Thomas Jones

English Privateer

Born: Unknown

Died: Unknown

Maj. Thomas Jones had a knack for choosing the wrong side in a political dispute. His own heritage was Welsh, but as a young man, he joined the Irish who fought unsuccessfully for James the 2nd against the British King William the 3rd at the Battle of Boyne in 1690. He was exiled with his manservant to a dismal Irish "estate" which was little more than a damp hovel.

Soon after, however, the exiled Jones saw a way out of his dilemma. With insurrections in both Ireland and Scotland now successfully put down, King William turned his attention to the French, against whom he would wage war for many years. Jones offered his services to the Crown, and received a "Letter of Marques," which was basically a license to steal -- as long as it was from the French or other enemies of England. This was a clever move by the King for two reasons: Not only was commissioning these "privateers" a good way to harass the French, but it was a handy way to get talented but suspect military men out of the country.

Thomas Jones commissioned a ship and was in Jamaica by 1692 (witnessing the "Great Port Royal Earthquake" of that year, according to his journals.) His journals stopped for a time and his activities over the next four years are murky. He evidently operated out of secluded coves along various islands in the West Indies. He emerged on the other side in 1696 with a Fortune (for its day) and bought a large estate in what is now Massapeaqua, on Long Island. It included a long stretch of the coast.

Jones Inlet on the South Bay, and the long sandy beach known as Jones Beach (once a big day-trip destination for New Yorkers), are both named for him.

Thomas Jones evidently was a mysterious Gatsby-esque character in his later years, while in Long Island. Little was said about the sources of his wealth, other than the occasional reference to his "shipping" interests.

But Jones was accepted into Society because he was rich, and the actual source of his fortune was discussed only in whispers. Now in the good graces of the Crown, the Jones family prospered. One of Thomas Jones' sons was appointed official Counsel of the Colony of New York. Others became prominent businessmen and politicians. Daughters married into the upper reaches of New York society. But most of them continued the tradition of choosing the wrong side in political disputes and the family backed the British during the American Revolution (The French also had not forgotten Jones the Pirate, and the family feared retaliation if the French gained influence in America. They were particularly concerned about Lafayette.) During the war, the Jones estate was widely rumored to be a sanctuary for British spies operating out of Long Island.

After the war, the new Congress passed the "Act of Attainder," allowing the confiscation of all property owned by Loyalists. The Joneses were a prime target. All of the family's land and belongings were about to be seized. Many of the Joneses took what they could and left for Nova Scotia or returned to England.

However, one branch of the family ended up retaining a prominent place in the new country, thanks to an interesting combination of love, legal maneuvering and political intrigue:

One of the Joneses' neighbors was William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Despite their political differences, the families had remained personally on good terms. Floyd's son David had in fact fallen in love with one of the Jones girls. The two families struck a deal -- David could marry his beloved, if he changed his name to Floyd-Jones. William Floyd then used his influence to have a special Act of Congress enacted to exempt the "new" Floyd-Jones estate from the Act of Attainder.

The young couple thus had the Floyd's political influence and most of the Jones money. The newly named Floyd-Jones family continued its leading role in New York. David eventually became speaker of the New York State Assembly. His children and grandchildren included a member of Congress, a state treasurer, and a prominent Civil War general. One son, Charles Floyd-Jones, ventured West into what was then the frontier, and established my own branch of the family based in St. Louis and San Francisco.

The Long Island estate is now part of the National Park System, thanks to William Floyd's leading role in the Revolution. The original Floyd mansion is still there, along with several thousand acres of protected wetlands and shoreline facing Fire Island.

For more than 100 years after Thomas Jones' death, there were persistent rumors on Long Island that his pirate "treasure" was buried somewhere on the family estate. In some accounts, it was in an old well; in others, it was in his tomb itself. Trespassers were caught repeatedly, digging in both places.

One disappointed treasure seeker scratched this bit of doggerel on his gravestone:

Beneath this Stone
Repose the bones
Of Pirate Jones
This briny well
Contains the shell
The rest's in Hell!


Author of this Bio: Wayne M. Davis
All of the information is independently documented in published histories, and can be footnoted extensively. The primary source is a 1906 book on the Floyd-Jones family, specifically the history of The Descendants of Thomas Jones, which is still available through Quintin Publications of Rhode Island.

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