Joseph Russell Jones

1823 - 1909

A TALE OF TWO CITIES and the destiny of crossing paths with the likes of Grant and Lincoln

Written by George R. Jones with the assistance of Richard Penn Hartung begins "The HISTORY of our West included in the middle fifty years of the last (1857) century is made up, or so it seems to me, of many individual careers, whose paths cross and recross, converge and in rare instances from a nexus out of which may come a giant figure, a Lincoln or a Grant, dominating and giving meaning to their time. In their time, my grandfather, J. Russell Jones, the subject of this study, pursued a path which in places crossed that of Lincoln and was closely connected with that of Grant. "

George R. Jones continues: "Joseph Russell Jones was a son of two cities; of Galena first, and afterward of Chicago, the latter becoming the metropolis he had thought Galena would be."

This is the story of a man born in Conneaut, Ohio on February 17, 1823. His family moved west to a little port town on Lake Erie in which set his future. Once his father died, at J. Russell's age of two, the family moved on to Pecatonica, Illinois, up from the Rock River when his mother remarried. With so much to care for, his mother left the boy behind in the charge of her brother, Judge Dart. Both resourceful and energetic, he worked as a "clerk" of sorts or better known as a "handy-boy-around-the store". Two years later, his pioneer spirit in hand, he rejoined the family in Pecatonica, now known as Rockton. The lessons of independence and self-reliance would serve him well later in life. At the tender age of 15, he set sail aboard a schooner, J. C. King, bound for a year old city at the foot of Lake Michigan, known as Chicago. Four thousand first citizens of Chicago awaited him. Chicago still suffering from the depression of 1837 which had dampened city expansion. J. Russell must have served a "clerkship" in a store there as he grew from self educated boy to manhood. These early lessons of clerking gave him the ability to seize business opportunities later in his life.

Wanting to try his fortunes elsewhere, two years later, hardly seventeen, he turned from Chicago, a place stil lacking refinement to "the romantic and bustling city of Galena in the Northwest corner of the state" which derives its name from the lead mines, miners and prospectors residing there. Once described as "The Metropolis of the Northwest," Galena more than rivaled Chicago at the time. It was considered by all as the "well developed center of trade."

Taking companionship of Judge Fleming of Rockford and Colonel Broadhead, J. Russell traveled by wagon to see his family before setting out for adventure in Galena. Taking the loan of an old white horse from his cousin, selling some coon skins, he rode. Upon arrival buying a hat with his only remaining dollar. A large merchantile establishment owned by Benjamin H. Campbell finally offered him a means of support. WIth readiness to take on all tasks, made for a grand impression. In a few short years, he became the mainstay of the business. By 1846, at just 23 years of age, he was elected to the position of Secretary and Treasurer of the Galena and Minnesota Packet Line. This fine steamboat company operated "down the Galena River (then still known as the Fever River) the few miles to the Mississippi, and up that great artery of trade to Dubuque, Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Line's northern terminus. It also had connections to St. Louis and the South."

In its day, fifteen large river boats could comfortably port at the Galena levee. J. Russell, business man and eventual full partner in Campbell's steamboat enterprises, he became known to all men of trade. Without an education, without influence or means, it took only eight years for him to accomplish his lofty goals. He would repay his mentor later in life when the railroads took out the steamboat business. By 1857, married with family, he moved them into a "big Victorian mansion, styled in the fashionable manner of an Italian villa, which he had just built on the east side of the River, now known as 'Belvedere'." Later, after some misfortune, the home itself would acquire the name.

With his wife, parents, two daughters and two sons, J. Russell, had a large home to manage and a large family to feed. In 1855-56, Russell served as Alderman in the city council and Chairman of the finance committee. A new political party, the Republican party, and Elihu B. Washburne (later known as General E. B. Washburne, of the Civil War) and a Congressman of Galena, encouraged J. Russell to become a leader in the party.

In 1860, his election to the legislature from JoDaviess and Carroll Counties sent him to Springfield and at the tender age of 37, he became the Honorable J. Russell Jones. Becoming tight friends with a Captain Grant, a West Point graduate and once a hero of the Mexican War who had fallen into hard times and had retreated to his father's business in Galena. Undetered, J. Russell saw the potential in this man and enlisted Grant to train the townsmen in the "rudiments of military tactics and discipline" as the country entered its darkest days. Jones was appointed by President Lincoln himself to the office of United States Marshals for the Northern District of Illinois just three weeks before the war broke out.

"The firing on Fort Sumter brought an appeal from the President for a large volunteer army. Jones, as well as other Galenians, saw in this call an opportunity for Grant. They worked hard to get Governor Yates of Illinois to give their man a trial as Colonel of an Illinois regiment...after much needed persuasion, the Governor said, 'I will give him the 21st Illinois'.

The likes of friendships with Washburne, Grant and Lincoln did not come without consequence. In the course of his duties, J. Russell seized upon two Galena lawyers (and neighbors) who saw opposition to Lincoln's stand. J. Russell, after open hostility of these two "copperheads," received orders from Secretary of War Stanton to arrest them. Jones acted. Johnson and Sheean were arrested, detained and eventually transferred to Fort Delaware. The case eventually was dropped which set to motion a course of litigation against Washburne, Jones and others that lasted years. The sorry consequence after five years of upper court hearings for suit of wrongful imprisonment, eventually awarded damages to the defendants. In the course of all of the proceedings and final judgement of Johnson vs Jones, "Johnson succeeded to the ownership of the Jones mansion in Galena. Known through the years as the Jones House, then the (Henry) Corwith House, and then the Johnson House, it is now appropriately called 'Belvedere' a name which the proud old home will doubtless remain."

By tragic irony, May 24, 1869 was also the day Frank Jones, J. Russell Jones' younger son, drowned in the Pecatonica River, along with his companion, a nephew of Elihu B. Washburne. Both events occurred 'on the eve' of Jones departure for Europe in 1869 to take on his new duties there."

While visiting Russell played the best advocate (with encouragement and support) of Grant during the war campaign of Vicksburg, Jones happened to seize upon the opportunity to buy "a 'moderate' amount of cotton for personal profit." Russell, used to analyzing opportunities and still concerned over the recent loses in his personal family and treasure made his interest in cotton even more evident. He feared bankruptcy might befall him as it appeared fees he collected as Marshal would be halted and he would be without income. It was not without merit that Grant thought little of the profitering of cotton merchants and Jones bent to stay his fortune. Even though his support of Grant remained unwavering. In the end his visits to Grant's campsite gave strength to Grant's cause through communications to Washburne and others. J. Russell's vigourous support expressed wholeheartedly in numerous letters gave weight to all to hold on till Grant had finally brought the "whole war" to "a successful finish."

By 1863 J. Russell had gained control of the Chicago West Division Rail Company. He returned a favor to his once mentor, Benjamin Campbell and made him Vice President of his companies. His company grew and remained in tack through the devistation of the Chicago fire with minimal loses. At a value of nearly $6 million dollars in 1886, the company was sold with rewards to investors who believed in its sale.

In the days of Lincoln's presidency, Jones received a telegram from President Lincoln asking that J. Russell pay him a visit in Washington to enlist his advice about the stirrings of Grant's supporters for Grant to run for President two years hence. Lincoln wanted to know more about Grant, being aware that the warrants of impeachment might prevent Lincoln from serving a second term. However, the assassination brought speculation to a halt. "As early as 1866, Jones and Washburne apparently had been among those who promoted the name of Ulyesses S. Grant for President..."

Grant was awarded the Republican nomination and election. Jones "stood at the pinnacle of his career." Washburne would become Secretary of State. J. Russell Jones was named Minister Resident of Belgium as a foreign minister of the diplomatic service. In 1869, at the age of 64, Jones took his post and residence with his family in Brussels. His children would receive the finest educations in the schools of Europe. Dining with the King of Belgium became the everyday. He used this time to educate himself in language, art and literature. The Franco-Prussian Wars gave "the world the first demonstation of the Blitzkrieg." Washburne by now, Minister at Paris, help span communications which helped both garner favor with the royal court.

By the time J. Russell returned to Chicago, his service to the President behind him, he occupied his days with some of his favorite customs acquired in Europe and the sojourn of his grandchildren. By now, the streets were filled with bicycles and an occasional horseless carriage. "Cigar smoke filled the air." "Up off the sidewalk of Michigan Avenue" he died on April 11, 1909, leaving a will of 45 printed pages which his grandson admits in his writings, "in it he tried to foresee all eventualities" (which might just have been the tone and purpose of his entire life).


"J. Russell Jones became a man of means and stature from humble beginnings to the Belvedere Mansion on the east side of the River and on to Washington and the cities of Europe without a formal education or affiliations of means. His time in Galena was the serving ground for his later years of service to his country from US Marshal, to Chairman of the Republican Party, to businesses of steamboats, cotton and railroads. He was instrumental in carrying support for Grant's campaign and triumph during the Civil War and Grant's eventual place as President of the United States. His friendships are the hallmarks of a life well spent. We are proud to be the stewards of his legacy."


                             - Owners of the Belvedere Mansion

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