Monday, October 8, 2012

Mystery Monday: Part 2 Man on the Run - The Getaway

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.

Click HERE to read Part 1 The Early Years.

In 1870 William Henry Jollett was sentenced to five years in prison in Richmond for stealing a horse.  Despite a rigorous search through newspapers and court records, Boyd researchers found no explanation for his crime. 

By 1874, William must have been eager to get out of prison because he made himself ill by eating soap.  In what must have been William’s plan all along, Dr. Shuller approved his early parole in October in order for him to return home to recuperate.  What brought on this sudden need to get out early?  He had survived most of his term; what’s one more year? 

Maybe it had something to do with his wife, the former Mary Elizabeth Martin.   Birth records for Warren County, Virginia include the birth of little Emma C. Jollett, June 1874, with parents listed as William H. and Mary E. Jollett.  Barring the possibility of conjugal visits, this blessed event came with a significant question mark.  Certainly if William got word that his wife had delivered a baby while he was behind bars 150 miles away, he most assuredly would be eager to get home.

As the story goes, William was to have left prison and gone to Shenandoah County to be with relatives for several months.  From there he was to have gone to McGaheysville in Rockingham County, Virginia, to stay with his father’s half-brother John Wesley Jollett.  While there William visited a neighboring family quite often and supposedly got a young girl named Vinie Martin pregnant. (Odd – another Martin girl!)  When the truth was made known, he fled on his sister Nancy’s black mare and was never heard of again.  That was 1876.

But William was not the only one to make a getaway.

Who were these relatives in Shenandoah County?  In my research, any close relatives like aunts and uncles and cousins would have been in Page, Rockingham, and Greene counties.  Nobody in Shenandoah County.  But in both the 1870 and 1880 census, William’s own family was missing – no widowed mother, no brother, no sisters.  My best theory is that his mother likely remarried, but to date I have found no marriage record.  Likewise, all his sisters were of marrying age, so they probably disappeared among thousands of wives named Susannah, Margaret, Sarah and Nancy.  If William’s mother Anna did in fact marry, it is also possible the children were using their step-father’s name.  So now I’m wondering if the relatives in Shenandoah County might then be his mother or sisters.  And of course, there is always the possibility that someone confused the TOWN of Shenandoah (which is in Page County) with the COUNTY Shenandoah, making finding this family a little more difficult. 

Another disappearing act was performed by William’s own wife, Mary Elizabeth.  Where was she in 1870 while her husband served his prison sentence?  Where was she when he got out?  Where was she when he disappeared off the face of the earth in 1876? 

1870 Warren County, Virginia
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She eluded me for awhile, but I caught up with her.  In 1870, Mary Elizabeth was living with her father Absalom and a long list of Martins, whose relationships are not indicated.  Mary Elizabeth is listed as a Martin.  However, based on the 1874 birth record of her daughter, Mary Elizabeth and William were not divorced, so it is likely that enumerator error can account for her name being listed as Martin rather than Jollett.  There are some very young children, possibly hers.  

1880 Warren County, Virginia
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The 1880 census is where the story gets interesting.  Next door to Absalom Martin is the Lookingbill family: John and his wife Mary E., and children Samuel L. (13), Elizabeth (9), Emily C. (6), Laura (3), and A. Franklin (1).  It’s not a big stretch to conclude that Mary E. Lookingbill was Mary Elizabeth Martin Jollett.  And Samuel has to be the same Samuel who was 2 in the Martin household in the previous census.  Emily C. at age 6 lines up quite nicely with the birth record for Emma C. Jollett, born in 1874. Just coincidence?  I don’t think so.  A death record for A. (Augustus) Franklin Lookingbill confirms his mother’s MAIDEN name was MARTIN.   

So, it appears that the two oldest Lookingbill children, Samuel and Elizabeth, were probably William Jollett’s children.  But his bad behavior and subsequent punishment left Mary Elizabeth vulnerable.  She may not have been faithful, but it appears she carved out a stable and satisfying life for her family while William Jollett was riding that horse out of Rockingham County and on to Giles County where he was reborn as William Preston Boyd. 

Next time – the letters that sent present-day Boyd researchers on the hunt for their great-grandfather William P. Boyd, a.k.a., William Henry Jollett

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

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Excellent job tracking down Mary Elizabeth!

    This is quite the "soap" opera isn't it? No wonder William made himself physically ill in order to get out of prison. Looking forward to the next installment.

    1. Oh Jana -- "soap" opera! HA -- I wish I had thought of that little funny.

  2. That's exactly what I would call it—a soap opera, in more ways than one. ;) Really enjoyed reading this story!

  3. Fascinating! I can't wait to see what happens...

    1. Good -- come back Monday for the next installment.

  4. Wendy, when I read today's post, I couldn't help think of Peyton Place...but Jana took the cake with her comment. Yes, a regular "soap" opera.

    Why is it we have this tendency to affix halos to our ancestors' heads?

    1. It IS Peyton Place! I guess we assume our ancestors weathered so many trials and hardships in that gloomy past that they must naturally be GOOD people. Poor ol' William got into a world of trouble but I do think he went on to TRY to be that good ancestor who deserves a halo.

  5. Poor William's steed deed certainly led to a criminal's mystery, indeed! Great detective work, Wendy. I imagine that a good many folks during that time did some name changing for various reasons. I have a couple of disappearing relatives from that same time period. I like it that you gave William an 'AttaBoy Ancestor' for trying to make a new life, and Elizabeth the good sense to make Ivory out of a bad luck batch of Lye Soap. Looking forward to The End.