In August of last year I put together a blog titled, A Lighthouse Keeper’s Request. It told of the relationship between three of my Jennette family members who were keepers. Since that time, I have been researching my ancestral connection to all who manned these historic beacons. What has been found is a family tie to those men that goes beyond a name written down on paper or a document tucked away in a file. This is my heritage. These are my people.
I’ll start off by giving a brief history on my Grandfather, Kenneth H. Dickerson Sr., and explain how he ended up on the remote island of Cape Hatteras, in the early 1920’s. My Grandfather was born August 21, 1900, in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma. When only sixteen years of age, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.The year was 1916. Through documentation we have learned that dear old Granddad upped his birth date by two years, in order to be old enough to join. This action eventually landed him in Buxton, as a radioman with the Navy.
Gladys W. Jennette, a native islander, was my Grandmother. She was the daughter of lighthouse keeper Devaney F. and Ella Gray Jennette. She was also the one who caught Granddad Dickerson’s eye and won his heart. The two married and out of this union came two children, Ella Nora and Kenneth H. Dickerson Jr. Kenneth Jr, is my Father. A Father that has many memories while growing up, of visiting such light houses as the Cape Fear Lighthouse on Bald Head Island, NC. And Hooper’s Island Lighthouse, in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. But no memories of a lighthouse are more numerous for him than those of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
In the mid 1930’s Granddaddy Dickerson, as a civilian, became an Asst. Keeper at Hooper’s Island Light Station. He held this position until 1939. This is the only known station that our family is aware of, where he served. Marrying into a family of keepers, he was destined to at least give this maritime tradition a try.
There is a memory from my childhood that I have shared many a time. When at my Grandparent’s home place in the village of Kinnakeet (present day Avon), I would sleep in the west bedroom. At night when I found it hard to sleep, I would crawl to the end of the bed and watch as the beam from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, would shine through the branches of the live oak that grew in the yard. Who would have known that all these years later that I would be sitting here sharing the lives of it’s keepers, these kin.
Benjamin Fulcher and his wife Lydia Farrow, were my GGGG Grandparents. Their daughter Sabra, married my GGG Grandfather, William Jennette. Besides Benjamin, there were five known Fulcher keepers at Cape Hatteras Station. Amasa G, Charles, Christopher, Martin, and Randolph. As most who are from Hatteras know, if you’re kin to one Fulcher…you’re kin to them all. Same goes with most relations when is comes to old island families.
Jennette, is one of those families who are among the earliest recorded as living on Hatteras Island. This line, as Cheryl Shelton-Roberts of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society puts it… ” this one line comprised the Alpha and Omega of the famous light station”. But this family’s service is not only exclusive to the Cape Hatteras Light. Utah Cole Jennette, son of Benjamin Jennette and brother to Hatteras Light’s last Keeper, Unaka B. Jennette, was keeper of the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach, Virginia…for over 20 years. And there is also my Great Grandfather,Devaney Farrow Jennette, 1st Cousins to Unaka and Utah, who after 13 years of service at the Cape Fear Lighthouse, died in it’s lantern room in 1932.
Unaka Benjamin Jennette, 83, retired Cape Hatteras lighthouse keeper, died Tuesday [Sept. 14, 1965] at 4 p.m. in a Norfolk hospital. A native of Hatteras Island, he lived at Buxton. He was a son of Benjamin F. and Mrs. Dorcas F. Jennette and the husband of the late Mrs. Sudie Scarborough Jennette. He became light keeper as a youth and served at old Hatteras Light continuously until it was changed to an automatic light. Capt. Jennette was born in the village of Buxton November 30, 1882. He joined the Lighthouse Service in 1904 as a deckhand. He was transferred to the Diamond Shoals Lightship in 1909 as a Quartermaster. In 1911 he served as captain of the 35 foot channel lightship and later on the lighthouse tender “Maple”. In 1913 he was transferred [the rest of obit was continued on another page which is missing. [the rest of obit was continued on another page which is missing. A photograph accompanied this obituary] (unknown newspaper)
VIRGINIA BEACH – Utah Cole Jennette, 84, died Saturday , Jan. 3, 1976, in a hospital. A native of Buxton, N.C., he was the husband of Mrs. Edna Morrisette Jennette and had lived in Virginia Beach since 1930. He retired as the lighthouse keeper at Ft. Story in 1954. He was a member of Virginia Beach Masonic Lodge #274 and Buxton Southern United Methodist Church. Besides his widow, survivors include five sons: Alton C. Jennette and Carl M. Jennette of Virginia Beach, Army Major Larry F. Jennette of Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, and John S. Litchfield and Linnie Litchfield of Virginia Beach; four daughters: Mrs. Robert Hohl of Virginia Beach, Mrs. Audrey Horton of San Jose, California, Mrs. Joan Ramsey of Vivian, La., and Mrs. Jackie Dixon of Norfolk; two sisters: Mrs. Ethel Middleton of Charlotte, N.C. and Mrs. Earl Miller of Kill Devil Hills, N.C.; 6 grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Funeral arrangements are pending. Maestas Funeral Home has charge.
And there are other Jennettes…
Light keeper Joseph Claude Jennette was the son of William and Naomi Farrow. Joseph and his wife, Terah Williams, gave birth two three sons – Benjamin C, Joseph E, and William B. All served as keepers at Cape Hatteras Station, including Benjamin C’s son, John B. Jennette.
An obituary for John…
John Benjamin Jennette, 80, died Thursday night [March 8, 1951] at a New Bern hospital after an illness of several years. He was a retired lighthouse keeper, native of Cape Hatteras, Dare County and keeper of the Hatteras Inlet Light to 1911. He was transferred to New Bern as keeper of the New Bern Harbor lights. Funeral services were held Saturday afternoon at the Centenary Methodist Church in New Bern at 3:30 o’clock with burial following in the Cedar Grove Cemetery. Surviving are his wife [Delphine Louise Miller Jennette]; two daughters: Mrs. Carl Bartling of New Bern and Mrs. Curtis Edwards of Winston-Salem; three sons: Arthur S. Jennette of Norfolk, John B. Jennette, Jr. of New Bern, and Lt. Comdr. C.E. Jennette of Norfolk. (The Coastland Times [Manteo, NC] – Friday, March 16, 1951; pg. 1)
Then there was Jabez B. Jennette and his wife Salina Farrow. He and my Great Great Grandfather, Isaac L. Jennette, both received United States Life Saving Service medals for their part in the rescue of the crew of the wreck of the Barkentine Ephraim Williams, in 1884. Jabez’s sons, Wallace R. and Zion B., served as Light Keepers at Cape Hatteras Station.
This evening…I am ending here with this installment about my light keeping family. There is way more to come with some very unexpected twists and turns that were found while researching them. But for now…this installment will have to do.
And if you haven’t been keeping track…that makes 16 lighthouse keepers in the family so far. Hope you’ve enjoyed the read.
Dawn F. Taylor