AUTHOR: Glenn Land
In 1850, Thomas Bethune Tyson of Carthage, Moore County, North Carolina purchased a combination, wagon/wheelwright repair shop, from Isaac Sewell. In 1856, Thomas B. Tyson, and landowner Alexander Kelly, formed a partnership to run the wheelwright business and decided to build carriages. The firm was known as Tyson & Kelly. In 1857, Tyson hired William T. Jones, a recently freed slave, as a carriage painter, shop supervisor, and S. W. Humber, as a carriage trimmer. Little did Tyson know that the heart of an entrepreneur beat inside his newest employee and a former slave. William’s father had freed him shortly before his arrival in Carthage. William became one of approximately 184 “free persons of color” in Moore County, NC, according to the 1860 census. At the the beginning of the Civil War, William along with a handful of other “Free Men of Color”, volunteered in the local company that would become Company C, 35th NC Infantry. Highly respected, he was elected 3rd Lieutenant by his comrades.
35th Infantry Regiment completed its organization in November, 1861, at Camp Mangum, near Raleigh, North Carolina. Its members were raised in the counties of Mecklenburg, Onslow, McDowell, Moore, Chatham, Person, Union, Henderson, Wayne, and Catawba. After fighting at New Bern, the regiment was ordered to Virginia and assigned to General R. Ransom’s and M. W. Ransom’s Brigade. It participated in the difficult campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days’ Battles to Fredericksburg. Ordered back to North Carolina, it fought at Boon’s Mill and Plymouth, then returned to Virginia in May, 1864. The 35th saw action at Drewry’s Bluff, endured the hardships of the Petersburg siege south of the James River, and ended the war at Appomattox. This unit sustained 127 casualties at Malvern Hill, 25 in the Maryland Campaign, 29 at Fredericksburg, and 103 at Plymouth. Many were disabled at Saylor’s Creek, and on April 9, 1865, it surrendered 5 officers and 111 men. The field officers were Colonels James T. Johnson, John G. Jones, Matthew W. Ransom, and James Sinclair; Lieutenant Colonels M.D. Craton, Oliver C. Petway, and Simon B. Taylor; and Majors John M. Kelly and Robert E. Petty.
William Thomas Jones, listed as a “27 year-old Mechanic”, enlisted on 9/12/1861 at Moore County, NC as a 3rd Lieut. On 11/6/1861, he was commissioned into “C” Co. NC 35th Infantry. Listed as “sick”, 10/15/1862. He was captured, 6/17/1864 near Petersburg, VA. Confined 6/17/1864 Fort Delaware, William became one of the “Immortal 600”. Transferred 8/20/1864 Hilton Head, SC; Confined 10/20/1864 Fort Pulaski, GA; Transferred back, 11/15/1864, Hilton Head, SC; Transferred back 3/12/1865, to Fort Delaware. There, he took the Oath of Allegiance 6/16/1865.
After his return to Fort Delaware, William, ever the entrepreneur, started picking up potato peelings and saving crusts from bread, to make homemade moonshine. He sold his fiery concoction to the prison guards and local townspeople. He was paid in Union currency for his product. Another of of “The Immortal 600″ was Colonel Abraham Fulkerson of the 63rd Tennessee Infantry. Writing about his return to Fort Delaware, he noted the following:
”The prisoners occupied their time in a variety of ways, many of them at cards. Debating societies were organized, moot courts instituted, for there were many lawyers among us, &c. The inventive genius of the prisoners was developed to a high degree. One man constructed a still, and actually made whiskey without being detected. The product of his still was not of superior quality, but was always in demand at high figures.”
He came back to North Carolina with an estimated $3,000 in his pockets. With that handsome sum, he saved the local economy, and reopened the Buggy Shop. Sherman had marched through. There was devastation. People were starving. They no doubt, thanked God for Jones’ “moonshine money.”