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William Pinkney Jones

Courtesy Robert D. Jones

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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William Pinkney Jones
1917-1945

"The loss of wealth is loss of dirt, As sages in all times assert. . . ."

John Heywood

Army Private First Class William Pinkney “Punch” Jones was born on July 27, 1917, to Grover C. and Annie Grace Buckland Jones of Monroe County, West Virginia. The family home still stands in Peterstown and is in remarkably good shape. “Punch” was the oldest of sixteen Jones sons (a record for consecutive male births that caused the Jones family to be featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not). The seventeenth and last child was a girl, and apparently the last three children were born in 1940 or thereafter. Thirteen are listed in the household in the 1940 Federal Census: William P., Richard [B.], Thomas, John, Paul L., Woodrow, Tad, Willard W., Pete, Rufus, Grover C. [Jr.], Buck, and Franklin D. Between William and Richard came Robert, who seems not to be a member of the household in 1940, perhaps living independently. Later came Leslie H., Giles M., and finally Charlotte Anne (married name: Faulkner).
Jones home

The Jones Family Home, Peterstown, West Virginia. Courtesy Robert D. Jones

William “Punch” Jones graduated from Peterstown High School and Concord College. At some point, he also attended the University of Denver, Colorado, apparently as part of his military training. U.S. Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 indicate Punch was single at the time of his enlistment and his civilian occupation was as a stenographer or typist. However, subsequent source materials indicate he had married Mary Hazel Ferguson prior to his active duty service and early in the war had worked in an ammunition factory making gunpowder. A death notice in the Raleigh [WV] Register (“Oldest Jones Is Battle Victim,” April 20, 1945, p. 8) states that, like his father, he was a schoolteacher, a fact corroborated by his son, Robert D. (“Bob”) Jones.

This son of William Pinkney and Mary Hazel Jones was just three months old at the time of Punch’s death. In an interview on May 16, 2013, Bob Jones clarifies this period in his family history, noting that his parents were married in 1944, and his mother accompanied his father to Camp Fannin, near Tyler, Texas, for that part of his military training. Bob Jones also recounts that not only did his father work in the Radford, Virginia, munitions factory, his mother did as well.

Despite the fact that his mother remarried; relocated to Lynchburg, Virginia; and had three more children, Bob Jones notes that his mother always preserved for him the legacy of his father (she died in 2012), and he eventually came to own the contents of the trunk—his father’s possessions—that were returned to the family after his death. Adding that because one of his mother’s sisters married one of the Jones brothers, the son comments that there was a double connection to the family. Bob Jones states that he had a good relationship with his stepfather but was never adopted nor took his name; he emphasizes how important it was to his mother that the oldest son of the oldest son remain a Jones.

Bob Jones recalls that as a child he didn’t see his father’s family often, but he does remember going back to Peterstown for his father’s funeral. His relationship with the family patriarch was somewhat formal. After his grandfather’s death, he saw his grandmother more frequently. Reminiscing about walking through the streets of Peterstown on one of his visits, he tells of his uncle’s introducing him to townspeople who would cry when they heard he was Punch’s son.

Pfc. Jones registered for the Army at Clarksburg, West Virginia, on July 13, 1943, at which time he would have been nearly twenty-six years old. After his training at Camp Fannin, Texas, he was sent to the European Theatre, where he was killed in action on April 1, 1945. Although some sources have speculated his death came about during the Battle of the Bulge, the date does not coincide with that campaign. It is possible that he fought in that campaign but was killed in a later battle. William’s brother Woodrow (“Monk”), now living in Ohio (2013), concurs that Punch was not killed in the Battle of the Bulge but possibly in a later encounter somewhere along the Rhine River between Düsseldorf and Cologne. According to the Raleigh Register, at the time of William’s death, his younger brother Paul was at home convalescing from a battle wound. After the war, the family had William’s remains returned to the States, where he was buried in Peterstown Cemetery in Monroe County.

Grover Jones family

Grover (left) and Annie (rigt) Jones' family in 1940. Courtesy Robert D. Jones

Much has been made of the size of the Jones family, and in 1940 they were invited to the New York World’s Fair, where they met the U.S. president, the governor of New York, and the mayor of New York City. This appearance afforded the family the opportunity to become celebrities and perhaps attain a different lifestyle, but they declined to become spokespersons for any corporation, the father deciding to return to Peterstown and his teaching career.

Family size, though, was not the Joneses’ only claim to fame. In April 1928, Punch and his father were pitching horseshoes in the family yard when they discovered the largest alluvial diamond (34.46 carats) known at the time in North America. The “Jones Diamond,” also known as the “Horseshoe Diamond” (for its manner of discovery, not its shape), has been described as one of the finest blue-white diamonds ever discovered. Some experts estimated its value at more than $100,000. Charles B. Motley, writing in Gleanings of Monroe County West Virginia History (Radford, VA: Commonwealth Press, 1973: 122-4) indicates that at the time of his history, it had not been appraised. In 1991, Arnout Hyde, in New River: A Photographic Essay (Charleston, WV: Cannon Graphics, 1991), notes “it was the only diamond found in West Virginia and the second largest [sic] found in the United States. Geologists believe that glaciers during the Ice Age deposited the few isolated diamonds found in America” (38). Ironically, although the discovery could have made the family comfortable, if not wealthy, William Jones struggled to put himself through college during the Depression. Thus, the family had passed up another chance at prosperity.

Because the Jones family did not initially recognize the value of their find, for fourteen years the stone was relegated to a cigar box in the tool shed behind their home. The online West Virginia Encyclopedia states: “Knowing that diamonds are a crystalline form of carbon, he [Punch] wondered about the shiny stone he had picked up years earlier. His hunch was confirmed when a geologist [Dr. Roy J. Holden] at Virginia Polytechnic Institute pronounced the stone an alluvial diamond.” The article goes on to say,

One of a few diamonds found in America, it is uncertain how the stone came to Rich Creek [in West Virginia, near Virginia state line]. From 1944 to 1968, the Jones Diamond was on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Upon return to West Virginia, it was exhibited at the State Fair. The Joneses owned the diamond until the early 1980s, when it was sold by Sotheby’s for an undisclosed amount [but see below]. (Source: “Jones Diamond,” accessed November 7, 2012, http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1049.)

Describing the gem as “unusually beautiful,” another source indicates that Dr. Holden speculated that due to its “carry impact marks” and size, “it had probably been washed down the New River into Rich Creek from a source in Virginia, North Carolina, or Tennessee.” After its stints at the Smithsonian and state fair, the Jones family placed the diamond in a safe deposit box in a Rich Creek, Virginia, bank. Annie and her grandson Robert sold the stone in 1984 for $74,250. (Source: Dave Tabler, “I Wish They’d a Threw It in the New River Sometimes,” Appalachian History: Stories, Quotes and Anecdotes, accessed November 7, 2012, http://www.appalachianhistory.net/2011/08/i-wish-theyd-threw-it-in-new-river.html.) For all the notoriety it had brought the family, Annie said she sometimes wished they’d have disposed of it. Bob Jones relates how hordes of people gathered at his grandparents’ front yard, hoping to find another significant gem.

Bob Jones asserts that, ultimately, it was fortunate that his father had left a will—passing ownership of the diamond to his son, his wife, his mother, and his father, with each bequeathed a one-fourth share. Upon the death of Grover and his mother’s (Mary Hazel’s) relinquishing her share, ownership passed to Bob (one fourth) and Annie Grace (three fourths). Bob Jones was instrumental in the sale at Sotheby’s, transacted in part because his grandmother was in ill health and needed the money for medical expenses. Sadly, no one in the family was ever able to enjoy any creature comforts the sudden wealth might have afforded them.

Are there more diamonds in the Rich Creek area? Hyde cites Annie Jones’ remembering her aunt telling her as a child that there were pieces of glass or shiny pebbles found in the area (38). The geology of the New River area has been well studied, yet there may be even more wonders to be uncovered.

Pfc. William Pinkney “Punch” Jones was interred in the Peterstown Cemetery, an inauspicious flat marker indicating his grave. The Jones diamond, which bears his name, is noted on a West Virginia historical marker on U.S. Route 219 in Peterstown at the corner of Sycamore and Market Streets.

Additional sources:

Feather, Carl E. “The Jones Diamond: Mixed Blessings for a Peterstown Family.” Goldenseal, 34:4 (Winter 2008), 18-23.

Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Division of Mineral Resources. Diamonds. Accessed November 7, 2012, http://www.dmme.virginia.gov/DMR3/dmrpdfs/DIAMONDS.pdf.

Young American Patriots: The Youth of Virginia in World War II. Richmond, VA: National Publishing Co., 1946: 417.

Family information provided by William’s brother, Leslie Jones, and his son, Robert D. Jones. Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who gratefully acknowledges assistance from the staff at Goldenseal.

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William Jones

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