John Jones Janney, a prominent Quaker merchant in Alexandria, Virginia, had the end of his life described in an extraordinary travel diary written by his wife, Ann Shoemaker Janney. The diary and further information about it was published in a post on this website. To put that diary into context, it helps to learn a bit more about the life of John Janney and his circle of family and friends.
John Jones Janney (1765-1823) was the father of Elizabeth Hopkins Janney (1802-1893) who married Samuel McPherson Janney in 1826. John Janney’s first wife and Elizabeth’s mother, rather confusingly also named Elizabeth Hopkins Janney, died in 1809. John Janney lived as a widower and single parent to his four children in a beautiful home, still standing, on St. Asaph Street in Alexandria. He had the home built shortly before his wife’s death and continued to live there until his own death. This home is where his daughter Elizabeth was raised and lived until her 1826 marriage.
“Out of the Attic” an Alexandria Times newspaper history series, had a column about the grand Janney home in their August 7, 2014 edition:
“During the Civil War, the residence and headquarters of the military governor of Alexandria was located at 209 S. St. Asaph St. As seen in this photograph dating from that period.
“The structure was originally built in the Federal style by dry goods merchant John Janney soon after he acquired the lot in 1809. Janney’s wife Elizabeth died in February of that year, while he was in the midst of several major personal and business changes in his life, apparently connected with his advancing age.
“He remained in the impressive three-story home until his death in May 1823.”
Samuel McPherson Janney (1801-1880) married Elizabeth three years after her father’s death. Samuel Janney writes about that period in his Memoirs, excerpt below. According to his own Memoirs, Janney was good friends with fellow Quaker Edward Stabler, who owned an apothecary on South Fairfax Street in Alexandria. (That apothecary is now “Stabler-Leadbetter Apothecary Museum.”) Samuel Janney’s friendship with Stabler may have influenced him to become briefly involved in the apothecary business. Thomas Hinshaw’s Quaker Genealogy shows that Caleb Stabler, who was on the 1823 ill-fated voyage with John and Ann Janney, was a younger brother of apothecary owner Edward Stabler. William Henry Stabler, another of the Stabler brothers, was one of Samuel M. Janney’s closest friends. The Quakers in Alexandria, as in most communities where they resided, were a close knit group.
Samuel McPherson Janney wrote in his Memoirs: “On the 9th day of the 3d month 1826, I was married in Friends’ meeting house in Alexandria, to Elizabeth, daughter of John and Elizabeth Janney. Her parents had been residents of Alexandria, but were both deceased, and she lived with her stepmother Ann [Shoemaker] Janney. My wife and I were distantly related; our grandfathers being first cousins. We had known and esteemed each other for many years…”
When Samuel McPherson Janney married Elizabeth Janney, he was marrying into an important Quaker merchant family. His new wife Elizabeth was first cousin, through her mother’s side of the family, to Johns Hopkins, Baltimore merchant and financier and second richest man in America.* Her deceased father John Janney had been a prominent dry goods merchant, as well as busy with both philanthropic and profitable business board memberships. His name was frequently in Alexandria’s newspapers, such as this 1812 notice of an election at the Alexandria Library Company:
In 1817, when his daughter Elizabeth was 15 years old, John Janney married Quaker Ann Shoemaker. Janney continued to prosper, staying active in both the religious realm of Alexandria Monthly Meeting as well as Alexandria’s burgeoning business community. He was elected in 1822 to serve on the Marine Insurance Company of Alexandria, a prestigious board in the important maritime community. (John Janney’s name is highlighted on this and other newspaper clippings for easy reference; the Phineas Janney shown below was Samuel McPherson Janney’s uncle and mentor.)
An 1822 Gazette notice (not shown here) reports John Janney elected to the Union Bank of Alexandria board, as well as being nominated President of the Board. Throughout the decades of the early 19th century, Janney was also holding responsible and important positions in the Quaker Alexandria Meeting, including as Treasurer.
During the early 1820’s, John Janney may have had ownership or part ownership of the ship Potomac; Alexandria newspapers regularly ran ads requesting passengers or cargo for the Potomac, with notice to contact “John Janney & Son” for information.
The nature of the illness that slowed down this productive, active man is unexplained. By the time he traveled by ship to St. Thomas, March 1823, his wife Ann was referring to him as “invalid,” deeply concerned over his prognosis. No doubt several doctors, as well as apothecarist Edward Stabler, tried everything to alleviate Janney’s suffering. The ocean voyage to a warm climate was the final ill-advised, last ditch effort.
*John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), began acquiring his wealth as a fur trader then moved into New York City real estate. At the time chronicled in this blog post, he was the wealthiest man in the United States. Baltimore Quaker Johns Hopkins (1795-1873) began his career as a merchant, then turned his business skills to banking and railroads, before focusing on philanthropic pursuits.