Published May 12, 2010
Wake Forest will soon honor Dr. Calvin Jones by naming the N.C. 98 Bypass for him, but he is largely an unknown figure to most town residents.
Yes, we refer to the Calvin Jones House frequently but as the home of the Wake Forest College Birthplace Society and the Wake Forest Museum. We do not really see or appreciate the man who did much more than give Wake Forest its name.
Jones was a darned Yankee, a carpetbagger and a newcomer, but then so were and are a lot of the Old North State’s best-known and best-loved residents. More than that, though, he was a pioneering physician, a mayor of Raleigh, a general during the War of 1812, a newspaper publisher, and a friend and correspondent with several of his era’s best-known men.
And is family is still a part of North Carolina although Calvin Jones’ last 14 years were spent in Tennessee.
Ed Morris, the museum’s director, said he recently arrived to open the museum and found a man on the porch of the Calvin Jones House. The man greeted him by saying he was Dr. Calvin Jones. Morris replied that he appeared to be very well preserved for his age. It was soon clear the man was Dr. Calvin Jones V, a physician living in Winston-Salem. He toured the house and told Morris he sleeps in his ancestor’s bed, the bed the first Calvin Jones used in Wake Forest.
But we are ahead of our story. The first Jones was obviously an overachiever from the cradle. He was born near Sheffield, Massachusetts, on April 2, 1775, and at 14 or so was an apprentice to a doctor in the Berkshire Mountains. In 1792, at 17, he received a certificate from the local medical society entitling him to practice medicine, which he did for three years in nearby Freehold, New York. He published a paper about scarlet fever in the first of those three years.
No one know what persuaded Jones to move to North Carolina, but he took up residence and his medical practice in Smithfield in 1795. Four years later he was one of a small group of doctors who organized the first North Carolina Medical Society.
During the eight years he lived in Smithfield he was one of the first doctors in the state to introduce and promote the use of Jenner’s vaccination against smallpox, one of the most dreaded diseases of the time and often fatal, and he found the time to serve in the North Carolina House of Commons as a Johnston County representative in both 1799 and 1802.
Jones moved to Raleigh in 1803. Although the capital city, it was still quite small but did boast a number of taverns, boarding houses and stores as well as a lively social life because it was both the hub of state government and Wake County’s government.
For the next three decades, Jones was involved in almost every aspect of life in the state: government, medicine, business, education, publishing and war. The following list gives some idea of his work and influence.
++ Jones was elected to the House of Commons from Wake County in 1807.
++ In 1812 he was one of the commissioners for the Neuse River Navigation Company that attempted to use both a road from Raleigh and a fleet of flatboats on the river to provide faster, easier transportation for Wake’s farm products.
++ In 1808 Jones and Thomas Henderson began publishing the Star, a newspaper which continued publication for nearly 50 years.
++ Jones was the mayor of Raleigh, then called the intendant of police, from 1807 to 1809.
++ He was named an adjutant general of the state militia in 1808 and was promoted to major general of a new division in 1812 after the War of 1812 began. He led a corps of mounted volunteers to the coast after news reached Raleigh that the British fleet had entered Ocracoke Inlet, but the British had sailed farther south before Jones and his militiamen arrived.
++ He was active in the Masonic Order and was Grand Master of Masons in 1817 and 1819.
++ Jones continued to practice medicine and to publish articles. He became well known for his skill in removing cataracts.
++ He was a trustee of the Raleigh Academy and from 1802 to 1832 was a trustee of the University of North Carolina, to which he donated books for the library and his collection of “artificial and natural curiousities.”
Jones did not entirely neglect his personal life. At some point early in his stay in Raleigh he became engaged to Ruina J. Williams, the daughter of a wealthy Warren County family which owned the plantation called Cherry Hill. The house is now a cultural center. Ruina died of tuberculosis in 1809, and 10 years later Jones married her sister, Temperance Boddie Williams Jones, then 33, the widow of Dr. Thomas C. Jones of Franklin County. Along with an inheritance, she brought to the marriage a son by her first Dr. Jones and several slaves.
Somehow that marriage at the age of 44 signaled another change in Jones’ life and in 1820 he purchased a 615-acre corn plantation in what was then known as the Forest District. He purchased the plantation from either Josiah Battle, a wealthy planter whose house still stands on the north side of Wake Forest, or his son, Davis Battle. Morris says the house on the plantation had been built for Davis. Jones obviously wanted a more spacious home than the original and added four rooms at the back of the house before he, Temperance, and her son moved from Raleigh in either 1821 or 1822.
Calvin and Temperance’s three children were born in Wake Forest: Montezuma in 1822, Octavia in 1826, and Paul in 1828.
Calvin Jones became a farmer while at the same time he practiced medicine, instructed several medical students, and sponsored a school, the Macedonian Academy, which opened in 1822 in Forestville. Old-times say the building was still standing more than a hundred years later on the south side of Liberty Street next to the railroad, a two-story wooden building with an exterior staircase. The school soon changed its name to Wake Forest Academy. Planter and preacher John Purefoy was one of the masters.
Jones continued to carry on an extensive correspondence, some of it still in existence. Chessley Crow, the archivist who is designing the exhibits for the Wake Forest Museum addition, recently found letters between Jones and David Crocket, who was trying to sell his land in Tennessee to move to Texas. We all know how that turned out. Jones may have petitioned for and been granted the position of postmaster for Wake Forest – the name for the area he used in his letters – to get quicker mail delivery.
But he was getting itchy feet again. Jones was interested now in moving to Tennessee, and he purchased about 3,000 acres near Bolivar in the western part of the state.
In 1832, John Purefoy, also one of the principals in the new North Carolina Baptist Convention and surely well known to his neighbor Jones, was searching for a home for the Manual Labor Institute the convention wanted to establish, a place where future ministers as well as laymen could obtain a Christian education.
Jones sold his land and buildings to the convention for $2,000 and moved to Tennessee with his family, slaves, and furniture – or at least his bed. He continued to practice medicine there and acquired a large estate, 30,000 acres, as well as building a home called Pontine before dying in 1846.
You can see his likeness in the house named for him. The original portrait hung in Bolivar and later went to Dallas, Texas, with a descendant. Three copies were made. One was destroyed when Old Main on the Wake Forest College campus burned, the victim of an arsonist, in 1933. A second was in the Adjutant General’s Office. A third hung in the Raleigh Masonic Lodge until 1858 when Wake Forest resident Fred Harper acquired it and donated it to the museum. It is an uncommon albumen print, made sometime between 1850 and 1900, and produced from a glass negative onto paper coated with egg whites.
You will see a handsome self-confidant man. That seems fitting.
(Also look for the April-May-June issue of CIRCA Magazine – formerly the Heritage magazine. On the back page you will find Amy Pierce’s article about Dr. Jones with more details.)