Keeper Bio: Jones, John Bradford

Date of Service: 1878-1908

1841: Born a slave in York County, VA.

1860s: Married Sarah “Sal”, a free slave.

1870: In the US Census, John B. Jones lives in the Old Point Area of Virginia with his wife Sarah and their two children. His occupation is listed as a bartender.

1878-1908: Served as Principal Keeper at Old Point Comfort Lighthouse. His beginning salary was $500/year, and his ending salary was $600/year.

1908: John Bradford Jones died on duty on January 24th at the age of 67.

John Bradford “Jack” Jones Anecdotes:

John B. Jones served as Keeper at Old Point Comfort Lighthouse at Ft. Monroe in Hampton, Va. for 30 years, the longest of any other keeper assigned to that station. Born a slave in January 1841 in York County, Va., he married Sarah “Sal”, a freed slave, in the late 1860s. According to the 1870 U.S. Census, he lived in the Old Point area with his wife Sarah and two children where he worked as a bartender.

John B. Jones was appointed acting keeper at Old Point Comfort at the request of Admiral Robley D. Evans & Congressman Wise in October 1878 and eventually promoted to the primary keeper in January 1879, where he earned $500/year. On August 31, 1886, Jones observed that the clock stopped at 9:55 p.m. when the lighthouse experienced tremors for approximately two minutes from a massive earthquake in Charleston, South Carolina. 

During his 30 years as keeper, Jones and his wife raised 10 children at the lighthouse. One of those sons, James “Jack Wormley Jones, went on to become the first African American FBI Special Agent. In 1891, a new keeper’s house was built to replace the existing structure built in 1830, which as “very old and beyond economical repair.” In addition, a stable and new oil house was constructed. After laying new sewer pipe around the lighthouse, the grounds needed new landscaping, so the Lighthouse Board provided multiple plants and flower seeds. A lawnmower and 150-feet of garden hose were provided to keeper Jones to keep the grounds looking attractive.

John B. Jones passed away at the age of 67 on January 24, 1908, in the keeper’s quarters at Old Point Comfort. According to his obituary, Jones “had accumulated a small fortune & was for many years engaged in the dairy business around Old Point.” The obituary continues, “The death of Jones will no doubt precipitate a lively fight for the position he filled.”

Sources:, Chesapeake Chapter Database,The Daily Press, January 25, 1908


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