrote, “Jones, the great brigand, was really killed in my chase of him the other day. He was a bold, dangerous, bad man. His work has been that of the Comanche.” A member of the 58th Pennsylvania said that when Jones fell, “the Rebels gave a yell of exultation and endeavored to make a dash and get his body, but were repulsed with great loss, for our artillery was now in position and opened fire.”
Upon his death, the Union Army and Philadelphia paid great tribute to Jones:
On May 26, several regiments turned out in full dress to escort Jones’ remains to a steamer. The line formed at department provost marshal Captain Messenger’s house and colonels acted as pall-bearers. Foster himself marched in the procession and expressed his remorse at the loss of Jones by issuing the following:
General Orders, Hdqrs. Dept. Of N. C., Eighteenth A. C. No. 81 New Berne, May 26, 1863
The commanding general, in common with the officers and men of this command, is called upon to mourn the loss of a most gallant officer, Col. J. Richter Jones, Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, who fell at the head of his regiment on the evening of May 23, whilst repelling an attack on the outposts. Colonel Jones won the admiration of all in this department by the indefatigable, able, and gallant manner with which he filled the arduous duties of commander of the outposts. He died whilst enjoying the triumph of a victory won by his valor and counsel. To the service, to this department, and to his regiment this death has been a sad loss; and to all here, and to those at home whom he loved, the commanding general offers his most sincere sympathy. May his bright example lead many to tread the arduous path of duty with as pure an appreciation of duty and with as firm unswerving tread as he. All flags in this department will be carried at half-mast for the three days following receipt of this order, and at this post half-hour guns will be fired from Forts Totten and Rowan from sunrise to sunset to-morrow, May 27.
Yet the honors were far from over. When Jones’ body arrived in Philadelphia, it was placed in state in Independence Hall, with ceremonial military honors. The funeral was held on June 3rd. “The First Regiment Reserve Brigade, Companies A, C and D of the First Regiment Artillery, the Philadelphia Home Guard, the Provost Guard, the Invalid Corps, and a squadron of Connecticut cavalry served as an escort.” Today, Jones’ name is inscribed upon a mural tablet at the University of Pennsylvania.
Thus, while John Richter Jones is little remembered in Baptist history, his legacy remains as one of the most prominent Philadelphians of the 19th century, a patriot, and a hero to his city … despite his advocacy of southern slavery.
Sources: John Richter Jones, Slavery Sanctioned by the Bible: A Tract for Northern Christians. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott, 1861 (link); “Jones, Horatio Gates D.D.”, in William Cathcart, Baptist Encyclopedia, pp. 613-614; “Horatio Gates Jones” (link); John’s name and baptism on the Lower Merion Baptist church roll (link); James M. DiRiso, “Colonel John Richter Jones” (link); “John Richter Jones Papers, 1854-1863,” University of Chapel Hill, North Carolina (link); “Col. John Richter Jones” and photo (link); Frank H. Taylor, Philadelphia During the Civil War, 1861-1865. Published by the City of Philadelphia, 1913, pp. 77ff (link)