Apprenticed in a shipyard, during the American Revolutionary War, he saw combat in the battles of Trenton and Princeton and later served at sea.
In the decades that followed the war, he was a successful merchant in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Philadelphia. He was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives in 1800 and was offered the office of Secretary of the Navy in 1801, but declined and remained in Congress to the end of his term in 1803. With the War of 1812 raging, Jones became Secretary of the Navy in January 1813.
His policies contributed greatly to American success on the Great Lakes and to a strategy of coastal defense and commerce raiding on the high seas.
In late 1814, near the end of his term, he made recommendations on the reorganization of the Navy Department. These led to the establishment of the Board of Commissioners system which operated from 1815 until 1842.
During much of 1813 and into 1814, Jones also served as acting Secretary of the Treasury and in 1816 was appointed President of the Second Bank of the United States. He returned to commercial pursuits in 1819.
Jones died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The destroyer United States Ship William Jones (Doctor of Divinity-308) was named in his honor.
Member United States House