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Free Domestic Laborers at the Executive Mansion of the Confederacy
The executive mansion of the Confederacy also utilized free domestic laborers to supplement their enslaved staff. These laborers included European immigrants, who worked closely alongside their enslaved counterparts, and at least one free Black man, James Jones.
James H. Jones was born free in Raleigh, North Carolina, ca. 1831. He was a husband, a father, a civil servant, and a civil rights advocate.
In May of 1862, he came into the employment of Varina Davis who had fled with the Davis children to Raleigh to escape the dangers of the war as U.S. forces, under General McClellan, neared Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign. Jones was paid $28 a month to work as a coachman for the Davises. James Jones returned with the Davis family to Richmond where he worked until the final months of the war.
In a 1901 interview, James Jones described his work in the executive mansion of the Confederacy as follows:
“I was what you might call an all-around man. I drove Mrs. Davis and the ladies of the family whenever they went out. But this by no means was my only business. The regular butler was Robert Brown…but on the occasions of dinner parties or entertainments I assisted in waiting on the guests. And I saw a great deal of the confidential intercourse between Mr. Davis and members of his cabinet and other prominent men. I was made to feel by Mr. Davis that he placed entire confidence in me. When he had letters or papers of a particular nature to send to members of the cabinet, or to the war office, he very frequently sent them by me.”
James Jones remained with the Davis family until their capture in Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865, after the fall of the city of Richmond. Following the Civil War, Jones went on to have a remarkable career in civic life and as an advocate for civil rights.
James Jones joined the Republican party and served as a Delegate in the 1865-1866 Freedmen’s Conventions of North Carolina, the first such gathering of Black men in the state’s history. To support this effort, the delegates formed the Frederick Douglass Equal Rights League, later known as the North Carolina State Equal Rights League, to which James Jones was appointed as the Grand Deputy. This position led to Jones traveling throughout the state promoting the cause of equal rights. Jones also joined the Union League of America and took part in the North Carolina state Constitutional Convention of 1868.
Jones had a long career in civil service in his hometown of Raleigh where he served as sheriff and alderman. Also, he helped to organize the first Black Firefighting company in the state and the first Black military company in North Carolina history. Jones concluded his career in civil service by working as a clerk in the United States Senate Stationary Room.
Jones died at the age of 90 on April 8, 1921, survived by his son Willis Jones, a physician.
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