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Profile of Surfman
Robert Chisholm Joynes
by Laurene Joynes Russell

Robert Chisholm Joynes
To the best of my knowledge my grandfather, Robert Chisholm Joynes, was born September 2, 1857 at Portsmouth, Virginia. He joined the U.S. Life-Saving Service about 1878 several years after the government built the Hog Island Life-Saving Station at Broadwater, Virginia. Broadwater was just a very small, isolated village on a desolate barrier island off Virginia's Eastern Shore. On the island he met, wooed and married my grandmother Bettie Lavenia Burton in 1883. He was twenty-six at the time. While in the service he built a home for Bettie and their eleven children on the mainland in a small village called Birdnest, Virginia.

Robert lived during an exciting time in the history of our country. On February 21, 1892, Robert was a surfman of the Life-Saving crew who risked angry seas and after many heroic efforts took off all on board the Spanish ship San Albano that was wrecked six miles northeast of the Hog Island Life-Saving Station. For his bravery during the rescue Robert was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Queen of Spain. The United States of America presented Robert and his fellow crew members the Silver Life-Saving Medal for their heroic efforts. All in all, Robert was a witness to and participated in over twelve difficult shipwreck rescues during his time in the service. He was surely a brave man.

Physically, my grandfather Joynes stood 5 foot 6 1/2 inches to 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighed about 170 pounds. He had tattoos all over his body consisting of stars, ships and initials. I don't know where or when he had them done. My grandmother, Bettie died in 1915, and he buried her at the Red Bank Baptist Church in Marionville, Virginia.

After Bettie's death he retired, after thirty-five years, from the Life-Saving Service on Hog Island. He missed my grandmother, and soon found that he could not live in the house without her. He moved to Norfolk with five of his children still at home with him. With the advent of World War I, grandfather found work in the Norfolk shipyards.

In 1917, at the age of 60, he married again to a widow named Hattie Morrisette Smith. Robert's children disliked his new wife, often calling her a "witch" and because of the disharmony in the home, all of his children, left to stay with relatives. After that the family seldom saw their father. At the time of his death on December 1, 1931, he was a lonely man, living near Atlantic City, New Jersey. He is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in that city.

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