Born: October 16, 1847, Oak Bowery, Alabama.
Died: October 15, 1906, on the way home from a revival meeting. Before burial, his body lay in the rotunda of the state capitol in Atlanta.
Buried: Oak Hill Cemetery, Cartersville, Georgia.
Sam was the son of John and Queenie Jones, and husband of Laura McElwain. His paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were Methodist preachers.
Jones grew up in Cartersville, Georgia, north of Atlanta. During the American civil war, he joined Union troops going to Kentucky.
After returning home, he studied law, was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1868, and became known locally as a brilliant attorney. However, he was a notorious alcoholic. Following a death bed plea from his father, Sam had a conversion experience, quit drinking, and focused on his faith.
Jones was ordained by the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and preached in the Van Wert circuit, a group of five churches spread over four counties. He became one of the American South’s most famous evangelists in the late 19th Century.
In 1885, he headlined a revival in Nashville, Tennessee, where he converted Thomas Green Ryman, who, along with Jones, built the Union Gospel Tabernacle, later named the Ryman Auditorium (home to the Grand Ole Opry).
After Ryman’s death in 1886, at his own expense, Jones had a large open-air structure called
The Tabernacle built for inter-faith meetings. For the rest of his life, Jones held services there each September, bringing to his hometown co-workers who helped him in revival meetings throughout the country.
Meanwhile, Jones raised funds for the Methodist Orphan Home in Decatur, Georgia.
Jones went on to preach not only across the American South, but also in New York City; Boston, Massachusetts; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; Los Angeles, California, and in Canada. It has been estimated Jones preached to three million Americans.
In his sermons, Jones preached that alcohol, dances, and the theater were all sinful. He became known for his admonition,
Quit Your Meanness.
As an example of his preaching, in an evangelistic campaign in San Antonio, Texas, he declared that the only difference between San Antonio and hell was that there was a river running down the middle of it.