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Friday Jones, 1810-1887
Days of Bondage. Autobiography of Friday Jones. Being a Brief Narrative of His Trials and Tribulations in Slavery
Washington, D.C.: Commercial Pub. Co., 1883.

Summary

Few sources regarding Friday Jones' life story are available, though scholars have found some corroborating evidence for his Autobiography, including an obituary notice from the Raleigh News and Observer. Jones was born in 1810, within 15 miles of Raleigh, North Carolina. During his early childhood, his father Barney died, and his mother Cherry was "traded for a tract of land and sent to Alabama" (p. 1). Jones's original master, Olser Hye, apparently died while Jones was a young man; Jones notes that by the time "the stars fell" (referring to a meteor shower in 1833) he was enslaved to Colonel Tignal Jones, who had married Olser's daughter Emily (p. 6). Tormented and threatened by the Colonel, Friday Jones repeatedly ran away and was hired out to other masters; he also intervened repeatedly in the (attempted and actual) sales of his wife and children. He helped build North Carolina's Capitol building during the 1830s, after the original State House burned in 1831 ("State"). Jones and his family were eventually emancipated—practically, when "Sherman's army arrived," and legally, when Lincoln "declared that slavery should be abolished" (p. 15, p. 17). After the war, Jones worked as a night watchman at the Capitol building and helped found the First Colored Baptist Church of Raleigh. He later moved to Washington, DC, where he apparently dictated his autobiography to an editor with the Commercial Publishing Company; his account was published as Days of Bondage in 1883. Friday Jones died in 1887, and his respectful obituary in a white Southern newspaper during the racially charged Reconstruction period demonstrates that Jones was indeed "an unusual man" (Andrews).

Jones' life story defies easy categorization; it is at once a slave narrative, a spiritual autobiography, and a memoir of triumph over adversity. Professor William Andrews notes that Jones' emphasis on his experience as a slave, narrated two decades after the Civil War, constitutes "a blend of antebellum and postbellum slave narrative." Perhaps because the narrated events occurred so long before the narration, the chronology of Jones' account is far from linear; rather, events are presented as episodic pieces of evidence for a unifying theme: for a Christian husband and father, slavery presented almost unbearable woes. Jones periodically states his case directly: "I want to show you, readers, what I had to endure as a man" (p. 15). His anguish is especially palpable when he describes how his oldest daughter was torn from the family in 1853: "Reader, common trouble cannot kill me, but one of my saddest feelings was when they told me she was sold to a trader" (p. 12).

Jones' solution for "trials and tribulations" such as these was almost invariably to pray for strength. However, Christian faith is not presented in his text as a justification for accepting his fate, or merely for turning the other cheek. Often, Jones describes entering a spiritual trance or fugue-like state in which he invites violent confrontations with slave owners and other white adversaries. Like Frederick Douglass, he recalls physical struggles with a white master: "he jumped and struck at me and we had a regular warfare that day" (p. 7). On another occasion, Jones must remind himself of his faith: "I thought you were going to put your trust in God; you are putting it in your hatchet" (p. 4). Nevertheless, Jones' Christian faith gives him strength to deal with the constant setbacks and anxieties that accompanied life while enslaved to "a white Southern man who believed in parting slaves and sending them where he pleased" (p. 7). His narrative of resilience in the face of "common" and uncommon trouble is memorable and noteworthy.

Works Consulted: Andrews, William L., "The Spirit of Friday Jones," referenced 11 June 2010; "African-American History at the Capitol: Friday Jones," North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, referenced 11 June 2010; "State Capitol: Educational Resources," North Carolina Historic Sites, referenced 21 June 2010; untitled obituary, Raleigh News and Observer, 11 Aug 1887, p. 4, referenced 11 June 2010; Walton-Raji, Angela, "The Night the Stars Fell," The African-American Genealogy Ring, referenced 18 June 2010.

Patrick E. Horn

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