Chapter 26: I suddenly grew up

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The final page of Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative is brief:

Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard. Used with permission.

There were no wharves or piers to land near, so the “big” boys jumped over-board and carried us in their arms. It was a lot of fun!

We were much freer out there because there was no jungle to breed wild animals. At “Big HILL” we hd to watch out for tarantulas, snakes, and big red ants right in the yard. Here it was entirely free of such things. This sounds like a dreadful place to live, but we didn’t feel so at the time.

Looking back on it seems much worse than when we were living through it.

Our Mother was always cheerful and gay and would play on the piano and sing hymns on Sunday afternoons, teaching us to love them and to sing in church.

She gave us a happy life until I was 12 years old — I suddenly grew up then, and helped care for the three “little” boys.

The last page of Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative ends abruptly — and curiously.

What I knew in the early days of Wilson family research was that Emmett and Katie’s mother, Elizabeth, died in Chipley, Florida, when Emmett was eight and Katie 12 — but that was all I knew. Katie’s narrative suggests Elizabeth was a loving, hands-on mother, someone who paid attention to details, but wasn’t a martinet. Elizabeth was the kind of mother who kept the family close, who knew the importance of faith to get through all kinds of situations — good, bad, tedious.

Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson.

Make no mistake: Elizabeth had led a privileged life, but what wife would follow a husband into an untamed jungle if she wasn’t strong, if she didn’t have faith that bad times would work out if everyone pulled together, even if the move was something she was afraid of in some ways?

Katie says her father, Dr. Francis Wilson, was tough; Elizabeth was much the same, I’d wager.

And Katie indicates in her narrative that Elizabeth’s death was unexpected; impactful, not just to her, but to everyone.

I have no idea what Emmett thought or felt when it happened; Katie doesn’t indicate anything about what anyone else thought but herself — she had to toughen up, grow up suddenly. Likely Emmett felt the impact of his mother’s death sharply as well.

Next: Sudden death

 

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Chapter 25: We began a new life

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Page six of Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative continues from the trip out of the jungle back to civilization. This section picks up from the last sentence of page five in the previous post.

The men walked along side of the wagon, so when the oxen got stubborn the men yelled and lashed them with long raw-hide whips — But nothing doing! They wouldn’t move!

At last, a native worker made great balls of mud and pushed it up their noses and they struggles so hard they pulled us out!

We went from Punta Gorda to Belize that way. We boarded a ship in Belize, going up a rickety ladder hung over the side. It was a sailing vessel going to New Orleans.

The trip took about a week. It was here that I saw my first train, as it huffed and puffed into the station, the steam coming out from both sides and black smoke out of the smoke-stack. It was a fearsome sight to a child raised up to this time in a jungle.

==

My mother’s father gave her about 60 acres of land about half-way between Pensacola and Tallahassee, and we built a new house on it and began a new life. Father practiced medicine in the little town and for forty or fifty miles in the surrounding country. He was available day and night, from a baby case to small-pox to yellow fever. He would off a man’s leg one day and pull his tooth the next!!

A much beloved “family doctor,” whose chief interest in his life were his patients and his family of ten children — eight boys and two girls. A brave man and a Christian gentleman.

P.S.

Occasional reference to the ‘Big’ boys in this story means the five older boys who were born before either of the girls. My sister, Eudora, was four years older than I; then came a pair of twin boys, and last, my youngest brother, Walker. All these married in due course of time, except Emmett Wilson, the Congressman.

There are so many nieces and nephews scattered around in Florida I cannot tell the names, nor where they live.

When I was born the natives working on the Plantation came in to see the ‘picayune bambino’ and from that day to this I was called “Pic;” all the folks in Florida still use that nick-name — in Miami, where I visit each year the friends of Eloise (my niece) call me “Aunt “Pic”. I don’t mind; it reminds me of the old days of long ago.

In the Spring our parents took us all on a little trip to the Sapodilla Keys (Islands), not many miles from the coast of British Honduras where only natives lived. We ran around half clothed and played with the natives and loved every minute of it.

The steamer “City of Dallas,” a ship of the Macheca Line, which ran between the US from 1868 to 1900. This is the ship that carried Emmett and his family back to the U.S. in 1884. Source: http://onewal.com/jpmacheca/mships.html

The “City of Dallas” was a 915 ton steamer that ran regularly between the Port of New Orleans, Belize, and other Carribbean destination, according to the website. The ship’s master at the time the Wilsons boarded for their trip back to the United States was Reed.

Information about the “City of Dallas” from Macheca Fleet.

Katie mentions climbing aboard the steamer by way of a ‘rickety ladder,’ perhaps a rope ladder tossed over the side. Katie and Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Wilson, was about three months pregnant with Walker Wilson in June, 1884, the date of their departure [Walker Wilson was born December, 1884 in Chipley, Florida]. Poor Elizabeth — I hope she didn’t suffer seasickness in addition to morning sickness simultaneously during the week-long voyage between Belize and New Orleans.

Manifest of the passengers on the City of Dallas, June 1884. The Wilsons only had a few trunks of possessions and clothing to take back to the United States, not much more than they had brought with them on the original trip to British Honduras back in 1875. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

From New Orleans, Katie said the family took the train to Chipley — it is possible they would not have had to pay for the fare, because Elizabeth’s father, Augustus Emmett Maxwell, in addition to his important political connections, had railroad connections — he was once president of the Pensacola & Montgomery Railroad, and family members could travel free or at a significantly reduced rate. But, it is more likely Maxwell paid for the railroad trip because there are several family sources that state the Wilsons’ sugar plantation investment was not successful (despite Katie’s description of a box of gold British coins in an earlier post).

Even though he was not president of the railroad in 1884, it is likely Maxwell paid the fare for the family because of the financial problems reported at this point in other Wilson family genealogies. Source: Herringshaw’s Encyclopedia, page 626

Here’s another clue that the Wilson family’s finances were in bad shape: Katie said that Augustus Emmett Maxwell gave his daughter, Elizabeth, 60 acres between Pensacola and Tallahassee. We now know that property was in Chipley, Washington County, Florida, and today it is located outside the city limits, on Orange Hill Highway. I wrote about it in an earlier post, here, which explains why I thought Maxwell gave the property to his daughter (and not Dr. Wilson).

Dr. Frank and Elizabeth Wilson’s original home on Orange Hill Road, about 1890. The property was given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, around 1884-1885, and not Dr. Wilson. Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard.

The mystery of who “Aunt Pic” was was finally solved with this page of Katie’s narrative. I’d seen the reference to ‘Pic’ here and there in the genealogies, but I wasn’t sure if that was a reference to Katie, Dora, or even Lula Wiselogel Wilson (Cephas’ wife, and Katie’s sister-in-law), or if it referred to another Wilson relative.

“Eloise”, mentioned in the narrative, was Eloise Smith, the daughter of Dora and W.E.B Smith.

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There’s one more page of Katie’s narrative; stay tuned.

 

 

Lynx-Eyed Guardian

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Emmett’s grand-niece (his sister Katie’s granddaughter) discovered a hidden cache of Wilson family clips the other day, and (God bless her), she promptly sent me copies!

Today, I’ll share an interesting one about Cephas. The source is unidentified, but it is likely a West Florida newspaper, because of the way the reporter speaks about Cephas and his family. The article is also undated, but based on the description of Ceph’s accomplishments, I’d estimate this to be around 1902.

I had to break the file into two pieces, by the way, because the original scanned file was huge.

I've noticed Cephas favors bow-ties. Source: Katie's granddaughter.

I’ve noticed Cephas favors bow-ties. Source: Katie’s granddaughter.

Great details with dates that confirm what I've dug up about the Wilson family over the past three years. And -- surprise to me -- Cephas was once a schoolteacher! Source: Katie's granddaughter.

Great details with dates that confirm what I’ve dug up about the Wilson family over the past three years. In the last paragraph, Ceph is described as ‘lynx-eyed’. And — surprise to me — Cephas was once a schoolteacher! Source: Katie’s granddaughter.

I’ve come to have a better appreciation for Cephas over the past three years. This was a guy who knew what he wanted — to be rich, successful, prominent — and his family was none of those things in the 1880s.

He didn’t even have an education: He was nine years old when his family pulled up roots and moved to the jungles of Central America, where there was no infrastructure, and certainly no established school system. Cephas was there for eight years, and when he returned to the United States — at 17 — he was a grown man, homeschooled for the most part, without a formal education. Ceph was ambitious, and knew if he wanted to be somebody, he was going to have to do it on his own.

Lacking money, education, and position, Ceph took what he did have — connections, brains, and tenacity — and used that to make his way in the world. Cephas set a goal, went after it — and, mostly, he got what he wanted.

The one goal that eluded him was the governor’s mansion, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.


Katie’s granddaughter sent me several other clips, too; I’ll share them in later posts. Some of the clips are about Emmett; they do not add a lot of new information, but what’s there is still good, because:

a) the clips are from completely new-to-me newspapers (one outside of Florida);
b) the reporting about him appears to be consistent with earlier reporting of his person and character; and,
c) the information in the articles is repetitive and/or similar to information I’ve found in other documentation — which is a sign that I’m close to the end of research in a particular area.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, Part III

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We continue with the story of Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson.

In our last post, Emmett’s parents were living in Holly Springs, Mississippi, with six young children, renting a house next to Elizabeth’s sister, Lucy Maxwell Meade and her husband, Everard. The Wilsons has been married almost 10 years, with not much to show in terms of money and professional opportunities. Emmett’s father, Dr. Frank Wilson, was a dedicated and well respected country doctor, having a difficult time making ends meet during in Reconstruction-era Mississippi.

Meanwhile, things were not going well for Dr. Wilson’s parents, Cephas and Emily Wilson and Dr. Wilson’s siblings, who were struggling to keep the homestead (property taxes were high; the Cephas Wilsons has lost almost everything at the end of the Civil War). Survival was becoming an exercise in futility, as money was running out, time was running out. The Cephas Wilson family had few options, and did not relish the idea of becoming homeless.

Charles Swett's Travelogue of 1868. It really is more of a field report of the Confederate expatriates' life in the unsettled tropics. The book is expensive, but, I obtained a copy from InterLIbrary Loan. Source: Amazon.com

Charles Swett’s Travelogue of 1868. It really is more of a field report of the Confederate expatriates’ life in the unsettled tropics. The book is expensive, but, I obtained a copy from InterLIbrary Loan. Source: Amazon.com

Cephas and his sons had come across a pamphlet, Charles Swett’s Travelogue of 1868 (copies are still available today, via Amazon.com), which described a group of ex-Confederates from Mississippi and other Southern states who had fled Reconstruction to settle in British Honduras (now Belize), and recreate a plantation life. The British government wanted settlers who knew how to grow sugar and cotton, and were willing to relocate, establish the crops, and make a good living. Several members of the Alabama Wilson family thought this was a good option, took what remained of their savings, and, in 1869, emigrated to Punta Gorda, British Honduras.

According to an interview Emmett gave in 1913, Dr. Wilson visited his family in British Honduras two or three times between 1870 and 1875. Dr. Wilson’s family managed to get a sugar plantation established, and they offered him a part interest. The British government was also interested in Dr. Wilson relocating to British Honduras, as medical professionals were in short supply. They would pay him well, help him and his family relocate.

Apparently, Dr. Wilson felt the money and opportunity to live among family members, and away from the struggles of Reconstruction far outweighed the struggles the family would face relocating to a jungle with no infrastructure and minimum civilization. Things were that bad for the Wilsons, apparently.

This was not just a situation of being disenchanted over minor things

It was so bad that Dr. Wilson had to borrow $1000 from his father to make this move. I’m certain Dr. Wilson would have talked this over with Elizabeth instead of making this decision on his own. Did they also think to ask for help from Elizabeth’s father, Judge Maxwell, before taking this drastic step? Did they think they had already imposed enough on the Judge’s hospitality to ask for help?

(One source that discusses life during Reconstruction is The Day Dixie Died, by Thomas and Debra Goodrich. It provides good background reading on life during Reconstruction, but it is neither comprehensive nor objective.)

Emmett’s parents must have believed that the economic and political situation in the South was not going to improve, and their best bet was to start over somewhere else, even if that was in a jungle. At least other family members would be there with them.

Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth moved to Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras in 1875.

The Wilsons lived in Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras (now Belize). They emigrated from the Port of New Orleans to Belize City; then traveled by ox cart down to Punta Gorda. There were few roads; this was not an easy move for this family. Source: www.scf.usc.edu

The Wilsons lived in Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras (now Belize). They emigrated from the Port of New Orleans to Belize City; then, traveled by ox cart down to Punta Gorda. There were few roads; this was not an easy move for this family. Source: http://www.scf.usc.edu

Despite the opportunities to establish a new, independent way of life, it was not easy. According to a narrative written by Emmett’s sister, Katie Wilson Meade, their home in Toledo Settlement was a simple house thatched with palm leaves. An overseer ran the plantation while Dr. Wilson practiced medicine on horseback, traveling from settlement to settlement every day. The Wilsons grew sugar cane and produced barrels of brown sugar, which was shipped to the United States.

Katie’s narrative also describes how no family member was ever allowed to be outside alone; someone would have to carry a weapon on their person at all times because wildcats roamed the jungles, as did boa constrictors (one that was as thick as a man’s thigh was shot in the front yard by Dr. Wilson himself). Katie describes how Elizabeth used to wait up at night for Dr. Wilson to come home after seeing patients; that she could hear large animals rubbing against the side of the house in the darkness. I can imagine how she must have felt, not knowing if the beast outside was capable of destroying the wall that stood between herself and her children, or if perhaps that animal lay in wait for her husband.

There were no schools except what the Wilsons and their neighbors could organize on their own in the settlements; any furniture had to be handcrafted right there on the plantation itself; if it couldn’t be made on the plantation, it had to be imported, which was expensive. Then, getting the imported products from the Port of Belize to Toledo Settlement was a journey in and of itself. Elizabeth was living her life on a frontier, unlike anything she could have imagined doing. It was difficult and challenging; but Katie reports that her mother was always cheerful even in the face of hardships, and if she was worried, her children did not see it.

Elizabeth and Dr. Wilson had three more children while they were living in British Honduras: Katie Elizabeth, born in 1878, and Emmett and his twin, Julian, born one day before Elizabeth’s 36th birthday, in 1882.

During this period, Elizabeth and Dr. Wilson realized that their children needed a more solid education than what they were receiving via community schooling, and they made the difficult decision to send their sons back to the United States. They sent Percy, then Frank Jr. back sometime between 1880 and 1884.

In June of 1884, the Wilsons decided to sell their property and return to the United States. According to Katie’s narrative, there were two reasons her parents chose to give up the plantation in British Honduras: First, it was difficult, expensive, and dangerous sending young boys back to the United States alone, and they missed their sons dreadfully. Second, the sugar plantation was not successful. Dr. Wilson’s father and brothers had all returned to the United States by 1880, because the plantations were not successful.

Elizabeth was three months pregnant when she, along with her two young daughters and four sons climbed up a rickety ladder and boarded the City of Dallas at the Port of Belize, to return to the United States via the Port of New Orleans.

The steamer "City of Dallas," a ship of the Macheca Line, which ran between the US from 1868 to 1900. This is the ship that carried Emmett and his family back to the U.S. in 1884. Source: http://onewal.com/jpmacheca/mships.html

The steamer “City of Dallas,” a ship of the Macheca Line, which ran between the US from 1868 to 1900. This is the ship that carried Emmett and his family back to the U.S. in 1884. Source: http://onewal.com/jpmacheca/mships.html

 

Manifest of the passengers on the City of Dallas, June 1884. The Wilsons only had a few trunks of possessions and clothing to take back to the United States, not much more than they had brought with them on the original trip to British Honduras back in 1875. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

Manifest of the passengers on the City of Dallas, June 1884. The Wilsons only had a few trunks of possessions and clothing to take back to the United States, not much more than they had brought with them on the original trip to British Honduras back in 1875. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

There’s one more part to Elizabeth’s story, to be continued in a few days.

Proof of Existence

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How many of us take for granted our birth certificate?

Think about this. How many people do you know who can say that they do not have a birth certificate? Nowadays, that is often the critical document to prove that you even exist. Try getting a driver’s license or a passport without a birth certificate. In most jurisdictions, you can’t.

The original train station in Chipley is long gone; this is the current Amtrak station. Source: www.trainweb.org

The original train station in Chipley is long gone; this is the current Amtrak station. Source: http://www.trainweb.org

Back in Emmett’s day, the lack of a birth certificate to ‘prove’ who you were wasn’t so critical. For instance, when Emmett got his first job with the railroad as a teenager, it was right there in Chipley, at the train station. EVERYONE knew who he was: He was the son of Dr. Frank Wilson, well respected town doctor. EVERYONE knew his family. Emmett didn’t have to whip out an i.d. card or driver’s license to prove he was Emmett Wilson.

Very few people owned automobiles, so there were no driver’s licenses to use as identification. If you were in the military, or, if you were a police officer, you’d have an official identification card or badge to provide for identification.

But what identification would the average person carry about between 1882-1900 to prove who they were? Your college diploma? Club membership cards? It seems like there was a lot of opportunity for abuse, here, unless you had some kind of official identification. A passport? Not likely. Indeed, in the latter part of the 19th century, and up until World War I, passports weren’t required, and crossing a country’s border was a rather straightforward process, so few people actually had passports.

My point is, Emmett didn’t have to give ‘proof of existence’ as much as is required today. Nowadays, you have to provide at least two forms of credible identification, with photos attached.

What I’m getting at is that I’ve been on the hunt for Emmett Wilson’s birth certificate. I haven’t exhausted all sources yet, but the odds are slim that it exists on record.

Belize2Emmett was born in British Honduras (today, Belize) in 1882. At that point, Belize was a wilderness. Emmett’s birth ‘village’ barely qualifies for that distinction. There were no paved roads, few stores, and it was, literally, in the middle of nowhere.

Emmett’s family was trying to establish a new home, a sugar plantation (along with other former Confederates and their families) in a jungle, where there was no urban area, no infrastructure, and no official repository of vital records. Not yet, anyway.

I contacted the archives office in Belize yesterday; they were very nice and conducted a search for a copy of Emmett’s birth certificate, but they found nothing. In fact, what they have prior to 1885 is very sketchy. I was told that the act for the registration of vital information in Belize was not passed until 1885, so there are few vital records on file prior to that year.

Perhaps Dr. Wilson registered a birth certificate for Emmett with the state of Florida after they re-emigrated in 1884. It seems logical, but it wasn’t a priority. The Wilsons were trying to build their lives all over again, for the third time in a decade. If having a birth certificate in hand was neither important, critical, nor absolutely required in the 1880s, I don’t think Emmett’s father followed through on this.

I do think Emmett’s family recorded the birth information in the Wilson family Bible.

And now, the next question: Where is the Wilson family Bible?