A Seeker from Another Time


It turns out that I’m not the only one who has sought out information on Emmett Wilson.

Someone else, once upon a time, was looking for Emmett.

Someone else, 68 years ago, was looking for Emmett. Image used with permission of the owner, Katie’s granddaughter.

The letter was sent to Emmett’s sister, Katie.

The writer of this letter, Joseph Gregoire de Roulhac Hamilton, was an impressive fellow. He was a professor and historian, and his big project was the Southern Historical Collection, what UNC calls the ‘largest single depository of nonpublic manuscripts of southern history and culture in existence’.  Hamilton wanted to add Emmett and his grandfather’s papers to this massive collection.

Back in Emmett’s and Maxwell’s day, when a congressman finished his term, he took his papers and correspondence with him. Nowadays, most congressmen can turn their papers over to the National Archives.

On March 5, 1917, the day after Emmett’s term in office was complete, he cleaned out his office, and everything was shipped his office in Pensacola — the law firm of Kehoe & Wilson, located at the American National Bank Building.

J. Walter Kehoe in 1917. Kehoe, Emmett's law partner, also succeeded him in Congress. Source: Wikipedia.com

J. Walter Kehoe in 1917. Kehoe, Emmett’s law partner, also succeeded him in Congress. Source: Wikipedia.com

After his death in 1918, it is likely that his law partner, Walter Kehoe had possession of some of the papers; Emmett’s brother Cephas Wilson was executor of his estate, though, and it stands to reason that Cephas may have taken possession of the congressional correspondence.

Walter Kehoe’s descendants know what I’m looking for, but unfortunately, they don’t have any of Kehoe’s or Emmett’s papers from their congressional days.

I have been looking for Cephas’ descendants for almost three years and have yet to find anyone; I’d love to learn about what happened to Emmett’s papers, if, indeed, Ceph had them.

I doubt Hamilton was doing any big story on Emmett back then; his key mission was to build up the Southern Historical Collection. If you also take a look at Hamilton’s scholarship and other published work, the majority of his work is on North Carolina history.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Emmett’s papers exist anymore. Here’s why:

It certainly would have been much easier for Hamilton to get Emmett’s papers in 1948 than I would in 2016, because several of Emmett’s siblings, Maxwell’s descendants, and at least Jennie Kehoe were still alive in 1948. It would stand to reason that Hamilton would have been able to reach at least one other family member, or a Kehoe family member, to find the papers back then. Hamilton was a professional researcher. He wasn’t afraid to knock on someone’s door unannounced; else, he would not have built up such an impressive resource as the Southern Historical Collection, right?

Alas, in addition to getting lost in Alexandria, Hamilton didn’t get what he wanted: Neither Emmett’s, nor Kehoe’s nor Augustus Emmett Maxwell’s papers exist in the Southern Historical Collection.


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