Finding diamonds in my own backyard

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2021

One of my favorite books is Acres of Diamonds by Russell H. Conwell, the founder and the first President of Temple University in Philadelphia as well as a minister, lecturer and lawyer.

His first and most famous lecture he delivered while on the Chautauqua circuit was Acres of Diamonds. He published it as a book in 1890.

When he died in 1925, he had delivered his Acres of Diamonds lecture more than 6,000 times.

I first read the book when I was in college and it challenged me. The book encourages the reader to discover the wealth in front of them rather than search for it in vain in far off places or believe success is unattainable where they are.

The story goes like this. An African farmer owned many acres of land. He listened to tales about other farmers who discovered diamond mines and made millions.

Without knowing if the stories were true, the farmer was so excited that he hurriedly sold his farm and went prospecting. He spent the rest of his life wandering and searching unsuccessfully across Africa.

Meanwhile, the man who bought his farm discovered acres and acres of diamonds there. His farm turned out to be one of the most productive diamond mines in Africa.

Basically, the book taught me to look in my ‘own backyard’ when looking for opportunities and that’s what I’ve done.

I am Washington born, raised and educated. I moved away for decades to further my education and have a teaching career. But my heart was always in Washington.

As a history lover, Philadelphia and New York City kept me intrigued with its history and art museums.  Once I thought about becoming a history tour guide in Philadelphia.  But I also knew Washington NC had a great history worthy of telling and I wanted to tell it.

I started walking history tours here in 2010 and I have several Facebook pages that chronicle Washington’s history: I’m from Washington NC and nobody told me this, The African American History of Washington NC and The African American History of Beaufort County NC.

I am currently working on writing books that will tell some of this history. There are so many people that were born here that have had a tremendous impact on history. I love telling the stories that somehow got lost or did not get the merit I felt they deserved.


I have an example of someone that I feel deserves a historic marker in our town.  He’s a white Navy officer who made extraordinary history. I will tell you more about him next week.


Leesa Jones is the executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.