Gunsmithing marvel among best in 19th century
James Monroe Jones, a Black American gunsmith, distinguished himself as one of the top gunmakers in the world in the 19th century. Courtesy Cowans Auctions James Monroe Jones, Black American gunmaker distinguished talent in 19th century By
James Monroe Jones, a Black American gunsmith, distinguished himself as one of the top gunmakers in the world in the 19th century. Courtesy Cowans Auctions
James Monroe Jones, Black American gunmaker distinguished talent in 19th century
By PHILIP SMITH, Contributing writer
Gunsmithing genius James Monroe Jones was one of the very few African American gunmakers working in 19th Century America. Born a slave in North Carolina, Jones’ father eventually purchased his family’s freedom and moved them to the free state of Ohio.
Jumping ahead in time, Jones eventually attended and graduated from Oberlin University in Ohio, and worked as a gunmaker in London, Ohio and later in Chatham, Ontario Canada.
Jones was highly gifted as an African American gunmaker in Canada in the 19th century and was renowned for his exquisite craftsmanship, once even producing a pair of extraordinary gilt derringer pistols for Albert Edward the Prince of Wales, ultimately heir apparent to the British throne as King Edward the VII.
During Prince Albert’s visit, he was persuaded to divert his initial official Canadian tour to Chatham, Ontario to accept the finely crafted pair of derringer pistols made by Jones.
While waiting to meet and congratulate Jones, Prince Albert was informed the blacksmith was, in fact, a Black man named James Monroe “Gunsmith” Jones who had fashioned the derringer pistols.
Confronted with the truth the pistols had been created by what was considered at the time as “contaminated hands,” unfit to present a gift to a member of the Royal Family, the prince after being duly informed of the social dilemma, left immediately and never met Jones.
Jones left and eventually entered Canada West, where he married Emily Francis of Howard Township. In 1852, they settled in Chatham, with its burgeoning Black population. By 1860, as a significant Underground Railroad terminal, the region’s Black population approached 33 percent.
In his final years, Jones moved to live with his son in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he died in 1906 at the age of 85. Today, Jones’s weapons and awards are displayed in Windsor, Chatham.
The Canada Directory for 1857-58 lists James Monroe Jones as a “manufacturer of rifles, guns, and pistols.” James Gooding, publisher of The Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting, named Jones one of six gunsmiths ranked among the world’s finest.
About the National African American Gun Association
The goal of the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) is to introduce African Americans to firearm use for home protection, competitive shooting, and outdoor recreational activities, and to provide a network for African American gun clubs, firearm owners, and outdoor enthusiasts. NAAGA is further dedicated to civil rights, community preservation, and community building.
Philip Smith is president of the National African American Gun Association. For more information visit: www.naaga.com.