Not So Unexceptional Sources

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Last time I checked, I realized that I’ve collected over 500 individual newspaper articles about Emmett Wilson. That’s pretty good, considering that when I started this project, I didn’t expect to find more than a few dozen, given his obscurity in Florida politics.

Granted, most of these newspaper articles aren’t anything more than a one- or two-sentence gossip column blurb about Emmett’s comings and goings. In the grand scheme of things, these would be considered unexceptional information sources.

But that’s not always the case. After four years of ‘hanging out’ with Emmett, I’ve learned that these seemingly unexceptional articles hold more information than I realized when I first discovered them. One has to look beyond the words in these little clips to understand the event, even something as simple as a report on Emmett’s comings and goings.

For example: Here’s an article I initially considered unexceptional in the first few months of Emmett’s research.

An item on the society page about a private party for select members of the Pensacola Bar. Notice that Emmett’s name is misspelled. Source: The Pensacola Journal, February 20, 1907.

Three years after finding this seemingly unimportant clip, I’ve noticed several important things about this news item.

Let’s pick this article apart for research tidbits, shall we?

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I didn’t notice it when I first found the article (because I was only a few months into Emmett’s research), but everyone attending this dinner party had a close personal connection to the other.

First, an overview of the dinner party attendees:

Emmett and the Crawford brothers (John Thomas Gavin Crawford — or ‘John’, and William Bloxham Crawford — or ‘Billy’) attended West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) together; Emmett and Billy Crawford were roommates and classmates at Stetson University Law School. According to the 1907 Pensacola City Directory, Billy and John Crawford were law partners.

The Crawford brothers practicing law. The partnership didn’t last but a few years. John Crawford had only been admitted to the bar in 1906. Their office was located at 300 Thiesen Building. Source: 1907 Pensacola City Directory, Ancestry.com

The Crawford’s father was none other than Henry Clay Crawford, Florida’s secretary of state, from 1902 to 1929 — an important political muckety-muck who would have absolutely known J. Walter Kehoe, who was the state attorney for Florida at this moment.

And, it stands to reason that the Crawfords would have been known well to the host of the luncheon, John Harris Smithwick, who was J. Walter Kehoe’s law partner.

Kehoe & Smithwick, located at 306 Brent Building, Pensacola. Source: 1907 Pensacola City Directory, from Ancestry.com. Notice that they are getting ready to move their office location eight days from the publication of the news article. Emmett would stay with K&S until he joined his uncle’s law partnership on January 1, 1908.

Kehoe, as you may recall from an earlier post, was Emmett’s brother Cephas L. Wilson’s law partner in Marianna. Walter and Cephas were still close friends; their wives Jennie Kehoe and Lula Wilson were best friends. Walter Kehoe also considered Emmett another son; Emmett considered Walter his mentor.

A 1905 rendering of the Brent Building. Kehoe & Smithwick were on the third floor. Source: Pensapedia.com

My photo of the Brent Building — in great shape for 112! — from my last trip to Pensacola.

Judge Francis B. Carter, of Marianna, a former Florida supreme court judge, had just joined the law firm of Blount & Blount in 1907, which then became Blount, Blount & Carter. And, yes, their office was located in the Blount Building, which was right next door to the Brent Building.

Emmett (L) and Paul Carter. Roommates, long-time friends. Paul was (supposedly) related to Judge Francis B. Carter of Marianna. Source: FSU archive.

Everyone at the luncheon obviously knew Judge Carter; but what’s really interesting is that I believe he was related distantly to Emmett’s best friend, Paul Hayne Carter.

Emmett, who had just moved to Pensacola to re-start his law practice, was temporarily sharing office space in the Kehoe-Smithwick law practice.

Recall six months earlier, Emmett returned home from the failed law partnership with Nicholas Van Sant. And then, there was the rumor that Emmett enjoyed his liquor a bit too much, which might have had something to do with his sudden, but not openly discussed return to Florida without professional prospects. Emmett relocated to Pensacola because he’d be able to heal his wounded pride away from the reproving looks of family and friends in Marianna.

Emmett’s appointment as acting U.S. District Attorney in February becomes permanent in September. Source: PEN, September 7, 1907.

Emmett was the most obscure member of this luncheon party, but things were looking up for him. On February 1, 1907, Emmett was named acting assistant district attorney for the Northern District of Florida (it would become official in September, 1907). There were several local Pensacola attorneys up for the post because it was prominent and paid $1,500 a year — approximately $39,186 in 2017 dollars. Emmett didn’t get this appointment on his own; and in fact, had told the media he hadn’t even pursued it.

It is important to note that at least three of the men attending this luncheon helped persuade Department of Justice officials to select Emmett over the other, more experienced Pensacola lawyers. Given the right guidance and opportunities, Emmett would become a man of consequence in his own right.

Emmett himself may not have realized it, but it appears that he was being looked over, scrutinized for his usefulness in Florida politics by party leaders. It was too soon for anyone to get the idea that Emmett would be ideal material to shape into a future U.S. Congressional candidate, but this is when it started.

And isn’t it interesting how these guys were all so interconnected?

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Over the next several posts, I’ll do a closer look at the luncheon attendees, and their relationships to Emmett and each other in Florida politics.

 

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