Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, Part IV


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.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

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.

The house and property that were given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, around 1890.

The house and property that were given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, around 1890.

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.

Emmett's mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson.

Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson, died on June 23, 1891.

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.



New Information; New Questions


Last week, I mentioned that Katie Wilson Meade’s granddaughter shared a seven-page narrative that Katie wrote about her (and Emmett’s) childhood when they lived in Belize.

Katie, Emmett, and Julian were the only Wilson children born in Belize. They emigrated back to the U.S. in 1884. Emmett and Julian were two years old; Katie was about 6 or 7 years old.

Emmett mentioned in an interview in 1913 that when the family moved back to the U.S., the family lived there for about eight or nine years. The decision to move back to the U.S. was based on several reasons, one of which was that his father had been part-owner of an unsuccessful sugar plantation.

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

They cut their losses, and moved back to Florida. Essentially, they were starting all over again.

What I just discovered (in reading the narrative) was that when the Wilsons moved back home, Emmett’s grandfather, Augustus Emmett Maxwell, gave Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson 60 acres in Washington County, Florida.

He didn’t give the property to his son-in-law, Dr. Wilson, but to his daughter, Elizabeth. Interesting.

Why did Judge Maxwell do that? I’m not sure. I know the Judge liked his son-in-law very much, and there was no bad blood between them. Perhaps it had something to do with taxes (as in, Dr. Wilson may have owed back taxes to the government for some reason).

I know that when the Wilsons moved back to the U.S., they had little more than the clothing and household belongings packed in their steamer trunks. I’m sure Maxwell also wanted to help his daughter and her family. But why put the 60 acres in his daughter’s name?

With new information comes a new mystery!

Another question: Where was this acreage, exactly? I’m not sure of that either. But, I know approximately where it was, based on the 1885 Census of Florida.

1885 Census of Washington County, Florida. Source: NARA

It was somewhere in District 2 of Washington County. Source: NARA

Last year I tracked down this same census page, and sent out a query to folks in Washington County who might know about where the Wilson property was located. Ideally, I’d have looked at the 1890 Census to confirm names and locations — but, the 1890 for Florida doesn’t exist.

I went up to the 1900 Census (the Wilson family had since moved into Chipley), and checked some of the names on the 1885 Census — perhaps some of the families in the area where the Wilsons lived were still there — but I didn’t find anything.

Since I did that last check, I’ve become friends with Chipley area descendants whose names are the same as those on this census — perhaps they are relatives — and posed this question. Hopefully, they’ll know something about where the location of the property Judge Maxwell gave his daughter is today.

I head out to Charlottesville tomorrow morning for a visit with Katie’s granddaughter! Wish me luck!