Cuthbert Jones

Cuthbert Jones

  (52nd in a Series)  

In 1885, Cuthbert Jones wrote in a newspaper article that a Louisiana politician – Congressman J. Floyd King of Vidalia – was a liar. He used a few other choice words as well – poltroon, coward, scoundrel.  

Cuthbert had grown up in Catahoula Parish and had been involved in the final days of the Jones-Liddell Feud, a 24-year dispute between Cuthbert’s father Charles Jones and a neighboring planter up Black River, St. John Richardson Liddell.  

Six men died as a result the feud. Cuthbert’s father, Charles Jones, and Cuthbert’s brother, Willie, were the last of the six to fall. Two weeks prior to their deaths in late February 1870, the three Joneses had shot and killed Liddell aboard a steamboat.  

Cuthbert had survived the mob attack in Harrisonburg that killed his father and brother. He fled to New Orleans, met up with his mother and siblings, and together they sailed to Europe even though Cuthbert was wanted for murder in Catahoula Parish.  

He learned to speak several languages in Europe and from the mid-1870s to the early 1880s served as a diplomat as a consul to Tripoli, assisting U.S. companies that did business in Libya and helping U.S. citizens who lived there. In the mid-1880s, he returned to the U.S. for the first time since leaving where in Washington, D.C., President Grover Cleveland was believed to be close to appointing Cuthbert as consul to Peru. The embassy was based in the Pacific Coast town of Callao.  

 Members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation supported Cuthbert’s appointment until one member, U.S. Rep. J. Floyd King of Vidalia, changed his mind and voiced his opposition since Cuthbert was considered a fugitive from justice on a murder charge. Several newspapers, especially one in New Orleans, editorialized against the appointment and urged the governor to have Cuthbert arrested.  

To add to the controversy, during an 1885 interview with a newspaper, Congressman King was quoted as saying that Charles Jones’ wife, Laura, and Gen. Liddell’s wife, Mary, were presently living in Catahoula Parish as mistresses of their former slaves. The racially-charged quote – which also alleged both women were immoral – drew outrage, especially from Cuthbert Jones.  

And it was a known fact that Mary Liddell had been dead for a decade and a half.  

King quickly made it known that he never made the statement about the two women and blamed the misquote on a hard-of-hearing reporter for a Pittsburgh newspaper.  

But before things were settled, there were threats of violence, including a duel.  

‘TALK OF BLOOD’  

The Indianapolis Journal reported in mid-June 1885: “Some weeks ago, Cuthbert Bullitt Jones of Louisiana was reported to have secured the consulate at Callao, Peru … The reported appointment brought a vigorous protest from several Louisiana men, among whom was Congressman J. Floyd King.”  

Noting that King had been interviewed by reporter Charles Murray of Pittsburgh, the paper reported that the allegations about Jones’ widow and the late Mrs. Liddell reflected “very severely upon the character” of the two women.  

“Cuthbert B. Jones, on hearing of the charge, declared that it was absolutely false, and last night there was talk of blood to avenge the insult. It was expected that either King, Jones, or the correspondent would be shot today, and there was a great deal of excitement in the vicinity of the up-town hotels {in Washington D.C.}, and friends of the interested parties were busy all morning endeavoring to bring about an amicable arrangement, which as at last been effected.”  

In a letter printed in a newspaper published in the fall of 1885, Cuthbert wrote an open letter to King:  

“A year or more ago I came here {Washington, D.C.} and applied to be appointed in the consular service. You gave me  your endorsement.  

“You went to Secretary of State {Frederick} Frelinghuysen and strongly urged my appointment. When the administration of Mr. Cleveland came to power, I, being in political accord with it, thought my chance of appointment would be good.”  

Cuthbert wrote that despite the fact he spoke five languages, had five years’ experience in the consular service and received good marks for his work that because the Jones-Liddell Feud had gained new notoriety, some, like King, began work to derail his appointment. Cuthbert noted that he wasn’t even born when the feud began.  

He had also claimed that when he, his father and brother shot Liddell aboard the steamer St. Mary on the Black River, that they did so in self-defense. He claimed Liddell drew first.  

Although he said that he “was in no wise responsible” for the feud, he claimed he could not get a fair trial in Louisiana and as a last resort left the U.S. to “live abroad until the lapse of years had cooled passion and healed resentment. This I did at the sacrifice of wealth and prosperity.  

“I applied to you {King} to aid me with Secretary {Thomas} Bayard. You promised to do so. I had the endorsement of {Louisiana} Senators {Randall} Gibson and {James B.} Eustis and many other influential gentlemen of Louisiana.  

“You said you, too, would aid me. Instead of doing so, you began a systematic and cowardly course of lying against me. You lied to the President, you lied to the Secretary of State, you lied to the newspapers.”  

Cuthbert stacked insult after insult upon King before concluding:  

“You are a warrior among Quakers and a Quaker among warriors – a fraud, a sham, a standing disgrace to the State that bore you, and to the State that you misrepresent. And I therefore publicly and deliberately pronounced you to be a liar and a coward, a poltroon and a scoundrel.”  

‘UNQUESTIONABLY ERRONEOUS’  

Even before Cuthbert published his letter against King, the congressman from Vidalia -- a Georgian by birth who moved to Louisiana after the Civil War -- King had responded to the article by reporter Charles Murray concerning Laura Jones and Mary Liddell.  

One newspaper wrote that Murray was “exceedingly deaf, which accounts for the erroneous character of the interview.”  

King told the Associated Press:  

“I beg to say that the alleged interview with me in regard to the Liddell-Jones matter, as published in the Pittsburgh Dispatch and copied into other papers, did not take place as represented. Most of the statements therein are purely sensational, and some of them, referring to innocent ladies {the widow Jones and the late Mrs. Liddell}, are not only erroneous but injurious to characters stainless and pure. I did not use such language in regard to the ladies mentioned, nor am I capable of using it in regard to any woman in the world.”  

While Murray the reporter acknowledged there were errors in the story, he did not apologize.  

Murray said: “As there were some inaccuracies in the interview in question, which were made evident by a conversation with Mr. King, a letter of explanation of the circumstances under which the interview was obtained and in acknowledgement of the errors has been sent by me to Mr. Weightman for Mr. Jones’ perusal.  

“The portion of the interview of which complaint is made was that in reference to the mothers of the Liddells and Jones, which is unquestionably erroneous as one of the ladies in question has been ascertained to have been dead several years, and the other, Mrs. Jones is a lady of seventy, living, respected by those who know her on her own plantation in Louisiana.”  

But Cuthbert Jones was not through. In the months ahead, he would confront King at a barbershop in a Washington hotel.  

NEW DETAILS ON ESCAPE  

While this issue raged in Washington during the mid-1880s, a story about Jones-Liddell feud and Cuthbert’s miraculous escape from the mob in Harrisonburg drew new interest in the case.  

Cuthbert, his father and brother had been held by Sheriff Oliver Ballard as prisoners in Ballard’s home – known the Sargent House -- after the three shot and killed Liddell. Ballard held the men as they awaited a hearing on the shooting.  

But before a hearing could be held, a mob arrived in the middle of the night in late February 1870, killed Charles Jones in the front yard and Willie Jones in the back while Cuthbert with the help of Ballard, his family, Jones family friend Elijah Cotton and a steamboat captain worked together to save him from the mob.  

In 1885, as the Cuthbert Jones-J. Floyd King conflict drew newspaper stories across the country, the New Orleans City Item published a fascinating update on Cuthbert’s escape from the Sargent House 15 years earlier after an interview with a man -- who asked to remain anonymous – claiming he assisted in Cuthbert’s escape and also saw to it that Charles Jones and Willie Jones were buried at family home on Elmly Plantation along Black River south of Jonesville.  

According to the newspaper:  

“A gentleman, former resident of the parish of Catahoula, and now an influential citizen and merchant of New Orleans, was intimately connected with the tragic occurrences of the year 1870, the result of the Liddell-Jones feud.”  

The unidentified man gave this statement:  

“I was a resident of the parish and knew both families well. Mr. Jones and his two sons were brought to Harrisonburg by the sheriff, who … placed them in custody of his own family, in a house belonging to, and occupied by Mrs. Sargent, his mother-in-law.  

“At the dead of night, it was, I remember well, on a Sunday, the avengers came to the house and shot Mr. Jones and the oldest son to death. Cuthbert escaped by a miracle indeed. He was in a room on the second floor of the building, and when he heard the avengers nearing his room, he dropped down to a narrow ledge below the window, to which he clung with his fingers with a desperate grip. It was pitch dark, and he escaped discovery.  

“After his escape, Cuthbert Jones was brought to my house by a friend of the family, and I kept him concealed from early Monday morning till Tuesday night about 10 o’clock, where we placed him in charge of Mr. Wardlow, who came in a dugout for Jones. This arrangement was brought to the knowledge of the sheriff, whom I addressed in person on the subject.  

“Cuthbert remained with Mr. Wardlow, until the third boat {on the Ouachita} passed, when he took passage for New Orleans. In this city he stopped with Col. A.P. Field, who was at the time Attorney General, residing on Terpsichore Street, between Prytania and Coliseum.”  

The man also noted: “I helped to bury the bodies of the murdered men. The morning after the killing I went to Mrs. Sargent’s house and saw the dead bodies of the elder Jones and his son laid out on a gallery with but a sheet over them. I ordered two of my servants to wash the corpses and had them decently clad. Then I sent for a carpenter, had two coffins made and shipped the remains to the Jones plantation, where they were buried.”  

(To Be Continued)  

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