Monday, October 1, 2012

Mystery Monday: Man on the Run (Part 1 - The Early Years)

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

The story of William H. Jollett is the stuff of crime fiction: a Civil War veteran turned horse thief turned fugitive for some other unknown crime, a man who disappeared in 1876 only to emerge with a new name and a new past, a man who shared his terrible secret with only a few who managed to take the truth to the grave. 

Descendants have scoured county records and newspapers throughout Virginia to uncover the story of their great-grandfather known to them as William Preston Boyd.  Through the miracle of the Internet, Boyd researchers and Jollett researchers have come together with two halves of a story that might come close to providing answers to their questions about this man of mystery. 

Let’s start with a little background.  On paper, William’s early life was nothing out of the ordinary.

1850 Page County, Virginia

William Henry Jollett (1847 – Jun 1924) was the fourth of eight children born to Emanuel and Anna/Ann Elizabeth Breeden/Breeding Jollett.  The family lived among generations of Jolletts and Breedens along Naked Creek in Page County, Virginia, where Emanuel worked as a carpenter.  In the 1850 Page County census, Ann is listed as being seven years older than her husband.  Five children are listed:  Jonathan Breeden (age 11 – born before Emanuel and Ann married), Susannah (6), Margaret (5), William (3), and Nancy (4 months).

1860 Page County, Virginia

By the 1860 census, several major events had occurred.  First of all, two more children had come along, Sarah and Andrew.  William’s father Emanuel died of typhoid fever in October 1859 just a couple months after an unnamed baby was born and died.  Suddenly at age 13, William was the man of the house, and we are left to wonder how this family managed. 

Perhaps fortunately for the Jolletts, William’s age kept him home while others joined the effort to defend the Confederacy.  But in 1864, a 17-year old William signed on with the 9th Regiment of the Virginia Infantry.  He is on the roster for both November and December.  Then in April 1865 he is listed as a Prisoner of War at the surrender in Appomattox.  Now whether he was REALLY there or whether all Virginia soldiers were considered prisoners of war is not clear.

Regardless, the war is over and happy days are here again.  In November of 1865 William married Mary Elizabeth Martin, daughter of Absalom and Ceatta Martin of Warren County, Virginia.  

So how did William’s life go so wrong in 1870 that he ended up stealing a horse and being sentenced to five years in a Richmond prison?  Attempts to locate newspapers and court records that might explain what led him to commit such an act have produced no answers.

Next time:  William’s life after prison goes from bad to worse.

Part 2 (Oct. 8) – The Getaway
Part 3 (Oct. 15) – The Letters
Part 4 (Oct. 22) – Annie Found

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Love this! Can't wait to find out what happened.

    1. I'll do my best to make it interesting.

    2.'s already interesting! Looking forward to the rest of the story.

  2. Oooh! The Horse Thief Mystery Man! What's could be better than a good mystery? And just so everyone can get into the fun, I'm going to add this post to this week's Fab Finds!

  3. WoW! Back then you could disappear....but not today with all the technology we have. Very interesting!