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Jones, George (1810-1879)

Count Joannes
Actor, Historian, Lecturer

George Jones was born in London in 1810 and immigrated to Boston at the age of six. He made his first appearance on stage in 1828 at Boston’s Federal Street Theatre, and became manager of the Marshall Theatre in Richmond in 1839. That same year, Jones’ first wife Melinda gave birth to Avonia, who would become a popular actress. “In 1833 he was installed Count of Sertorli of the Holy Roman Empire, of the First Commander of the Imperial Order of Golden Knight and Count Palatine, and thereafter always wore in public the insignia of his knighthood” (“Queries and Answers”). Melinda divorced Jones in 1850, on the grounds that he had “coerced her into an acting career, fathered two daughters by her, and then left for Europe (“Research Notes Number 10”).

Jones made his first appearance in New York at the Bowery Theatre in 1831 as the Prince of Wales in Henry IV, and remained there three seasons (“Queries and Answers”). Jones and Melinda’s acting was enjoyed at the Bowery, where Avonia would make her stage debut twenty-five years later in the 1863-1864 season. During the same season, however, Jones is described as "eccentric" and "posing as Count Joannes" with his new wife. Jones and the "Countess" are described as "self-advertising" and gave a performance of Hamlet at the Academy on April 30, 1864 with an "oddly assorted cast.” Odell speculates, "Perhaps if Joannes was mad, he was mad about himself; at any rate, his self-glorification in this event was sickening and perhaps inspired the public desire, exhibited later in his career, to throw fruit and vegetables on the stage he was treading." The show was called "self-made ridiculousness" (Odell 7).

On April 6, 1864, Jones appeared at the Cooper Institute and gave "a dramatic and historical oration, not from notes, but entirely from memory" that he also did for the Sanitary Commission. Jones also gave a Shakespeare jubilee oration at Cooper Institute with a tableaux from the plays (Odell 7). According to one New York Times article, “His later theatrical performances in this city were not taken seriously by his audiences, who unmercifully guyed him and his company” (“Queries and Answers”). Walter P. Armstrong, Jr. writes, “no one seeing for the first time his cadaverous, unsmiling face, his steel-gray eyes and compressed lips party concealed by a moustache…would have guessed that this exterior concealed one of Nature’s clowns, one whose destiny was to be the butt of ridicule of others. Least of all would the Count himself have guessed it, for his purpose was of the highest seriousness” (829).

Walt Whitman explains that Jones was a frequent visitor to Pfaff's: "The 'Count Joannes'--George Jones, the actor--used to come there; and an able man he was, barring the 'Count'" (qtd. in T. Donaldson 208-09).

Jones was admitted to practice law in New York around 1865 and lectured across the U.S. and Europe, having written the History of Ancient America (1843). Despite that Jones was admitted to practice law in New York around 1865, he appeared to spend more time in court with his own legal trouble. In 1863, the New York Times notes, “As far back as our memory goes, we have observed that the Boston papers were occupied in great part with reports of trials of the Count, for one offence or another,” one issue being the legitimacy of his title. The article satirically suggests that Jones “be offered an asylum in the City of New-York. We suggest that a grand mass meeting be held at an early day, of all the noblemen, counts, dukes, descendants of Irish kings, and common barrators living here, and that they offer their sympathy to their fellow-aristocrat in his distress” (“Sorrows of a Count”). Jones would later file a libel suit against the Times in 1876 (“Libel Suit against the Times”)

Jones died in a New York hotel in 1879 and was buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Long Island (“Queries and Answers”).