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.

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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.

 

 

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Chapter 23: More Anecdotes of Wilson Family in British Honduras

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What I love about Katie’s narrative about her family’s years in British Honduras are the anecdotes. She’s a wonderful storyteller, sharing family experiences in detail. I wish she were still alive — I would love to interview her.

Here’s the fourth page of Katie Wilson Meade’s story:

Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative of the Wilson family in British Honduras. Source: Elizabeth Wilson Howard. Used with permission.

We had a plague of locusts one time while in Honduras; the ‘big” boys and a young uncle visiting from the “States” went out with their machetes and had fun trying to kill them but it was impossible because the things rained down too thick. They stayed only about an hour and disappeared, leaving a few stray ones lying around dead.

Great mahogany trees grew in the forest, and once a native (in the spirit of gratitude to Father for some kindness shown him) carved a beautiful walking cane out of a solid piece of mahogany and presented it to Father. It had a round knob on top and the man shined it up, and it was used in the family for many years. It is now in the possession of my youngest Brother’s son, who is a doctor in Rochester, N.Y.

Another native carved a huge shallow bowl from a mahogany log and presented it to Father, and it was used every day to make bread and biscuits.

Father was commissioned by the English Government to vaccinate the natives against yellow fever. He did this by getting a boat and traveling up and down the coast, the only way to reach them. Some of these people had worked on his place and once he noticed some of Mother’s big silver spoons. He picked them up and said his wife had been wondering where they had gone. There was no protest. They had sense enough to know he was right. They had Mother’s monogram on them.

For this work the Government paid in gold. So when he got home he called us all in to see this gold — large tin box full. I put in both hands and played in it. A child of today would  have to go to Fort Knox to do that!

One interesting occurence was when we moved from our first house to “Big Hill.” Sister had a parrot that could talk. She used to stand and call my brother in a voice exactly like mother’s. Well, the parrot got away and flew into the jungle while the family was busy with their moving. No-one noticed she was gone till they arrived at the new home. Then every one was distressed because Ada (the parrot’s name) was missing. This lasted a week. Then one morning, we were sitting in the house with Mother and we heard the voice calling, “Maxwell, Maxwell” on the same high note that Mother used — but there sat Mother right in the room with us! We hurried out side and there was old Ada on the roof looking down on us with a twinkle in her eye!

Ooooh, lots of background in this page!

This is a page from Dr. Wilson’s father’s will, which was written while several of Emmett’s family had emigrated to British Honduras. Several Wilson brothers are still in the U.S., namely Cephas Jr. (not Emmett’s brother, but yet one of many Cephases in this family) who ultimately moved to Virginia), William, and Walter or Walker. Source: Ancestry.com

The Simeon Maxwell family sailed out of Belize on the E.B. Ward, Jr., into the port of New Orleans on October 22, 1879. Emmett’s grandfather left about this time as well; Emmett’s parents would stick it out until 1884, when they pretty much had lost everything in the failed sugar plantation venture. Source: Ancestry.com

  • I contacted Walker Wilson’s grandson about the walking cane anecdote, and copied Katie’s memoir to him as well. He knows the story, and said as far as he knows, the cane still exists. It was given to Dr. John (Jack) Wilson of Rochester, New York. I have not been in contact with the John Wilsons of Rochester yet; I haven’t been able to locate any descendants.
  • “Big Hill”, the second Wilson home, is a bit of a mystery. I found this reference to Big Hill, but no reference to the Wilsons. Interestingly, there is a “Wilson Road” leading to Big Hill, but because there were many Wilsons in Belize, it isn’t clear which Wilson family is attached to the name of the road:

Big Hill is a resort in Belize today. But since the family story is that Dr. Francis Wilson only had a part ownership, was this perhaps a Wilson family compound? Another mystery unfolds in Emmett Wilson land….

Hang in there; page five is next.

 

(N.B.: Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard, graciously shared the typed narrative, and has given me permission to share the information. Please note that the original contents and information belongs to Elizabeth Meade Howard.)

Chapter 20: Katie’s Story About British Honduras

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Katie Wilson Meade, June 23, 1936, Bluemont, Virginia.

Although Emmett mentioned in an interview that he was too young to have any real memories about what his life was like when he lived in British Honduras (he was two years old when his family emigrated back to the United States), his sister, Katie Wilson Meade, wrote a narrative about her memories living in British Honduras, and I have copies of the pages, thanks to Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard.

For the next several posts, I’ll let Katie tell the story. (Please note that the information in the text following is a verbatim personal narrative of Katie Wilson Meade, and is not reflective of the views of this blog’s author.)

 

Page one of Katie Wilson Meade’s story of her childhood in Belize, British Honduras. Published with permission of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

In 1878, I was born in a thatched house (thatched with palm leaves and other leaves I can’t recall) on a sugar plantation in Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras, Central America.

The plantation was named “Big Hill.” My parents were Doctor Francis Childria Wilson and Elizabeth Virginia Maxwell. Father was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, and removed at an early age, to Mt. Hebron, Alabama. His parents acquired a cotton plantation on which prospered so well they finally had 3000 acres. His father had a good many slaves at the time of the War Between the States, and at that time he gave my father a negro boy named Jim. Jim went through the whole war with his young master and many times managed to get food for them both when they were in sore need. Much later in life I was privileged to visit this old plantation and actually saw five of the old slaves. One white-haired old fellow swept off his had and bowed nearly to the ground, calling me “little Missy.” It was quite an experience for me.

Augustus Emmett Maxwell, Emmett’s grandfather.

Mother was born in “Oakfield,” her father’s country home outside Pensacola, Florida. Her father was a lawyer and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Florida. This man rode on horse-back from his home in Florida to the University of Virginia. While there, he married a girl named Sarah Roane Brockenbrough, daughter of a Proctor of the University. Judge Maxwell was in U.S. Congress before the War, and later resigned to become Senator in the Confederate Congress. He held 16 different public offices in his state.

Now to Honduras — My father practiced Medicine after the War in Mississippi until a group of sons of some cotton planters decided to go to Central America and he joined them. They sailed to Balize (now spelled Belize) and from there looked over the plantations. Father bought one near Punta Gorda. He had an overseer who ran the place while he practiced medicine. They raised sugar cane and made brown sugar which was shipped in big barrels to the United States to be refined.

A little bit of conflicting information from the last two posts about Dr. Wilson and property ownership, isn’t it? Even though we have a sworn statement from Katie’s brother, Francis Jr., that Dr. Wilson never relinquished his American citizenship, the fact Katie claims he owned British property when one had to be a British citizen makes me wonder….

Of course, Katie wrote this reflection at least 30 years after the event, so she may not have had all the facts straight. Still, her personal recollection is the only one I have (so far) unless another one turns up.

Stay tuned for the second page.

 

(N.B.: Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard, graciously shared the typed narrative, and has given me permission to share the information. Please note that the original contents and information belongs to Elizabeth Meade Howard.)

 

 

His Death Came “As a Great Shock”

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Here’s another new-to-me clipping discovered through routine checking of updated databases:

Pensacola_Journal_1920-08-05_9

Obituary of Emmett’s father in The Pensacola Journal, August 9, 1920

Emmett’s father’s obituary contains interesting information.

For example, even though Dr. Wilson had been ill for several days, his death may have been unexpected, as it was a ‘great shock.’ Dr. Wilson’s death information (from a second source) mentioned he had blood poisoning, but it didn’t indicate the source of the infection. My colleague, Donna the Nephrologist, told me that blood poisoning (also called sepsis), can turn deadly rather quickly if not treated immediately, and perhaps those treating Dr. Wilson didn’t realize what it was he had at the time.

FYI — Dr. Wilson wasn’t “officially” practicing medicine anymore in 1920; he’d retired several years earlier (before Emmett’s death in 1918) because of poor health related to a heart condition.

There’s an error in the obit:

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He was related to the Maxwells by marriage.

This part is rather confusing — actually, Dr. Wilson was married to Elizabeth Virginia Maxwell, the daughter of Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell (Emmett was named for his grandfather). Elizabeth died in 1891, when Emmett was eight years old. (I’m not sure where the obituary writer got the idea that Dr. Wilson was a son of Maxwell’s half-sister, but it just goes to show that one has to read the old clips carefully, and check the facts.)

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

The surviving wife (as mentioned in earlier posts) was Kate Langley Jordan Wilson, whom Dr. Wilson married about 18 months after Elizabeth’s death.

By this point, Dr. Wilson had lost three of his sons: Meade Wilson, Dr. Percy Wilson, and Emmett. Percy and Emmett died in 1918.

The last item about the sugar plantation in British Honduras has been also mentioned in earlier post, and it does cause some confusion, because at the time the Wilsons were living in Central America, the British government did not allow foreigners to own their property — and so, Dr. Wilson would have had to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown (thus revoking his American citizenship, which meant Emmett [born after the family moved to British Honduras] was a British subject, and therefore should have been disqualified from serving in Congress).

But I have seen family records stating Dr. Wilson never gave up his American citizenship, and Emmett once stated in an interview that his father only owned ‘a share’ in the plantation — not full ownership.

Still, the issue has always made me wonder. In fact, one reporter once shared in an interview that if you really wanted to piss off Emmett, ask him about whether or not he thought he was truly an American citizen or not, given his birth in British Honduras. Emmett would routinely fly off the handle and give a reporter hell about the question.

Emmett doth protest too much?

 

Dr. Wilson and the U.C.V. Reunion, July 1908

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A scan from a limited production book, A Treasury of Family Heritage, compiled and edited by Martha B. McKnight. Copyright 1992 by Milton Dekle Everette. Copy provided by Joan Chance.

That’s Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, and acquaintances prior to a reunion for Confederate Army veterans in Scottsville, Virginia. Dr. Wilson and his friends boarded the train from Chipley on or about July 19, 1908 to attend the reunion, which was held July 21, 1908.

Family records indicate that Dr. Wilson was, in fact, wearing his original wool uniform on that hot, humid day. Duty and honor to the memory of their fallen comrades over comfort, I suppose.

Panoramic photograph of the rally and reunion of Confederate veterans in Scottsville, Virginia on July 21, 1908. Source: Scottsvile Museum

Here’s a direct quote about the reunion courtesy of the Scottsville Museum website:

An entry in the Minute Book of Henry Gantt Camp No. 75 describes the reunion’s beginning as follows: “The line formed in front of Town Hall and marched to the grounds just outside the village where a large crowd of people of the town and surrounding county had gathered to greet the veterans.  Hon. W.D. Patteson delivered the address of welcome, after which Judge R. T. W. Duke (of Charlottesville) in his usual bright and happy style introduced the Hon. Capt. Micajah Woods (of Charlottesville, formerly a lieutenant in Jackson’s Battery of Horse Artillery), the principal orator of the day.”

Dr. Wilson was a member of the 11th Alabama Infantry. While he would have likely attended reunions in Alabama, his family was originally from Lunenburg County, Virginia. A reunion in nearby Albemarle County would have provided a great opportunity to visit siblings and other relatives.

Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson. Officially, Dr. Wilson was a private during his service in the Confederate Army, but family records indicate he earned a brevet promotion on the battlefield. No one is sure who chiseled the “PVT” from the plaque, but we know it wasn’t Emmett.

Dr. Wilson played an active role in the Camp McMillan Chapter of the United Confederate Veterans. He attended several other reunions, notable one in New Orleans, and attended regular meetings. Minutes were often posted in the local paper.

Proceedings from a UCV meeting in Chipley Florida, January 1913. Source: The Chipley Banner

 

The Runaway Incident

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Friends, I’m happy to report that I’ve hit a treasure-trove of new information on Cephas Love Wilson, Jr., oldest son of Cephas Love Wilson Sr., Emmett’s closest sibling, law partner, and executor of his estate. I’m thrilled with the amount of information I’ve turned up; not only does it shed light on Emmett’s nephew, but interestingly, it informs the personality of Emmett’s brother. That’s important, because Cephas Sr. was a surrogate father to Emmett, at least until Emmett graduated from law school in 1904.

This is a big find because it confirms my understanding of Cephas Sr.’s behavior, in terms of expectations he had for those he wanted to help him build the Wilson family dynasty. And, it confirms my understanding of the power struggles among the Wilson brothers. More on that later.

First, I’d like to share a very interesting article that I unearthed unexpected the other day — when I was looking for something else, naturally!

Check it out:

Lula was likely scared out of her wits. Cephas Love Wilson, Jr., the baby, was less than a month old. Source: The Chipley Banner, August 25, 1894.

Can you imagine what that must have been like?

Here’s Lula, with a one-month old baby, probably just out for her first drive since she had Cephas Jr. A brand-new mother out with her brand-new baby, probably making calls on friends in Chipley that Saturday afternoon. In fact, Lula, the baby, and Cephas Sr. were on their way to St. Andrews for a week’s vacation. They decided to stop in Chipley for a few days to visit with family, to show off their son.

This was Dr. Wilson’s buggy. Here, Dr. Wilson is posed in front of the Butler house in Chipley, likely on a house call. This is also probably the same buggy that Lula drove when the horse was spooked. Background on this photo: It was a copy given to me by a direct descendant of the Butler family in Chipley; I am not certain who has the original, but there are contemporary prints (large, matted) in existence. I obtained one from a contact in Pensacola, Lucy Gray; I gave that matted print to Emmett’s 99-year-old niece. 

Lula probably put Baby Cephas in a basket, right there in the front, on the floorboard of the buggy. And suddenly — the horse takes off!

The streets of Chipley were not paved in 1894, but they were dirt roads, probably uneven, possibly rutted, especially if she was on or about Main Street, where large wagons and cattle passed through. The short article doesn’t give much attention to the fact that this was a truly dangerous situation, especially with a horse racing through a busy town, over an uneven, hard road. It says, ‘no one hurt,’ but Lula and the baby could have easily been killed.

And I can imagine what this might have been like for Lula: She was probably panicking, her heart racing, calling for help as the horse literally tore down the road. I can also imagine Lula anxiously pulling back on the reins, desperate to slow the horse, while frantically trying to keep the basket steady with her feet. “Dear God,” she must have prayed out loud, “please keep us safe!

We don’t know if Lula was able to stop the buggy herself, or if some of the townsmen chased and eventually overtook the buggy, escorting them back to the Wilson’s house on 6th Street. It seems most likely that a Good Samaritan helped her, though; she would have been frightened out of her wits, maybe unsteady, and appreciative for assistance in case the horse was spooked again on the way home. It also seems likely that the Good Samaritan told the tale among the neighbors once all was back to normal, and word got back around to the editor of The Chipley Banner.

And, in later days and weeks, as she held Cephas Jr. close to her, perhaps rocking him to sleep at the end of the day, Lula would probably reflect back to this moment.

Before I found this article, I have long believed that Lula and Cephas Jr. always had a close relationship; i.e., Cephas Jr. wasn’t a ‘Mama’s boy,’ but he and his mother they shared many interests, and had a good rapport. (Interestingly, I don’t this was the case between Lula and Kathleen Wilson, Cephas Jr.’s younger sister.) Now that I’ve seen this, I wonder if this near-miss helped foster the protective, close relationship Lula always seemed have with Cephas Jr.

I’d love to hear from any of Cephas Jr.’s descendants about this.

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I’ll continue my report on the new information about Cephas Love Wilson Jr. over the next few days.

 

June 23, 1891

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Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson.

On June 22, 1891, Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, returned to Chipley, and his family, after a four-month separation. Dr. Wilson had been in Kentucky, attending medical school for one semester, to obtain a now-required medical credential so that he could continue to practice medicine in Florida.

The separation was a hardship for the family. The family was dependent on Dr. Wilson’s salary, and his absence meant money would be tight for awhile. Also, it meant Elizabeth would single-parent 10 children, manage Dr. Wilson’s medical practice (maintaining records, paying bills, providing nursing services when necessary, and so forth), and run the household. But Elizabeth was resilient and strong. She was not a stranger to difficult situations; I’m sure she told Dr. Wilson that she would manage just fine, everyone would pitch in, and not to worry. Things would be back to normal in only a few months.

And indeed, on June 23, 1891, things seemed back to normal for the family. That morning, Dr. Wilson immediately resumed his medical practice.  He hitched his horse to his buggy, packed his medical bag, and invited Elizabeth to come along with him as he made his rounds in Chipley.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

I imagine Dr. Wilson wanted to spend some quality time with Elizabeth, as they rode out together in the buggy along the dirt roads of Washington County, on that warm, sunny day in June.

We can imagine Elizabeth catching Dr. Wilson up on all the family activities and news. Theirs was definitely a love match — I imagine them talking about how much they missed each other. It is easy to imagine Dr. Wilson telling his beloved Elizabeth that would make it up to her for keeping everything together so well all by herself, especially now that he was home for good.

Midday, Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth rode into downtown Chipley, and stopped at a drugstore, to get a cool drink. One of the storekeepers brought the drink out to Elizabeth — she drank it — then collapsed, unconscious.

Dr. Wilson took Elizabeth immediately to the nearest house, where the neighbors put Elizabeth in bed right away.

Despite all his best efforts, Elizabeth never regained consciousness; she died several hours later.

It is not known what Elizabeth drank at the drugstore. Some family members believe she died of an aneurysm, but because an autopsy was not performed, the cause of death was not conclusive.