1) He was called “Bumpus.”
2) In his first appearance in the major leagues on October 15, 1892, he no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates. By some cosmic coincidence, it was also the very last major league game ever played with the distance between home and the pitching rubber at 50 feet. He was also, according to Bill James, the least likely major leaguer to throw a no-hitter who actually did so.
3) Pitching for the Grand Rapids Rippers of the 1894 Western League, he was once on the losing end of a 32 to 26 score. He issued 16 walks in that game.
4) He was apparently a black man who passed as white when he played in organized baseball.
Chris Rainey is the foremost Bumpus biographer (well, the only one, really). His entry on Bumpus in the SABR BioProject sits alongside his article in the official publication for SABR 34, Baseball in the Buckeye State (2004), as the go-to documents for the life and career of this son of Cedarville, Ohio.
Note that above I said that he “passed as white when he played in organized baseball,” and not that he passed in order to play in organized baseball.
Consider George Treadway, a contemporary outfielder who played for the Baltimore Orioles in 1893. When in September of that year The Sporting Life reprinted an item from the Louisville Courier-Journal asserting that Treadway was black, it resulted in a minor controversy and quick, furious denials from Treadway and his friends. The notion that he was “colored” persisted for years afterward, despite the fact that there seems to be no evidence at all that he had any African heritage. Some (much later) accounts even have it that he was hounded out of the National League due to racial suspicions, though there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of that.
So far I haven’t found any indication that anything similar was ever said about Bumpus Jones. He seems to have played out his career in the majors and minors (from 1891 to 1900) without any racial controversies. And yet he emerged from a family that was consistently identified in census records and local tradition as African American. Chris Rainey documents some of this, but I think I can add some significant evidence to the discussion.
In a short afterword to his 2004 article, Rainey writes:
“There is speculation as to Bumpus’s ethnic origins. He is listed on the 1880 census [as] a mulatto and the old-timers in Cedarville said, ‘He was black, you know.’ His death certificate lists him as white. His spending a month with the Atlanta team [in 1892] would suggest he could easily pass as white.”
In his SABR bio of Jones, Rainey adds a little more information:
“Genealogical research by a relative suggests that [Jones] was descended from Pocahantas’ people in Virginia. His mother, Roseanna, married James Jeffries on April 22, 1874. The Jeffries are frequently listed as black or colored in census records and obituaries and this has undoubtedly given rise to speculation.”
So Rainey appears here to be backing off the idea that Jones had any black heritage, seeming to attribute the rumors about Bumpus to the fact that the family of his stepfather, James Jeffries, was often identified as black. (The identity of Bumpus’s biological father apparently remains unknown.)
But there’s more to the story. As Rainey pointed out in his original article, Jones is listed as “mulatto” in the 1880 census. Here’s the entry:
The youngest of the Joneses, 9-year-old Charlie, is Bumpus. He’s living with his grandparents, James and Mary Jones, and various aunts and uncles in Cedarville, Ohio. (His mother Roseanna, then 29, was apparently living elsewhere.) The first column after their names is “color.” As you can see, Charlie and his whole family is listed as “M,” or “mulatto.” (I left the next few entries so you can see the difference between “M” and “W,” for “white.”)
Here’s the same family in the 1870 census, before Bumpus’s birth. Roseanna, 19, is again absent. But again the whole family is listed as “mulatto” (the three columns after the names are, in order, age, sex, and color):
And then, in the 1860 census, we finally see Bumpus’s mother, here spelled “Rosana,” age 9, listed (with the rest of her family) as “M,” “mulatto” (again the third column after the names).
The Jones family can be found in Cedarville in the 1850 census as well, though the “color” column was left blank that time. Going forward, Bumpus’s grandparents, James and Mary Jones, are listed “black” in the 1900 census (and live in a neighborhood with several other black families):
And in the 1910 census, grandfather James Jones, now a widower and living with another of his grandchildren, is once again listed as “mulatto”—though, notably, Montie Smallwood, presumably his grandson, is listed as “white”:
One last item of interest: the death certificate of Bumpus’s mother, like that of Bumpus himself, lists her as “white.” (The informant is Bumpus’s half-brother George Jeffries.)
So, to add it all up: Bumpus’s mother’s family was consistently classified as black in the census over a period of 50 years, by different census takers, and lived in mixed neighborhoods alongside plenty of other black families. Chris Rainey also records what was evidently an oral tradition among Cedarville “old-timers” that Jones was black, which, I would suggest, represents a stream of evidence entirely independent of the census data.
Whatever historical and genetic reality lay behind the “mulatto” identity of the Jones family of Cedarville, Ohio (and it doesn’t really matter, for our purposes), it seems quite clear that Bumpus Jones grew up in a context where he was identified as black. Outside of Cedarville, though, he was perceived as white. He never said anything to the contrary, apparently, and that pretty much fits the definition of passing.