Brutus’ Judas: Willie Jett – Part 1


From Mink:

I’m going to stray a bit from Fredericksburg and the battlefields to look at a story that unfolded in Caroline County, Virginia. The National Park Service does have a vested interest in Caroline’s Civil War history, as it maintains the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, the small plantation office building where the Confederate general died in 1863. The events discussed in this and follow-up posts occurred only a few miles from the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.

A small government-issued Confederate headstone stands in the northeast corner of the Fredericksburg City Cemetery. Aside from its inscription, it doesn’t appear any different than the other Confederate stones scattered about the cemetery. The stone marks the grave of William Storke Jett, a native of nearby Westmoreland County who served in Company C of the 9th Virginia Cavalry.

Willie, as he was known, spent less than one year in Confederate service. He joined the 9th Virginia Cavalry on June 16, 1864, at the age of seventeen. Thirteen days later, Willie received a severe wound when shot in the abdomen during the First Battle of Reams Station in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. The wound so incapacitated Willie that he never returned to active duty with the regiment. By his own account, once he recovered from his wound he served the remainder of the war as a commissary agent on duty in Caroline County, Virginia. When he learned of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, Willie claimed that he made his way to Westmoreland County to meet up with his brother, Lucius, who was a private in Colonel John S. Mosby’s 43rdBattalion Virginia Cavalry. If he could not rejoin the 9th Virginia Cavalry, he would join another command.

William Storke Jett

From Westmoreland, Willie traveled to Loudoun County, where he learned that Mosby’s command had already disbanded. At that point, Willie determined to return home to Westmoreland County, believing the war was over. First, however, he would pay a visit to friends in Caroline County. Willie Jett’s name would most certainly have been forgotten to history if not for a chance encounter on his trip home. On the afternoon of April 24, 1865, Willie, in the company of two other former Confederates, waited for the ferry along the Rappahannock River at Port Conway. There, they made the acquaintance of the most wanted man in the country, John Wilkes Booth.

For ten days, since his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth had been on the run, attempting to escape into the south. Traveling with him was a co-conspirator, David Herold. On April 24, the pair had made it as far as the Rappahannock River and it was there, while waiting to cross that young Willie Jett and his companions just happened

Ferry location along the Rappahannock River, looking north from Port Royal toward Port Conway

to encounter them. As they waited together, the two groups fell into conversation, and Herold attempted to curry favor and assistance with Willie and his associates. First Herold claimed that both he and Booth were Confederates with General Ambrose P. Hill’s command, using the aliases David E. and James William Boyd. Herold could not keep their identity secret and finally divulged that they were Lincoln’s killers. Together, the two parties crossed the river from Port Conway to the village of Port Royal.

Once across the river, Herold asked Willie to help find a place for Booth and himself to stay. The group rode a couple blocks south from the ferry landing to the home of Randolph Peyton, an acquaintance of Willie. Mr.

The Randolph Peyton House in Port Royal, Va. The house and grounds are private property.

Peyton was not home, but his two sisters, Sarah Jane and Lucy were and they let Booth in the house, under the impression that the assassin was a wounded Confederate soldier. Sarah Jane had second thoughts on allowing Booth to stay the night in the house with two unmarried women, so she asked Jett to take Booth and the others away. Willie crossed the street to seek shelter at the home of George Washington Catlett. The Catletts were not at home, so Sarah Jane suggested that they might find accommodations down the road at Richard H. Garrett’s farm. The group mounted their horses and continued the ride.

The George Washington Catlett House in Port Royal, Va. The house and grounds are private property.

At the Garrett Farm, Willie Jett introduced himself and Booth, continuing the ruse that his companion was a wounded Confederate soldier in need of a place to rest. Mr. Garrett agreed to take Booth in. At this point, Willie and Booth parted ways. They would meet again, but under much different circumstances.

Part 2 of this story can be found here.

Eric J. Mink

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16 thoughts on “Brutus’ Judas: Willie Jett – Part 1

  1. I would sure like to know where Willie had his portrait made. Whoever the photographer was they were making a point of being loyal to the Union, probably because they were operating in an occupied area. The “Constitution and Union” motif on the brass matte speaks volumes. Do you know if the Surratt House has the original or just a photo print? When I spoke with Michael Kauffman in 2000 he wasn’t certain where the original was.

    • John – I don’t know if the museum owns the original image or not. They sent me a digital copy of the photo. Perhaps the image is pre-war? Willie looks a little old for an 1860 photo, though. It’s also possible that the mat may not be original to the image. You’re right, it would be nice to know who the photographer was.

      – Eric

  2. Eric – I will contact them later. If the image has been examined and/or is removed from its case there might be a revenue stamp which would date it between August of 1864 and August of 1866. I agree with you, he looks young but I wouldn’t place it much before he was 16 or 17.

  3. Hi Eric–

    I always liked the account of Jett and Herold stopping at “The Trap” shortly after crossing the Rappahannock River. Didn’t the lady who owned the place prostitute her own daughters out and both Jett and Herold made a quick stop here before Herold returned to the Garrett Farm? I always found this interlude rather odd but I guess Herold needed a little respite…

    Todd Berkoff

    • Todd – Yes, a lot of the secondary sources mention Jett, Herold and Jett’s two companions paying a visit to the “Trap,” also referenced as the “Trappe.” It was a tavern, also mentioned as a brothel, run by a Mrs. Carter and her daughters on the road between the Garrett Farm and Bowling Green. The four men are supposed to have stopped there on April 24 with Herold and Jett’s two companions returning on the 25th. Jett is not supposed to have made the return trip. The primary accounts of these visits are attributed to interviews Booth’s pursuers had with the Carter women. I have not seen these sources myself, but hope to track them down.

      – Eric

  4. Eric,
    Interesting story….just wondered if this man Jett is related in anyway to Admol Jett who is buried up in the cemetery.
    Thanks for all of the good work.

      • Supposedly all the Jetts in this area (Fredericksburg) are descended from Peter Jett, aka “The Progenitor”. I am related to Willie Jett but have never heard of Admol.

  5. It amazes me that Herold divulged his and Booth’s true identities to complete strangers. Not only were they on the run without a solid plan, but they weren’t very deep into confederate territory. Rookie mistake

    • “Having been tipped off about Willie’s association with Booth…” I wonder which party tipped off the 16th New York Calvary of the association between the two.

      • Matthew – The individuals who tipped the Federal authorities off to Booth and Herold traveling with Jett was William Rollins and his wife. Rollins was a fisherman from Port Conway. Rollins encountred the men when they were waiting to cross the Rappahannock River. Mrs. Rollins told Booth’s pursuers that Jett was courting Izora Gouldman.

        – Eric

    • “It amazes me that Herold divulged his and Booth’s true identities to complete strangers.”

      Yeah, rookie mistake. But given that Booth’s gang were not exceptionally bright, independent thinkers to start with, and that Herold had presumably been hearing for weeks from Booth how they’d be hailed as avenging heroes of the South, it’s not that surprising.

      How many crimes today are solved because the perp brags about what he’s done to the wrong person — or multiple persons? Quite a lot, it seems like.

      • Actually Herold got his pharmacy qualifications from Georgetown. No common sense; yes. An idiot as he has been made out in history? No.

  6. I am happy to see this photograph in frame identified as a Confederate! I have a photo in exact same frame and the only person in our family that I can tie it to was a soldier in the Co’s F & M, 8th Regt SC Infantry but the “Constitution and Union” on frame was throwing me off. I don’t know for sure when/where my photo was taken but my inclination is that it was at beginning of war, possibly in Darlington Co SC. Or maybe in VA as that is where the regiment was in 1861-1862. Interesting blog, thanks.

  7. Ah, dear. My great-great-great Uncle Willie. Very interesting account. He was the brother of my great-great Grandfather Lucius L Jett, and I can tell you, he was persona non grata in the Jett family in my branch, anyway.

  8. trying to find more on the the jett where and how to put family in order from peter jett, my was a jett from va. his father was carter baxter jett, who was his father and mother i don’t know. but been searching and not finding anything. has anyone put family chart together from peter jett on down. bye

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