Joel W. Jones was born in Troy, N.Y. on October 1st, 1806. His father died during his infancy and left his mother unable to provide for Joel and his two brothers. As a result, the children were split up among relatives and Jones was raised by his grandmother and her second husband in Batestown, N.Y. After his grandmother’s death in 1816, Jones was turned out by her husband and travelled to Duanesburgh, N.Y. to live with his uncle. Much of the early portion of his memoir focuses on the hardships he had to confront as an orphan. His uncle had little use for him, except as a cheap farm hand, and his living conditions were so deplorable that he eventually ran away. Joel earned a living working on various farms in New York until enlisting in the army in 1823, at age seventeen. During his enlistment he was stationed mainly in New York and Maine, and when his enlistment expired he appealed directly to President Andrew Jackson for a job as a commissioned officer. Jones worked briefly in Niagara Falls as an agent of the American Line of Steamers. When his request for a commission was turned down he re-enlisted at Fort Monroe in Old Point Comfort, Va. Due to illness, he sought a discharge and through the help of friends obtained a civilian post with the army in New London, Conn. In 1830 he married Lucretia Lewis and moved to Eastport, Maine, to serves as a sutler for the army post.
Following a series of unwise investments, Jones fell into debt in Maine and was jobless and penniless by the time he cleared affairs with his creditors. Turning down a postion in Washington, he entered service in North Carolina, and soon found himself headed south to Florida to fight in the Second Seminole War.
His account of his Florida service is drawn directly from letters written to his wife at the time. His company was part of 6,000 troops that marched across Florida under General Eustis but rarely engaged the Seminoles. Instead, small parties of Indians dogged the marching columns, sniping relentlessly at them. Jone's battalion burned the major Seminole town of Peliklikaha and destroyed the cattle herds there; but for the most part it was on the move, through swamps and flooded savannahs, cold, wet, and downed by sickness. Jones had a low opinion of the war, which he was convinced would drag on endlessly, and put in for transfer as soon as he felt it was honorable. At this next posting, to Fort Caswell, his entire family nearly drowned at sea during an autumn gale off Cape Fear. He concludes the first part of his memoir with his eventual transfer to serve as military storekeeper at the National Arsenal in Washington, D.C.
Jones titled the account of his life "A brief Narration of some of the Principle Events in the Life of Joel W. Jones with a few observations." He composed most of the memoir in 1849, and that portion is reproduced here. He added a lengthy addendum some twenty-three years later. Then an old man, failing in health, he brought the memoir up-to-date, but with many bitter recriminations that his life had not progressed as he had expected. He played no active role in the Civil War although he supported the Union. A second volume accompanying the memoir contains documentation of his career.
Page design, text, and transcription by Leigh V. Stephens.