Willie (pronounced Wylie) Jones was the son of a wealthy crown agent, and at the young age of 12 was sent to England to attend Eton, like his father before him. And like a few of our other Founding Fathers, was loyal to Governor Tryon and assisted in the crackdown on the Regulators:
As might be expected from his heritage, he was identified during these early years with the royal governors, William Tryon and Josiah Martin, and their clique. He marched with Tryon's colonial militia to Orange County and was appointed Tryon's aide-de-camp on 15 May 1771, the day before Tryon's victory over the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance. Several days later Captain Jones was sent to raid the plantation of Herman Husband, a leading Regulator. When Tryon left North Carolina to become governor of New York, Jones "publicly lamented his removal . . . as a calamity to the province." As a further indication of his allegiance to the royal clique, he was appointed, on Governor Martin recommendation, to His Majesty's Council of the Province of North Carolina on 9 Mar. 1774.
But that loyalty soon frayed, and Willie joined the cause of liberty, adding his sharp intellect to mix. In his (brief) one year career in the Continental Congress, his grasp of the military situation and his determination to make sure it succeeded contributed greatly to the cause:
I will give you a short State of Affairs here, from whence you may the better judge what is necessary to be done by the Assembly of No. Carolina. Genl. Washingtons army is now reduced to the Lines of the New England States, N. York & Pensylvania, with one new Regiment of Mary Land troops 500. Many of these consist of new Recruits raised for 6 months, and the Enlistments of many of the Veterans expire in January next; so that by the month of Febry. the Contl. army under his commd. will probably not exceed 5000 Men. He has stated this matter to Congress and pressed most earnestly that the Contl. Battalions be compleated to serve during the war, by the Month of Jany; and Congress is now deliberating on the Subject, and will no doubt urge the proposition to the States: probably they will not be able to comply with the Requisitions in point of time & if they do, I think it will be very difficult if not impossible to prevail on Congress to order any of the Contl. Troops from Philada. Eastward to the Defence of No. Carolina during the ensuing Winter. Possibly the Maryland Regiment & some Cavalry may be ordered to the So. ward; but you must not depend even on this. Virginia & No. Carolina will probably have the whole weight of the Southern War on their Shoulders, during the ensuing winter, and our assembly ought to provide accordingly.
If the 2d Division of the French Fleet destined for america should arrive this Fall, and give us a Superiority on the Water there will be no great Danger in No. Carolina; indeed every thing might be retrieved, as the French Troops would probably be employed in the Southern Departmt. if provisions could be procured for subsisting them but Genl. Washington informed us yesterday (1) that the 2d Division was blocked up in the Harbour of Brest by the British Fleet. We will then suppose the British Fleet to be superior on our Coasts during the Winter; in which Case it is probable that Genl. Clinton will detach a strong Reinforcement to Charlestown and that a vigorous Winter Campaign will be carried on against No. Carolina. Under these Circumstances Militia alone can not be adequate to the Defence of our State, therefore I condude it is indispensably necessary that our Contl. Battalions should be completed, whatever Expence may accrue or Difficulties occur on the Subject.
Graves's fleet left the East End of Long Island Saturday week and stood to Sea; we have not heard of their Arrival at N. York. The Board of War before my Brothers Departure 2 ordered 2000 Stand of arms to No. Carolina via the Bay; the Vessel was chased and obliged to land their arms; but they have been since ordered on, but I cant tell to what place. Congress proposes to borrow some arms from Virginia for your immediate Use, and to replace them at a short period. I wish our assembly would make some further Efforts for supplying the State with arms & Military Stores. A Laboratory is established at Richmond for the purpose of supplying the Southern Department with various military Stores. The Board of War have prepared 300 pistols & Swords for Whites & Washingtons Cavalry & have sent them or will immediately send them to Baltimore, to go from thence with Saddles which are making there for the same Cavalry. With some Difficulty I have found the Goods left here by Capt. Read. There is a hhd & a box; but I know not what they contain, nor is it possible for me to send them on at present.
Congress I believe expect no Money or provisions from Virginia and No. Carolina for Northern purposes. Our State must establish Magazines of provisions and now is the time to do it.
Not a Shilling in the Contl. Treasury.
Like most of his predecessors, Jones expended a great deal of time and effort coordinating (and cajoling) to secure food, arms, equipment, pay, etc., for the Continental Army. But unlike most of his fellow lawmakers, the dual goals of winning the war & forming a Union were not on his mind. His embrace of the ideals of liberty caused him to shun the idea of a central government, making him more Jeffersonian than even Jefferson was. So much so that he tried to derail the ratification of the Constitution eight years after he'd engaged in the early days of its crafting:
States' righter that he was, Jones refused appointment as a delegate to the Federal convention in 1787. His excuse to Governor Caswell was that he did not "think it will be in my power to attend there at the Time appointed." When the Constitution was submitted to the Hillsborough convention in 1788, he led the Anti-Federalist forces against its adoption. On the first day he proposed a vote without debate, declaring that "all the delegates knew how they were going to vote and he did not want to be guilty of lavishing public money." Defeated on this issue, he yielded to a full-scale, eleven-day debate in which he seldom participated, but exerted his influence against adoption behind the scenes. Particularly deploring the absence of a bill of rights, he cited a letter from Thomas Jefferson in Paris to James Madison at the Virginia convention, in which Jefferson wrote that he wished nine states would adopt it, not because it deserved ratification but in order to preserve the Union. Jefferson hoped, though, that the other four states would reject it—to ensure the adoption of amendments. Jones, in agreement, concluded: "For my part, I would rather be eighteen years out of the Union than adopt it in its present defective form."
When the final ballot was taken, the Anti-Federalists, by a vote of 184 to 84, carried a resolution neither rejecting nor ratifying the Constitution, but proposed a bill of rights of twenty parts as well as twenty-six amendments. Perhaps realizing that the efforts of such leading Federalists as William R. Davie and James Iredell had turned the tide, Jones did not run as a delegate to the Fayetteville convention of 1789, which ratified the Constitution by a vote of 195 to 77.
As we've learned from previous diaries in this series, it takes all kinds to form a country like ours. If it weren't for anti-Federalists like Jones, our Bill of Rights probably wouldn't exist. And I'm not sure if we could have survived as a nation without them.