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Amnesty Petition of W. D. Jones, September 21, 1865


Amnesty Petition of W. D. Jones, September 21, 1865


In the year 1865 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, thus ending his presidency prematurely. President Andrew Johnson started his presidency after Lincoln's assassination and was put in charge of federal affairs during the final months of the American Civil War. One of the responsibilities that President Johnson had to take over was deciding how the southern states of the Confederacy were going to be reintegrated into the Union. He also had to decide who would and who would not be allowed to reintegrate as full citizens of the Union. In May of 1865, President Johnson released the first amnesty proclamation that provided pardons to those who resided in the Confederate States with a few exceptions. Those who were exempt from the pardons that were given by the amnesty proclamation had to submit a request for amnesty on an individual basis. People who were exempt included: high ranking military officers of the Confederate Army; members of the Confederate Government; those who left the union to aid in the cause of the Confederate States; postmasters in the Confederate States; etc. One such petitioner for amnesty was W. D. Jones of Caldwell county, North Carolina. W. D. Jones was a mail contractor and operated “from the Hickory Station on the North Carolina Rail Road to Lenoir and Patterson factory.” (Item 859) One of the interesting questions that is brought up by W. D. Jones's petition is whether his motives for becoming a mail contractor actually match the motives given in his petition. To different portrayals of Jones can be made by looking at the petition and the time and place where Jones is situated.

The first portrayal is that which Jones claims in his petition. Jones was a native to Caldwell County, North Carolina and didn't begin his job as a mail contractor until 1863. (Item 859) A farmer by trade, Jones claims in the third paragraph of his petition that he was “opposed to secession and only acquiesced in the war after the state of NC seceded.” (Item 859) There is some evidence that lends some credence to his claim. Scott King-Owen, in an entry in a Civil War History Journal, wrote, “Calvin Jones of Lenoir County wrote, 'North Carolina and especially Caldwell and Wilkes are deeply attached to the Union.'” (King-Owen 2011) If Jones shared the sentiments that many of the other inhabitants of Caldwell County shared, then it could be true that he only begrudgingly joined the service of the Confederacy out of a sense of local pride and necessity. There were twelve other petitioners in his county alone who were exempt for similar reasons. The demand for information was high and people were needed to deliver the mail, which was the number one method of moving information.

The second portrayal that can be made is that of a man who was jumping at a financial opportunity. This second portrayal isn't as noble as the first but there is also evidence that supports this. The railroad industry was breaking into the mail delivery business at about this time. According to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, “By mid century, it was evident that postal officials viewed the future American railroads to be the primary mail mover in the nation. By the 1850s the Post Office Department was spending more money to carry mail by rails than by stagecoach and steamers combined. Railroads carried mail over 19,202,469 pieces of mail in 1855, stagecoaches and steamers together carried 23,318,945.” (Smithsonian 2011) The rail industry was breaking into the area in and around Caldwell County during the time of Jones's stint as a mail contractor. “By 1861 the Western North Carolina Railroad had come creeping up the Catawba river, along the trail blazed by Bishop Spangenberg in going around Caldwell, and a man on the Caldwell side of the Catawba could have heard the train blow when it ran in to Hickory Tavern.” (Scott 1930) With the emergence of the railroad as a booming industry in the mail carrying business, coupled with the fact that the rail industry was breaking into the area, Jones could have been a savvy man looking to make some quick money. He claims that he was a farmer by profession and became a mail contractor for a short time.

Mail contractors are people who do not work directly for the government but still carry the mail. Since he did not work directly for the government but was, in fact, a private contractor, this suggests that he was not conscripted to do the job. He did it of his own free will. There is evidence that suggests that he did the job out of local pride and there is also evidence that suggests that he took the job because it could have been a potential economic boom for him. Either way, W. D. Jones had to file for an individual petition for amnesty for his involvement with the trafficking of information for the Confederate States by mail. He submitted his petition on September 21, 1865 and was granted a pardon.


Jones, W. D.


W. D. Jones, Amnesty Petition, September 21, 1865, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons ("Amnesty Papers"), 1865-1867, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003, National Archives, Washington D.C.




Queen, William Ethan




Caldwell County, North Carolina

Original Format

Government Document


Caldwell Co. NC

To Andrew Johnson President of the US

The Petition of the undersigned W. D. Jones respectfully showeth that he is a citizen of Caldwell County North Carolina forty six years old and a farmer by profession desires to apply for a special pardon under the 1st section of [word unknown] of exception of your Excellency's Amnesty Proclamation dated 29th May 1865.

Your petitioner respectfully showeth that he became a mail contractor in the year 1863 under the so called Confederate States of America from the Hickory Station on the North Carolina Rail Road to Lenoir and Patterson Factory and continued to act as a mail contractor until the surrender of the Confederate Army to that of the United States.

Your petitioner declares that he was opposed to secession and only acquiesced in the war after the state of NC seceded. Believing as he did that it was is duty to stand by his native state whether right or wrong - as indeed he had no other alterations.

Your petitioner declares that he is very anxious to become a good and loyal citizen to the United States Government and to that end he asks your Excellency's pardon in the premises wherein he has offended and as in duty bound he will ever pray.

Sept. 21st 1865

Signed W. D. Jones


King-Owen, Scott. “Conditional Confederates: Absenteeism among Western North Carolina Soldiers, 1861–1865.” Civil War History Vol. 57, no. 4, (December 2011): 349-379.

Scott, William Walker. Annals of Caldwell County. Lenoir, NC: News-topic print, 1930.

Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Railway Mail Service. “History of the Service: The Creation, 1832-1864.” Accessed March 24, 2014.


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Jones, W. D., Amnesty Petition of W. D. Jones, September 21, 1865, Civil War Era NC, accessed April 19, 2024,