Free black entrepreneur. Jones belonged to Christopher Rogers, a tailor. Under Rogers, he learned the tailoring trade, becoming proficient in his own right. When Rogers manumitted him in 1798 for £100 sterling, Jones set up his own business. Jones succeeded and expanded the business with his oldest son, also named Jehu.
In 1802 Jones broadened his entrepreneurial efforts by investing in real estate in Charleston and on Sullivan’s Island. His endeavors evidently flourished, for in 1807 he began to buy slaves to assist him in his business ventures. Two years later, he purchased from William Johnson a lot and house on Broad Street behind St. Michael’s Church. In 1815 Jones bought the adjoining property at 33 Broad Street, known as the Burrows-Hall House, with adjacent outbuildings for $13,000. The following year he sold the Johnson House to St. Michael’s Church. Jones then left the occupation of “tailoring” to his son, Jehu, Jr., and turned his efforts to innkeeping, a venture in which he had already achieved some success. Jones and his wife Abigail turned 33 Broad Street into a popular hotel, catering to travelers on extended visits, such as the portrait artist Samuel F. B. Morse. Elite white society patronized the establishment and praised it highly for its comfort and fine food. Jones also became prominent in the Charleston’s free black social circles and was a member of the prestigious Brown Fellowship Society.
The Denmark Vesey conspiracy of 1822 induced the General Assembly to pass acts to control free blacks more closely. One act, passed in 1822, required all free males “of color” over the age of fifteen to have a white guardian. An 1823 act barred the return of any free black who left the state. Abigail Jones, who had taken her children and grandchildren to New York for a visit prior to the Vesey rebellion, could not return. Through his guardian, Governor John Lide Wilson, Jehu petitioned the assembly for a leave of absence in 1823 to visit his family and then return to South Carolina. The matter was referred to a special committee, and the request granted. In 1827 Jones again petitioned the assembly to visit his family in St. Augustine, but whether he actually did make either visit is uncertain. Local legend relates that he left Charleston disguised as a woman and was seen walking the streets of New York. Abigail never returned to South Carolina, remaining in New York as an innkeeper and predeceasing Jones.
Jones died in 1833, leaving an estate estimated at $40,000 to his three sons and Abigail’s daughter, Ann Deas. The inventory of the estate lists furniture and slaves, but not his real estate holdings. Ann, executrix of the will, returned to Charleston and obtained a pardon from the governor for entering the state without permission. She and Eliza A. Johnson bought “Jones Establishment” from the estate, and by 1834 were again open for business. Ann ran “Jones Establishment” until 1847, when it was sold.
Johnson, Michael P., and James L Roark. Black Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South. New York: Norton, 1984.
Koger, Larry. Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790–1860. 1985. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
Taylor, Rosser H. Ante-bellum South Carolina: A Social and Cultural History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942.
Wikramanayake, Marina. A World in Shadow: The Free Black in Antebellum South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973.