Not the Villain

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: State Archives of Florida.

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: State Archives of Florida.

Am I going soft on Emmett’s womanizing older brother, Cephas Love Wilson?

A friend who had read this recent essay on Cephas asked me the other day if I had changed my mind about Cephas — did I now view him as less of an antagonist?

I told her it wasn’t so much that as I’ve come to understand him better after studying him for three years.

This doesn’t mean the same thing as agreeing with or liking the guy. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a huge fan of Ceph. He cast a long shadow, had a huge ego, and never let Emmett forget who was the senior partner during their tenure as Wilson and Wilson, Attorneys-at-Law.

From where I sit, the brothers worked well together, but there were epic power struggles between them, with Emmett often landing on the losing side of the battles, and Cephas doing the equivalent of a Gilded-Age head noogie on Emmett more often than not.

But — as I’ve discovered over the past three years of research — Cephas wasn’t always a complete jackass to Emmett. He was also known to be downright generous, kind, and unselfish to his younger brother, when given the opportunity.

A few weeks ago, I was going through my file collection for Emmett’s post-Stetson chapter, and I came across this:

Emmett sworn in mid-June, 1904. But he had already been sworn in the day after he graduated law school back in May, in Jacksonville. What gives? Source: Jackson County (FL) Courthouse

Emmett sworn in at the Jackson County Courthouse, June 14, 1904. But he had already been sworn in the day after he graduated law school back in May. What gives? Source: Jackson County (FL) Courthouse

According to the court record for June 14, 1904, Emmett was sworn in by Judge Charles B. Parkhill ‘to practice law in this Circuit and inferior Courts of the State of Florida.’

Judge James W. Locke. An appointee of President U.S. Grant. Source:

Judge James W. Locke.Source: Wikipedia

But wait — I knew Emmett and his fellow law school graduates friends left Stetson University the day after graduation (May 25, 1904), took the train to Jacksonville, and were sworn in to the Florida bar upon presentation of their diplomas to the court by Judge James W. Locke.

According to the Stetson University Law School Bulletin for 1904, that was all an aspiring lawyer had to do in order to hang up his shingle — and — I knew that Emmett’s swearing-in in Jacksonville with his fellow graduates is on the record in the Duval County Archives, too.

Emmett presented his diploma to Judge Locke in Jacksonville and was duly sworn in. Source: Stetson University archives.

Emmett presented his diploma to Judge Locke in Jacksonville and was duly sworn in. Source: Stetson University archives.

Did a man have to petition every county in which he wanted to practice law? And if so, wouldn’t that be incredibly inefficient?

I posed this question (and showed the court archive record) to my colleague, the excellent Sue Tindel of the Jackson County (FL) Court Archives. It turns out that all Emmett needed to do was to be sworn in once. What happened in the Jackson County Courtroom that day was something special:

“Actually, the entry read circuit and inferior courts in the State of Florida – not just the Jackson County Bar.  It almost sounds redundant for Emmett to gain admission to the Bar in Duval County and then come to Jackson County and do it again.  Wonder if Cephas had a hand in it and made a big deal about it.

“It would have been a grand kind of thing for him to have his little brother acknowledged by the legal elite – which is what sounds like happened.”

I mention this because I think this would have been something Cephas would have done for Emmett, especially because no one from the Wilson family was on hand to attend Emmett’s graduation ceremony from Stetson University. I haven’t found out why — I do think it is odd, particularly since Emmett was the valedictorian.

Regardless, Cephas and the Wilsons were proud of Emmett’s accomplishments, and I believe this special acknowledgement went far to mend whatever disappointment Emmett may have felt.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, Part I


Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, has been an enigma.

Augustus Emmett Maxwell, Emmett's grandfather.

Augustus Emmett Maxwell, Emmett’s grandfather.

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:

A letter from Emmett's mother to her stepmother, Julia Hawkes Maxwell.

A letter from Emmett’s mother to her stepmother, Julia Hawkes Maxwell. Bingo!

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.

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson, about 1895.

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.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson. This photo was taken at about the time the letter was written.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

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!