Good news! They’re going to publish it in the Places to Stand section!
I’ll let you know when it runs! Whoo hoo!
Did you know that in 1906, Chipley, Florida (Emmett’s childhood home) had a telephone directory?
Granted, it probably would not have been much larger than a 5 x 7 inch note card, but it existed.
Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson’s name isn’t listed, but as one of the town’s three doctors, it would make sense that he had a telephone, at least in his office downtown. It would also make sense that he’d have one in his home — but it would have been expensive. Dr. Wilson was not a wealthy physician.
I have a great story about Buell Cook (his name is correctly spelled ‘Buell’) that I’ll post later this week.
Meanwhile, I’m reaching out to the Washington County Historical Society to see if there is, perhaps, a more comprehensive directory in their archive — even if it is just a 5 x 7 inch, one page document.
Emmett’s brother, Percy Brockenbrough Wilson, was born in Holly Springs, Marshall County, Mississippi, on October 25, 1871.
Percy was the fourth son of Dr. Francis C. and Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, only about 18 months after the Wilsons moved from Pensacola to Holly Springs. As discussed elsewhere in the blog, the Wilsons moved to Belize in 1875, hoping to rebuild the fortunes the family had lost during the Civil War.
Percy was about four years old when he and his family emigrated to Central America. There is very little information about his childhood — except that we know he was considered ‘the angelic one’ of the Wilson children!
According to a narrative written many years later by Percy’s younger sister, Katie Wilson Meade:
Percy and Frank Jr. decided to go fishing on a Sunday, which wasn’t allowed (Katie said her parents preferred to dedicate Sundays to church and related activities). The boys snuck off to a river, caught at least half a dozen fish, and kept them on a line in the water, until the next day, Monday.
The next day, the boys asked their father permission to go fishing. When they returned, he knew they hadn’t been gone long enough to catch that many, and so asked them directly if they had gone fishing on Sunday. Frank said no. Percy said yes. Dr. Wilson knew that Percy was not one to tell lies, and so Frank received a punishment (a spanking). Katie tells us in the narrative that Frank later got even with Percy (we aren’t sure what happened, but she hints that it involved fisticuffs).
Sometime around 1882, when Percy and Frank were 12 and 13, respectively, their parents put them on a steamer for a two-week trip through the pirate-infested Gulf of Mexico headed for New Orleans. Percy wanted to become a doctor like his father; the Wilsons knew the small settlement schools in Belize were fine for primary education, but as the Wilson children got older, the teachers were not equipped for the higher grades. That’s when the Wilsons made the tough decision to send their children back to the United States for schooling.
Percy and Frank Jr. were sent to Pensacola via the port of New Orleans, where Elizabeth’s father, Judge Maxwell, would take care of them, and where they would attend school.
This plan only lasted a few years: The Wilsons didn’t like the idea of sending more of their children back to the U.S. It was a difficult, dangerous trip for a child on his or her own; also, they didn’t like being separated from their children for so long, and at such a great distance. Finally, the sugar plantation in which Dr. Wilson had invested his family’s savings was not doing well. The family decided to cut their losses, and return home.
When their parents emigrated back to the U.S. in 1884, they reunited with their sons in Pensacola; then moved to Chipley, where Dr. Wilson established his practice.
Eventually, Percy would attend medical school in Mobile. Frank would attend school in Pensacola, and eventually get a job with the L&N Railroad.
Percy graduated from the Medical College of Alabama (which was in Mobile) in 1895. He established practice in Sneads.
He married Lulie Butler in June, 1897.
Lulie Butler Wilson died October 23, 1897, only 17 years old. Percy’s great-granddaughter once told me that the family story is that she died in childbirth — which is possible — I tend to doubt it because they were only married four months. Of course, she could have been pregnant when she married Percy, but we’ll never know.
A news item in The Chipley Banner makes me think it was most likely tuberculosis, which was a problem in West Florida at the time. (Interestingly, tuberculosis is what eventually killed Percy, and several other Wilson family members too). Percy was devastated by her death.
Percy remarried in 1900, to Bonnie Bessie Stapleton. They had six children: Irene, Elizabeth, Percy Jr., Bonnie Jr., Katie, and Robert. Interestingly, Percy and Bonnie were twins!
Their first child, Irene Elizabeth, was born November 20, 1900.
An article in the February 12, 1903 issue of The Chipley Banner mentions that one of Percy’s children became critically ill in February, 1903. The child is not named in the paper, but it was Irene.
Percy brought Irene to Chipley from Sneads in the hopes that his father could help treat her, but unfortunately, the child died on February 6, 1903, and was taken back to Sneads for burial.
An aside: There’s still no vaccine for scarlet fever (today called ‘scarletina’, which originates from strep-A bacteria), but it is treated with antibiotics. Interestingly, in the early 1900s, scarlet fever itself wasn’t always deadly , but it often led to other more serious illnesses, such as meningitis, pneumonia and/or kidney or liver failure.
Percy led the typical Wilson family life: Active in community service and politics, effective in his chosen profession.
Apparently, he did well enough in his rural practice to purchase an automobile. In 1910, according to a record in Florida Memory.com, Percy owned a Brush Runabout.
In 1913, he took a step up to a Hupmobile!
After Emmett became a U.S. Congressman, in 1914, he had Percy named Postmaster for Sneads, Florida. The postmastership was a plum political appointment in the early 1900s — it was a sinecure, and, depending on the size of the postal grade of each district, paid between $1800 to $2400 a year. That was big money, given the average income of a family of four was between $400 and $600 a year.
Yeah, this was definitely nepotism, but Emmett was also doing it because Percy was failing.
The one letter I have from Emmett to his sister Katie Wilson Meade, dated summer of 1913, states that Emmett had had a letter from Cephas telling him that they feared Percy had tuberculosis, that Percy was not doing well at all. By 1914, Percy was probably not practicing medicine anymore; he was that ill.
I think the writer was being kind in the article, because Percy’s health never improved, and he died of tuberculosis on March 10, 1918.
What’s great about Percy’s story is that I have been in contact with his descendants; specifically, his great-granddaughter!
Although the descendants report that they don’t have any anecdotal information or photos of Percy, I think this brief essay paints a pretty of the man who was Emmett’s big brother.
I’d love to have more anecdotes, and even photographs, if they exist, to include in Percy’s story, and to share with his descendants. We never know — the photos may come to light one of these days!
The only information I have about Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson (to date) comes from a narrative written by her youngest daughter, Katie Wilson Meade, and the narrative jumps from the family’s return on a steamer from Belize in 1884 to Chipley, Florida, in 1891.
During that eight-year period, Katie gives us only a few details about the Wilson’s family life — and she doesn’t mention her mother, except to say that one day, while Katie was being a bit annoying and underfoot, Elizabeth sent her, with older sister Dora and one of the brothers, out of the house for several hours!
Of course, her issues and concerns raising 10 children in the 1880s seem different from my issues and concerns raising four children in the 21st century, but Katie’s comment makes me think that, surely, Elizabeth and I have some thing in common!
Katie’s narrative reveals that Elizabeth spent her life following Dr. Frank Wilson around as he reinvented himself at least four times during their marriage — as medical student, as fledgling physician, as sugar plantation owner, and by 1884, once again starting over, this time in Chipley, Florida, and again, at the advice of Elizabeth’s father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell.
What is also telling in this latest Wilson-family mulligan is that this time, Judge Maxwell deeded 60 acres near Chipley to Elizabeth, and not his son-in-law, Dr. Frank Wilson (despite the fact that Maxwell liked and respected Wilson). By this point, Maxwell wanted to be sure that Elizabeth had something of value to call her own, so that she would not have to continue to struggle for the rest of her life.
It must have been tough for Dr. Wilson to have to ask his father-in-law, again, for help.
The Wilson’s new house was built in 1885, and located a few miles south of Chipley (the property today is on Orange Hill Highway. Caring for the family, home, and 60 acre farm was a full time job involving everyone. Katie’s narrative says that education was important in this family: Seven of the 10 Wilson children attended school together in town, all walking to school together. (At this point, the two oldest boys, Max and Cephas, were working and the youngest, Walker, was too young to attend school with the rest of the children.)
And, as expected, money was tight for the Wilsons, as Katie commented on how costly it was for her parents to send seven to school at once (even though the schools were in session only an average of about four months a year, according to county education records for that period).
The most striking item in Katie’s narrative is the abrupt way in which her life was thrown into chaos with the sudden, unexpected death of Elizabeth. Katie was only 12. Emmett was eight.
The narrative does not reveal much in the way of emotion, only details: Dr. Wilson had been away for several months to medical school to obtain a college credential in order to practice medicine in Florida (the state medical association was cracking down on quackery and now required all practicing physicians to have the credential).
The day after he returned, June 22, 1891, Dr. Wilson picked up his practice right away, and took Elizabeth with him on rounds. It was a hot June day.
They stopped at a drugstore in town for a cold drink (Katie doesn’t say what it was). Elizabeth drank the beverage, then fainted. Dr. Wilson tried to revive her, but was unable to do so. He took her to a neighbor’s house, put her in a bed there, and tried for hours to revive her.
Emmett, Katie, and the rest of the children were taken to the house, but were not in the same room as their mother. They may have been allowed to see her; Katie doesn’t say that in the narrative, though.
Elizabeth never regained consciousness; she died the next morning.
In going through Katie’s narrative, I’ve learned a lot about Elizabeth, but still, there are huge gaps I’d like to fill with actual information rather than my extrapolation from the bits and pieces collected over the past three years: What kind of books she enjoyed? Did she plant a garden? What was it like being a single parent for about six months, keeping house, family, and farm together on her own while her husband was away at medical school that last year?
Some of these questions may yet be answered down the road.
One of the challenges in doing research on an obscure person who lived 100 years ago, as did Emmett Wilson, is that the majority of their correspondence and records might not exist.
Time can be tough on historic documents. For instance, colleagues at Stetson University Archives have told me that mold is a big problem in the preservation of historic documents in Florida. Today, there are ways to clean mold off of historic records, but not everyone could or would preserve mold-damaged documents, and unfortunately, books and other documents were simply discarded.
Also, there’s the case of simply being obscure, and, alone. Emmett did not have any descendants. His papers most likely were still in his office at the time of his death, and went to either his law partner (Walter Kehoe) and/or his brother (Cephas Wilson). Both men probably put Emmett’s papers in boxes, stored them in the attic, and forgot about them. This is what I believe happened to Emmett’s correspondence and related documents.
After Walter Kehoe and Cephas Wilson died, their descendants then inherited Emmett’s papers just because they were part of Walter Kehoe and Cephas Wilson estates. Those descendants likely had no connection to Emmett, or, did not know Emmett, and would not have considered the relevance of his work in local history. So, Emmett’s papers were tossed out without a thought.
It’s a tragedy of records.
Speaking of tragedies and records, one of the documents I’d love to see (but doesn’t exist) is the 1890 Census. Emmett and his family would have been enumerated in rural Washington County, Florida, and it would have given a more accurate address of their home than what was previously available (the 1885 Florida Census). [One of my current research questions is to find the address of the first Wilson home. The second home, which is located on 6th Street in Chipley, was built about 1895.]
Anyway. The general story is that it was destroyed by fire in 1921, but it turns out that the destruction of the decennial census has a far more complicated and interesting tale. Read about it here.
Today, I went through some of the photos I took at Glenwood Cemetery in Chipley, Florida, where I visited Emmett’s parents, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, and Elizabeth V. Wilson.
I took these two photos the last time I was in Chipley; I didn’t have a lot of time that day to hang out and study them, so I made a point to study the stones closely on my second trip.
I don’t have a lot of personal information about Emmett’s father or mother, so whatever I can glean from the cemetery is important. The headstones don’t just mark a plot; they can give you clues about the person.
This time, I took a lot of photos of the headstones and burial plots, and I took along my friend, sister and Chipley resident Pam. She knows the cemetery well, and it was helpful to hear her take on the Wilson’s markers as we walked through the cemetery together.
First, the two stones together.
There’s almost 30 years difference between the two burials. The stones are similar in height and style. Dr. Wilson had remarried almost two years after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth; his headstone was selected by the second wife, Kate Langley Jordan Wilson. It’s interesting that she kept the style fairly close to that of the first wife’s stone.
Or not. It’s possible that Dr. Wilson, in his final days, asked to have a stone like his wife’s. Or, maybe the grown Wilson children weighed in on this. But honestly, I don’t think so. Kate Langley Jordan Wilson was a strong woman and did what she always felt was the right thing. I think Kate picked this out of respect and honor to her husband: She knew that Dr. Wilson loved his first wife dearly. While Kate and Dr. Wilson had a good marriage, he never really got over Elizabeth (like Kate never got over her first husband either — but that’s a story for another post).
Kate isn’t buried next to Dr. Wilson, by the way. She’s buried next to her daughter, in a separate plot quite a distance away in the cemetery. (There is also 30 years’ difference between Dr. Wilson’s death and Kate’s death. Kate’s daughter, John, took charge of the estate and Kate’s funeral, for the record.)
Let’s take a close look at the carvings on the Wilson stones. I took several shots of what was carved into the markers. Both markers have interesting designs on all four sides. I’ll start with Elizabeth’s.
Here’s the back of Elizabeth’s stone.
Several different sources report that the calla lily was used on headstones to symbolize marriage; also, resurrection. The Easter lily was a symbol of purity, virtue; also, resurrection. The rose in full bloom was a symbol of eternal love; also, someone who died in the prime of life — which is what happened to Elizabeth.
There is the same carving on the north and south sides of this stone:
Here’s another photo of the carving on Elizabeth’s stone, with contrast added:
I can’t figure out what kind of plant that is. It looks like a kind-of lily if you look at the top of the plant. If this is an entire lily plant, several sources report that it represents resurrection. Elizabeth was a much-beloved member of this family; this would be a loving touch to her memorial.
Here’s the base of her stone:
I love this sentiment; I can imagine the family selecting this for their mother, and I really believe they thought this about Elizabeth. However, I saw this exact same sentiment carved on the stone of another woman in the cemetery (the deceased wife of a sheriff). I think the stone mason probably showed the family a variety of different sentiments that would be appropriate for their beloved wife and mother, and they picked this one. I admit that I was a little saddened to find the exact same saying on another stone in the cemetery, and to think this wasn’t original to Elizabeth.
There is a foot stone on Elizabeth’s grave:
Pam noted that Elizabeth must have been a small woman. The distance between the headstone and the footstone is a little over five feet. Emmett and his brothers were tall (six feet tall on average); they clearly got their height from their father.
Now, we turn to Dr. Wilson’s stone:
One of the first things that struck me about Dr. Wilson’s stone is that the brass plate appears to have been edited. On the left side, second line, the abbreviation “PVT” has been removed.
His rank during the Civil War was, officially, private, though he later had a field promotion to an officer’s rank at Appomattox, at the very end of the war (which might not have been considered an official promotion). I wonder who had the brass lettering removed — perhaps Kate?
Take a look at the carving at the top of the stone:
Note also the cross-and-crown engraving at the top of the stone, symbols of victory and Christianity.
I think it significant that this is on Dr. Wilson’s stone. There wasn’t an established Episcopal parish in Chipley until around 1920. I spoke with the local pastor several months ago, who told me that Episcopalians living in Chipley back in the day either would have had to travel to attend services in Marianna (at St. Luke’s) or Geneva, or Dothan, Alabama.
Both Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth were practicing Episcopalians. If Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth Wilson were devout, it must have been hard to be physically separated from the actual practice of their faith. Perhaps the Wilsons did their own “Sunday school” at home on occasion, but that’s not the same thing as receiving the sacrament each Sunday.
As I thought about this, I drew a conclusion that Kate, who was a staunch Baptist, apparently respected Dr. Wilson’s faith; she didn’t try to ‘make him over’ as some people may do when they marry into a family. I think this is quite telling about the person Kate was, and the regard she held for the family she married into.
This one is hard to figure out. The plant looks more like a type of tree branch (which is why I thought ‘dogwood’ first), but the plant looks shamrock-ish. Perhaps clover? If so, it would be a nod to Dr. Wilson’s Irish heritage.
At the base of Dr. Wilson’s grave are two markers:
And this one:
So, that’s what I have from the second trip to Glenwood Cemetery.
Folks, I’m spending a few days decompressing from the road trip to Pensacola. I have to take a few days off from research and writing about our guy because, frankly, I’m beat. It was a great trip, and I enjoyed it, but it was intense and compressed. I can’t get into a writing state of mind until I unwind a bit.
But today, I want to thank the many people who went out of their way to show me around, to explore the places Emmett Wilson lived or worked (or attended church — on the rare occasion that he did), and in a few instances, to meet for the first time since we began corresponding about Emmett’s story over two years ago!
First, to my intrepid colleague and dear friend Nancy, who has been corresponding with me about Emmett for over a year (we met in person for the first time last Sunday). I’m blessed, humbled, and honored to have made friends with this wonderful lady. She has a great sense of humor, and I value her playing Devil’s Advocate with me on Emmett’s story more than she knows. I truly appreciate Nancy.
To the incredible Jacki Wilson, archivist at the Pensacola Historical Society, many, many thanks. Not only is she a great source of West Florida history, she knows the best places to eat. I’m lucky to count her as a friend.
To my wonderful hosts, Pam and Brett in Chipley, Emmett’s boyhood home. Pam and her family were gracious and hospitable; I felt right at ease and I was made to feel as if I were one of the family. Pam and Brett’s house is a museum itself; the house has been in the family for at least 100 years, and it is well loved. Emmett and his family were good friends of Pam and Brett’s ancestors; while I stayed there, I got the feeling that he had been there, too; probably also enjoying the hospitality in that house.
I’d like to also thank the county court archivists in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Jackson Counties. Special thanks goes out to Sue Tindel, archivist at the Jackson County Courthouse and local historian, who escorted me all over Marianna, and kindly located many sources of useful information about Emmett Wilson’s early years as a newly minted attorney.
I’d also like to give a special thank you to Dorothy Odom, the head archivist at the Washington County Historical Society in Chipley. This is a woman who will not allow any obstacle to deter her in a quest for facts and data. This is a woman who was willing (and suggested it herself) to break into a display case to gain access to books so that I might simply check to see if Emmett’s name was there!
Although we didn’t get into the glass case this time, Dorothy did hand me several large binders of receipts, promissory notes, deeds to look through — with surprising results! I’ll share what I found with you in an upcoming installment on the visit to Chipley.
There’s a lot of other folks I’ll mention — and thank — for the help while I was digging around for information on Emmett in Florida last week. For now, I have to dive back into the 21st century and work-related administrivia.
I’ll be back with more stories about the trip in a few days.