October 20, 1832-June 6, 1908
In the famous "Ten Children" photo John Lloyd Jones stands tall among his siblings -- strong-featured, wild-haired, gimlet-eyed. Who could have guessed at the time of his 1832 birth in Wales, the paths that would lead John Lloyd Jones to our country, our Valley, our chapel, our graveyard?
John's parents, Richard and Mallie Jones, eked out a living farming a small parcel of land in Llandyssul, Wales. They already had one son, Thomas, who preceded John by twenty-two months. Nine more children were to follow, five of them born in Wales. But at the time of John's birth America seemed as far away as the moon. Welsh valleys and hillsides, pastures and sheep cotes were the familiar as John began to grow. His tongue never lost the soft Welsh song of his early years. The days spent watching sheep and guarding against wolves seemed endless and unchanging to a small boy sent far from home each morning -- but change was inexorably approaching. Richard's siblings began emigrating to America and sending back excited reports. Economic times in Wales were hard and religious freedoms were threatened. The time for action had come -- and the Joneses joined the multitudes of emigrants coming to America, looking for a better life.
As the second oldest, John was strong, hard-working, energetic. And there was much to do. He was a true pioneer in the forests of Wisconsin, chopping wood, rearing the log cabin, clearing Jefferson County with axe and maul, ox team and horse.
Given little chance for an education himself, he valued education hugely and worked towards its betterment all of his life. As he matured he became intensely interested in the politics and potentials of this new land. As his brother, Jenkin, recalled during John's funeral service, "(John) was every inch an American. No member of the family, perhaps no man of his countryside, kept such close tabs on current affairs, was so intimately acquainted with the details of public administration in state or nation as this ardent citizen who believed with all his heart in the democracy of God. He was on the liberal, the freedom side in religion and politics."
All very well and good. But what was Uncle John LIKE?
John was in his mid-30's when the family moved to the Valley. His calling was that of miller. He ground the grain of all the farmers in the area and Maginel Wright Barney, in her book The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses, recalls watching the water wheels turning as "Uncle John would come to the door of his mill to watch and greet us, a spectral figure whitened with flour from head to foot."
There may be signs of that mill around today. The Fellowship's Frances Nemtin has seen foundation fragments of the mill by the upper dam at Taliesin, and Craig Jacobsen believes he has read of the "old mill" being transported to Midway Barn and turned into a house -- possibly the house that Frances and Stephen Nemtin once occupied. That would be consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright's insistence on recycling.
John was also a man who took in "protégés". There was David Timothy, the Valley's splendid stone mason, and a "Mr. Sweet", someone of no known heritage or background who was given a little land when his farming days were done and allowed to build a shack on it--and a garden. When John's wife Nettie cooked a particularly good meal, Mr. Sweet was included at the table. Through such small actions a picture emerges of John as a man of generosity, a man of kindness.
His large farm house still stands today on Highway 23. It had a small back building that served the Valley as a post office. John's wife Nettie succeeded him as post master after John's premature death.
A County Commissioner for many years, John oversaw care for the indigent, the mentally ill, the ignorant. His love for his country extended beyond the county. Jenkin, in the obituary, recounted that the only friction that ever occurred between the two brothers was which of them would bear arms for freedom during the Civil War. But John, older, more mature, was needed on the farm "where he served his country more efficiently with the sweat of his brow and the toil of his hands...yielding to me the lighter, the easier and less responsible position of private in the front."
Four children were born to John and Nettie, John Richard ("Cousin Dick) who amused neighbors by papering the privy with cut-out jokes and cartoons, Thomas R., Mary and Jenkin. Jenkin, a great favorite, died of scarlet fever at the age of 14. Mary never married, so our only "John line" descendants come through Cousin Dick and Thomas R.
We know John to have been patriotic, idealistic, hard-working, compassionate. He could also be both stubborn and brave. His life declined and ended when a piece of metal was lodged in his hand and he refused to have it removed. After infection and cancer set in the hand was amputated, but the cancer had spread too far. Despite the agony, he refused anesthetic. "No anesthetics. They would blur the mind. I will have none of them!"
As Jenkin eulogized his brother, he summarized his life and religion by saying, "thank Heaven he had a religion which was not a matter of phrases or formalities, but a matter of realization and exemplification. His was a religion based in the love of justice and an enthusiasm for humanity". Exemplary words for an exemplary man.
And so, John joined his parents and siblings in the Chapel graveyard -- whispering at the end to brother Jenkin his great fear that the "little shrine" where he would rest might be neglected and underestimated by those to follow.
What peace his soul must feel if it looks at our Chapel now.