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An Autobiography -- Written by Robert William "Capt Bob" Jones in 1948

I was borned in Tyrrell county, Gum Neck township, September 16th 1881. Father--Robt. W. Jones and mother--Olive Richardson Jones. I know or remember but very little of my parents. They both died within two weeks of each other leaving 5 children: oldest brother about 22, next brother about 18, next brother about 8 or 10, next myself--2 1/2 years old, one sister about one month old . I was so young that I do not remember much of these days. I went to live with my uncle on my mothers side who had 3 children. Then in a few months, his wife died. Then, I found myself living at my uncles on my fathers side. Then my oldest brother married and took me home with him. Then the next oldest brother had finished school and taken a position with a lumber company as bookkeeper. He [took] me and sent me to school. Boarded me close, that I may go alone to and from school. When school was up I would go to live with my oldest brother. This happened for some few years. I suppose I got, perhaps to the 6th or 9th grades. As 50 or 60 years ago the rural schools had no grades, and only from 4 to six months school a year.

My older brother was a fisherman. [Sometimes he took] me with him to his fish house for weeks at a time. Finally, I became very fond of the water and thought that a steam boat, especially a steam tug boat was the nicest things I ever saw.

So, finally, I was about 17 years old. I took a trip on a barge loaded with mine props [?] from the Alligator River [in eastern North Carolina] to Philadelphia. I shipped as cook--wages were $12.00 per month. I was on this barge about one year -- applying between North Carolina, Norfolk, VA, Baltimore, MD and Philadelphia. The owner of [the] barge died and they tied the barge up in Portsmouth, VA and told the crew that we could live on the boat but we would get no wages and would have to feed ourselves. It [had] taken about all of my $12.00 per month to keep one in cloth[es]. I had but very little to live on. So one cold blustery day, I started out to get me a job on [a] tug boat.

I went over in Norfolk across the ferry [and] walked down on [the] water front. I saw a nice looking tug boat. Her brass and white paint was as clean as a yacht. There was a large man with [a] heavy mustache on deck splicing a hawser. I was standing on [the] deck above him [and] said, "Mister mate, give me a job." He looked up at me and said, "Boy, we are not running any kindergarten on here or taking any children to raise." You see, I was very small in statue and weighed less than 100 pounds. But I kept talking and talking to him and telling him what I could do. Finally, he said, "Have you any clothes?" I said, "Yes, sir!" He said you go get them and I will try you, one trip. Oh, was I pleased. I went over to the barge and got my old black valise with clothes in it.

You may know, sailors are very superstitious about several things. And, to have a black valise on shipboard is one of them. The mate met me at the rail. I noticed that his eye was on that old valise. He said, "Come here boy." He took me to the forward cabin or fourpeak. There were twelve berths and under each berth was a large pull drawer. He said to me, "Take your clothes out of that X thing and bring it on deck." Which was done as he told me. He said, "Throw that -- thing overboard." I let it go overboard. The wind blew it out in the river. I watched it for several minutes. It looked like a Black Can Buoy floating off. Then he told me that I was to come on duty as deckhand at 6 o'clock that PM at $15.00 per month.

I began to meet the crew -- very rugged looking to me. Most of them [were] of foreign birth. At about 10 o'clock, the captain came on board and called for the deck watch. I responded to find a very large man of foreign decent, Swedish, as I afterwards found out. But, a fine man and a good friend to me. I did not only make that one trip but, remained on that boat for three years and three months to the best of my knowledge.

I was 21 years and one month old [when] I made application to the Steam Boat Inspector for a First Class Pilot License. [About 1901] I, being very small, [and] looking very young [had to meet with] Capt Dick Dunn, who was assistant supervisor inspector of hulls at that time. [He] seemed to me to be very glum. [He] looked at my application and then handed it back to me and told me to get out. That I was only a peach orchard shoat up there asking him for a steamboat license. I went out very sad, knowing that there was no one up there to vouch for my age. When I got on the street, with may things going through my mind, I thought of a letter I had received just previous to this. When a lumber company had ask[ed] me to come to their office in Norfolk, VA and sign a deed for some timber land.

Then I picked up [can't make out handwritten copy] went to boat and got that letter [and] came back [and] handed it to the inspector and ask[ed] him to read [it] to prove I was 21 years old. Then he said, "We do not issue 1st Class License[s] on [the] first issue," as my application called for. He gave me another blank paper and showed me how to fill it out for (2nd) Class License, and [said I needed] to get new signers on it as to my ability. I went down determined [to get a] 1st Class Certificate, so I filled it out as the 1st one and with new signers.

I went right back up there. This time Capt. Dunn just looked over [the] top of his glasses at me and said, "I told you we did not issue 1st class licenses on [the] first issue," and began to scold me. Then I said, "Capt, you are paid to know." I want a license that I can stand [the] exam for as I can do the work of a 1st class pilot, I want [the] exam for the same.

At that time Capt. Chas W. Wright, who was the Supervisor Inspector of Hulls for the Port of Baltimore was sitting in his private office (with the door open) [and] called to Capt Dunn. [He said] to send that boy to him [and] that he would give the exam--of which he did first give the second class and then the 1st class. He turned to the clerk and told him that he has stood both exams--a 100 [% on both] and we can not keep him out of what he ask[ed] for. So, write him a First Class Pilot License for Chesapeake Bay and Tributaries, including Hampton Roads, Norfolk Harbor & James River. That being [the] first on record, in that office of such a license on 1st application.

After getting my pilot ticket there was no immediate opening for me to use them [it]. I decided to go to the coast. I shipped on a small coasting tug by the name of Asher J. Hudson out of Norfolk, VA at $20.00 per month as a deck mate. I remained on her for about six months. Then I shipped on a large coasting boat named Murrull, owned and operated by Baltimore & Boston Barge Co of Boston, Mass. On this boat I held [the] position of boatswain for about 6 months at $35.00 per month. Then a position open[ed] up on [an] Inside Boat name[d] William H. Yerkes, owned and operated by [the] Taylor Bros of Washington, [NC], This being my first opportunity to use my pilots license.

One incident while working on this boat: she was chartered by Prof. Langley who was working on the first air[plane] that the U. S. government, it is said, ever appropriated funds to build. They was working inside of a large boat house with a high scaffold built on top of it. [It was] about 40 ft high above the water. This tug boat was chartered to tow this boat house from Washington City down the Potomac River about 45 miles. They anchored it out [in the] middle of the river abreast of what is now called Quantico Naval Station. Then the tug was employed for about two weeks to await on the workmen. We would take the workmen across the river to a steam boat wharf called Clifton Brack [?] on the Maryland side of the river where there was a hotel not far from the foot of the wharf. The following morning we would take the workmen back to the boat house.

The crew on the tug boat, all being young fellows and had our curiosity to see what these workmen [were] doing. There was several glass windows on each side of the boat house. But, when we would land along side there was a soldier in uniform [protecting?] each side, fully armed. That made it much worse for we young fellows to endure to not see inside. So one morning I called the deck hands, cook, firemen and assistant engineer in a conference. We [decided we] would connect our steam deck hose to [the] steam pump to wash [the] decks. And as soon as we tied up to the boat house and the workmen got off of the tug boat, I called to the deck hands to wash and scrub decks. They sang out to the assistant engineer to start his pump and he did (as understood before), full force. They throwed water so wild about [as] to wash that soldier down. He had to take refuge around the end of the house. Then we took turns holding the hose and jumping on the deck of the boat house to look inside through the windows [to] see what these men inside was doing. After looking at them we did not know any more that we did before. But, anyway, our curiosity was satisfied.

Early one beautiful morning after ferrying the men out to the house boat, the tug boat was ordered to Washington to bring Professor Langley. He, being ill disposed, we placed him on a pallet with white pillows on the hawser rack of the tug boat. As I remember, a professor Manley was the master mechanic erecting the machine. Anyway, when we arrived back at the boat house, they had the big white bird up on the scaffold above the boat house. It was beautiful white canvas wings. The braces and stays was aluminum color. They used something like big springs to shoot it off of the [stage]. We maneuvered the tug around front so that prof Langley could get a view when they took off. Prof Manley and another man got up in the airplane. They gave the word, the springs was tripped, as they used springs (or something of the kind) [to] start it off. He was depending on perpetual motion to work the wings, as a bird to fly. Well, those wings made one down stroke and it fell on some float stages moved out [in] front of the boat house. They dismantled it [and] put it back in the boat house and ordered the tug boat to tow it back to Washington. My, you should of seen the news paper reporters in small boats around this boat house, as the weather was beautiful, the water calm [and] smooth.

As my recollection, I worked on this boat about 8 months. Then I went [back as] mate and [then] pilot on the first boat, the one I served my apprentice on. She was named Volunteer, owned and operated by the Pat Dourghty Co of Baltimore, MD. I was on this boat about 3 months and was promoted to Captain of one of the same companies boats called the Peerless. Just before taking charge of this boat, I took [the] examination for [my] Masters License, of which I passed, from the same inspector who first licensed me. Then I had [a] Masters License for the inland waters of the United States, except the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico, and pilots license for [the] Chesapeake Bay and Tributaries including Hampton Roads.

Then I hired the same big man with the heavy mustache that gave me my first steam boat job, to go mate with me. I was on this boat about 9 months. Then, I went on [a] Standard Oil Co. boat called Radiant. While employed on this boat, I came back to Tyrrell County and married my present wife, Winnie May Kemp, youngest child of Wm. Kemp.

We went to Baltimore to live for about 4 years. We had two girls borned to us in Baltimore. My wife lost her health. She was treated by several doctors. Finally at Johns Hopkins Hospital, they informed us that she would have to come south and [live] in the open country to gain her health. We packed up and moved [to] the suburbs of Eliz. City, N. C. where we had one daughter born. She improved in health riteaway.

At that time, I had no pilots license south of Norfolk. But, I took [a] job on a Norfolk tug boat to learn the North Carolina water for [to get an] extension of license. I soon took [the] examination before the Norfolk Steam Boat inspectors and was granted a license to pilot North Carolina waters.

Then, I took charge of a large steam freight barge carrying export timber from [the] Roanoke River to Baltimore. In late summer the steamer was tied up for the season. I came to Elizabeth City, N. C. to spend vacation and await another job to show up. In short time I was offered [a] position on the freight and passenger steamer, Alma, owned and operated by the late Capt F. F. Spencer.

Then the state [took] over many of the dirt roads and began to improve them of which gave the freight trucks and other conveyance a [shot?] to transport freight and passengers much quicker to market. Finally the freight and passenger business that was offered to water transportation would not justify operating a freight and passenger steamer on the Alligator River between Eliz. City and Fairfield. Then the water transportation was reduced to the 65 foot motor boats of which I operated several until the auto transportation finally took over in 1936. When I excepted [a] position with Capt. Spencer, I moved my family from Eliz City to Fairfield about 32 years ago where I have resided since. We have a girl borned here who is now about 25 and a son who is near 23.

As I always was interested in vegetation, flowers, trees and such, I finally [took a] study course by mail in horticulture (1932) from the Stark Brothers of Louisiana, MO, on planting and treating of fruit trees and the fruit. I have [not] graduated yet. I study from [the] State Extension Dept. and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Dept. literature. Also, I am assisted by county agents, as I have been studying and working in the field since 1932. I sometimes think I am only in the primary stage, as I learn something new every season. You may take it from me that you can not grow fruit successful on this flat soil in eastern N.C. by theory only. You sure have to have the personal experience, especially in growing stone fruit.


Bureau of


Office of Local Inspectors                                                                                           Baltimore, Maryland                                                                                                                  June 2, 1941                                                                                                                         Mr. Robert W. Jones,                                                                                                                Fairfield, North Carolina

Dear Sir:

In reply to your letter of May 29, 1941, you are informed that when your license was renewed at this office on August 16, 1912, it was for Master, Bays and Sounds, and First Class Pilot of Chesapeake Bay and Tributaries, including Hampton Roads, steamers 500 gross tons, also Albemarle Sound and Tributaries. It is our understanding that a license issued for Chesapeake Bay and Tributaries including Hampton Roads includes the James and Elizabeth Rivers.

In reference to the North Carolina portion of your license we have no comment to make on that.


[signed]: Paul H Tyler

David W Young

U. S. Local Inspectors.


National Air Museum

Washington 25, DC

July 24, 1956

Mr. R. W. Jones

Fairfield, North Carolina

Dear Mr. Jones:

Replying to your request for information about the Langley aerodrome, I believe you are referring to the large aircraft constructed during the period 1899-1903. This aerodrome was tested twice over the Potomac River. The first test was on October 7, 1903, when the front king-post caught on the launching rail, pulling the truss structure backward and bending the wing downward so that the flight path was deflected into the water. The aerodrome was recovered and repaired and again ready for test on December 8, 1903. On the second occasion, apparently the inertia of the quick catapult launching caused a failure in the supporting wire attached to the rear elevator. That elevating surface collapsed, and without that stabilizing control the aerodrome again plunged into the Potomac.

The design and construction of that large aerodrome was based upon the smaller unmanned models with which Professor Langley had attained phenomenal success in 1896. The outstanding accomplishment occurred May 6, 1896, when the unmanned model, about 14 feet in span, powered with a one hp steam engine and weighing in all 26 pounds, made a magnificent flight from the catapult on the houseboat out over the Potomac River (the houseboat having been anchored off Chapawamsick Island). That flight was for a distance of about 3/4 of a mile and for the duration of a minute and a half. That phenomenal success came to the attention of Theodore Roosevelt who was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It was largely through his interest that the Government decided to sponsor Langley's undertaking of the large full-sized aircraft project.

I am interested in your statement that you worked on the Langley aerodromes. I would appreciate your telling me more about those interesting days. When I came here to the Museum some 36 years ago, I took the place of Luther Reed who had also been one of Dr. Langley's mechanics. I enjoyed his descriptions of those early days. I also knew Frank Cole who died just recently. I would certainly appreciate your writing your recollections of those times so that I could learn more about these airplanes which I am now privileged to care for.

Sincerely Yours,


Paul Edward Garber

Head Curator

National Air Museum



Officer in Charge

Marine Inspection

Custom House

Baltimore, Md. 21202


1 November 1965

Mr. Robert W. Jones

Fairfield, N. C.

Dear Sir:

Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of 27 October 1965 requesting records of your first two licenses.

The only information that remains on file in the Baltimore Marine Inspection Office is a record of your having been issued a duplicate license on 16 August 1912, in lieu of a lost license issued 27 May 1910, issue number 2,3. This license was as Master and Pilot, Steam on Bays & Sounds, First Class Pilot on Chesapeake Bay and Tributaires including Hampton Roads for Steamers of 500 gross tons and under, also Albemarle Sound & Tributaries. This is essentially the same information conveyed in the letter of 2 June 1941, which you enclosed.

It is possible that further information can be found by checking your file at the Federal Records Center Depository. An effort will be made in the regard and such further pertinent information as may be found will be forwarded to you.

Sincerely yours,



Commander, U. S. Coast Guard

Senior Inspector Personnel

By direction of Officer in Charge

Encl: (1) Letter of 2 June 1941

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