Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Strange Story of Cousin Tom Jett and the Dare stones


Wall Street Journal, Friday January 22, 2016

“You see I had to shoot the man I lived with last year, so I was in the McDonough jail when old Doctor Pearce and old lady Pearce asked me to identify it. They showed it to met through the bars. I was in no humor to mess with any stone.” Cousin Tom Jett talking about Professor Pearce and his attempts to verify one of the Dare stones.

Jetts do seem to have a knack for earning odd places in American history. (Tom is released from jail. He acted in self defense.)

A story below the fold on the front page of Friday’s WSJ catches my attention, “A Small College Dares to Reopen a Stone Cold Case.”

Brenau University in Gainesville Georgia is the care taker to 46 inscribed stones documenting events that occur to the colonists of Roanoke Island after they vacate the island. These pet rocks, as a university publication names them, have a jaded past.

The first stone, and according to experts possibly the only one that actually might be authentic, is presumably found near Edenton in 1937 by a traveling produce salesman from California. He lugs the heavy but manageable stone to his car and several months later shows it to a professor at Emory University in Atlanta. While most of his colleagues are skeptical, history Professor Haywood Pearce Jr takes an interest in the stone and persuades his father, President of nearby Brenau University, to buy it. The two men follow many leads to authenticate the stone including producing a booklet and offering rewards for more stones. Both arouse public interest and as a result stones turn up in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

In that time period Paul Green is working on his play The Lost Colony to premier on Roanoke Island in 1937. Long interested in the area and the fate of the colonists, he is penning the drama at the request of town officials wanting to beef up their local pageant with a grand celebration the year of Virginia Dare’s 350th birthday. Prior to that, celebrating Virginia Dare’s birthday is an annual local event in Manteo dating back to the late 1800’s. Mabel Evans Jones even produces and stars in a silent movie on the subject in 1921 which gets national attention.


Original Eleanor Dare stone

There is also a plan for a coastal highway from Maine to Miami and one backer wants to create interest in the rich history of the area by seeding Roanoke Island with fake artifacts. He tries to convince state senator Bradford Fearing, champion to the Outer Banks fishing industry struggling with a flat economy, that this will turn the tide when the finds turn up in the fishing nets. Fearing sends him packing. Too, if you talk to the right Manteo folks they’ll affirm the story that in 1937 a man with a suitcase size stone tries to interest the locals in what he calls the Virginia Dare stone.

So many ways for these stones to be fake yet they refuse to roll over and gather moss. In 1979 Leonard Nimoy’s In Search of: The Lost Colony of Roanoke includes a segment on the stones. The History Channel airs a piece on the stones this past October.

And just where does cousin Tom Jett fit into all of this? The Jett family of Henry County in Georgia runs a mill there for years. Tom remembers as a boy being intrigued by a stone on the floor of the mill everyone calls the Indian stone because it has strange writing on it. His memory, of course, would far predate the flurry of Dare stones (the Jett stones being among them) that later surface. When the mill goes defunct, the stone is tossed in a ditch. Then when the search for the Dare stones is in high gear, one even being found in the vicinity, someone remembers the mill stone and goes looking for it. After much search it is found. There’s a second Jett stone with odd Indian markings, allegedly broken in two forty years earlier by Tom’s father, one piece being used for a barn support, the other tossed about from town to town in a tool box for years. Yet when the two are finally located and brought back together they fit perfectly. Almost too perfectly.

Will the story of the Dare stones ever reach a conclusion? Maybe this time they will. Meanwhile we Jetts are famous for that phrase, not original with us but we do get a lot of mileage out of it, of never letting a good story get in the way of the truth.



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Wilbur & Orville and Kitty Hawk AND Bähs

It is mid-August 1900. Wilbur Wright after being admonished by his father to find purpose in his life decides to untangle the mystery of flight. It has long been on his mind since that day his father brought home a simple flying toy. After much urging Orville agrees to join him in the quest. And so after getting favorable reports from both the weather master at Kitty Hawk and postmaster, Wilbur immediately leaves from Dayton to see for himself. Orville plans to follow a few weeks later. Here is a letter from Orville to their sister, Katharine, after he arrives in Elizabeth City by train.


Orville’s letter home and trying to find Wilbur

The Hotel Arlington

Elizabeth City NC Sep 26th 1900

Dear Swes;

It is only two hours since I wrote you from Norfolk, but having got a trace of Will here I send the news on at once. Trying to find Will at Kitty Hawk reminds me very much of a relief expedition to some lost Arctic explorer. The hotel clerk tells me Will was here four or five weeks ago he thinks – in fact is almost sure – it will be just five weeks tomorrow that he left. The hotel people are very accommodating and propose putting a man at hunting up the available way of reaching Kitty Hawk, They say the trip across is pretty much like “life” – uncertain, we know not at what moment we may arrive.

Do not let the store business worry you. Have Lorin attend to it, if he will. Harry Wellon is to be paid $4.50 Saturday night: ie: $4.50 per week. We will settle with Chrls when we get back. If he needs any money, however, let him have it.

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Orville’s drawing of a fish from side and top

The post office here closes at noon so I have not learned whether there is any word from Will. him

I was down on the wharf looking at the little fish in the water. They were different from anything I had seen. One was a long green thing but a pointed nose. Three or four inches long like this: (a drawing). Then like this (another drawing) it managed to move along by working those fins on top cross wise to the way it was going. The life like view given is from the above. That is the reason the tail was wrong first time. I hear the dinner bell ringing which means one o’clock, or twelve by your time.



Tell Harry to sell those rolls of tire tape in box back of what he has been selling at 5 cents a roll. They were ten cents rolls, but we must get rid of them. They are tied in tin foil wrapping.

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Wilbur’s letter to Katharine upon leaving Kitty Hawk

Hotel Central

Poindexter Street 

Elizabeth City NC October 23 1900

Dear Sterchers

We have said “Good bye Kitty, Good bye Hawk, good bye Kitty Hawk, we’re going to leave you now.” We reached you here this afternoon, after a pleasant trip from Kitty Hawk of six hours. It took me forty five hours going down there and Orville sixteen hours. We will go on to Norfolk tomorrow and will probably stay over a day to see the ship yards at Newport News. If we do so we will reach home Saturday night at any rate so you must have grub for four Sunday. Poor Bubbo (Little Bubbo) has only tasted beaf steak one or two meals in the last fifty or so, and I suspect he will sink his teeth into a nice tender porterhouse with peculiar pleasure. We are now at the Central, the Arlington being no more. We had a fair supper. I have gained a few pounds since leaving home, and Orville is as heavy as when he left. we both look like niggers by reason of our sunburnt faces and hands. I took a look at myself in a glass today for the first time in five or six weeks and was somewhat surprised. We will have some “amosin” stories to tell when we get home.

Cheer up Sterchens, we will be home in about a day after you receive this. We have missed our little baby sister like anything, you may be sure. Remember we will be home Saturday night and will be hungry as “bähs” Sunday. A fellow warned me not to go ashore going down to K.H. saying he would be afraid of “bäh.” I do not know whether the hungry animals which flew out at me were the “bäh” he meant but they are my standard of hungryness.

Your loving burro,



In doing research for a children’s book I’m writing using animal characters to tell the story of the Wright brothers on the Outer Banks I came across copies of letters to their steady supporter, Katharine. These two are among the first they sent to her after arriving in Kitty Hawk. And actually we still have those bähs around.




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Two Girls TRAVELING Life

lighter us

Mom, me & Dad 1952 near Hickam AFB in Honolulu

We live in paradise, Dad, Mom & me. No, we really do. Dad is assigned to an eighteen month air rescue tour of duty on the remote island of Guam in the Mariana Islands. Family is allowed on this tour and so off we go, the three of us.

Well, to back up a step, Dad goes ahead. Mom & I follow after getting all of our belongings shipped from Texas and safely tucked away in the far reaches of the partially above ground immense basement at 6416 in Richmond. Our boxes and barrels and my beloved bicycle are stored next to the dirt garage section, out of the way from the simple all wood rooms designed for doing the family laundry, holding the coal furnace, and housing the gardener.

It is 1952, I am eight, when we land on Guam, after a stop in Honolulu where Dad meets our ship, and where we get a preview of what life in the amazing tropics is like. This Guam that we find ourselves on is so new to all but natives and a few hardy government employees that Mom gets to pick all of the trappings for our just completed house down to the fabric for our living room furniture. This Guam is not the one that my best friend’s Dad declares he is never so glad to leave. His, no families allowed, tour just a few years prior to ours is on a rough uncut diamond Guam.

We are dropped eyes wide open into a paradise so pristine and beautiful that it defies description. It is the first bloom on a hibiscus that will bear many blooms but never again a first one. There are no poisonous animals. There are no snakes. Tumon Bay is a no more than a beautiful beach reached through the jungle. There is always sunshine. When it rains, it’s a short shower of warm drops that barely get you wet. But that’s more than enough to maintain a lush growth of everything tropical because the humidity always hovers near 90 percent. And the temperature stays in the 70’s day and night year around. We have no glass windows in our house. Louvers for adjusting light and occasion breezes is all that is needed.

We all play at our own speed. I roam the entire base with no fear. It is my playground. My friends and I constantly make up games that require only the outdoor space around us. In summer and on weekends we go to nightly outdoor movies on the base. We sit in real seats under the stars and visit with our neighbors when the reels are being changed. There is no charge unless you want popcorn or a drink, and a nickel or two covers that.

Every chance he gets Dad goes on short leave to Japan and always brings me back dolls, wind chimes, tea sets and other wonders from that intriguing culture. Mom exchanges recipes and new ideas for adult parties which are never ending.

Whenever the occasion ship comes in with cargo from around the world it’s a mad dash to buy everything. Things are so inexpensive but not at all cheaply made that, as Mom says, “You can’t afford not to buy it all.”

Mom and I have dresses sewn for next to nothing by Hong Kong ladies trained in the art of exquisite tailoring. They custom cut and style to our specifications exactly what we want. We have our own private house of couture.

And then my grandmother, Mom’s mother, gets very sick. I am sure that the message from the states is concise and most likely in the form of a telegram or perhaps a Red Cross phone call because all but the most serious communication is by letter. And in Ashland, Virginia where Mom grows up the phone is still a luxury, especially a private line. Party lines where anyone can listen to your conversation are more the norm.

This is the grandmother who elopes to Charlottesville one January weekend just because she and Granddaddy want to get married and so they do, neither being much for fuss. This is the grandmother that I know as a stickler for rules and no frills living. And this is the same grandmother that lets me sleep with her and together we listen to The FBI in Peace and War and Dragnet on the radio in the pitch dark of the bedroom even though I am only six. And now she is very sick and we must go, Mom and I. But no one, not even dependents, leaves their tour of duty for any reason.

Dad plots and finagles and finally stealthily gets us on a military transport headed to Hickam AFB in Honolulu. Being a transport plane it has no real seats only jump seats along the inside walls of the plane. We are required to wear our Mae West vests the entire time since we are flying over water. Of course, there are no child sizes so I am engulfed in this massive life vest that presents a greater chance of suffocating rather than saving me it is so big. There is no heat. Mom and I do not have the advantage of airmen flight suits so we are agonizingly cold. Still we are against all odds on our way to Virginia.

In Honolulu we wait for a lift to the states trying to be as invisible as possible lest some by the rule book duty officer spies us and decides to ship us back to Guam. We are in luck. A hospital flight is headed to Travis AFB and there is room for us. If you by chance have ever been on a military hospital air ship you will know that it is designed for maximum capacity. There are no seats, it’s a hospital transport. Horizontal cots line both sides of the plane and are so tightly stacked that once you are in your cot, you can barely lift yourself up on your elbows. It’s for the severely sick or wounded why would you need to sit up anyway. But we are not sick, we are hitchhikers. And thankfully the only ones on board save the crew. Mom is immediately physically unsettled. My smirk at silly Mom quickly turns sour. There is something about being forced to lie completely flat on a moving airplane that just does not work. My barf bag and I become much too close. Finally, finally we land in California.

Mom and I roll out of our prisons and stagger off the plane. We breath in the fresh air. We have made it! Virginia is but a cross country train ride away. No more stolen space available for us. It is early evening but daylight is waning. Mom is a firm believer in a set bed time. No fudging, no gray area, no exceptions. She looks at me. “Are you hungry?” she asks. For way too many hours we have only snacked here and there. And then there is the matter of our last ride still churning in our stomaches, but suddenly I am really ravenous. I nod, yes. I wait for a practical let’s grab a quick bite and get you ready for bed announcement. She inhales and one girl to another says, “Let’s clean up, put on something fresh and pretty and go to dinner.” Bedtime flies out the window.

And for that moment, for that entire evening,  we are not mother-daughter, we are not parent-child. We are two equals. We are two girls traveling the road of life together.




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The LEGEND of Cousin William Storke Jett


William Storke Jett, 5th son and 7th child being the youngest, of Charles Coke Jett & Mary Wallace Ball Towles Jett. Born December 2, 1846 died 1884.

It was a dark and stormy night. Wait, that’s not how this story goes. It wasn’t night. It wasn’t dark. And it wasn’t stormy. Well maybe metaphorically speaking it was. You’ll see what I allude to soon enough.

But scratch that start for now. Let’s begin again in Willie’s own handwriting.

“I live in Westmoreland County Virginia. On Sunday April, 23 I was at the house of my brother-in-law, William Wallace, in King George County, Virginia. I was on my way from Fauquier County, where I had been with Mosby’s command. I had been in the Confederate service since June 17, last, when I first entered it. I was 18 years old on December 2nd last.

On Monday morning April 24, when I started from my sister’s I was in company with two other young men, Lieut. Ruggles and A R Bainbridge. We were going over into Caroline County, toward Bowling Green, and of course had to cross the Rappahannock. We went from my sister’s to Dr Ashton’s, about six miles, and stayed probably a quarter or half an hour, left there and went down to Port Conway. As we got on the hill, about fifty yards from the river, we saw a wagon down on the wharf, and as we got within twenty yards of the wagon, we saw apparently a young looking man jump out of the wagon and put his hand in the inside breast of his coat. I don’t know whether the others noticed it, but none of us said anything. We rode past, not stopping at the wagon, going right down to the wharf and hailed the ferry-boat. As soon as we came to the wharf, the young man walked down toward us and said, ‘Gentlemen, whose command do you belong to?’ Lieut. Ruggles said, ‘To Mosby’s command.’ I did not say anything. It has always been a rule of mine to never tell anyone my business when traveling. He said, ‘We belong to A P Hill’s command. I have my wounded brother, a Marylander who was wounded in the leg.’

In the meantime, the wounded brother had got out of the wagon and come toward where we were, on crutches. I was looking over toward Port Royal, being anxious for the ferryboat to get over. The young man said, ‘Come gentlemen, I suppose you are all going to the Southern Army.’ We made no reply. He said, ‘We are also anxious to get over there ourselves, and wish you to take us along with you.’ We made no reply at all that I remember, and he said, ‘Come, gentlemen, get down; we have got something to drink here; we will take a drink.’ I said, ‘Thank you , Sir, I never drink anything,’ and the other boys, I think, said the same thing.

I rode then from the wharf towards the old house, about twenty yards off, rode in the gate, and tied my horse. When I came out, they were all sitting there on the steps and on a ladder. This young man touched me on the shoulder and said he wanted to speak to me. I walked over toward the wharf with him and when we got there, he said, ‘I take it for granted you are raising a command to go South to Mexico and I want you to let us go with you.’ I was thrown back that such an idea should have entered any man’s head, and I did not say anything, but merely asked, ‘Who are you?’ He seemed to be very much excited and said, ‘We are the assassinators of the President.’ I was so much thrown back that I did not say anything, for I suppose, two or three minutes.

I should say that when they first asked us to take them under our protection, I inquired their names, and he said, ‘Our name is Boyd, his name is James William Boyd, and mine is —-E Boyd.’ When Herold (David E Herold) said they were the assassinators, he also said that if I noticed Booth’s left hand, I would see the letters J. W. B. Ruggles then came up and I said, ‘Here is a strange thing,’ and either repeated to him that they were the assassinators, or Herold did. I am not certain which, but I am sure that was said to Ruggles by either Herold or by me in Herold’s presence. Booth had not then got up to us. Booth then walked up and Herold enquired our names, and introduced us all around, calling Booth by that name. Booth had a shawl thrown around him, and he kept it over his left hand all the time, and on his hand was marked J. W. B. Herold gave us his own name then and they said they wanted to throw themselves entirely on our protection.

All this talk occurred before we went to the ferryboat. Booth had very little to say. We crossed the river together. Herold sent the boy back with the wagon from there. Booth got on Ruggles’ horse near the wharf, rode down to the boat, and crossed the river sitting on the horse all the time. Ruggles carried his crutches. As soon as we go over, they said they wanted me to find out somewhere for them to stay. I wanted to see some friends at Port Royal, Mr Peyton’s family, and I rode up there before they got out of the boat. Booth had requested that we should introduce him as a Confederate soldier traveling under the name of Boyd. I went to Miss Sarah Jane Peyton–I think Miss Sarah Jane–and told her that we had a wounded Marylander along by the name of Boyd, and I would be very much obliged to her if she would take care of him until the day after tomorrow. She at first consented, and Booth got down off of Ruggles’ horse, came into the house and sat down on a lounge. Presently she came to me again, took me into the parlor, and said that her brother, Mr Randolph Peyton, the lawyer, was not home. She hated very much to turn off a wounded soldier, but did not like to take anyone in during her brother’s absence. She said, ‘You can get him in anywhere up the road–Mr Garrett’s or anywhere else.’

Booth got on Ruggles’ horse again, and I got on mine. Herold got behind me, and Ruggles behind Bainbridge. We then rode up to Garrett’s which I suppose was about two miles. There was very little said. Booth remarked that he thought the President’s assassination was ‘was nothing to brag about,’ and I said, ‘I do not either.’ I had very little to say to him or he to me. He remarked that he did not intend to be taken alive, ‘If they don’t kill me. I’ll kill myself.’

At Garrett’s gate, Herold got down from behind me, and remained by the gate while Booth, Ruggles, Bainbridge and I, rode up to the house. There I introduced myself to Mr. Garrett. I told him my name, and that I knew him by reputation, but had never been introduced to him, and I said, ‘Here is a wounded Confederate soldier that we want you to take care of for a day or so; will you do that?’ He said, ‘Yes, certainly I will.’ Booth then got down, and we left there, remarking as we rode off, ‘We will see you again,’ though I had no intention of seeing him again, because I was going to Richmond, and did not expect to come on that road again. That was the last I ever saw of him. Herold went to Mrs. Clark’s and next day returned to Garrett’s. Bainbridge remained with Herold. Ruggles and I went on to Bowling Green.

I did not tell Garrett or anyone else who Booth was. I had heard of the assassination, but had seen none of the particulars. I heard on the day of the disorganization of Mosby’s command, that the President had been assassinated–either on Wednesday or Friday previous to meeting these men. I met no soldiers nor other persons looking after these men. Everything was perfectly quiet.

I remained at Bowling Green until Tuesday night, April, 25th. Col. Conger and Lieut. Baker came there that night, arrested me, carried me into the parlor, and began to question me. I told them everything from the beginning to the end, and I said I would pilot them to the house where Booth was. I took them to Garrett’s gate, and directed them how to go into the house, and they went in, leaving me at the gate. I have tried to evade nothing from the beginning. I have told everything.”

Sworn statement of William (Willie) Storke Jett May 6, 1865 as documented in The Jett and Allied Families by Jeter Lee Jett published by Gateway Press 1977

To Willie’s testament I add this thought that through no fault of our own, we Jetts do have a knack for finding ourselves in odd situations. Usually our good reputation and nature see us none the worse for it. Willie was exonerated of any wrong doing but for the balance of his short life he was haunted by the circumstances that befell him those few days in April.




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