Biography of Captain Horatio Jones
FROM: History of Livingston County, New York
By James H. Smith
Assisted by Hume H. Cole
Published By D. Mason & Co. 1881


Among the distinguished patriots and adventurous pioneers who have left an impress upon Western New York, none were more noble and conspicuous than Horatio Jones. Born in Chester county, Penn., on the 7th of February, 1763, at an early age he removed with his family to Bedford county in the same State, and being fond of field sports, became an adept in the use of the rifle before he was fourteen. At the age of sixteen he entered the military service of his country as a member of the "Bedford Rangers," a rifle company which embraced thirty-two young men, the flower and chivalry of Bedford county. This company had gained great renown for their valuable services in repelling the incursions of the hostile Iroquois, who "hung like the scythe of death upon the frontier settlements, inscribing their deeds with the tomahawk and scalping knife in characters of blood." In the early spring of 1779 the command was most unfortunately drawn into an ambush by a large party of Seneca Indians- and fully a third of the Rangers were killed at the first fire-about a third escaped and the balance were made prisoners. Young Jones would have got away, as he was a very fleet runner, but one of the strings of his moccasins became loosened and wound around a staddle in the underbrush, which caused him to fall, and as his rifle had been discharged he had no means of defense, and with several of his comrades was taken and securely bound by the savages.

After scalping those who had been killed, the band and their captives were hurried away through the wilderness to the Indian country. They suffered great hardship in the march from fatigue and starvation, but finally reached the village at Nunda, in this county. From there they were taken to Caneadea, and forced to "run the gauntlet,"-a ceremony common to captives previous to their being slain or adopted into families, to supply the places of those who had died or been killed in battle. The prisoners were required to run forty or fifty rods from the starting place to the Council House. The old men, boys and squaws of the tribe being armed with tomahawks, knives, hatchets, clubs and sticks, were allowed to strike the captives before they reached the goal. This ordeal was for the amusement of the tribe. but the warriors scorned to engage in the pastime. Jones was the first to run and he safely dodged or jumped over those in his way and reached the goal without a scratch, his fearlessness and activity being equal to the occasion. His companions were less fortunate, and one was killed outright, and according to the Indian usage his head was severed and placed upon the war-post. Subsequent to this, Jones was adopted into a family and given an Indian name. On two occasions he attempted to escape, but with nearly two hundred miles of a trackless wilderness in his front, without compass or trail, the effort proved impracticable. He finally accepted the situation-learned the Indian language-entered heartily into their sports, and soon became a great favorite, as he could out-run and out-jump their most athletic young men. During the continuance of the war he was of invaluable aid in saving the lives of other prisoners as was notable in the case of Major Moses Van Campen, who on one occasion had when a prisoner, killed several Indians who were guarding him and made good his escape. He was subsequently taken again and brought to the Indian country, but by the sagacity and address of Jones, was delivered to the British for exchange before the Indians learned who he was. In September. 1779, when Gen. Sullivan made his famous campaign against the Senecas to destroy their crops and burn their villages, Jones, with the whole tribe, except the warriors, was kept at a secure distance.

At the close of the war he was appointed by Gen. Washington, Agent and Interpreter for the Six Nations-an office he held through successive administrations for a period of over forty years. He rendered the language with singular accuracy. His style was terse and graphic, and his manner pleasing and impressive. It is said that the great orator, Red Jacket, would not allow any one but Jones to interpret his speeches. His services as interpreter at the celebrated treaty at Big Tree, (now Geneseo,) in 1797, were of the greatest possible advantage to the Council.

As early as 1785 Capt. Jones married a lady of Schenectady, and established a trading post at Schanves, (now Waterloo,) in the county of seneca. and the next year he was connected with John Jacob Astor, in the fur trade at Geneva. Here his eldest son was born-the first white child born west of Utica. This son, Col. Wm. W. Jones, died at his residence in the town of Leicester, in this county in 1870, at the advanced age of eighty-four.

In 1789 Capt. Jones returned to the Genesee Valley and settled on the border of the river in Geneseo, being the first white settler in the flow county of Livingston. He was twice married, and some of his descendants, and others connected with his family, are still among the most prominent and honored residents of Western New York. As has been most justly said by Rev. Dr. Gridley, in his eloquent eulogy before the Seneca County Historical Society, from which valuable contribution to our early history we are indebted for many facts and dates "Few men have passed a more charmed and eventful life than Capt. Horatio Jones-made a prisoner by a savage tribe of hostile Indians while in his country's service-exposed to the caprices of his captors-now dodging the uplifted war club, and the deadly aim of the rifle and tomahawk-now sick with pestilence-rising from the condition of the captive to that of a son by adoption into the family and a favorite of the tribe-honored by the authorities of his country-he passed the span of more than an ordinary life-time in benefitting a disappointed and waning race; and by his enterprise, intelligence and public spirit, founding a social state of his own people, which in culture, tone, and loftiness of aim, has proved worthy of the physical beauty and wealth of the 'Garden of New York.'"

Capt. Jones died at his residence, known as Sweet Brier, on the banks of the Genesee river, in the town of Geneseo, in August, 1836, at the age of seventy-three years and six months,-" full of years and full of honors."

Return to [ Livingston County Bio's ] [ New York History ] [ Online Biographies ]

All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy