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The Arrest of Robert Jones in Addison, 1872

“Our colored people are to have a Grand Promenade…on the evening of the 28th inst.

Robert Jones… is to be master of ceremonies, which is a sufficient guarantee that ‘law and order’ will prevail, and all who desire to ‘chase the glowing hours with flying feet’ should not fail to appear.”  This was the Addison Advertiser’s announcement on November 20, 1872, regarding one of the village’s post-war’s annual African-American social events and their annual picnic. Although patronizing at its start, this quotation hints at the “law and order” posture and backbone of Jones, who was a quiet, respected barber figuratively made out of steel.

Months earlier, on April 7, Jones’ fortitude played a prime role in his arrest when he faced two encounters with a drunken person who wanted a shave.  Upon entering the shop the first time, the drunk sat down and proceeded to vomit.  On April 24, The Steuben Courier from nearby Bath, New York, described it this way—“the warmth of the room caused Coakley, an Irishman, to throw off from his stomach a portion of its load, leaving him in a partial unconscious condition,” This event prompted an escorted ouster in which he was led out without any strong-arm tactic assistance.  Coakley’s second entry into the barbershop resulted in a scuffle with Jones when he refused to leave within a short time.   However, his head hit the floor as he was dragged to the sidewalk where a policeman found him later on.  

Coakley was jailed for a short time until the police saw that he was severely hurt and released him to his friends assembled near the lockup.  There was no report in the press if Coakley had been arrested on any charge, although The Courier on the 24th  stated that he was “confined for drunkenness.”  There was no mention of bail.

In addition, there was no discussion that the Jones-Coakley matter was based on, or connected to, ethic, or racial hostility, or rivalry.  This was not a black-white issue.

Coakley was fatally injured, and he lingered for a week, often in a delirious state.  The press reports disagree on the day of his death—some say Sunday, the 14th, while others indicate the next day.  

In any case, a Coroner arrived on Monday and, by law, assembled a jury to assist him in his inquest into Coakley’s death.  The Steuben Farmers’ Advocate on April 26 described what happened when they neared the deceased house–“they were confronted by about a dozen Irishmen, with swinging clubs and threats of war refusing to let them enter.”  No explanation was provided for this confrontation, but it prompted the coroner and jury to travel back to Addison.   

But they would not return to Coakley’s residence.  

There was an entirely new situation on Tuesday, the 16th.   In the early A.M., his remains were moved to Corning for burial, but there was a new demand from his friends—now they wanted an inquest.  A new Coroner selected a jury who was able to issue a cause of Coakley’s death. 

Their ruling was that he died due to injuries at the hands of Jones, who later was arrested and placed under $4,000 bail.  Jones was not, however, the only person to face a criminal charge.  On the 17th, each man who confronted the first Coroner near Coakley’s house was arrested with bail set at $500.  At this point, no word on the legal process can be found concerning these men.  However, the Jones case’s outcome was well documented.

What would the Grand Jury do?  Would there be an indictment to be followed by a guilty plea or a jury trial?  The Addison Advertiser published the decision on June 12 as follows: “The case of the People vs. Robert Jones, the barber, was brought up before the Grand Jury at Corning last week, and their verdict was ‘no cause of action.’” There was no legal compulsion to explain their decision. Though, the Farmers’ Advocate offered compelling speculation as follows:  “more to blame than Jones is he who sold the whiskey.  Several persons who witnessed the affair wonder at Jones’ forbearance.  Jones…[is] a young man who minds his own business, will not originate a quarrel but will protect his domain from incursions of inebriates” because of his stature based on law and order. 

This article was originally published on 8/27/20 on NewYorkHistoryReview.com.

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