Title: Beef Supplier
Birthdate: July 27, 1926
Death Date: September 21, 1874
Plot Location: Star Section, Lot 6
Well known in West Philadelphia as a butcher, John was more diverse than his plain name would suggest. Fortunately, he regularly used his middle initial; attempts to research such a common name would have otherwise been nearly impossible.
What little information that is available about his family tree came from his will, where gifts were bequeathed to his wife, Mary Hunt Jones, and to three children of his brother William, two children of sister Ann, and one child of brother Charles. The 1860 census reveals John and Mary had one child named Mary, age 9. She either died young or was estranged since she isn’t in his will.
Aside from the business of selling meat, he was active in politics. John aligned himself as a member of the Whig Party when he was old enough to vote in the 1848 elections.
After the Whig movement collapsed as a national political party in the mid-1850s, John sought the nomination of the People’s Party in Philadelphia to be the Register of Wills in 1858. One of the other 24 hopefuls was selected. He then tried, unsuccessfully, to be nominated as the party’s choice for Recorder of Deeds in 1860.
It was in the late 1850s that he was embroiled in a scandal over the awarding of an annual contract to supply beef. The Guardians of the Poor was an offshoot of the city government that operated an almshouse. The contract was a lucrative one since there were almost 2300 residents there. John’s bid was accepted by the board but he then refused to fulfill his side of the bargain, claiming he would lose money. In a highly questionable move, the board agreed to his demands instead of seeking another bid.
The Sunday Dispatch didn’t mince words when it reported on the proceedings: “The whole transaction stinks of corruption, and the conduct of the Guardians in the affair was disgraceful to themselves as men, and to the character of the City Government.”
Another tactic was pursued in 1859 when a request for proposals was again advertised. John bid on both the beef and mutton contracts, and was the low bidder for the mutton. He was underbid by Beniah F. Hunt for the beef, but a sharp journalist discovered a crafty connection, as shown here.
In reporting on the contenders for public office in 1860, the same local paper made reference to his occupation as a “victualler,” a supplier of provisions, usually for a large group like a ship’s crew or an army. It described him as “rotund, rubicund, and rollicking…. a walking advertisement of the solid nutritiousness of his own beef.” Another reference to his weight was made in saying, “We sincerely sympathize with him on account of the immense quantity of perspiration he must lose in the next two months.”
During the Civil War, another news story referenced John’s business, saying he “has a contract for killing the government cattle for the Army.” In fact, he listed his occupation as a contractor in the city directories in the 1860s.
John had two random but newsworthy encounters that further enrich his life story, shown here. He caused injury to others in 1861, and he received injury (a broken leg) in 1870.
Despite his occupation as a butcher, he had a menagerie of animals at home. The appraisal of his estate lists a horse, four colts, a mare, two “chinese cows” and a heifer. Obviously he had replaced the horse that ran away.
After the war John began diversifying his interests. He was on the board of directors of Oak Shade Oil Company but owned no shares of its stock. It appears he had a partnership with a brick manufacturer, J.D. Hall & Co., later named Hall, Kern, & Co. just prior to his death. He had about $1000 in stocks, and his biggest asset was a $10,000 life insurance policy.
Despite claims that have been made on other platforms, John was not the first owner or even one of the early investors in the Mount Moriah Cemetery Association. Nor is there documentation that he ever held a seat on the Board of Managers. He did, however, buy a prominent lot. In his will he directed his executors (one of which was Beniah Hunt) “to expend $5000 upon my lot in such a way as they or the survivors of them may determine.”
With that kind of money they were probably able to convince the cemetery superintendent to let them “buy” the statue of Father Time from the top of the Gatehouse and make it the focal point of the Jones lot. John had the front lot of the triangular “Star” section directly behind the gatehouse. He knew his gravestone would be the first to be seen, so he wanted to make an impression as visitors entered through the gate.
The appraisal of his assets after his death seems modest compared to what he gave away. In addition to these gifts to charity, he set aside $20,000 in trust for his nieces and nephews, some of whom were buried in his plot. After the last surviving beneficiary died in 1946, there was still $5800 left in the trust fund.
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