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The Families Who Helped Build A Legacy: The Indomitable Uncle Bob

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

This is a continuation of a blog series on the families who lived and worked alongside the Jones, Ryon, Davis and George families here at the George Ranch. Click here for part one. Click here for part two.

Robert H. Jones: The Indomitable Uncle Bob

In 1836, Robert “Bob” was born to Virginian enslaved parents who worked for the Jones family. He likely grew up at the Jones Stock Farm where he was trained as a ranch hand for the family. Due to his high appraisal value at the time of Henry’s death and his favored status with the family, it is hypothesized that he may have also managed the stock farm for Henry at some point. In 1860, he married Polly Ryon’s cook Cora, a relationship that lasted 35 years until her death in 1895.

When Henry Jones died in 1861, Bob was inherited by Henry’s daughter Polly, which gave him the opportunity to live with his wife for the first time since their marriage a year earlier. They had three children together: Louisa, Y. Union and Millburn.

Family of Y. Union Jones, Bob and Cora’s son. This picture also features his two daughters, grandson and wife.

After emancipation, Bob chose the last name Jones. Like many of those who were formerly enslaved, Bob registered to vote at the earliest opportunity.
Within three years of emancipation, Bob owned five horses and 40 head of cattle, ranking him 2nd in the amount of cattle owned by an African American in Fort Bend County. In 1878, he achieved the goal of land ownership, purchasing 200 acres of land for $1,000. By 1899, he had acquired almost 1,600 acres, the most land owned by an African American in Fort Bend County at the time.

In addition to his farming and ranching operation, Robert Jones also established many other businesses in the county. In the 1880s, he built a steam-powered cotton gin in Thompsons on leased land that served his sharecroppers as well as the greater community. By 1889, Robert and his son Y. Union Jones had formed the partnership R.H. Jones & Son to expand their farming land and to operate businesses in Thompsons. The business bought and sold livestock, extended credit to cotton farmers, operated the cotton gin and opened a general store, saloon, blacksmith shop and several retail properties. When the business dissolved in 1900, it was valued at almost $13,000.

Home of Y. Union Jones and Family. Published in Herald-Coaster on Dec. 20, 1951.

Robert’s son Y. Union Jones continued to prosper after the dissolution of the family business. He went on to establish himself independently as a successful farmer, rancher and businessman.

This information originated as a pop-up Juneteenth exhibit at the George Ranch Historical Park. Most of the research came from Michael R. Moore’s thesis titled, “Settlers, Slaves, Sharecroppers, and Stockhands: A Texas Plantation-Ranch, 1824-1896.” Moore is a former executive director of the Fort Bend History Association; his thesis can be found at the Houston Public Library.