JAMES CITY — A cousin of Col. Lafayette Jones Jr. remembered him as a disruptor. But that was a good thing, Janice Canady said.

“It was in him,” Canady said. “Before this is Freedom Park, this is sacred ground. Even when you come in, there’s a spirit, if you lend yourself to it, and aren’t afraid to feel it. A lot went on here, and we cannot afford to forget what went on here.”

Dozens of people attended a community memorial service for Jones on Sunday at the James City County park, many focusing on his contributions to Virginia. Attendees met under a tent behind the reconstructed cabins within the park’s free Black settlement, one of the first established in the United States.

Jones died Feb. 16 at the age of 81. Within his community and the wider world that he touched, he is remembered for his invaluable contributions. To some, he was first a father, husband and grandfather. To Virginia, his headship of the settlement’s preservation work and its place in history will continue to share his family’s story after his death.

“The beautiful thing about today is that it is evident that (his) story has not ended,” said Deveria Gore, a board member of the Virginia Racial Healing Institute. “I believe that we are here today, and we are writing another page in that story.”

The service was sponsored by James City County alongside Coming to the Table–Historic Triangle, a program of the Virginia Racial Healing Institute. Speakers present included family and friends of Jones, as well as some of his historical colleagues and “baton carriers,” who spoke of how Jones’s legacy will continue to proceed forward into the future. A drum tribute was also performed.

Members of the James City County Board of Supervisors also attended the service, with Chair Ruth Larson declaring the day as “Colonel Lafayette Jones Jr. Day” and reading a proclamation in his honor.

“I feel very proud to be his daughter, to be a descendant of this area known as Hot Water, now Freedom Park,” Swan Rochford, Jones’ daughter, said during the service. “He’s no longer here with us, but we can continue his work by educating people about Freedom Park, the history of the families that lived here, and what the families represented.”

Rochford said Jones’ “greatest joy” was reading thank you notes he received from children who had visited the park during field trips.

The Hot Water Tract, later Freedom Park, became known as a haven for free Black individuals; James Jones — Lafayette Jones’ great-great-grandfather — was a resident. The people enslaved at the time at Green Springs plantation by William Ludwell Lee, of James City County, were freed by his 1803 will, which also called for them to receive land and homes. Some 60 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, this community of freed people lived and worked together in the Hot Water Tract.

Jones worked to preserve not only Freedom Park’s existence, but also its name.

“When Lafayette came to the Board of Supervisors and told us about this, all I could think of was, what a blessing,” county Supervisor John McGlennon said. “To find out this hidden part of history in our own community, and to have somebody who could tell the story from the perspective of a descendant.”

Thanks to the oral history passed down to Jones and recorded in his book, “My Great, Great Grandfather’s Journey to an Island of Freeadom in the Middle of Slavery,” it’s known that children from the Jones and Ashby families returned to the Hot Water Tract to educate the community after attending the Williamsburg Bray School, becoming some of the first Black teachers in Virginia, historian Tonia Meredith said.

The Bray School is believed to be the oldest surviving building dedicated to the education of Black students.

Jones was “a crucial source in our research to rediscover the Williamsburg Bray School, and instrumental in finding the descendants of the Williamsburg Bray School scholars,” said Meredith, who works at the Bray School Lab.

He was also a trailblazer who made the community richer, said Laura D. Hill, president of the Virginia Racial Healing Institute. Speakers on Sunday continually urged the importance of continuing Jones’ legacy, encouraging reflection on his impact and his connection to the area’s history.

“Talk to your children,” Canady emphasized. “Let them know that there was no Williamsburg, no James City County … none of that without people like Colonel Lafayette Jones.”

Anna Dorl, annadorl46@gmail.com