Interview with Jean Tanner, 2014 July 17

Material Information

Interview with Jean Tanner, 2014 July 17
Tanner, Jean ( Interviewee )
Taylor, Jessica ( Interviewer )
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Oral history interview


Subjects / Keywords:
Tidewater Main Street Development Project
Country stores
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Virginia -- Mathews


General Note:
To access audio version of this interview, click the Downloads tab at the top of the page.

Record Information

Source Institution:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
Resource Identifier:
TMP 043 Jean Tanner 7-17-2014 ( SPOHP )


This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text


The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins 241 Pugh Hall Digital Humanities Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 35 2 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness acc ounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, S POHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Suggested corrections to transcripts will be reviewed and processed on a case by case basis. Oral history int erview t ranscripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript i s written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and form at I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information abo ut SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. May 2015


TMP 043 Interviewee: Jean Tanner Interviewer: Jessica Taylor Date: July 17, 2014 Tay: Gwynns Island. Miss Jean, can you please state your full name? Tan: Jean Patricia Tanner. Tay: Okay, and where were you born? Tan: I was born in Towson, Maryland. Tay: Okay, and when were you born? Tan: I was born a long time ago. It was October 22, 1928. That makes me having a birthday coming up soon for eighty six. It sounds as ancient as anything in this museum. [Laughter] Tan: Almost an artifact. Tay: Well, what wer Tan: Gag liano They e migrated from Italy to the United States back in the early 1900s. My father was a barber, and mother, of course, was a housewife, raised five children. Tay: Wh y did they come to America? Tan: worked on the sugar cane plantations there, and were able to make enough


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 2 money to send for the rest of their family back in Italy. Really, the wh ole family was able to come over. They surely did have a better life in America. Tay: Did they end up settling in Maryland? Tan: States, he was a little boy of seven years old. His older brothers brought him over. Actually, as he got older, someone who was the they were the manufacturers or owners of the shredded wheat cereal company, they had my father work for them as a companion for a crippled son they had. They befriended my father all through the years. When they moved from Louisiana up to Phoenix, Maryland, they brought my father with them. Then he branched out from there and was married in Texas, Maryland where he worked for a while. Tay: Okay, so how did you get to Mathe ws? Tan: [Laughter] How did we get to Mathews from there? We got to Mathews when we were first married, we lived in Maryland, but my husband was not from the States. He was a British citizen. And actually, he was in the British Navy. His ship came to Balti more ports back in 1947, and a relative of mine had married a Baltimore Harbor, the British war brides would go down and, if they liked any of the men, they would invite them hom e for dinner, and to a dance they were going to have at the American Legion hall. My friend called me and asked if my sister and I were to go as blind dates for two British sailors. Of course, I said no! I was already going with someone in the Coast Guard


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 3 she encouraged me to go and we did. It was the best thing we ever did in our lives because he was only in the States for five days before his ship had to leave Baltimore Harbor and they went to Bermuda. It was just we bot h felt the same about each other in that short time, and promised he was going back to England to get discharged and he worked in the radar electronics at E & K Co. in England. So when he made enough money, he came back to America. That was eighteen months wonderful. We went together for six months when they came back to the States, and staying with this lovely family, all free. He was able to get a job, finally, through me because of my being a citizen. He was able to get a job with the government for doing the drafting, but eventually he went on to become a pharmaceutical rep. He got involved with a company, and it was so entirely different than what he ever did over in England, but it turned out to be a wonderful move for him step in the right direction because he stayed with the pharmaceutical company all that time. Well, he retired from McNeil Labs and their subsidiary, Johnson & Johnson, so he was able to take an early retirement. Then, y your tape. But when we were first married, and after we had three of our children, we wanted to buy or first home. We moved up to Cocke y sville, Maryland. It was at that time he was ask ed to take a promotion and move up to Toronto, Canada. So we lived there for three and a half years, and it was a beautiful, beautiful country. We thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just a big adventure for the children and all of us to move up there to a forei gn country and see how they lived. Truly, it


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 4 forever. My husband asked if there was an opening for him back in the States, and the only place that was open was Virginia. So that Virginia Beach, Virginia. And then, when he was getting ready to retire, he bought a sailboat. In talking to the doctors that he called on in his business, they ater to sail in is up in Ma thews County i n the Piankatank River. Going to medical school, make a point to take a drive up to Mathews and see for yourself. On the way home fro m one of our trips, from seeing family in Maryland, we took the road to lead us back to Mathews, and we got in touch with a real estate lady. Her name was Peggy Gill at the time. She showed us some waterfront property, and we have for our youngest son who was still with us. The older children had already finished their schooling and went to college. David came along thirteen years after I thought my family was finished, and so we had David with us. He went to Mathews schools, but we did find a piece of property. It was so wooded: beautiful old trees throughout all the acreage. It was six acres on there, and six hundred and fifty feet on the Milford Haven. And it looked pretty, but work in my kitchen looking out down the yard and down on the beach and be able to see my son playing. Mrs. Gill showed us other properties, and we came b ack to Bucks Chase Road and the same property, and by that time the tide was


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 5 low. And oh, what a beautiful beach. It was great. We were sold. We said that this has to be it. Anyway, the man who owned the property lived in New York, and he said that we might have to wait a year u ntil he r etired in New York, and he said, I feel that it may be a her mind if she wants to live in the country. what Mathews is like after living up in New York! So w e waited for a year and every weekend, Jessica, we would come all the way from Virginia Beach up Mathews, walk through that long stretch of woods carrying David on our shoulders and just dreaming and planning for a whole year what our home was going to be like and what life was going to be like with sailing and everything, the school and the wonderful people. We knew we were in a wonderful community because soon after our mailbox was established in the Gwynn post office, the first time I went to get my mail there was tomatoes and cucumbers. [Laughter] Vegetables in it. And oh my gosh, these people are really, really friendly. Bob wanted to see our property from the water, and contacted Stewart Edwards a real gentlema n. He had a boat repair yard down on Sout h Bay Haven Drive He just fell in love with the place and the people. And then, that was when Bob was working and out of town a lot, and while our house was being built some friend lent us a nice trailer to live in because we had two months before the house was going to be co mpleted. While David was in school, I had nothing really to do except I


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 6 do too much shopping in Mathews yet. So I started beachcombing. And bu siness. We found some beauti ful old medicine bottles. It was the winter after we moved in; it was a Christmastime, bitter cold. And I thought I wanted to go out and get some fresh air and walk and see if I could find any bottles because it was I knew Indians were in Virginia, but I had no idea what picking up that first point, how that was gonna change my life since 1976. But we found that, and then of course, all the kids were there. They were older but everybody wanted to come happy just finding them for my own pleasure. I wanted to learn about them and share them with the schoolchildren, which I did when I had a nice little handful. I would go down and talk to them and explain to them how they could find them peo ple just step right over it. I did that for quite a while until the rocks and all were getting a little too much to carry around. So I politely asked the teacher, I busload came and I had all my artifacts on the dining room table and laying around. They were wonderful. Wonderful group. And then we went out on the beach, so that was even more fun for them. S o now I had all these Indian artifacts and I needed to know what I had in my collection Then my husband found a Clovis point on


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 7 was different. My young son and I went up to the Pamunkey Reservation one weekend to take a course up there, and E rr ett Callahan was the archaeologist who deals in nothing but Paleo artifacts. I brought a handful of my points and put that Clovis point down on the table, and I said, before you start your lecture would you mind telling me what we have here. He saw the Clovis point and he said it changed his whole format of the lecture that day. He wanted to know where I found it, and could he keep it because he needed to get it recorded. He was making me so nervous. [Interruption in interview ] Tan: Yes, E rrett Callahan, he asked me if he could keep it so he could get i t recorded y needed to know every one that was found in Virg inia for his records. Like I said what I had there. I said, well, you can be sure that once I tell my husband about McCar y, because I knew some of the amateur archaeologists who were helping him with the artifacts down in his lab. been able to find were unusual finds . in inviting the children to the home to see the artifacts, the matriarch of the island, El eanor Respes s said that the [ island ] needs a museum not just because of the artifacts, but because of the history of this island that she knew. With all of the military involvement and the Merchant Marines and everything and the Battle of Cricket Hill, th ere was wonderful history to be told and to be preserved for the children coming up after


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 8 us. So she came to the house one day with a young friend of hers and some Boy Scouts, and she saw the things that I had there. She spoke to our Civic League president at the time, and she said, we need to have a museum. They approached me at one of the Civic League meetings. Of course, I said, yes, but not knowing what I was getting into. [Laughter] Actually, people were bringing me some of their artifacts at my home b at t he time. So we did get to use the Civic League building for a while, but we grew so quickly, our cases were taking up all their spaces they needed for their hey said we have to start looking for another place, which we did. The people who owned the little house across the way owned this building, and I really need to show you that picture of what this looked like when they said that we could have it if we coul d do anything with it. Well, we did quite a lot with it. [Interruption in interview] Tan: We had a contractor come in James Robins and he declared it structurally sound. What was so good in having this reconstructed, really, because at first it was used island for the very f irst public school here on the island. So, I am so glad that we were able to restore it to what it is today, and it can still be used for education. One of our chil dren who was enthusiastic about all this as well, and rightly so because since she was four years old, she had a love for Egyptian archaeology. to Case Western Reserve, and ma jored in anthropology with minor in


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 9 archaeology, and she even had a trip to Cairo to see all these wonderful, wonderful Egyptian artifacts that she had read about for so long. But unfortunately at the time she went, there was so much unrest over there. I t hink at that time a British family w as murdered along the Gaza Strip, and she was there at that time staying with an American family, friends of ours from Virginia, really. The Americans were forbidden to go to Cairo, but Pat was determined and she found s omeone who would fly her into she was just twenty one and a pretty, young, blonde haired girl going by herself. But she said, thank God it all later. But she said it was sad, The cases were broken and taped up, but at least she got to see something that n education, and she is teaching still now over on the Eastern Shore. She and her husband just bought a very old, historic house in Eastville called Selm a and that dates back to the middle 1700s. So again, she is searching for artifacts. In fact, the archaeologists from Gloucester is it Fairfield? Tay: Fairfield? Yeah. Tan: g o ing to sign up and work with them. Anyway, so the museum just grew. People, when they realized what we were doing, at first they were hesitant in offering anything of theirs because they felt like who in the world would be interested in anything that we h ad? For instance, and this is going way back, in 1990 when we


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 10 started, Mrs. John Warren Cooke do you remember John Warren Cooke? He was Speaker of the House in 1968 till [19]80. His wife called me because she had some beautiful dresses that belonged to Joh who was involved with the animal shelter down in Mathews. Oh, she gave me put it. well, it was a window, actually if we could open up and use this as a long room for our expansion. In the meantime, we had obtained that old window from the Baptist church. I could visualize what I wanted in this exhibit, and it all came about. It was fun. I did most of my planning of my exhibits at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. [Laughter] I could just visualize where I wanted things. When I told her about this, his daug hter Elsa, who is the President of the Mathews Gazette Journal said, well Jean, would you like to have his top hat in its original box? Oh, my That was great. s coat. He was Major Giles Cooke who served as an aid e to General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. We have several lovely pictures of the family. When John Warren was born, his father was seventy six years old. Not many people can say that, or that, my father fought in the Civil War. I just knew I had som e of these things in storage and they needed to be out. Tay: Sure. Yeah. You want some questions? Tan: Yes, you tell me. Tay: Okay. So what did the inside of the building look like before you restored it?


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 11 Tan: Before we restored it, it really had to be gutted out and all. You can see all the new wall board and everything set in place. James Rob ins our contractor, said it was structurally sound. There was no evidence of termites, so they left all the windows; everything was the same. It these men volunteered to clean it and gut it and do all that. Tay: Tan: But we were so fortunate in getting this beautiful building. I mean, what turned out to be perfect for a museum. We have me morabilia from when this was a school. There was two schools, actually: this was the first school, and then they built a junior high school on the grounds where the Civic League building now ? Tay: This is my first time on the island. Tan: Is it, Jessica? Well, that Civic League building was actually moved from across the street. It was standing on the corner next to the Baptist church. It was a Methodist church, and when it was no longer bei ng used, it just sat there empty. And then Eleanor Respess who I spoke of as having the dreams of the museum, she suggested them moving the building over to the other side of the road where it was better for the septic system. And they could use it then f or all the wonderful suppers and get togethers they had. Tay: Yeah. Absolutely. So when you talk to Gwynn s Islanders about their history, what do they want you to know about it?


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 12 Tan: s Islanders, many of them I interviewed have been in the war or in Merchant Marines. We talk about their involvement and their experiences in the war. They were more than . they were just so helpful and provided me with uniforms, medals, and photograph s and everything. I think once they saw what was happening they were more willing to part with what they had, too, because they knew there was an awful lot of interest certainly in the military and the watermen exhibit. The Merchant Marine here in Mathews County, they sustained such a terrible loss in World War II. In Mathews County and Gwynn s Island, from the summer of [19]42 to [19]45, there were forty men lost, and ten of those men killed were from Gwynn s Island. The U.S. Navy built and named a ship af ter the men because compared to other counties across the nation of comparable size, that was a tremendous loss. We have all that upstairs. People just asking if we could use this or we could use that. Things relating to their growing up, their life on Gwy nn s Island, so our visitors could see what it was like for them. Tay: Tan: Yes. Tay: inspired that particular exhibit? Tan: Well, th at was inspired because in photos of the old Grimstead post office and store because most of the stores did have a post office the men always would


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 13 mind coming over here. Tay: O h, okay. Tan: always wanted to create if we ever got an expansion. So I worked on that. We had the potbelly stove given to us, so we had the potbelly stove. We had the Grimstead thi s is the original post office from Grimstead, and that was actually you passed the Grimstead post office coming here. And this particular post office was across the street in a field, and then it was moved. Then they built a new one. And now we were able t o buy this from someone who purchased it when it was sold, and they saw what we were doing and they said, you need to Mr. Grimstead. So I had this beautiful female manneq uin up in the attic, and I had to do a little bit of surgery on her. [Laughter] Went to the flea markets and bought clothes for him and putty for her face and a wig people with that. But this is what he looked like in re al life. It was not a good a scene from one of the old homes, Gwynnville h ome. That was a mantle taken from there. So we thought we had the artifacts that just fit in this roo m, just expansion. Actually, our goal was to have an expansion on the second floor. I wanted desperately to be able to move my Battle of Cricket Hill scene upstairs with all t


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 14 Tay: So I did notice in the first room, you walk in and you immediately see John Smith Tan: gh Gwynn; Tay: Oh, okay. Tan: Tay: John Smith? Tan: John Smith, yes. Actually, John Smith explored and mapped the Chesapeake and he came a little bit earlier than H ugh Gwynn, but Hugh Gwynn came in about 16[0]8 or [16]10. He was looking for land so he could start a business. With all great to . for repairs for the boat and to supply salt ed fish or whatever they needed. So when Jamestown was celebrating their . Tay: Four hundred years. Tan: Four hundred year birthday, I thought we have to do something. So for our e of the ladies who brought tours here told me, she said, Jean, I used to work down at


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 15 were dow have these clothes on; I had them made by Katie Wri ke who worked at Williamsburg at the time. So once she brought him out, he was so tall I thought, like today. That made me feel good. So I needed to get a Pocahontas because this is a part of the legend of the island. It just comes with the story of Hugh Gwynn coming to the island. On one of his trips, he found this little Indian girl who had capsized in her canoe and she was the daughter of Chief Powhatan. Because Hugh Gwynn saved her life, she supposedly had given him all the island. We like to believe in fairy tales but it makes a nice little story. It gave me a reason to set up the exhibit. So I w ent to a bridal shop, and she had this precious little girl all in him the island, I thought that worked out really well. So we made her clothes, my husband took that pic ture of the back so that was a good backdrop, and I brought some sand from the beach and some driftwood. I thought that worked out well for talk about my collection. It just started out with just a few, and this is only just half of wh at we have found. Dr. Ben McCar y came well, he came to the house, actually, and Dr. Dan Dragoo They wanted to see what I had found. They were so wonderful. He told me about that, and he told me that one of my other artifacts should be over in that one up here! He said, Miss Tanner, that belongs with


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 16 makes this such a good collection is because it represents Indian occupat ion from the Paleo time through Archaic, Woodland, right down to the contact period. And then I was always wondering, why in the world was I always finding older and not the little ones they we re falling out of the bank. We never too. My family and I never, ever dug for any of these artifacts. We always, after a oh, I found a this. Dr. Hudgins Before we had the museum, we were putting bits and pieces of pottery together, and Daily Press saw me at th e festival and wanted to come over to the house and talk about what we were doing. Then, we tried to piece it together every time we found a piece. When my daughter found this a G.R. she brought that home to her father and he knew exactly what it was. Grow ing up in England as a little boy, that was the export stamp and he recognized it as the Rhenish ware pottery made in Germany for export to other countries. Then when Peter Wri ke wrote Governors Island he showed in his book positioned all around in the Haven and the Piankatank, and Lady Charlotte was right down by where we live. So we surmise that a lot of the clay pipe and the William Rogers pottery and the Rhenish ware, the pewter spoon that date s back This is a cannonball that I took d own to the War Memorial Museum, and they


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 17 confirmed it was and it was safe to keep here. But I was real tickled to have the diorama that the ladies at the Mathews Historical Society made years ago. They worked out fine. But you can see I wanted this This Clovis point, Jessica, was always believed by all the archaeologists and scientists to be the oldest manmade stone tool dating back to twelve thousand years old. That was found in Clovis because one was found in Clovis, New Mexico in the remains of a mammoth. That was taken for granted, that the first Americans came over from Siberia and Clovis artifacts were being found elsewhere in South America there was a site uncovered at Monte Verde, I believe in Chile. It might be Chile. That dated to about fourteen thousand years old. They found hum the Smithsonian comes in. Several archaeologists had been of the opinion that there were more pre Clovis artifacts being found on the Atlantic Coast than were being found on the we st coast . [Interruption in interview ] Tan: We had no idea when a man from Mathews and this is in about 1997 or something like brought in this part of the tusk. This is the blade and the mastodon tooth. H e brought them to us and said that we could have them on loan. I put them upstairs in with some other fossils. We certainly knew they were ater that D arrin Lowry, who works at the


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 18 Smithsonian with Dennis Stanford, who was the head of the paleontology department, came in and he saw that exhibit upstairs. He knew immediately it was something that they were interested in because it looked like a Solutrean blade that came from France or Spain He told Dr. Stanford that he needed to get down to the Gwynn s Island Museum, which he did the following week. We got permission from the man who brought it here on loan for Dennis to hand carry it all back to the Smithsonian. They did all the DNA tests and whatever they had to do, and it was confirmed that the blade was found in a mastodon that was some twenty two thousand years old. The oxidation that was on the blade and on the tusk showed that even if tha showed that the blade had to be over fourteen thousand, fifteen thousand years old. Dennis Stanford asked if he could meet with the man who had it on loan, so we arranged for that. They brought this case down for us and set up the display like this to have something that was so important to archa eologists in the Smithsonian was just mind boggling to us. Tay: Tan: It was just a wonderful experience. When Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley wrote the book Across Atlantic Ice they invited me and some friends up for the book signing and wined us and dined us. We thought, my gosh! . Just a wonderful experience, and also such wonderful people to work with.


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 19 Tay: Sure, yeah. I mean, have you heard any stories about Indians or the colonial period from people that live around here? Tan: area to give lectures on it. But from the people did you mean the people finding some of these artifacts? T ay: Or just hearing stories passed down. Tan: No, only that some of the old timers, of course, talked about when they were making their canoes, that knew that the black people on the island got their knowledge from the Indians at that time. But actually, t interested in the artifacts, because I asked them, I said, all the years that you folks used to walk up and down the beaches all around the island, they would pick them up and just toss them in the water or things like that. There wa real interest in where they came from or who made them or anything like that. important for the schoolchildren. And th e adults are just as interested, a lot o f adults are. Before we started the museum, when I found things, I would go up to the Smithsonian with the schoolchildren and get them to identify things for me. This one, Jessica, was really mind boggling. I found that little stone over in dry grass. To m e it looked like snakeskin or something had fossilized against it and when I asked them about it, they told me it was fossilized bryozoan and that it But he said back at tha t time, of course, that could come down maybe the


TMP 043; Tanner; Page 20 were great people at the Smithsonian. Anything I had, I sent up and they wrote back with an explanation of everything. Dennis a nd his wife came to the house picked it up and she held out and she held it up against her face like that, and she knew what she was she took that back with them to the Smithsonian and let the archaeologists put it together? Which they did, and then they wrote back and said it was a mandible fr om a tapir, pig like animal, millions of years old. They said here that this was later confirmed by the Smithsonian. Apparently, only one other has been found in the mid Tay: Yeah. Tan: But really, they were so nice t o work with. I invited them to come down to have a workshop. I said, with all the watermen dredging up things like Thurston Shawn did way back . The Solutrean blade, ivory tusk, and mastodon molar were found in two hundred and forty feet of water off t he Virginia Capes by Captain Thurston Shawn [End of interview] Transcribed by: Jessica Taylor, December 19, 2014 Audit edited by: Austyn Szempruch, January 15, 2015 Final edited by: Jessica Tay lor

xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
REPORT xmlns http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitss xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitssdaitssReport.xsd
INGEST IEID EFSL4WX7X_JA5DO0 INGEST_TIME 2015-10-16T19:05:34Z PACKAGE AA00032099_00001