Jones, William Todd (1757–1818), political reformer, was born at Lisburn, Co. Antrim, in December 1757, the first son of a physician, Conway Jones (1721–78) of Homra (a townland 4 km south of Lisburn but in Co. Down), and his wife Mary Wray (née Todd), daughter of William Todd and his wife Frances (née Columbyne). Frances's maternal grandfather was Edward Harrison (1644–1700), MP for Lisburn (1692–3, 1695–9) and son-in-law of Jeremy Taylor (qv). Conway Jones, who presumably was named after the landlord of Lisburn, Lord Hertford (whose family name was Conway), was a connexion of Valentine Jones (qv); his daughter Frances married Joseph Pollock (qv); another son, Edward, rose to high office as a lawyer in America. William Todd Jones, a protestant of the established church, was much influenced in his youth by the presbyterian and quaker ethos of Lisburn and attended the academy there of Saumaraz Dubourdieu (1717–1812), a protestant minister of huguenot extraction. A fellow pupil was William Saurin (qv). Jones received some of his education in Britain. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn (November 1776) and called to the Irish bar (1780) but never practised.
Like most contemporaries of his class, Jones was an enthusiastic Volunteer, becoming a captain in the Lisburn Fusiliers (1781?). He was also a Freemason, a member of Lisburn lodge (no. 257). At the parliamentary elections of 1783, he and another Volunteer, William Sharman (qv), successfully challenged the interest of Lord Hertford (qv) by standing as candidates for the potwalloping borough of Lisburn (14 August). Jones had only a small fortune (some land holdings) and no family influence, which made his victory momentous; his politics were those of the Lisburn Constitutional Club which organised his victory – parliamentary reform, by which was meant the independence of the Irish house of commons from both aristocratic proprietors and the administration. From 1783 he was a frequent writer of letters to Belfast newspapers. Indignant at the refusal of the house in November 1783 even to consider the reform bill of Henry Flood (qv), Jones wrote a pamphlet, A letter to the electors of Lisburn (1784), proposing the uniting of the cause of reform with that of extending the franchise to catholics. ‘The catholics’, he argued, ‘are our brethren and are entitled to the rights of citizens; if we refuse them this extension, Ireland remains divided, with neither party strong enough to cope with external opponents or accomplish any considerable domestic reformation.’ Jones was a delegate to the reform congress of Volunteers held at the Royal Exchange, Dublin (November 1784). On the question of protective duties raised by Luke Gardiner (qv) in the parliamentary session of 1783–4 he was, with Richard Griffith (qv) and Lawrence Parsons (qv), a protectionist. The causes of protection and reform were allied. At the so-called ‘reform convention’ (1785) he was an ally of Archibald Hamilton Rowan (qv) and went so far as to advocate both annual parliaments and catholic enfranchisement. Even liberal opinion was partly against him on the catholic question. Public interest in reform faded after 1785.
Jones lost his parliamentary seat (April 1790) and failed to regain it at a new election in (March 1791). He remained a public figure. Like Rowan, he was a member of the Northern Whig Club which from its formation in February 1790 sought to reduce government influence on the Irish house of commons. On 14 July 1791, when celebrations of the fall of the Bastille were held in Belfast, Jones was chairman at a dinner of the Lisburn Friends to the French Revolution. He was one of the 18 men who at Doyle's tavern planned the Dublin Society of United Irishmen (7 November 1791), on which occasion he expressed the view that catholic franchise should be limited. But in a pamphlet, A letter to the societies of United Irishmen of the town of Belfast upon the subject of certain apprehensions which have arisen from a proposed restoration of catholic rights (February 1792), he tried to allay protestant fears of and objections to catholic enfranchisement and asserted that the largely catholic Irish parliament of James II (qv) had ‘pointed out the path to our present constitution’ and so was ‘worthy of imitation’. In appreciation the Catholic Committee included him and Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv), whose influence on the pamphlet Jones acknowledged in a private letter, to a valedictory dinner given to Richard Burke (1758–94), the former assistant secretary of the committee. It also awarded him £1,000 with a contingent £500, though he later stated that not all of this was paid. Jones was not however one of the committee of 21 appointed by the Dublin Society of United Irishmen to draw up a plan for parliamentary reform (11 January 1793), nor did he attend the Volunteer convention held at Dungannon (February 1793), excusing himself as a delegate from Co. Antrim on grounds of health and finance and pointing out that no catholic was among the delegation.
Uneasy at events in France and the radical direction taken by some Irish reformers, Jones was no longer active in politics after April 1792 and left Ireland. By July 1793 he had a house in London; he lived also in Wales (near Wrexham). In August 1796 he was said by Francis Higgins (qv) to be apparently ‘in great distress’ and so the grantee of £100 from the Catholic Committee; in December 1797 he was said by Martha McTier (qv) to be in prison for a debt of £2,000. At the close of 1798, in a public letter, he distanced himself from the United Irish rebellion, declaring that he was glad the government had been able to maintain order and punish traitors. According to Lady Moira (qv), who knew him well and received him at Castleforbes (October 1802), he sold his estates in Ireland for an annuity during his life but returned in 1802 to settle some business with the agent of Lord Downshire (qv). There was another reason. When Sir Richard Musgrave (qv), in his book on the Irish rebellion (1801), alleged that Jones had supported catholic relief for ‘sordid and sinister motives’, Jones took offence and wrote an intemperate reply; Musgrave offered Jones a private apology but the quarrel was settled only by a duel at Rathgar, near Dublin, in which Musgrave was wounded (30 May 1802). Jones was also a guest at Kilmainham of James Dixon (qv), a catholic of strong United Irish sympathies. By January 1803, Jones was staying at Clonakilty, Co. Cork, as the guest of a Dr Callanan. There he was arrested (2 August) and charged with high treason. Moira House in Dublin was raided on an official warrant and letters addressed to Jones seized. For the following 27 months he was held in a Cork prison and was released without being brought to trial (October 1805).
His association with Dixon, who was arrested on suspicion of being connected with the rebel leader Robert Emmet (qv), must have aroused suspicion about his loyalties. W. J. Fitzpatrick (qv) could only conclude about Todd Jones, ‘there is no absolute evidence to show his guilt’ (Secret service, 158). Why he was held, and for so long, is not easily explained. Sinéad Byrne's judgement (‘Portrait’, 300) that his advocacy of catholic emancipation was incidental to his advocacy of parliamentary reform may be well founded for his early career, but in Jones's later years he was clearly a firm friend of the catholics. As late as September 1812 he received payment for some reason from the Catholic Board, and on 1 March 1814 wrote a letter from Newry – mentioned by Daniel O'Connell (qv) in the House of Commons in 1839 – exposing attacks by Orangemen on catholic property nearby at Kilkeel.
In his last years he lived with a sister at Rostrevor, Co. Down. Aged 63 and paralysed in one arm since his time in prison, William Todd Jones died 17 February 1818 at Rostrevor, two days after being thrown in a carriage accident. He was described in 1802 by a fellow-guest at dinner as ‘a very genteel man . . . of the most extensive and learned information, of great anecdote, and a most interesting companion’ (Tone, Writings, i, 151, n.).