Chapter 29: Searching for Dr. Wilson’s Downtown Office

Standard

Friday, May 24, 2014, Noon

After Whit dropped me off at the Washington County Historical Society, I notice that I have about a half hour before I was to meet the current owners of the Dr. F.C. Wilson home.

I took Judge Wells’ advice to do a self-walking tour around Chipley, to see buildings that Emmett would have seen, the businesses he would have patronized. I especially want to see the old First National Bank building. Perhaps Emmett used to cash checks there; more likely, I sense he visited the second floor of that bank, where fellow lawyers and friends had their offices.

A view of the Dunn Building, 1916, downtown Chipley. The historic bank building at the far right is in desperate need of repair.

Here’s a shot of First National Bank, about 1905, as it was under construction. Note the ladder on the edge of the roof. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/1532

The First National Bank, today. Emmett would have seen this building, conducted business here. His friends, notably W.O. Butler, had a law office on the second floor.

But the other place I hope to find is the location of Dr. Wilson’s office.

Once upon a time, Dr. Wilson’s practice was out of his home. But as it grew (along with his family, and his needs for full-time nursing assistance for patients), necessity dictated a surgery in a separate office downtown.

Chipley, 1913. Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Source: UFDC

I knew Dr. Wilson had two offices downtown once upon a time. No, Dr. Wilson wasn’t a ‘chain,’ but the May 14, 1898 Chipley fire destroyed his first office, which was located next to S.A. Cook’s store. A second fire wiped out his store in August, 1901. A clue in The Chipley Banner, dated September 7, 1901, tells me that the second fire was too much to overcome, at least as a retailer — because he sold what remained of his stock.

If you zoom into the Sanborn map, you can see two possible locations where Dr. Wilson may have had his office. According to The Chipley Banner, he had a drugstore and an office, with the office above the store. The Banner said that he sold his stock completely after the fire. I’m not sure if S.A. Cook’s store was on N. Railroad or around the corner on the bank side.

By 1913, Dr. Wilson had officially retired from regular practice. Papers from his Confederate pension indicate that he was no longer able to work, due to a heart condition. There were no other specifics other than a note that he had a “heart condition.”

This row of stores is called The Watts Building (and Dunn Building), and has a date of 1916 over the archway. They are next to the old bank building — the bank was there in 1913, but these stores were not. Photo taken by the author.

This is across the street from The Watts building. Photo taken by the author.

This is the Sanford Fire Insurance map of the block across the street from the current Watts Building. Notice that there is a drugstore on this corner. This might have been the original location of Dr. Wilson’s store and office as well, if the S.A. Cook store was, in fact, right next door. But, it isn’t clear that the building on the site today is the same as it was in 1913 or earlier.

I wish I knew the location of Dr. Wilson’s office, even if the building itself is gone today. According to the maps, any one of those drug stores may have been next to S.A. Cook’s store, but I’m not sure about Cook’s store location either.

I want to at least stand where Dr. Wilson did; and maybe where Emmett stood as well.

I’m sure Emmett visited his father at his office. I’m also sure that Dr. Wilson advised Emmett, not only as his doctor but as his father, that his drinking would eventually kill him, and he had to stop.

I wonder where they had that conversation.

I wonder what Emmett said to his father in return —

“I know what I’m doing, leave me alone,” or perhaps,

“I know it will too, but I can’t stop.”

As I reflect on those facts, and walk along the street, I realize that perhaps Dr. Wilson’s heart condition may have come about because his heart was actually broken. It’s possible, you know. People can die of broken hearts.

After all, Dr. Wilson’s beloved cause that he had almost given his life for was lost; his beloved wife died practically in his arms; his beloved practice seemed cursed by circumstance with the loss by fires.

And Emmett, one of his beloved sons, was destroying himself before his very eyes, and Dr. Wilson was powerless to do anything about it….

===

I glance at my cell phone — it was almost time to meet the current owners of the Wilson-Myers house for lunch.

Next: In Emmett’s words

 

Advertisements

Chapter 28: Dorothy, Whit, and Elizabeth

Standard

Friday, May 24, 2014, about 11 a.m.

As the officer said, the old train depot in downtown Chipley wasn’t hard to find. Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting my car, in front of a seafoam-green building that definitely looked like a train station from the early 19th century.

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

I note that trains still run through Chipley; I had to drive across two sets of raised tracks at an intersection with a barricade that lowers as trains rush by.

The difference between today and Emmett’s day is that passenger trains rarely stop here; trains are primarily freight. Chipley isn’t the train hub it used to be, especially since the advent of automobiles. I get that: Everyone wants to control personal travel. In Emmett’s day, going to and from communities was a novelty; romantic and sweet, special, out-of-the-ordinary. There was something special about planning a trip 100 miles away, or even 25 miles away, for example, where you’d stay with friends or relatives; it didn’t happen every day for regular people.

But in 2014, I know folks who commute 25, even 100 miles round trip a day for their jobs — definitely not a novelty, and certainly not romantic and sweet, particularly in an eight-lane traffic jam on a regular basis.

A side view of the Washington County Historical Society building; a caboose on the grounds. Photo taken by author.

I get out of the car with my computer briefcase and notebook; straighten my skirt and blouse, smooth my hair.

I’m anxious that I’m on time and presentable, and glad that I was able to make it today: The Washington County Historical Society building is only open on Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm. The curator emailed me a week or so ago that she’d open it up for me, even if I arrived on a day it was closed. She has no idea how grateful and humbled I am about that. In all the years I’ve been doing research, no one has ever volunteered to open up an entire museum for me to study artifacts. I want to be sure I’m not any trouble; I know that most curators and the staff in small museums are volunteers.

I notice a number of people going in and out — I didn’t think it was a busy place; I thought it would be me and the curator — but today, the place is hopping!

Taken by the author during a lull in the comings and goings of Chipleyites.

The historical society is definitely a community gathering place — when I opened the door, numerous long-time residents were milling about. I later learned these are folks who stop by weekly when the museum is open. Several are gathered at the long tables with checkerboard tablecloths in the open back room to talk, drink coffee, read scrapbooks. It’s interesting — there are other visitors from out of state here too; one woman in particular from Pennsylvania searching for Florida ancestors. I realize that the local residents here are valuable assets to the historical society: They are keen genealogists and history buffs who can offer useful tips to the visitors on navigating official Florida record holdings, contact names and numbers, as well as excellent seafood restaurants while in the area.

The rooms are full of interesting artifacts on the walls, in old glass display cases from general stores. It’s busy, bustling, cheerful.

The curator, Dorothy Odom, recognizes me right away and greets me as if I was someone well-known to her; indeed, we’ve been exchanging emails for several weeks and I feel right at home. She introduces me to her adult daughter, Chelie, holding a gray kitten, who also greets me warmly.

Wonderful friends in the Washington County Historical Society library, Dorothy Odom and Whit Gainey. Photo by the author.

Dorothy loves that I refer to her collection as artifacts. I don’t think she realizes how important her collection is to me (or really anyone else putting someone’s story together). Dorothy has basically the things that Emmett saw on a daily basis in a house or an office, stuff he took for granted, but the same stuff that made him who he was, in a subtle way.

Take Ivory Soap, for example: It was an everyday thing in Emmett Wilson’s world in the 1890s. Maybe Emmett used it; liked the smell of it, like I like the smell of it. Ivory Soap reminds me of my childhood, or maybe what I wished my childhood would have been: Safe, reliable, predictable.

Here’s a photo of an original Ivory Soap package taken on May 20, 2014 in Pensacola while touring 1880-period houses in Old Pensacola. The display features products typically found in a home between 1890-1910. Photo by the author.

A collection of artifacts at the Washington County Historical Society. The red arrow points to a bottle of mucilage. Photo by the author.

Maybe it is that I see these artifacts with new eyes, thinking, Emmett saw this item, or that product in his parent’s kitchen pantry. He may have picked something like that up, used it.

Maybe Emmett, on a dare from an older brother, took a swig out of that bottle of mucilage convinced it was an exotic highball, his lips encircling the small neck of the bottle. He tips the bottle back, his eyes grow wide as he tastes the stuff ….

I quickly stop to look up the word on my phone —

— OMG. Well, I hope Emmett didn’t do that. I know absolutely that his brothers were pranksters. It’s possible it happened…

Dorothy touches my elbow to introduce me to retired Judge Perry Wells, a regular at the historical society; a senior gentleman with a kind, intelligent face.

I tell Judge Wells that Emmett’s older brother Cephas clerked for Judge W.O. Butler before he began a law career, and that I’m staying that night with the descendants of the Butler family while I’m visiting Chipley. Judge Wells nods approvingly, recommends I note the beautiful restorations of the Butler home and the photo gallery there featuring early 20th century photos of the home and family friends.

Coincidentally this day, Judge Wells had with him a small flyer for Jerry Williams Carter, essentially an old campaign flyer for Mr. Carter. I recognize Mr. Carter immediately — “Judge Wells, this is wonderful! Jerry Carter was Emmett’s campaign manager both times he ran for Congress!”

“Mr. Democratic Party,” Jerry Williams Carter wedding photo, 1910. Source: FloridaMemory.com

I wanted to hug the judge for showing me the unexpected flyer; primary sources of information about Emmett have been few and far between to say the least. Dorothy says she’s happy to  print a copy for me. While I waited, Judge Wells suggested I take a walk through the downtown area, and points me over to a rack that hold booklets featuring a walking tour of Chipley.

Dorothy hands me the copy of the flyer, then introduces me to Whit Gainey, a quiet and thoughtful gentleman with an expansive interest in Washington County history. Whit asks me if I am going to visit the Wilson house on Sixth Street.

“I’m expected at the house after lunch, but in the meantime, I was going to head out to the cemetery to visit Emmett’s parents’ gravesites.”

“Do you know where the Wilsons are buried? If you don’t, I have a map and I’m happy to show you,” Whit said, “Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost.”

===

A half hour later, I’m riding in Whit’s red pickup truck. A country music station is playing quietly as Whit drives around the main street of Chipley; he points out a few landmarks. The old First National Bank, which is in sad condition (there have been some efforts to save it, but nothing successful to date); a row of old storefronts that are in good condition. We turn onto more residential streets, and Whit points out a few Victorian homes that are well cared for, places where Emmett and his family would have seen, probably had dinner with friends and the like. Otherwise, we ride mostly in silence to Greenwood Cemetery; he’s not much of a small talk person with a stranger, and that’s fine. I’m not good with small talk either.

We drive through a small neighborhood to get to the cemetery. “The Wilson graves are in the older part of the cemetery,” he said, maneuvering the truck off the pavement onto a grassy drive. He pulls to a stop near a tree; pulls out the cemetery map with the plots outlined, and nods toward a collection of tall, white monuments. “That’s them up ahead,” he said.

We get out of the truck, and as we walk along the grassy drive, Whit tells me that he’s spent a lot of time over here, photographing headstones and uploading the images to Find-A-Grave.com, the cemetery database.

Whit pauses, and turns away politely to look around at a few other stones while I walk towards Dr. Francis Wilson and Elizabeth Wilson’s graves.

I stand in front of them; I don’t know what to do. Finally, I’m here, I think. I’ve been reading about the Wilsons, studying their lives for over a year — but this feels awkward; uncomfortable. I think I should feel something else, because we’re family.

Maybe it is that this has been, pretty much, a one-way relationship for over a year.  An introduction might help.

“Hello,” I say out loud, quietly, to Francis and Elizabeth. “I’m Judy. I’m glad to meet you, and I wish I’d known you in person. This feels weird but it’s true.”

I start to feel better.

But damn, I think to myself, as I look about. I should have brought flowers. I move towards Elizabeth’s stone, and touch the top of it: Lichens. It hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. I look down at both plots: The graves were dry and dusty.

I realize they hadn’t been visited in decades.

“I’m sorry about that,” I say to Francis and Elizabeth. “I’ll be sure to come by whenever I’m in Florida.”

Whit is walking towards me; he pauses in front of the Wilsons.

“These are your cousins?”

“Yes,” I say, and I begin to take photos.

Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson. Note the lichens at the top of the stone; the dry, sandy soil around the graves. Photo by the author.

Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson. See the second line of text with the missing “PFC”, which has been pried off. Photo by the author.

Both graves have interesting additions at the bottom:

For Dr. Wilson, there’s a Confederate Army plaque — and someone has pried off the rank. I ask Whit about the damage to the plaque. He doesn’t think it was vandalism per se; he’s curious if there was an error on the plaque why a new one wasn’t ordered.

For Elizabeth, this is at the base of her tombstone:

The inscription at the base of Elizabeth’s tombstone. Photo by the author.

“Her death was the turning point in this family,” I tell Whit. “There were 10 children, the youngest was eight years old when she died. And Dr. Wilson,” I said, nodding at the other stone, “coped by burying himself in his work. He was a county doctor, one of three, so he was essentially not around for the two years up until his second marriage to Kate Langley Jordan.”

Whit gazes around the immediate area surrounding the Wilson graves. “The second wife isn’t buried anywhere around here,” he said.

“That may be telling,” I say.

As we walk back to Whit’s truck, he says, “People handle grief differently. Sometimes they don’t handle it at all.”

“I think kids pick up on that,” I say, as I climb into his truck. As he starts the engine, I thank him for taking me to visit my cousins, and we ride back to the historical society building in silence.

Next: A closer look at Dr. Wilson

 

 

Life Expectancy

Standard

As I write Emmett’s story, I always wonder how long he would have lived had he not drank himself to death. Several of the men in his family, particularly his twin brother Julian, were long lived. Emmett was 35 when he died of uremia on May 29, 1918.

The website, Our World in Data, has an interesting interactive chart mapping life expectancy rates starting from the year 1543 to 2015.

Emmett was born in 1882. According to Our World in Data, his life expectancy, had mortality rates remained the same throughout his life, would have been 39.41 years.

The chart shows data for the years 1881 and 1882. If you hover over the U.S., a box pops up with the life expectancy for that country. Source: Our World in Data

Emmett just about made it to his projected life expectancy. Emmett’s illness as reported on his death certificate, uremia, eventually came about via cirrhosis of the liver (according to my colleague Donna the Nephrologist).

Jule & Emmett’s brother, Julian A. Wilson, about 1940.

Emmett’s twin brother, Julian, died in 1963, age 80. His daughter, Jule and granddaughter, Carol, have told me that Julian rarely, if ever, took a drink, and was in good health most of his life. Julian died from complications resulting from an automobile accident.

Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was born in 1841. Unfortunately, the chart doesn’t have information going back that far for the United States. The first year reporting life expectancy statistics from this source is 1870; 39.4 years seems to be the average age also for 1870.

 

 

Emmett’s Will

Standard

One hundred years ago today, almost exactly a year to his death, Emmett wrote his will.

Emmett’s will, as it appears in the Florida probate documents. Filed June 1, 1918 by his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, executor. Source: Ancestry.com

I have a copy of Emmett’s original will; the document was typewritten by Emmett himself, on old Banking and Currency Committee stationery that he had saved from his tenure as a U.S. Congressman. Emmett edited and corrected the errors in the single-spaced document document himself, in pen.

Emmett’s original will wasn’t dictated to a secretary, nor was it signed by witnesses, nor was it notarized.

I believe he simply went into Walter’s office in downtown Pensacola (he wasn’t practicing anymore, but I’m sure Walter let him use the office, as they shared it once as partners), and borrowed a typewriter. I think it is particularly touching that he used his own paper — stationery from when he was at the top of his professional life — and wrote his will in solitude.

For a man who was, by now, dying of alcoholism, and likely in and out of clarity, Emmett appears to have thought out carefully how he wanted his few possessions dispersed. Emmett was solvent June 1, 1917 — the date he wrote the will — and he wanted to distribute his money and property (about $7,000) to Dr. F.C. Wilson, Jennie Kehoe, and Emmett Wilson Kehoe. According to the inflation calculator, $7,000 in Emmett’s time is about $133,400 today.

Unfortunately, by the day Emmett died, on May 29, 1918, he had run out of money and was borrowing against his life insurance policy to pay everyday bills — that’s according to a letter from Cephas, which was included in Emmett’s file in Pensacola. Somehow, Emmett went through all of his money (and then some) in a year.

It is amazing to me, during what must have been a terrible, emotional and psychological time for Emmett, that he got his affairs in order knowing for certain:

He wasn’t getting married.

He wasn’t going to have his own home.

There wasn’t going to be a new political career.

There wasn’t going to be a new law practice.

And, that the end was probably coming sooner rather than later.

Modeste Hargis, Whistling Pharmacist

Standard

I’m pleased to report that not only have I located Emmett’s doctors (both in Pensacola and Washington, D.C.), but I’ve also located his pharmacist. Pretty damn good History Detective work, huh?

I’ll have more on the doctors in another post, but I thought I’d introduce you to the pharmacist first, because she’s REMARKABLE.

 

Meet Modeste Hargis. The first (and youngest) woman pharmacist in Pensacola.

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste was born August 1875 in Pensacola, the daughter of Dr. Robert Bell Smith Hargis. She had four sisters and two older brothers, Robert and John, who also were physicians.

Modeste decided early that she wanted a medical career, too.  According to a feature about Modeste in a 1909 issue of The Pensacola Journal, she accompanied her father every day on house calls and appointments, and he taught her everything he knew. She couldn’t have had a better teacher, either — Dr. Hargis was not only a yellow fever expert, he, along with Dr. J.C. Whiting, established the Pensacola Hospital in 1868. He was well respected, well known, and considered one of the top physicians in West Florida. It is quite likely that Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, at least knew of Dr. Hargis, if he didn’t actually practice with him on occasion.

Modeste was interested in pharmacy, and Dr. Hargis encouraged and supported his daughter’s plans, even though it was still highly unusual for a young woman to enter a profession dominated by men.

In the 1909 article, Modeste said:

“I simply loved anything connected with medicine and after my father’s health failed, I commenced the study of pharmacy though I did not know then it would ever be the means of my support.”

Modeste’s turning point came in 1893, at 18, when she passed the state pharmacy examination and was the youngest (and only) female pharmacist in Florida.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

And less than three months later, Modeste’s father died. It is unclear what was the cause of Dr. Hargis’ death, but he died at home, at 109 E. Romana Street. Modeste’s quote gives us a clue that he was likely ill for a long time, and so his death was not unexpected.

It is not clear when Modeste opened her first pharmacy. However, records from the Pensacola City Directory for 1898 (the earliest one available for now) indicate that she was on her own:

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. Source: Ancestry.com

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. J. Whiting Hargis was one of Modeste’s older brothers. Source: Ancestry.com

Just for kicks, I looked at Google Earth to see if the original house or buildings are still at 107-109 E. Romana. Alas, no — only a few modern box-shaped offices and an empty lot.

The Hargis Pharmacy moved around a few times: In 1911, it was located at 8 E. Government Street — the location of Emmett’s office — in the American National Bank Building. I can imagine Emmett stepping out of the office, taking the elevator down to the first floor, to pick up a bottle of Bromo-Seltzer, and his brand of pomade (which I have not been able to figure out yet, but give me time). He could also pick up a bottle of beer or wine there too! Did you know the Hargis Pharmacy also made and bottled beer and wine? It’s true. Pharmacies could do that back then.

Source: Mr.Bottles.com

A variety of bottles (contents unknown) bearing the Hargis Pharmacy embossment. Source: Mr.Bottles.com

By 1916, The Hargis Pharmacy had moved down the street from 8 E. Government, to 203-205 S. Palafox. Still, only a few blocks’ stroll for Emmett, should he need to pick up toiletries, or whatnot.

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste's pharmacy delivered, too! Source: Ancestry.com

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste’s pharmacy delivered, too! 203 S. Palafox, by the way, is still standing. Source: Ancestry.com

Not surprisingly, Modeste was a friend of Minnie Kehoe’s, and, a supporter of women’s suffrage. Both were successful women business owners, too. I can well imagine those two getting together and having quite interesting conversations.

Modeste’s house at 611 N. Barcelona is still standing, too:

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source: Trulia.com

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source: Trulia.com

Modeste spent most of her life as a pharmacist. It is unclear when she sold or retired from business. In 1934, at age 54, she was likely retired at that point, because she is simply listed in the Pensacola City Directory at home.

But she wasn’t idle.

Zora Neale Hurston. Source: Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston. Could Modeste have known her? it’s possible! Source: Library of Congress

Modeste signed on with the Federal Writers Project of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) for the state of Florida. She co-wrote a series of articles that appeared in a variety of publications, including the Florida Historical Quarterly. Interesting — she was probably a colleague of Zora Neale Hurston!

Modeste’s most prolific year was 1939, according to Wordcat.org. She had NINE articles on a variety of topics, including Don Francesco Moreno, and an intensive study of Greek culture in Pensacola.

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer's Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source: Ancestry.com

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer’s Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source: Ancestry.com

Modeste lived with her sister Palmire in the 1940s. Palmire died in 1946; Modeste died in 1948.


That’s a pretty decent sketch of Modeste for now; but there’s still a lot I don’t know about her. I wanted to search in the Library of Congress’ database this afternoon, but it is offline for annual maintenance until August 1.

One reason I want to dig around and discover more about Modeste was this interesting comment by the interviewer in the 1909 article: She was described as a violinist, and a ‘genius in the art of whistling.’

She must have been good at it too, because in 1927, Modeste had her own radio program about whistling!

Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

I wonder what was included in her show! Did she do all the whistling? Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

Emmett definitely had some interesting friends in his life, and which says a lot about Emmett. Getting to know his friends and what they were like helps fill in the blanks about his personal life somewhat — at least until I get my hands on his scrapbooks.

 

Circle of Family: Percy Brockenbrough Wilson

Standard

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.

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. Sons Percy and Frank Jr. were not passengers on this trip. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

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.

Lulie Butler Wilson. A child bride. Source: findagrave.com

Lulie Butler Wilson. A child bride. Source: findagrave.com

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.

Irene Elizabeth Wilson, the first child of Percy and Bonnie Wilson. Source: Findagrave.com

Irene Elizabeth Wilson, the first child of Percy and Bonnie Wilson. Source: Findagrave.com

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.

We don't know the cause of death, but at this time, several Wilson family members had come down with scarlet fever, and Dr. F.C. Wilson had recently gone to Pensacola to help treat Frank Jr.'s daughter, Clara for scarlet fever. Unfortunately, Clara died. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 12, 1903.

We don’t know the cause of death, but at this time in 1903, several Wilson family members had come down with scarlet fever, and Dr. F.C. Wilson had recently gone to Pensacola to help treat Frank Jr.’s daughter, Clara for scarlet fever. Unfortunately, Clara died. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 12, 1903.

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.

Percy was named State Medical Examiner for the Florida first judicial district in 1901. Source: 1901 Florida Secretary of State's Report.

Percy was named State Medical Examiner for the Florida first judicial district in 1901. Source: 1901 Florida Secretary of State’s Report.

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.

A 1910 Brush Runabout. It cost $495. Source: http://www.brushauto.net/

A 1910 Brush Runabout. It cost $495. Source: http://www.brushauto.net/

In 1913, he took a step up to a Hupmobile!

1913 Florida Secretary of State's Report. Percy had a Huppmobile! I'm not sure if the certificate number was the same as a 'tag' number; but I do know you could purchase your car tag for only $1 back then! Source: Florida Secretary of State's Report for 1913.

1913 Florida Secretary of State’s Report. Percy had a Hupmobile! I’m not sure if the certificate number was the same as a ‘tag’ number; but I do know you could purchase your car tag for only $1 back then! Source: Florida Secretary of State’s Report for 1913.

A 1911 Hupmobile. Source: Theoldmotor.com

I couldn’t find a photos of a 1913 Hupbmobile, but here is the 1911 model. Source: Theoldmotor.com

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.

Percy was appointed Postmaster of Sneads, Florida, Marcy 18, 1914. Source: U.S. Appointments of Postmasters, 1832-1971, via Ancestry.com

Percy was appointed Postmaster of Sneads, Florida, Marcy 18, 1914. Source: U.S. Appointments of Postmasters, 1832-1971, via Ancestry.com

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.

Percy had been spending time in San Antonio, in a sanitarium, for tuberculosis. Source: The Pensacola Journal, August 29, 1917.

Percy had been spending time in San Antonio, in a sanitarium, for tuberculosis. Source: The Pensacola Journal, August 29, 1917.

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.

The quote on the headstone says: "We knew no sorrow, knew no grief, till that bright face was missed." Source: Findagrave.com

The quote on the headstone says: “We knew no sorrow, knew no grief, till that bright face was missed.” Source: Findagrave.com

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!

Maxed Out

Standard

Here’s a list of the Wilson children (from oldest to youngest) and my find/contact progress thus far:

  • Maxwell Augustus Wilson (‘Max’) — eleven children, no contacts yet.
  • Cephas Love Wilson (‘Cephas’) — two children; a son and a daughter. No contacts yet with any of Cephas’ descendants.
  • Percy Brockenbrough Wilson (‘Percy’) — three children (twins and a daughter). Have located & contacted granddaughter & great granddaughter of one child.
  • Everard Meade Wilson (‘Meade’) — two sons; both deceased. One son did not have children. Unknown about current descendants.
  • Francis Childria Wilson, Jr. (‘Frank’) — one child, died in infancy. Have located & contacted a nephew on Frank’s wife’s side of the family.
  • Eudora Neely Wilson Smith (‘Dora’) — two daughters; located grandson of one daughter. Waiting to hear back from grandson.
  • Catherine Elizabeth Wilson Meade (‘Katie’) — one son. Have located & contacted granddaughter.
  • Emmett Wilson — never married; no known descendants.
  • Julian Anderson Wilson — one daughter. Have located and contacted the daughter.
  • Walker Guy Wilson — two children. Have located and contacted a grandson.

I think I’ve done pretty well for almost three years’ worth of digging around in an obscure Congressman’s past — I’ve made contact with descendants of most of the original Wilson family members. But I certainly don’t think I’m finished by a long shot.

Augustus Maxwell Wilson, oldest son of Dr. F.C. and Elizabeth Wilson. Source: Florida Memory.com

Augustus Maxwell Wilson, or “Max,” oldest son of Dr. F.C. and Elizabeth Wilson. Source: Florida Memory.com

The obvious gaping research hole in tracking down Wilson descendants is with the oldest child, Max Wilson. And believe it or not, it has been incredibly difficult to find anyone descended from Max Wilson. Eleven children and dozens of dead ends. I kid you not.

And honestly, I haven’t really focused on Max that much. It isn’t that I’m ignoring Max, but I’ve been spending my research time tracking down sources I estimate closest to Emmett during his lifetime; namely, his twin brother Julian, his older sister Katie, his younger brother Walker, and, his law partner, Cephas.

Max doesn’t figure into Emmett’s story that much, mostly because there’s 12 years’ difference in their ages. When Emmett was a boy, Max was already in school, had a job. He wasn’t exactly Emmett’s playmate and peer. I could be wrong, but for now, all information indicates that Max was not around much in Emmett’s formative years.

Augustus Maxwell Wilson was born in 1867 in Pensacola, and died in 1925, in Pasco County, Florida. According to an item on Find-A-Grave, a Times-Herald Obituary reported he died on January 30, 1925, and he was living with his oldest son (that would be Max Jr.) at the time.

Max’s wife, Belle Fannin Wilson, wrote a wonderful family genealogy, which is located in the special collections section of the Miami-Dade Public Library. But in that genealogy, I got the idea that that Max was unstable. Maybe I read it wrong. Maybe a family member can shed some light on it.

The genealogy said Max was a ‘chaser of rainbows,’ and if you look at his career track, you get the idea that Max never really knew what he wanted to do with himself; that when things got really tough, he’d stop whatever he was doing and begin all over again, not weathering the natural ups and downs that happen in any career.

For example, at different times, Max was listed as a bookkeeper, a railroad employee, a farmer, a newspaper owner and publisher, a pharmacist, a postmaster, a salesman. There were other careers he sampled along the way; meanwhile, the many different job switches had to be tough on his large family. No one is taking this man’s inventory at this point; he’s long gone. No one is saying he did a bad thing, changing jobs so often. But, it does look somewhat unstable from an outsider’s perspective.

Max is buried in the Dade City, Florida, cemetery. His wife is not buried with him. It is important to note that Belle was alive at the time of Max’s death — no one wants to jump to any conclusions, but the fact that he was living apart from his spouse is curious. The obituary said he died of a long illness.

Belle Fannin Wilson's genealogy. The original document is in the archival holdings at the Miami-Dade Library.

Belle Fannin Wilson’s genealogy. The original document is in the archival holdings at the Miami-Dade Library.

The genealogy was published by Belle’s son, Francis. That son became a journalist; so, my plan is to locate Francis’ descendants. Journalists and writers tend to keep notes, journals, stories — I’m hoping that Francis did the same.

But 11 children — surely there must be someone of Max’s family out there who holds Wilson memorabilia. Or photos. That would be wonderful.

What trips me up in finding the original Wilson family’s descendants is that several of Dr. Wilson’s children named their sons “Francis”, and then, those children also named Dr. Wilson’s grandchildren “Francis.” Oy. I’ve encountered about 12 “Francis Childrias” in this research project (but no Archibald Emmetts!). In several cases, I can’t tell who belongs to which descendant. It’s nice to honor one’s ancestors, but reusing exact names in a family makes it difficult and confusing for researchers 100 years in the future.


In other news, my street got dug out last night about 10:30 pm. It looks like my dear children will be headed off to school tomorrow! Snowzilla 2016 is now in the history books.

UPDATE: I found the Francis who published Belle’s genealogy; he also became a “Dr. Francis Childria Wilson”; as in, a journalist-turned-Methodist minister.

The kids will be home yet another day, despite the fact the roads have been plowed. DC schools are open, by the way (and I live a mere 1500 feet over the DC-Maryland state line). Go figure. 🙂