For all his life, Herman “Jake” Jennette heard stories of a lost family Bible – a leather-bound treasure dating to 1780, carried by his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.
For all anyone knew, it disappeared around Wayne County sometime near the Civil War, possibly handed off to a relative nobody could trace, but maybe even swept up during the Battle of Bentonville, when the Union Army occupied farm houses.
But in his 70s, retired from the U.S. Marines, Jennette followed the yellow-paged relic on a tour around the state, finally discovering it in a box at the Edgecombe County Library, its pages still inked with the branches on his family tree.
He held it for the first time Wednesday, poring over the curling cursive letters from the 18th century, penned by colonial ancestors who share his last name.
“I turned through the Bible,” said Jennette, who lives in Swansboro near Camp Lejeune, “and saw my sixth grandfather Joseph.”
As a guy who has trouble naming all of his great-grandparents, and who can’t locate a family tree except when he’s looking for something else, I’m stunned by the riches Jennette managed to pull from the past. Somewhere, I’ve got a box of letters my grandfather wrote. Somewhere else, I’ve got a Bible he signed.
No wonder so much history disappears. Most of us make terrible curators.
Jennette’s search started in Rose Hill, the far-flung Duplin County town famous for having the world’s largest frying pan. But the relative who’d lived there had long since gone, along with the house. But along the way he heard that the Bible had landed in a personal collection that got deposited at a library in Wilson County.
Inquiring there, he learned that the Wilson library didn’t accept family Bibles, but a staffer knew about the Bible’s travels. It had belonged to a collector who died and willed it to whatever institution would care for it – a dying wish that landed Joseph Jinnett’s scriptures in Tarboro. Jennette dispatched his son as a scout, and he confirmed the find.
“That just lit the fire,” Jennette said.
Here it should be mentioned that Jennette is a Civil War re-enactor, and until recently he portrayed Gen. Robert E. Lee. Last spring, during one of the monthly cannon shoots at Fort Macon, he recalled that his friend and fellow re-eanctor Delane Bryant lived near Tarboro and wondered if she knew anybody in town.
Bryant told him that yes, she lived in nearby Conetoe and knew most everybody. And as a retired teacher, she had time to look in on Jennette’s Bible. She started making phone calls and – after a series of delays I won’t go into because this is a happy story – she got handed the Bible, which had been kept in a box behind the counter.
“I was scared to even touch it,” she said. “It looks like something you would see in a pirate movie.”
Its cover was brownish red and cracked, hand-stitched. Inside, the penmanship was elaborate, the sort of lettering that only a quill can produce. She immediately snapped pictures with her phone and sent them to Jennette, who recognized Joseph Jinett, born circa 1750, and his wife Abigail Peele, and a dozen other names from his family tree.
A few words here about Joseph Jinnett. He was a Jacobite, according to his great-grandson times five, one of the clans in Scotland supporting James II as England’s king, the band famously wiped out at the Battle of Culloden. (A side note. See the 1964 film “Culloden” if only for the line: “This is grapeshot. This is what it does.”) Anyway, long story short, Jinnett is tossed out of Scotland, winds up in France and eventually settles in a place called Quaker Neck, just across the Neuse River from what is now Goldsboro.
How do you get material released from a library? Bryant called around and discovered that the law had been changed and that libraries were free to let go of family Bibles on their shelves. Jennette provided a family tree from Ancestry.com. A delay followed that I won’t describe in detail here because this is a happy story and because I couldn’t get anybody at the library to return any email messages. But suffice it to say Jennette is getting his Bible back provided he signs a release freeing the library from any responsibility, which he is happy to do.
“I told them I was going to spend a little time fondling it,” he said.
Oddly enough, Jennette said he might turn the Bible over to another library in Wayne County, which would place it back where it vanished a century ago. But regardless, a wandering forefather has found his way into the 21st century, along with the keepsake he carried.