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.