NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Wednesday July 18th 2018

Keep citizen journalism alive!

Donatebutton_narrow

Archives

THE CEMETERY’S Eldest Morgan Jones – 60 YEARS A SLAVE, 41 YEARS FREEDMAN

Morgan Jones said, “In 1823, I moved with my white masters to Missouri. I then became coachman for the family and was with them until the emancipation proclamation. As coachman I was able to look about and take notice, and you may be sure that I watched the growth of the abolition movement. As soon as the slaves were pronounced free, I started for Minnesota and have been in Minneapolis ever since. There have been several negroes in the state that have lived to be over 100, but I believe that I am the oldest in the city now and probably in the northwest.”

BY TIMOTHY McCALL

Undoubtedly, Morgan Jones saw many changes in his long life and having passed away at the age of 101 years, he also has the distinction of being the oldest person buried at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.

Morgan was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation on August 10, 1805. We’re fortunate to know the exact date of Morgan’s birth because in 1904, Morgan’s daughter had contacted his former owners, the Chappell family, in St. Louis, Missouri. The Chappell family were among the earliest Europeans to settle in America, arriving about 1635. They also must have been very prodigious record keepers, since they had kept and preserved many of the records from the old Virginia plantation where Morgan was born, including the record of his birth.

In an article from the Minneapolis Journal in 1905, Morgan relates some of his earliest memories:

“My earliest recollections are of the old plantation days in Virginia. I can remember the big white house of the ‘family’ and the little negro cabins. I spent my early years in the tobacco fields. I was a giant in those days and was told by a slave dealer and my master that I was the strongest one of my race in the south. I was never afraid to work, and of all the 140 or 150 negroes, I was the only one who never felt the lash. In the fields I was so tall that the overseer never noticed me burying my bare feet in the cool earth. I can remember at the close of the day the other workers struggled home with blistered feet, while mine never suffered, thanks to the burying.”

“In 1823, I moved with my white masters to Missouri. I then became coachman for the family and was with them until the emancipation proclamation. As coachman I was able to look about and take notice, and you may be sure that I watched the growth of the abolition movement. As soon as the slaves were pronounced free, I started for Minnesota and have been in Minneapolis ever since. There have been several negroes in the state that have lived to be over 100, but I believe that I am the oldest in the city now and probably in the northwest.”

Morgan most likely came to Minnesota in early 1865. I say this because the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed only the slaves living in southern states which were in rebellion. Slavery in Missouri continued to be legal until January 11, 1865. Morgan first appears in Minnesota on the 1865 State census, living in St. Anthony with his future wife Harriett and Mary, a black female, both listed with the surname of Jones. Who was Mary? I believe that Mary was actually Harriett’s daughter, Katherine. Harriett and Katherine also are found on a separate 1865 census with the surname of Aidens, living with the J. P. Abraham family in Minneapolis. Was Harriett trying to hide the fact that she was living with a man twenty years her senior or was it just an error in reporting? The 1870 census has Morgan and Harriett living in Minneapolis, but Katherine is not listed. Was this just an omission or something else? The census is dated June 4, 1870 and at that time, Morgan and Harriett were still unmarried. They finally tied the knot, twenty-five days later, on June 29, 1870 in Minneapolis. On all subsequent documents, Katherine is listed as their daughter.

Morgan seems to have been quite active and well known to the residents of Minneapolis and was referred to in several newspaper articles. As the presidential election of 1872 approached, the Minneapolis Tribune reported on August 24th that, “The colored men of Minnesota have addressed a letter to the Republican State Central Committee in which they repudiate Charles Sumner and endorse President Grant. The following colored men in Minneapolis have signed the letter and will follow it up by ballots for Grant at the polls in November.” Over 70 African American men were listed, including Morgan Jones. This is significant because it would be the first presidential election since the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, giving African American men the right to vote.

He again appears in the Tribune in 1895, in which, as a joke, someone had placed advertisements in multiple papers looking to fill positions in the new Court House. The Court House was besieged by scores of applicants, including Morgan. “Morgan Jones presented a numerously signed petition asking for permission to operate a boot-blacking stand in the new building. Mr. Jones’ paper called attention to the fact that in his long life of 90 years he had never before sought office of any kind.” It doesn’t appear that he got the job.

As Morgan approached his 100th birthday, he appears once again in the Minneapolis Journal; “DECEIVED, HE FORGOT TO DIE-NOW 99 – Morgan Jones, an ex-slave, tricked by his children – He is preparing now to celebrate his one hundredth birthday.” The article tells the story of how after his wife Harriett died in 1891, Morgan had convinced himself that he would die on the anniversary of her death. “As the day approached he became visibly weaker. As a last resort the date on the calendar was changed and the anniversary passed without Mr. Jones being aware of it. Since that time, he has enjoyed the best of health.” It went on to give his personal account of his time as a slave.

Morgan’s death on December 6, 1906, warranted him a notice on the front page of the Minneapolis Journal;

57 YEARS A SLAVE, 44 YEARS FREEDMAN

Morgan Jones, a Minneapolis Negro, Dies at the Age of 101 Years.

Born on Old Virginia Plantation August 10, 1805.

Came to Minneapolis in 1862 When Lincoln Struck Off Shackles.

The headline may take some liberties and plays with history a bit, but considering the amount of time Morgan Jones had on this earth and the things he must have experienced, we’ll call it close enough.

Morgan is buried in Lot 69, Block C in an unmarked grave. There are five other members of his family buried in Lot 69, all of whom deserve to have their stories told as well… I’ll have to get to work on that.

Share this with your friends:
  • email
  • Print
  • PDF
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Google Bookmarks

Leave a Reply