Tag Archives: Lost Colony

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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Don’t Ask An OBX Local For Directions They’ve Already LOST One Colony

lost colony 2005

Several members of the cast and crew with a few Irish friends in Youghal County Cork 2005. Left to right, Greg Purcell, Becki Rea, Joan’s sister (a YaYa) Donny Ball, Marsha Warren, Carol Adams, Joan’s other sister (another YaYa), Carl Curnutte III, Joan Brumbach, Bill Rea, Sandy Ball, John Buford, Marj Thomas, Jackie Pierce, Irish kid one and two and fellow countryman.

Our family history with Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Green’s The Lost Colony, longest running outdoor symphonic drama, is not as lengthy as some but is a lot longer than many and has its own thread of fun. True we’ve never had a Virginia Dare baby in the family. For those of you who might not know, once a summer on Virginia Dare’s birthday, real babies are used in five different scenes. Lewis was the only child in our family eligible for this role since Richmond was our base when the others were the right age, but at 6 months and very active, I figured that he would not really enjoy the entire acting gig and didn’t take him to auditions.

However, we have suffered the agony of the wooden bench seats with no backs and jockeying for a good seat since all tickets were general admission. Bug spray was not an option it was a necessity. Any form of local id got you in free on Dare Night that preceded the show’s official opening and really the only night to go if you were a local. Everyone was there, literally just about everyone in the county. It was great to see wintered over neighbors with greetings of ‘Hi!’ and ‘How are you?’ creating a familiar early summer cacophony of sound not that much different from the cicadas that came along later in the season.

Once purchased seats became the norm, Emily trained us early on to opt for ones on the Indian side at her friends in the colony recommendation. One year the colony was so jammed pack with theater goers every night the best we could do was get seats in the last row of the center section.

barbara and her dudes

Bill Rea, HRH Barbara Hird, Chris Chappell Ireland 2005

New to the Outer Banks in 1984 we were lucky enough to see the 400th production of the colony when Colleen Dewhurst was Queen Elizabeth for the 4th of July weekend. Our arrival almost matched that of Barbara Hird who came on board in 1986 as HRH (her royal highness), a role which she owned for 10 years and later marketed into several amazing HRH one act plays penned by lebame houston. Lisa Bridge followed Barbara as Queen Elizabeth and she too owned the role. In 2006 Lynn Redgrave was queen for a week as a favor to director friend Jane McCulloch. Our family grew up with magnificent queens.

In 2005 Donny & I were fortunate to be included as part of the freshly formed abridged concert version of the Lost Colony. TLC was to be the feature attraction at the Youghal Through the Ages festival in County Cork Ireland. The Life and Times of Sir Walter Raleigh was the theme that year and no one knew it better than lebame houston. Board member of TLC, lebame, along with then executive director/producer Carl Curnutte III, assured the folks of Youghal that we could deliver and we did. I was official photographer and Donny tenor in the small company. He was Ananias Dare and I can still hear him start the Final March song (in this version Ananias does not get killed off) with his strong deep tenor solo beginning. “O God that madest earth and sky and hedged the seas around, Who that vast firmament on high with golden stars hath bound. Oh God our father Lord above, O bright immortal one, Secure with in thy mercy, we walk this death alone.”

This was and remains the only time TLC has been performed outside the United States in any format. And we were there. It was grand. We got a special viewing of Sir Walter Raleigh’s home, now a private residence. We were feted endlessly and got invited to the back after hours rooms of many a pub, where joviality continued through the night. We were given tours of the countryside and even had a day or two off to take on Castle Blarney and a few other sights on our own.

lydia martin old tom 2013

Lydia, Old Tom & Martin 2013

In recent history the grands have become attracted to the show. Lots of changes have been made. There are always changes every year but these are actually pretty major. The show starts and ends earlier. Time was when you could put solid money on getting home after midnight, especially if you live on the better island as we who hail from Colington Island good naturedly tell our Roanoke Island friends. Scenes have been reworked and some even cut. One of my favorite show stoppers, the girl with the dress on fire, taken out for years, is back in.  Actors now greet you after the show for photo opts and autographs.

And so with the show, our show, there is a constant ebb and flow, just like the tides around the barrier islands we call home, that is ever a part of The Lost Colony, our colony, the one that we lost, and found again.





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