Chapter 19: Dual Citizen or Crown Subject?

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This week, I’ve been kicking around the idea that Emmett may or may not have been an American citizen. In our last post, we learned this was one of his hot buttons.

And, we learned that his father, Dr. Francis Childria Wilson, decided to leave the United States to start over, because the life he and his parents, and some of his siblings wanted didn’t exist anymore. Why not just create the life you want where you can have it?

You see, when Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, moved family, kit, and kaboodle 900 miles from the Port of New Orleans to the jungle wilderness  of British Honduras, he went in halfsies on a sugar plantation. The Brits needed people expert in raising sugar to settle their wild country and to develop an export crop; the expat Confederates, who basically felt they were without a country needed to find a place where they could start over without the tyranny of carpetbaggers and the Republican party lording it over them. British Honduras offered everyone a win-win situation.

Thing is, back in the day, one couldn’t just buy a piece of the Crown’s land and settle down on it as you pleased. Nope. Those who purchased the land from the British government had to swear a loyalty oath to Queen Victoria — in effect, becoming British citizens.

Sooooo… What did Dr. Wilson do? Did he actually take that oath so that he and his colleagues began to build new homes and a sugar business? If so, it happened several years before Emmett was born — which means Emmett may have actually been a British subject when he was born in 1882.

Which means Emmett wasn’t qualified to run for political office in 1913.

You could, of course, hold dual citizenship. Some American citizens assigned to foreign embassies, for example, would have children born in other countries. Those children could be considered dual citizens of that country. If Emmett’s father did not take a loyalty oath, then his American citizenship would still be intact.

But:

  • We are talking about someone who was part of a group who wanted to leave the United States soon after the end of the Civil War, because they found the political and social living conditions intolerable. It seems as if Dr. Wilson may have held his American citizenship lightly.
  • We are talking about a group of people (of which Dr. Wilson belonged) who packed up family and belongings and risked sailing almost 900 miles over rough waters and through dangerous conditions — pirates were in the Gulf of Mexico at the time — to start a new life.
  • We are talking about an official partner in a potential lucrative business — Emmett Wilson said so himself in that interview — where ownership of that property required a loyalty oath to another country.

A few questions about the whole enterprise:

Did partial ownership of the property require ALL holders to swear loyalty to the crown, though, or was this more of an under-the-table kind of deal, where someone else was actually the owner, and Dr. Wilson was quietly financing part of the sugar plantation, an ‘angel’ of sorts?

Emmett, of course, always referred to the family’s time in British Honduras as a ‘temporary’ residency, but did the word temporary mean something different back then than today? It just seems rather odd to me that one would risk one’s family’s life and well being for a ‘temporary’ thing, like moving away for several years, to a foreign country. This was also an expensive undertaking for a family that had lost everything after the Civil War.

I believe the question of property ownership may have been more angelic, based on a document I found in 2015:

 

affidavit of citizenship

Source of document: Elizabeth Meade Howard

The date on this affidavit is March 27, 1943. This document was created for Elizabeth Meade Howard’s grandmother Katie Wilson Meade (Emmett’s sister). Katie Meade didn’t have an official birth certificate, and needed one for identification purposes. Katie would use this to obtain a delayed birth certificate.

Her brother, Frank (Francis Jr.) was who she selected to provide the relevant information. He says that his father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, did not relinquish his American citizenship; ergo, our Emmett is a legit all-American boy.

I’ll accept this sworn statement as proof of Emmett’s story as truth — unless something else comes up!

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 3: Dissection Homework From the WFGS

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Before I contacted the Pensacola Historical Society to find out more about Emmett Wilson, I made copious pots of coffee and immediately dissected the three articles sent to me from Peg Vignolo of the West Florida Genealogical Society.

Newspaper articles are rich with information — it’s not only the details IN the piece itself, but it’s the context to pay attention to when you read the articles: that is, what is said (subtly), what is not said (subtly), how the article is positioned in the paper, the language used about deceased, and so forth.

First, the obituary:

The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page one. Courtesy of the West Florida Genealogical Society.

Note the cause of death. Nothing in the obituary text gave a clue to his death — the writing didn’t focus on the cause of death, but seemed (to me) to deflect. A ‘very short’ illness could be anything: Appendicitis, for example. On the surface, ‘very short illness’ sounded innocent enough, so why not give the reader that detail? 

[Aside: I wouldn’t realize until several months later, after I’d collected more information on Emmett and talked to Wilson family descendants that the photo in the obituary was almost 10 years old — it was the one he’d scraped money together to have taken professionally when he first ran for office in 1912.  The newspaper morgue at The Pensacola Journal would certainly have had one of the professional shots taken by Harris & Ewing when Emmett was U.S. Congressman.]

Note the time of death. Emmett died right after midnight, meaning the editor and the layout team likely had to stop the press, strip the first page of the newspaper and create a new layout at the last minute to make the first edition.

Note these nitpicky details. The article announcing Emmett’s death was placed just slightly over the fold, indicating this was a prominent person, even though Emmett’s congressional career was not distinguished. Anyone of less importance would have had a death announcement on another page, or the editor may have held the news for the next day.  Also: Whoever wrote the bare bones obituary had only the basic details about Emmett’s death at Pensacola Hospital. He or she wasn’t able to confirm anything else about Emmett or funeral plans in the middle of the night, and the details about Emmett’s life came directly from his congressional biography — obviously, the writer didn’t contact or interview local family members or friends to round out this last minute addition to the paper.

Finally, note the typos, which indicate that this death notice was very last minute. The other articles around Emmett’s death notice appear well edited. This is what reinforces my belief the editor stopped the presses for the May 29, 1918 paper for this last minute addition.

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Second, the funeral notice:

From the May 30, 1918 issue of The Pensacola Journal, page two. I think it is interesting to see the placement of Emmett’s funeral story the following day; I also wonder why (if he was so important to have three articles about his death in the paper) this item is moved off the front page.

Here is a close-up:

 

There was a lot of good background information to unpack (which I did in earlier posts, here and here).

As I reflected on this article, what stood out to me was mention of the surprise and shock of Emmett’s sudden death, and that few knew he was ill. But, at the same time, why no mention of the illness that brought about the surprise demise?

Since Emmett’s death was a surprise, that WAS news — so why not tell the reader the reason BEHIND Emmett’s death –unless the reason was embarrassing to the family and friends who knew him best?

Also, wasn’t it ironic that he was ‘popular’ and yet no one knew he was sick? I have several articles from The Pensacola Journal  during this time period of ‘popular’ friends of Emmett who were reported home sick or in the hospital. (I checked the West Florida newspapers for several weeks leading up to the day of Emmett’s death, and there is no mention of him being ill or hospitalized.) Previously, when Emmett was ill, it was mentioned in the paper, by the way. One example is provided below.  (He’d supposedly had rheumatism at one point — which was often the euphemism for something else.)

Rheumatism. Really? Source: Ocala Banner, Dec 22, 1914.

Another interesting item: Emmett was buried from the home of what appeared to be (at the time) a political frenemy — J. Walter Kehoe, and not from Emmett’s own home, or his brother Frank’s home in Pensacola.

As I was collecting any and all information about Emmett and his pals in those early days into Emmett’s research, I’d discovered that Kehoe had long coveted the office of U.S. Congressman. In fact, it was reported from Kehoe’s speeches and other news coverage that he considered the office his dream job. (The Florida Democratic party leadership didn’t agree; they liked him fine, but they always considered Kehoe as the runner-up to someone else whenever it came time to select the candidate for the office.) Emmett and Kehoe had an unusual relationship, and this was going to definitely be an interesting part of Emmett’s story to unwind.

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Third, the post-funeral article:

The Pensacola Journal, May 31, 1918.

This was the post I wrote about this item a while back; also, this post included details pertaining to Emmett’s funeral, including the info featuring Emmett’s mortician (who sported a creepy mustache to boot).

The shorter third article ran on the third page, although in a good layout position (right hand page, under the number). The details are a bit general — which makes it hard to tell if the writer was actually present at the funeral. The subject is that a lot of people attended Emmett’s funeral.

The last sentence of the article made me believe the writer may have been there (noting several people weeping at the service), but with the feeling of ‘thank God this poor guy’s life is over and I can go on to my next assignment.’

I mean, look at the ‘article,’ folks. It is only three sentences long. 

I’m curious about the Rev. Johnson, who gave a ‘touching tribute’ memorializing Emmett — I wonder who actually briefed Johnson about Emmett’s life, because although he was an Episcopalian, Emmett was not a regular churchgoer, and probably had few conversations with Johnson.

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All this information was great, but it left me with many more questions than answers — and critically — I still didn’t know how Emmett died.

I knew I’d have to work backwards with this information in order to tell Emmett’s story — but I would need more details about himself, and his family. I reasoned that if this guy was important enough to garner three articles just about his death, there was more to this story.

The hard work was just getting started — I knew I’d have a long slog ahead to uncover Emmett’s story.  But I didn’t care. I was on a mission. I was possessed by Emmettism!

Next: Strategy

 

Chapter 2: Repository

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WFGS official seal. Source: WFGS

On April 27, 2013, I called the West Florida Genealogical Society in Pensacola, and spoke with researcher Peg Vignolo. I introduced myself, and explained what I was looking for.

“Nope,” she told me after checking several resources. “We don’t have anything on Emmett Wilson other than what I’d already found about him myself on the Internet,” which isn’t a whole lot, she added. I agreed.

Peg said it was curious that there was such little information, given that he was the youngest U.S. Congressman at the time, and the first from Pensacola after the new congressional district was formed in 1908.

From ChroniclingAmerica.gov.

I mentioned the date of his death, and asked for a copy of his obituary, if they had copies of The Pensacola Journal from 1918, since the 1918 edition of the paper didn’t seem to be on microfilm yet, or available via ChroniclingAmerica.gov, the online newspaper repository at the Library of Congress.  Peg said that they had the bound issues of The Pensacola Journal for May 1918, and would be happy to make copies and email the obituary to me.

“May 1918, huh…,” she added thoughtfully. “Maybe it was the flu. The pandemic hit West Florida pretty hard in 1918. It devastated many families here in Pensacola.” I told her I wasn’t sure, but what little information I had at that moment suggested he’d died at home, so it was a possibility.

Peg recommended that I next contact the Pensacola Historic Society (now known as the UWF Historic Trust).  “They have a large archive on prominent locals; if there’s anything on Emmett, it would likely be there.”

Meanwhile, she’d hunt for the obituary, and refused payment. In gratitude, I emailed some of the articles I’d found already so that she could start a surname folder for Emmett.

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A few hours later, Peg emailed three articles to my faculty email account, one each on Emmett’s death, obituary, and funeral. She mentioned it was curious that he garnered not one but three articles in the local newspaper, something unusual about a person of suggested prominence but lacking a file in their historical archives.

Definitely unusual — and mysterious.

Next: Dissection Homework

Platonically Yours

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Here’s something new that turned up in Emmett Wilson research:

Florida State Debate Team’s historic webpage. Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was an all-star. And we’ve seen the photo on the right in an earlier Emmett Wilson post, here. Source: floridastatedebate.com

A page honoring The Platonic Debating Society, which was the founding body of today’s Florida State University Debate Team.

Emmett (L) and Paul. Roommates, friends, sometimes debate rivals. Source: FSU archive.

The photos come from the first yearbook published by the Florida Seminary West of the Suwannee River (which was FSU when Emmett attended in 1900-1901), The Argo.  In the center back row are Emmett and Paul, roommates and debate team members, looking in opposite directions. (Emmett was not a great debater in college, by the way; he was picked on in the yearbook for his lack of debate skills.)

The FSU page honoring the roots of the debate team has a lot of deep information, including articles from contemporary newspapers featuring Emmett, Paul, and other members of the Platonic Debating Society. There’s nothing new-to-me, which is a bit of a relief, because I hope by now (five-plus years into tracking down information on Emmett), I’ve been thorough.

I’ve got the minutes! Here’s a snippet from the minutes book of the Platonic Debating Society for 1901. Good old Emmett is right at the top!

What IS missing is a copy of the Platonic Debating Society’s minutes — lucky me, though — a copy of the pages featuring Emmett’s tenure in the Debating Society was kindly send to me by the Florida State University archivist a year or so ago. The minutes book is only a small volume; I believe I have everything I need from it relating to Emmett, but I still would like to read the entire book for complete perspective.

Perhaps it will be posted online one of these days!

Not her father’s daughter

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I’m not one to go about picking on other’s research, but I suppose (with five years of Emmett Wilson research — that’s way over 10,000 hours of continuous digging and nit-picking) I can safely call myself an Emmett Wilson Expert.

…at least, that’s what my colleague (who is a credible researcher) over at the National Archives called me the other day, when I stopped by to do a source check. 😀

Anyway. Today’s post is about our resilient Minnie E. Kehoe.

Yesterday, I found this:

Source: Florida Bar

Details of the book.

A Who’s Who of the first woman lawyers of Florida. One of the nice things about this resource is not only does it provide the bios, but also the timeline of when the women were admitted to the Florida bar.

And yes, Minnie is listed as one of the first women lawyers in Florida, starting on page 8.

But, despite the fact the information has sources, there’s several errors. Here’s what I mean:

The first error in the rectangle.

Yes, Minnie was admitted to the bar in 1913; she worked in Pensacola for many years, then moved to Miami to be near family, namely her prominent brother J. Walter Kehoe, then she returned to Pensacola.

But Ervin’s incorrect about her father’s vocation. John Francis Kehoe, Minnie and Walter’s father, was a prominent bricklayer/brickmaker, and in fact supplied some of the materials for the construction of the Jackson County (Florida) Courthouse in Marianna.

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From the Pensacola City Directory, 1885. Note the lack of lawyerly vocation info.

 

Minnie’s brother, J. Walter, was a U.S. Congressman for one term (1917-1919).

The next item to note:

John Kehoe died in 1906, so, even if John was an attorney, Minnie couldn’t have practiced with him.

Actually, in the 1913 Pensacola city directory, Minnie was a court reporter — she wasn’t exactly ‘practicing’ law right off the bat in 1913, and she wasn’t working with anyone else:

Pensacola City Directory for 1913. Note that brother Walter has a different office address.

Eventually, Minnie did have her own practice, as well as a business school (but today we’re talking about her as a lawyer):

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. By 1916, she had her own office, again, separate from her brother Walter. According to family information, she ALWAYS did it HER way.

I’m glad to see Minnie getting her due recognition, but disappointed in the sloppy data confirmation.

I’m a little surprised that a Bar publication would use sources with unverified information (i.e., Ervin’s statement about Minnie ‘may have been the daughter….’). Not to be a nitpicker, but c’mon; spend more than five minutes to confirm information that others may use in their own research.

Here’s to Minnie Kehoe. A woman of her own making, and definitely, not her father’s daughter.

Application for Membership

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Source: Train Dispatcher’s Bulletin, 1913, Vols 18-19, p 216, via Google Docs.

Here’s information that Emmett’s youngest brother, Walker Wilson, was applying for membership in the Train Dispatcher’s Association of America (via Google docs).

Deciphering the item — S.A.L. was the Seaboard Air Lines railroad.

University of South Florida map of Seaboard Air Lines routes in and around Tampa, 1917.

Walker’s employment with the railroad was not simply a family tradition, but an important employer in the early 1900s — in contemporary terms, it is compared to working at NASA.

According to various city directory records, Walker remained with the railroad for the rest of his life, working his way up the management ladder starting as a clerk. Like his brothers Emmett and Julian, he became expert at the telegraph starting in the Chipley depot, then he was assigned to different stations and posts as his career developed over the decades.

His Death Came “As a Great Shock”

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Here’s another new-to-me clipping discovered through routine checking of updated databases:

Pensacola_Journal_1920-08-05_9

Obituary of Emmett’s father in The Pensacola Journal, August 9, 1920

Emmett’s father’s obituary contains interesting information.

For example, even though Dr. Wilson had been ill for several days, his death may have been unexpected, as it was a ‘great shock.’ Dr. Wilson’s death information (from a second source) mentioned he had blood poisoning, but it didn’t indicate the source of the infection. My colleague, Donna the Nephrologist, told me that blood poisoning (also called sepsis), can turn deadly rather quickly if not treated immediately, and perhaps those treating Dr. Wilson didn’t realize what it was he had at the time.

FYI — Dr. Wilson wasn’t “officially” practicing medicine anymore in 1920; he’d retired several years earlier (before Emmett’s death in 1918) because of poor health related to a heart condition.

There’s an error in the obit:

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 5.19.11 AM

He was related to the Maxwells by marriage.

This part is rather confusing — actually, Dr. Wilson was married to Elizabeth Virginia Maxwell, the daughter of Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell (Emmett was named for his grandfather). Elizabeth died in 1891, when Emmett was eight years old. (I’m not sure where the obituary writer got the idea that Dr. Wilson was a son of Maxwell’s half-sister, but it just goes to show that one has to read the old clips carefully, and check the facts.)

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

The surviving wife (as mentioned in earlier posts) was Kate Langley Jordan Wilson, whom Dr. Wilson married about 18 months after Elizabeth’s death.

By this point, Dr. Wilson had lost three of his sons: Meade Wilson, Dr. Percy Wilson, and Emmett. Percy and Emmett died in 1918.

The last item about the sugar plantation in British Honduras has been also mentioned in earlier post, and it does cause some confusion, because at the time the Wilsons were living in Central America, the British government did not allow foreigners to own their property — and so, Dr. Wilson would have had to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown (thus revoking his American citizenship, which meant Emmett [born after the family moved to British Honduras] was a British subject, and therefore should have been disqualified from serving in Congress).

But I have seen family records stating Dr. Wilson never gave up his American citizenship, and Emmett once stated in an interview that his father only owned ‘a share’ in the plantation — not full ownership.

Still, the issue has always made me wonder. In fact, one reporter once shared in an interview that if you really wanted to piss off Emmett, ask him about whether or not he thought he was truly an American citizen or not, given his birth in British Honduras. Emmett would routinely fly off the handle and give a reporter hell about the question.

Emmett doth protest too much?