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The long road to Hatteras: A Lighthouse Keeper Travels Home

Devaney F. Jennette and Grandchildren

The letter head reads, Department of Commerce and Labor, Light-House Establishment…

On April 9th, 1909, at Smith Point Light Station, 2nd Assistant Lighthouse Keeper Devaney Farrow Jennette, wrote to Commander Robert L. Russell, of the United States Navy. Russell, at that time was the Lighthouse Inspector of the Fifth District and located in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sir:-

I want to take a month to go home to see my family and if you will grant me the privilege you can send a man to fill my place and I am willing for him to draw my full payment. I would like to go by the third of May and will return back the third of June. Hoping that you will except of my going.

Yours truly

(Signed) Devaney F. Jennett.

J. B. Williams

Keeper.

It was a long haul from Smith Point Light Station, which was located in the waters of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, to the village of Buxton, located on Cape Hatteras, NC. This was the home of Devaney’s childhood. A place where generations of his family had lived and toiled as fishermen, lighthouse keepers, and Surfmen. The sea was part of their every breath. They led a life which often took them away from their families for days, weeks, and months at a time.

On April 17, 1909, Inspector Russell wrote a letter to The Lighthouse Board in Washington, D.C. describing the perils of travel which Keeper Jennette, would endure in order to make his way home to his loved ones…

Sirs:-

I have the honor to enclose a letter from Mr. Devaney F. Jennette, Second Assistant Keeper at Smith Point Light-Station, Va., applying for one month’s leave of absence, beginning May 3, 1909, for the purpose of visiting his family. In this connection, I would state that in October last, Mr. Jennett was appointed Assistant Keeper at Thomas Point Shoal Light-Station, Md., where he served up to the 9th instant, and has had no leave except to come ashore for the mail and for other purposes.
Mr. Jennett’s family resides at Cape Hatteras, N.C., and he has not been able to visit his people since his entrance into the Light-House Service. In order to reach his home, it is necessary for him to come to this city by boat, then take a steamer to Norfolk, Va., and go by rail and boat to Roanoke Island; and to reach his home from the latter place, he has to procure passage in an open gasoline boat for upwards of forty (40) miles. This journey is slow and expensive and in view of the time and money involved in reaching his home, I would recommend that the restriction of to 15 days be waived in his case, and that he be granted a full month’s leave of absence with the usual provision that he furnish a competent substitute during his absence. The return of the enclosed letter is respectfully asked.

Respectfully yours,

(Signed) Robert L. Russell
Commander, U.S.N.
Light-House Inspector


Pop’s career in the lighthouse service began in 1908 and ended upon his death in 1932. Page after page from his personnel file tells of his travels up and down the coast, from beacon to beacon, during this time. By 1917, transportation was not much different than when he had began his career all those years earlier. The road from Carney’s Point, NJ., to Hunting Island Light Station, SC., was no exception…

As I read and re-read the letters and documents, thoughts of today’s NC Hwy 12, come to mind. Often we grumble when we have to wait in line as repairs are made to the road. Or wonder what in the world will we do when bits and pieces of asphalt are taken out by nor’easters or hurricanes such as Irene. If only we had to travel as Pop did. But then, Lighthouse Keepers spent much of their lives enduring. A hardly lot, indeed.

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