Samuel Porter Jones was born on October 16, 1847 in Oak Bowery, Alabama. His father, John Jones, was a lawyer and real estate entrepreneur. His mother, Queenie Jones, was a homemaker. His paternal grandfather, Samuel Gamble Jones, was a Methodist preacher. His great-grandfather was also a Methodist preacher. Additionally, four of his uncles were Methodists. In 1855, when he was twelve years old, his mother died, and he moved with his father to Cartersville, Georgia.
During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, Jones joined up with union troops traveling to Kentucky. Upon his return, Jones studied the Law, was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1868, and became known locally as a brilliant lawyer; however, Jones was a notorious alcoholic. After his father died, Sam Jones had a great and miraculous experience of conviction and quit his drinking, and focused on his Methodist faith.
Jones was ordained as a Methodist preacher by the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He preached in the Van Wert circuit, a group of five churches spread over four counties.
He became the South’s most famous evangelist and preacher in the late nineteenth century. He aimed his messages especially at men, often regarded as the most difficult demographic group to reach. 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, he had a large open-air structure called "The Tabernacle" built for inter-faith meetings. Until his death in 1906, he held services here each September, bringing to his hometown the co-workers who assisted him in the great revivals he held throughout the country.
Meanwhile, Jones raised funds for the Methodist Orphan Home in Decatur, Georgia. He went on to preach not only across the South, but also in New York City, Boston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Canada. Over the years, it is estimated that Jones preached to three million Americans. In his sermons, Jones preached that alcohol, but also, dances, and the theater, were sinful. He became known for his admonition, "Quit Your Meanness." As an example of his preaching, once in an evangelistic Campaign in San Antonio, Texas, Jones hollered that the only difference between San Antonio and hell was that there was a river running down the middle of it.
Jones married Laura McElwain of Kentucky. They resided at Roselawn, a mansion in Cartersville, Georgia. By 1895, the two story house had been lifted up with an enormous first floor added underneath. Also on the property were a schoolhouse, greenhouse, smokehouse, a large carriage house, tennis court and small houses for servants. . They had seven children, though one died as an infant.
On October 15, 1906, Jones was returning home from a revival when he died. His body was first laid at the rotunda of the Capital in Atlanta. He was buried at the Oak Hill cemetery in Cartersville, Georgia.
At the time of Jones’ death, the sanctuary of what was then named Cartersville Methodist Episcopal Church was in the process of being completed. After a unanimous vote, the congregation officially changed the name of the church to Sam Jones Memorial Methodist Church (now known as Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church), which is still in existence today.