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Rev. Samuel Porter Jones
1847 - 1906
Ten years old when he came to Cartersville from Oak Bowery, Alabama in 1858, Sam Jones received his high schooling under the tutelage of William and Rebecca Felton, later graduating from Euharlee Academy with high honors in 1867. At his father's insistence, Jones studied for the bar at home and was admitted into the legal profession in 1868. Completely unsuccessful as a lawyer, Jones suffered mental depression and alcoholism, working at menial jobs for the next few years in order to support a wife and new family. A miraculous conversion at his father's deathbed in August 1872 turned Jones's life around, and he entered the Methodist ministry that year.
Jones managed several small circuits in Northwest Georgia until 1880, when he was assigned to the Methodist Orphanage in Decatur. The appointment freed Jones from being tied-down to local churches, and his preaching flourished and his reputation grew as he traveled the state raising money for the orphanage. Jones enjoyed preaching before large crowds, and in 1884 was invited to preach a revival in Memphis. Preaching in Nashville in 1885, Jones numbered among his converts there the infamous river boat captain, Tom Ryman. Ecstatic in his new-found faith, Ryman then built a tabernacle for Jones and other preachers, Union Gospel Tabernacle, later Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
By 1886, Jones was the most famous and celebrated evangelist of his time, attracting a national congregation with a style, wit, and delivery heretofore unknown. Jones cared little for theological doctrine, emphasizing instead the simplicity of living a good life with a message as simple as "Quit your meanness." While his flamboyant style attracted the favorable attention of the masses, it raised the ire of Methodist leaders, and in 1893, Jones split with the church, but continued to preach as an independent evangelist until his death in 1906. Heading home to Cartersville from an engagement in Oklahoma City, Jones died of a mysterious ailment on the train near Little Rock, Arkansas. His wife was with him. Thirty thousand mourners viewed the body as it lay in state in the rotunda of the Capital in Atlanta. Two thousand met the train in Marietta, and 3,000 gathered at the depot in Cartersville when Jones came home for the last time. Though he had many opportunities to make his home elsewhere, Jones remained a resident of Cartersville throughout his successful career.
©2000 Chantal Parker
Originally published in
150 Years of Cartersville 1850-2000