Seeking Independence

The prompt for 52 ancestors for week 27 is Independence.

James Bones was born in 1766 to John Bones and Elizabeth Scott in Ballyportey, County Antrim, Ireland. Nothing is known about his childhood. As an adult, he worked as a linen bleacher in the ubiquitous Irish linen industry. He was also a farmer, leasing a farm in Ballygarvey.

In 1790, he married the beautiful Mary Adams, the oldest daughter of John Adams and Elizabeth Borleand, of Chequer Hall, Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland. They would have 9 children.

James was a member of the United Irishmen, a society that sought to end British rule and establish a sovereign government in Ireland. The group was inspired by the French Revolution in 1791 and support continued to grow over the next several years. James and his brother Samuel believed in civil and religious liberty.  Later, James B. Hamilton of Balleymoney, Ireland explained in a letter to Henry Moore of Augusta, Georgia, that “Your ancestor James Bones is marked on a list in 1797 of the jurors of county Antrim as ‘Bad in every sense of the term.’ This would mean that he was known to be ‘Against the government’ and would be kept off by the crown prosecutor, of any jury in trials of disaffected persons such united Irish men.”

The Bones brothers would both participate in the Irish Rebellion of 1797. When the rebellion failed, both were arrested. At some point, while James was fleeing from the British, he alluded them by going to the home of his father-in-law and hiding himself in the back of the bread closet. After his arrest, he was sent to jail and sentenced to be shot. Two family legends guess at how he made his escape:

Mary Adams his wife was very beautiful and tradition tells us that taking her young infant in arms [daughter Eliza] she approached the guard making an appeal for her husband’s life. The guard won by her beauty and strong appeal allowed James to escape and be smuggled out of the country.

Another version of the escape is, a friend went to prison to see him, exchanged places and clothes and thus he escaped to the coast where Mary and children joined him. They tarried long enough for him to obtain a piece of the giant’s causeway bringing it with him that he might always have a bit of his beloved Ireland.

James, possibly with his wife and four children, fled to Jamaica. They returned to Ireland by 1801, where their fifth child, William was born. Things had calmed down politically for James, but there were still some prejudices against him because of his participation in the rebellion. He was unable to regain his farm until 1809.

In 1810, the family, now including 9 children ages 1 to 18, immigrated to America to join the rest of James’ family in South Carolina. The family is said to have arrived in Savannah, Georgia in time to celebrate Independence Day.

James and Mary would first go to Fairfield, South Carolina and then to Edgfield, South Carolina. He made application to become a citizen of the United States on April 16, 1817. (I haven’t found record of citizenship being granted, yet.)

James would outlive Mary (d. 1835) and 5 of their 6 sons: Thomas (d. 1822), William (d. 1830), James (d. 1831), Robert (d. 1833), and Samuel (d. 1840). He died at the age of 75 in Augusta, Georgia, survived by 1 son and 3 daughters: John, Eliza, Jane, and Martha.


The slab over James Bones’ grave. A large bush has been growing over the stone and brick box tomb.

James’ tombstone is inscribed as follows:

To the memory of
James Bones
Who departed this life on the 17th Dec. 1841
in the 75th year of his life.
He was a native of the county of Antrim
Ireland and emigrated with his family
to the Unites States in the year 1810.
He took an active part in the unsuccessful
struggle for the independence of his native
land in the year 1798.
Preserving through life the character of an
honest man; He bade adieu to this world
in the confident hope of a happy

His immigration to America and his participation in the struggle for Irish must have been two things that were important to him, since they are included on his tombstone. Both reflect the value James placed on independence and patriotism, values that have been passed down the generations.

11 thoughts on “Seeking Independence

  1. Kevin McGillicuddy says:

    I thought Janes Bones avoided capture by hiding in the closet. Was he actually captured, then escaped?


    • julieflake says:

      I’m not sure the timeline of events. He did hide from the British in the bread closet, he was put in jail and sentenced to be shot, and he did go to Jamaica. I just don’t know what order those things happened in.


      • Kathie Medlock says:

        I remember Sinead (Jane) Hanna saying that he was arrested for participating in the uprising, Mary went to get him out of prison, he hid in the bread closet and then left with his family. How exciting this whole story is. Don’t you just love it!


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