In the last post, we took a close look at a letter written by Cephas Love Wilson to his brother-in-law, Emmett Augustus Meade in January, 1910. Today, we’ll do what I think is the fun part of corresponding research — dissecting the text of the letter! I’ll take a few sections out and examine them with you.
Let’s get started!
I thought the punctuation style was a little unusual — it looks like a half-emoticon through my 20th-century lens, but I’ve seen this style on other letters, too. Without knowing that this was OK, it would appear to be a typo.
Cephas received a message from Emmett Meade, sent on January 3rd, that Everard Wilson Meade was born on January 2nd. The Meades were not wealthy, and so would not have telephoned this to Cephas. Likely, Emmett Meade (who worked for the railroad at this time) sent a telegram. Cephas was probably not the only one who received a telegram: Likely, Dr. Wilson would have received word in Chipley, as would have Emmett Wilson, in Pensacola, also by telegram. Two of the Wilson siblings (Julian and Walker) were living with Cephas in Marianna at this time; Dora was married and living a few blocks away in Marianna as well.
The safe delivery of Everard was a big deal: This would the fourth and last child of Emmett and Katie Meade. They had lost three infant sons over the past eight years, none of whom lived to see their second birthday. Everyone was anxious about Katie and the new baby, who would grow up to be an advertising executive and an author.
The comment about the U.S. Supreme Court is interesting, and totally in line with the way Cephas thought: Cephas never had a general goal in his life; he aimed for the top prize, always.
Elizabeth (Katie’s granddaughter) told me that she never thought her father, Everard Meade, was interested in the law, despite the exposure he had from the numerous uncles and cousins who were lawyers and judges.
Cephas, himself, would not have entertained the idea of becoming the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He had thrown his hat into the Florida Governor’s race at least twice, and his political star was definitely on the rise in 1910 — his big lifetime dream was to live in the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. But it couldn’t hurt to encourage big dreams in his brand new nephew; the Wilsons were all about politics.
“Jeanet and Jhon Burton.” That’s misleading; these two were not married, and they wouldn’t ever marry each other. They might have been courting at this point; if they were, it didn’t last.
Here, Cephas is talking about Jeanet MacKinnon, a longtime friend of the family who never married, and a man named Jhon Wilton Thomas Burton. (That’s not a typo, by the way: His first name is spelled Jhon; click here to see his tombstone in Marianna. Unusual, isn’t it?)
The story with Jeanet is that many family and friends were keen about matchmaking for her — at least, that is how it appears. I always had a feeling that our Emmett was even put out as a consideration, but of course, Emmett never intended to marry.
I’m sure Emmett knew Jeanet from childhood. Emmett was Jeanet’s escort at Katie and Emmett Meade’s wedding in 1902. If there had been a chance for Emmett and Jeanet to get together, there was always ample opportunity; but, things didn’t work out between Jeanet and our Emmett.
In 1910, Jhon was living with his brother Massey R. Burton’s family; he was the manager of the telephone exchange. Knowing this, it is possible that Jhon received a phone call from Emmett Meade all the way from Alexandria, Virginia to Marianna, Florida — but it would have cost about $60 in 1910 dollars — and still would have been prohibitive for the Meades.
He was about 30 when he was married on January 12, 1916 to Mary Florence Willard. In 1920 Census, he and Florence are living with her mother, and brother, in the Burton house, in Marianna. He is a bookkeeper for a store; she is a bookkeeper for a bank — perhaps Cephas’ bank.
In 1930, the U.S. Census reports Jhon to be divorced, but interestingly, still living with his mother- and brother-in-law (Pearl Willard, Stewart Willard). He is listed as a grocer. This makes me wonder who filed for divorce — it seems as if Florence’s mother would not have tolerated living with the son-in-law if he were the one who petitioned for divorce.
In the 1940 Census, Pearl is living with her daughter Florence and her husband, in Pensacola. Florence remarried sometime between the 1920 and the 1940 U.S. Census; Jhon has also remarried to Mary Lena Burton. Jhon appears to be a salesman for a snuff company (the handwriting on the U.S. Census looks like it is “Snuff Co.”), and he had an 11-year-old son named George. Mary Lena is 21 years younger than Jhon; it looks as if they were married around 1928 or 1929.
I honestly didn’t plan to do this much work into the Burton story, but the line in Cephas’ letter that says how Jhon Burton is like a member of the family intrigues me. If Jhon is that close to Cephas, I wonder if Cephas handled his divorce? Did Cephas think of Jhon as a younger brother? He was about Emmett Wilson’s age.
I’ll take a break here, because the analysis on this one little piece is running long for this post. Tomorrow or the next day, I hope to finish with information about Jeanet MacKinnon, and the rest of the highlighted points from this portion of the letter.
I’m always surprised by how much information one can glean from a single document, if you examine it closely!
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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