Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, has been an enigma.
Of all the women in Emmett’s life, it is clear that Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson had the most impact. But ironically, it has been hard to find anything out about her.
For almost three years, I hadn’t found much other than she was the daughter of an important judge from Florida; her mother was from an important family in Virginia; she was the wife of an important doctor in Washington County, Florida. There had to be more to Elizabeth than the fact that she was (as many women were back in the day) an adjunct; i.e., someone else’s wife or daughter.
This changed in January, when I met Elizabeth’s great-granddaughter (and namesake), in Charlottesville. I was there to learn more about the relationship between Emmett and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, who was one of Emmett’s closest siblings. Katie died in the 1960’s; today, her daughter Elizabeth, is the keeper of Katie Wilson Meade’s family records.
During our visit, I spent several hours with Elizabeth going through scrapbooks, looking through documents, photographing and documenting everything, when I came across a letter, dated February 4, 1865.
The handwriting was spindly and blotted, hard to read, but decipherable. The paper was thin and fragile. Initially, I didn’t think it was important, because I didn’t recognize any of the names in it. But on the last page, was this:
I gasped when I saw the signature. Elizabeth looked at me and asked if I was OK. More than OK, I said; I was overjoyed! I found a letter written by Katie and Emmett’s mother! I hadn’t expected to find anything about Emmett’s mother on the trip to Charlottesville, and this was gold!.
From the letter, I learned that Elizabeth was very close to her stepmother, Julia.
Julia Anderson Hawkes married into the Maxwell family three years after the death of Augustus Emmett Maxwell’s first wife, Sarah. (When Sarah died, she left Maxwell with three children: Lucy, age 5; Elizabeth, 4; and Simeon, three months.)
According to family sources, Augustus Emmett Maxwell had found love again after Sarah’s death. Julia was, by all reports, a kind, intelligent, loving young woman who took the three Maxwell children immediately under her wing. Elizabeth and her siblings cherished the relationship they had with Julia, and it was mutual.
It is important to note the relationship Maxwell had with his second wife, and the impact on his children, because it is quite different from the relationship Emmett had with his stepmother, Kate Langley Jordan, who came into the Wilson family 18 months after Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson died.
Had Dr. Wilson and Kate Langley Jordan married the second time for love, it might have made a difference for Emmett, and the way he interacted with women later in life. But that’s an essay for another day.
Back to Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson.
When the above letter was written to Julia, Elizabeth was 19 years old, a young woman; but, the language of the letter strikes me as that of a young girl. She mentions several times that she misses Julia, and wishes she could see Julia. The letter is a little gossipy, a little frivolous. This is not a serious letter; rather, it is one that a daughter would send to a mother, just to let her know what was going on with her while she was away visiting friends. But it is clear in the text of the letter that Elizabeth is a treasured, precious daughter to Julia and Augustus Emmett Maxwell. She refers to Maxwell as ‘her dear, beloved Father,’ and he is an attentive, caring parent, always interested in all of his children’s well being. This was poignant, touching to read; I’ve long suspected that was the relationship between Elizabeth and her father, but it was wonderfully affirming to read about it in Elizabeth’s own handwriting.
The date of the letter is interesting; it is written almost exactly one year before she marries Dr. Francis C. Wilson, and there is no mention of him in the letter he’s not mentioned. But, another fellow is: someone named “Duncan.” Elizabeth wanted her stepmother to ask him why he hadn’t written her back yet!
At this point, though, it is possible that Dr. Wilson was in the picture, but he hadn’t won Elizabeth’s hand yet. Elizabeth and her family had a home near Oakfield Plantation, about six miles north of Pensacola in the 1860s, and Dr. Wilson was in the middle of his three-year apprenticeship with an established physician in Pensacola. (Dr. Wilson had started his medical school studies in 1860, but left to join the Confederate Army when the Civil War broke out. When the war was over, there was no money for him to go back to medical school, so he took the next acceptable route, which was to study under an established physician for three years; then, Dr. Wilson would have his ‘credential’ — nothing more than a signed letter by the established physician — that Dr. Wilson was competent to practice medicine.)
The Maxwell and the Wilson families were not strangers to each other. In the 1840s, after Augustus Emmett Maxwell married his first wife Sarah, they moved to Mt. Hebron, Green County, Alabama to set up his first law practice — and Mt. Hebron was the location of the Wilson family plantation.
Maxwell did not stay long in Alabama; he and his family moved to Tallahassee in 1845, just before Elizabeth was born. So, Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth would not have been childhood sweethearts, but, Dr. Wilson would have been familiar to Augustus Emmett Maxwell later, when he would come to call on Elizabeth as a suitor.
I’ll have more on Elizabeth in a day or so. Stay tuned!
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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