Trivia question! Who was the only person from the town of Great Barrington to become president of a country? The answer: Anson Jones.
Medical doctor and businessman Anson Jones (1798-1858) was also an ambassador, congressman and the fourth (and last) president of the Republic of Texas. Born and raised in Great Barrington, Jones said his earliest recollections were of that “pleasant little village in Berkshire County, on the banks of the Housatonic [River]…” He was the 13th of the 14 children of Solomon and Sarah Strong Jones.
Jones’ father fought at Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War and witnessed British Gen. Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga. He was a poor tenant farmer and tanner who was driven by economic necessity to move his big brood from one scrubby farm to another at frequent intervals. Young Jones displayed considerable intelligence at an early age, and made every effort to attend school regularly. At one point he hiked to a tiny school near the Sheffield border, and later walked more than two miles to a school house at Seekonk Cross Road. One friend of the family recalled that Jones was a bright boy who went ice fishing with his pals during the winter at Long Pond. While the other children’s feet quickly got cold standing on the ice, Jones was smart enough to bring along a thick wooden board on which to stand, helping to insulate his feet from the ice.
The Jones family remained poor and, despite his hardscrabble lifestyle, Anson must have retained some fond memories of Great Barrington. Many years later, he named his prosperous Texas ranch “Barrington.” The building was later moved, restored, and is now preserved as a living history museum at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park.
Jones’ family pushed him to become a doctor. He began an apprenticeship with a physician in Litchfield, Connecticut, and continued his studies in Utica, New York, where he lived with a brother. To earn money, he worked as a teacher. He later practiced medicine (rather unsuccessfully) in Philadelphia, Venezuela and New Orleans.
When Jones moved to Texas, however, he experienced two decades of accomplishment. What makes Jones’ eventual success even more remarkable is that he probably suffered from crippling depression for part of his life.
In 1836 he helped create an independent nation, the Republic of Texas, and served in the U.S. Army as a surgeon. He married Mary McCrory in 1840 and they raised four children. He also served as the first grand master of the Texas Masonic fraternity.
Jones held several important governmental positions. He was a judge advocate general, then was elected to the Texas legislature in 1837. He served in Washington, D.C., as ambassador from Texas, meeting frequently with President Martin Van Buren. He became the Texas secretary of state and was elected fourth president of the Republic of Texas in 1844, serving until the country was annexed to the United States in 1846. At a ceremony held to formally bring Texas into the United States, Jones delivered a speech that he concluded by declaring, “The final act in this great drama is now performed. The Republic of Texas is no more.”
For a time, Jones retired to his prosperous ranch and wrote a book about the history of Texas. He lost a heartfelt bid to become a U.S. senator and, while suffering a bout of severe depression (and considerable pain from an earlier leg injury), Jones took his own life in 1858.
Today, the town of Anson, Texas, as well as Jones County, Texas, are named after him, as are two schools. Although nearly forgotten in the Berkshires, Anson Jones remains a legend in Texas. Great Barrington should be proud to call him a native son.