Monday, January 01, 2007

The death of Anson Jones

Anson Jones, the Republic of Texas’ last president, killed himself on Jan. 9, 1858. It was done at the Old Capitol Hotel, where the Rice Lofts sit today.

According to the Tri-Weekly Telegraph, Jones was found “lying across his bed…with a discharged pistol in his hand, and his brains blown out.”

A physician, the Massachusetts native bounced from Norwich, Conn., Philadelphia, and even spent some time in Venezuela for a couple of years.

Eventually, he landed in Texas just before it sought independence from Mexico. According to the Handbook of Texas, Jones didn’t actually figure on making his stay in Texas a long-term thing: He had engaged passage back to New Orleans when the citizens of Brazoria urged him to “give Texas a fair trial.”

He stayed, became involved in Texas’ fight for independence, got into politics and was eventually elected the young nation’s president in 1844.

I’m probably skipping over a lot of Jones’ contributions to Texas history and his efforts at annexation. For more on Jones, click here.

This entry is about his death. According to the Handbook of Texas, Jones became increasingly moody about losing a bid for the U.S. Senate. In 1857, Jones figured the legislature would send him to Washington as senator, but he received no votes.

Just a few days into 1858, friends said Jones came to Houston from his home in Washington County to find a place to live in the region, the Telegraph reported.

“He desired, he said, to spend the remainder of his days in more social life than was possible on his farm, and also to give his children the opportunities of a good education,” the paper reported.

He visited Galveston, returned to Houston and stayed at the hotel.

“He had apparently been drinking, perhaps more freely than was his wont; he was observed to be in low spirits,” according to the Telegraph.

Shortly after his arrival in Houston, Jones reportedly told his friend, W.D. Smith:

“I have been having some very serious thoughts today. My public career, you are aware, began in this house, and I have been thinking that perhaps it might close here.”

Smith, sensing alarm, turned the conversation away toward more light matters. The paper, quoting Smith, said Jones expressed “a satisfaction with his public career, and observing there was nothing in it he would desire to change.”

On Jan. 9, Jones appeared in good spirits. But as the day went on, he again became glum, making references to ending his public career in the place where it began.

A servant was called to Jones’ room at about midnight and again at 3 a.m., when Jones asked him for a glass of “spirits.” Jones dismissed the servant and sent him on his way after learning the servant was unable to get any.

Later that morning, Smith arrived at Jones’ room to find the door locked. After getting no response, Smith had the door broken open. Inside was Jones’ body. No one reported hearing the sound of gunfire that night.

The Telegraph noted that Jones was the latest Texas statesman to have committed suicide.

Collinsworth, Birdsall, Grayson and Rusk, had gone that way, and Jones has now followed them. Peace to his ashes!”

(James Collinsworth, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, fell or jumped off a boat in Galveston Bay and drowned in 1838.

Birdsall could refer to John Birdsall, attorney general under the Republic of Texas, but he died of yellow fever in 1839.

Peter Wagener Grayson, attorney general for the Republic of Texas and naval agent to the United States, died in 1838 after he reluctantly agreed to be the Houston party candidate for president. According to the Handbook of Texas: On June 20, he left Galveston for Washington, D.C. July 8 found him in Bean’s Station, northeast of Knoxville. That evening, he wrote of the terrible mental “fiend that possessed me” and bemoaned his acceptance of the presidential nomination, which had led to falsified, bitter campaign charges against him. The next morning he fatally shot himself. Besides a history of mental illness and the terrible calumnies of the campaign, his suicide has been blamed on an alleged rebuff to his marriage proposal by a Louisville woman whom he had long courted.

Thomas Jefferson Rusk, chief justice of the republic’s Supreme Court and U.S. senator from Texas, died in 1857 after his wife died of tuberculosis. He also was ill from a tumor at the base of his neck.)

Jones is buried at Glenwood Cemetery.

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