Chapter 46: What we call fortuitous

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December 28, 1900, 7:30 pm
Chipley, Florida

“About done in there, Emmett?”

Wade Hampton Blake. Source: findagrave.com

Blake stuck his head around the door of the depot’s back office, where I sat at the telegraph, finishing the report for today’s telegraph messages. The key had been silent for the past 15 minutes or so, a blessing at the end of a busy, 12-hour long shift.

“Yes. Ticket receipts are in the safe, and the mail sorted for delivery. The only issue of note is that several parcels that were due to Mr. Wiselogel are delayed out of Jacksonville,” I said, nodding at the schedule on the clipboard hanging near the station manager’s window. “Mr. Wiselogel knows to expect delivery tomorrow on the Fast Mail.”

Blake nodded, as he scanned the various reports I’d finished and stacked neatly on the edge of the desk. “Well,” he said, as he looked over the papers, then back at me. “I’m going to miss having you around to run the office. No one is more attentive to detail and thorough on the job as you are. Your kid brother’s good — but not the professional you are. Don’t tell him I said that, though.”

Walker and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

I shrugged. My younger brother, Walker, was taking over for me after I left tomorrow with Paul to head back to West Florida Seminary. Walker was also accurate and a good worker — I ought to know, because I trained him. “I’m sure he’ll do a good job, Blake. Besides, I have other plans for the future. Not that I don’t appreciate working here.”

Blake smiled at me. “If I had the opportunity to go to college, I’d have taken it, too.”

I stood up, stretched, and rubbed my eyes. I had been at work since 6 am. I was tired and hungry; I really didn’t want to go home, because the house was still in upheaval since Frank’s arrival three days ago.

I wanted to stay busy and out of the house, away from the drama and tension. I can’t stand either; I wanted to be at work for as long as possible, and to return home only to sleep until the next shift. If I stayed out of the way, appearing only for meals and sleep, I could ease my way through the rest of the Christmas break before I headed back to Tallahassee. Besides: Managing the depot for the past three days meant I had earned a small amount towards my room and board at school for this next semester. Small, but better than nothing.

Blake, sensing my discomfort with the tension at home, had tactfully asked if I wouldn’t mind taking a few more shifts at the telegraph key while I was staying in Chipley, claiming he hadn’t had a break since the holidays.

He was only one of three people in town who knew about Frank; and I knew he would not talk about it to anyone. The only thing Blake had said to me about the incident with Frank was to ask if everything was OK. He didn’t pry. I said it was, nothing more. Blake knew to leave it alone.

I went over to the coat rack to get my jacket. Blake looked over at the paperwork on the desk while I pulled on my coat on and took my hat from the peg on the wall.

“See you tomorrow,” Blake said, as I opened the office door to the waiting room to leave the depot.

“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

===

It was a clear, cold night. Chipley doesn’t have street lights in the way that larger cities like Tallahassee do, but it isn’t a dark walk home from the depot. Businesses across from the depot and along Railroad Street, are well lit, and people still at work even at this hour, the lamp lights from inside the second floor law firms and other business offices casting illumination onto the downtown streets.

As I walked along 6th Street towards home, I looked up at the sky. The stars were out. A first quarter Moon hung crisply in the darkness.

A 1998 photo of comet Giacobini-Zinner, which was reported to have been seen in the skies over North American in the last week of December, 1900. Source: Gary W. Cronk’s Cometography; photo copyright 1998 by Michael Jager

Suddenly, I saw a star — a meteor!— shoot quickly across the sky — it was so bright, so quick, and — so suddenly gone. 

My sister Katie — if she was here with me to witness it — would have said it was fortuitous, and an omen. How lucky we were to see it — the luck of witnessing such a phenomenon held deep meaning, she’d say — that the universe was trying to send me an important message.

I studied the sky again. What message would the universe be trying to send me? I knew there would be no trail of the burned-out meteor; no clue that whatever it was that sped through the sky that night even existed.

The moment made me feel a sense of dread, which I tried to dismiss. I’m not superstitious; it was chilly that evening, and so I quickened my pace towards the house.

===

I walked up the path to the front porch of Father’s house. There was only a small parlor light on, which did not cast much illumination onto the broad, wide porch. I knew my stepmother was home, as was Frank; Frank was being cared for in the rear of the house, in Father’s old infirmary.

As I mounted the steps, I didn’t notice that someone else was on the porch, waiting.

“Emmett,” the voice said, from the shadows.

Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, smoking a pipe, taking it easy in the back yard, @ 1895, Chipley, Florida. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

It was my Father, sitting by himself, in the easy chair next to the window, smoking his pipe, alone.

“Father,” I said, as I turned to him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to see you out here.”

“Quite all right,” Father said, puffing his pipe in the shadows. I could smell the smoke of the tobacco he used: Tangy, a hint of cloves. It had a comforting scent.

I knew that my father liked to sit by himself to think, at the end of a long day with patients in his office, and at house calls, and I turned to go into the house. “I’ll see you at dinner, Father,” I said.

“Emmett, just a moment. I’d like to talk to you.”

“Yes, Father,” I said.  I sat down in the chair opposite him; there was a table in between the two chairs. On the table was an ashtray with a pipe rest, an unlit oil lamp, a book, and a letter.

He puffed his pipe and put it on the pipe rest. He sat there for a few moments, not looking at me, not saying anything. He didn’t seem angry or upset; just tired. My father and I rarely had one-on-one private conversations. When we did, it was usually about something significant; ominous. I couldn’t help but have a sense of unease.

“How was your day?” Father asked.

“All right. Busy up until the last hour.”

“You’ve been on duty at the depot since early this morning. You were out before the rest of the house was up.”

“Yes,” I said.  I was never one for a lot of small talk; even this little bit of an exchange made me uncomfortable. I shifted about in my seat giving away my feelings of unease, but Father didn’t seem to notice, there in the shadows where we sat. He seemed distracted.

“Emmett, I’ve spoken to everyone else in the family about the situation with Frank and what lies ahead for our family, and of course, you need to know. The situation is critical. Frank’s not in good health, and yet, it is up to him to decide for himself what he will do.”

“I don’t understand. You’re his doctor.”

Father nodded. There was a fumbling about as he reached for his pipe, and placed it in his mouth again, settling back into the chair.

“His liver seems seriously damaged. But I don’t know the extent of the damage. Earlier today, Dr. McKinnon came in over from Marianna to examine him, at my request …” Father took a deep drag from the long pipe; the tobacco in the pipe bowl glowing bright orange, fading back and forth with his puffing.

“It’s not good, Emmett. McKinnon thinks the damage to Frank’s liver could be fatal without proper treatment. He needs to go to a hospital.”

I looked out at the front yard at that moment. A neighbor walked by at that moment and said hello to Father and me. “Nice evening,” he called to us. I looked over at Father, who projected nothing about this crisis in his body language or expression — so like Father. Even when Mother died…I wondered how Father was able to do that, convey tranquility, steadiness, when facing stress and calamity.  Father hid everything so well.…

“This is going to be tough on the family, but it is tougher on Frank. I’m not just talking about the surgery and the recovery. The real struggle has to do with his addiction. Frank has to stop drinking, absolutely, or he will certainly die within the next five or 10 years.”

“Five or 10 years? I asked. “But any sane man facing that kind of outcome would surely stop….”

“The drink habit affects every organ of a man’s body, including the brain, which makes the drunkard desire liquor above all things. They are, essentially, insane, Emmett. The only cure for survival is to stop, completely.” Father shook his head sadly. “We’ve tried sedating Frank some of the time, hoping that he would give up drinking, ease out of it.  But the only one who can get Frank to stop is himself. That, or die,” Father said, quietly.

“You said he would have to go to the hospital,” I said. “That means taking Frank to Mobile or New Orleans….”

Tuoro Hospital in New Orleans is the best option. The doctors there know how to treat him. In fact, tomorrow, when you go to the depot, I will give you a message to send by telegraph to New Orleans, to a doctor there, alerting him that I will be bringing Frank in a few days, as soon as he can stand the trip.”

“Yes, Father,” I said.

New Orleans — this was a three-day trip by train, and an expensive, lengthy stay away from Chipley for Father. He would not see patients during that time, nor would he run his pharmacy.  Someone would have to be hired to help out, run his pharmacy. This was going to be very expensive; a definite setback, after all the problems Father had had in the past two years, building his office, only to lose it in the Great Fire, then to rebuild it just this past September. And I leave in two days for Tallahassee….

The main WFS building, constructed in 1891; it was then replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

…at that moment I knew, with a sick dread, that I was not going back to Tallahassee.

I looked up at my Father, who had been watching me carefully, in the low light of the porch. I swallowed, and turned away.

“I’m sorry, Emmett. We cannot afford to pay your tuition another year,” Father said. “But it is just as well, since you have a good head on your shoulders. The pharmacy is going well, and we’ll have some money coming in there. I’ve long had you in mind as running the store, ideally as an eventual partner or owner.” 

NO! I thought to myself. Not that. Anything but that….

Father continued: ” I hadn’t though of you taking over quite so soon, but there is no time like the present — so, all you’d need to do is step in, learn on the job.”

No. No more. I couldn’t stand it. I took a deep breath.

“Father. I appreciate your offer, but I don’t want to run the pharmacy. I don’t want to go into business.”

Father tapped the bowl of his pipe into the ashtray on the table.  He sat back and regarded me, in the darkness. I couldn’t read his expression; however, I couldn’t tell as if he was angry, or disappointed.

“But Emmett. We’ve talked about this before; you’ve never said anything to the contrary. And in fact, that was part of our agreement with your going to college, that the formal instruction would be helpful for you in setting up a business…”

Albert Murphree, president of WFS; one of Emmett’s professors. Source: https://president.fsu.edu/president/past-presidents/albert-murphree/

“Yes,” I interrupted Father, “but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize that my real interest is in law. It’s all I’ve been thinking about; I’ve even talked to Professor Murphree about the subjects I’ve been taking, which he tells me will be a fine foundation for law studies one day…”

Father watched me in silence, evaluating me, it seemed, as I spoke. “I see,” he said after awhile. “And how long have you known this?”

“ I think — I think I’ve always known,” I said. “It’s just something I’ve been feeling for a long time, just simmering away deep down. Even in Tallahassee, I was always thinking about the law — that’s why I joined the debate club. Just the ideas,” I said, sitting forward, “I can’t explain it, but I wasn’t happy at school. I was glad, grateful, but it all felt wrong to me.”

“And you want to be a lawyer?”

“Eventually, I want to be a judge, like Grandfather,” I said, breathlessly. “Honestly, Father, it’s all I’ve really ever wanted to do,” I ended.  I was scared, but relieved — it was out there, finally.

“Your grandfather would feel complimented, to be sure,” Father said. “But you don’t have to go to law school. You can do as Cephas did, working as a law clerk for several years, then sit for the bar….”

“I don’t want to do it the way Cephas has. I want to be better. I’m going to be better than him,” I said, in an excited, emphatic rush, that I know my father has never seen about me; he drew back and looked at me with a surprised expression.

“All right,” Father said after several minutes in silence.

“What? All right? You’re all right with this?” I could not believe what I was hearing.

Father nodded, cupping the bowl of his pipe in his hand, watching me carefully.

“Yes, son. But I want it clear: If you want this, you have to get it completely on your own. We will not finance another term at college for you. You’ll be on your own.”

He saw my downcast expression. “No help at all?”

“Let me finish, son. I’m not being hard on you here; but you have to understand that we gave you tuition to study at the university for the purpose of going into our family business, and you’ve decided you don’t want to do it. That was our agreement. And you aren’t upholding your end of the agreement. We are not wealthy, and we cannot be wasteful with resources. If you wish to attend law school, you’ll have to find your own way.”

I continued to sit in silence. 

“Therefore, son, you will need to get out in the world and work a while in an actual business. We will need your help around here, and I can use you at the pharmacy.”

“But Father…I don’t want.…”

“Then you can work at the depot. Or maybe ask around, see if one of the local lawyers needs a clerk. But if you cannot contribute to the expenses in some way, you’ll have to leave.”

“I have no other choices,” I said, tightly.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Emmett. You have many choices before you. But have to plan for both the long and the short term. Long term, you know that you want to go to law school. Short term, you have to find a way to finance that, plan for whatever it takes to get in. I know you, Emmett. I also know you’ve been given a lot of opportunities. These things that are happening — it seems like they are bad, but you have to remember that events are not simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it is what we make of them.

“You’re a lot like Frank in this regard, you know,” Father said, looking at me as he puffed his pipe.”

“What do you mean?” I said, angrily — fearfully. Had Father found my hidden bottle of booze in the boy’s bedroom?

“Only that, like Frank, only you can decide what you want to do with this new opportunity that has come your way. Frank can choose to work hard to change his life. And you can too.”

I excused myself, and left my father sitting on the front porch.

===

When the realization of what happened came to me, as I went into the house and paused in the foyer — I felt as if I were dying inside. I took a deep breath.  At least I did not lose my composure in front of my father.

I was not going to lose my composure in front of my family.

I was not going to lose composure.

I was not going to lose composure.

I took another deep breath.

At that moment, my stepmother came out of the kitchen.

“Oh, good, Emmett. You’re here. Supper will be ready in a few minutes.”

I nodded at her, as she passed by me, and into the dining room.

I could hear the muffled sounds of my family in the dining room, next to the foyer; my stepsisters moving about, dishes and silverware clinking, murmuring of conversation, Mother Kate, my stepsisters in conversation. Frank would not be at the table, of course….

I could feel…Oh God. What I was feeling? It was overwhelming me, the shame, the sorrow, the anger, the frustration, the tightness in my chest. My face felt hot…

Stop it.

Calm down. I don’t know how to deal with these things that I feel so strongly, when they come over me… Stop it. But I cannot stop it. Alien, illogical, disordered things that are Feelings. They have no organization to them; best to ignore them.

But they will not be ignored tonight.

I think, drown them. I thought of my flask, now empty, hidden behind the books in my room. Dammit. Even if I could get to it, what would be the use?

I stood for only a moment on that porch, not knowing what to do.

And then, all I knew was that I had to get out of there.

Chapter 34: In choosing happiness

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May 17, 2014, Montgomery, Alabama, about 3 p.m.

Her eyes.

They are so blue, piercingly blue. I catch my breath audibly. But it isn’t just her eyes that get me —

it is the moment. I can’t believe it.

And in response, she laughs, kindly, cheerfully at me.

I am taken away by the very fact that here before me is the only living connection to the man long dead, the man I want to know more about than anything, the man whose research has consumed me for months. Finally, impossibly it seems, a living connection.

Still speechless I walk towards  Emmett’s niece. She reaches out her hand to me. It is warm, friendly; still holding my hand, she covers mine in both of hers.

“I am so happy to meet you,” I say.  But then, as the intensity of the moment washes over me, “I’m sorry,” I say, turning away slightly, and self-consciously. “I feel like I’m going to cry.”

Carol chuckles as she looks on the counter for a box of Kleenex.

“I’m fine,” I say to her, with a slight chuckle. “I am just so grateful and appreciative of the chance to meet you.”

Jule gestures to the sofa behind a coffee table; she takes the chair on the right; Carol sits next to me.

The first moment is a bit awkward; but Carol says she’s seen the letters and articles I’ve sent Jule, and is amazed at how much information I was able to find about the Wilson family. “We’ve really known nothing about them.”

“And my grandfather’s picture,” Jule says, nodding at the framed sepia-tone photo prominent in the living room. “I’ve never seen a photo of him before. It’s a miracle, really, all of this,’ she adds, gesturing at me, my briefcase, the fact we are all together.

Dr. Wilson on call at the W.O. Butler house, in Chipley, Florida, 1911. Original photo is courtesy of Jule Wilson Perry.

“I have so much more to show you, and to send you,” I say, opening my laptop. Carol leans forward expectantly. I show them the folder on the desktop with several articles from contemporary media that I found a few days earlier. Jule doesn’t have a laptop computer, so my habit has been to print out articles and mail them to Jule, then copy them in email to Carol.

“Two articles are interesting because they talk about your Father,” I tell Jule. “They describe what he looked like compared to Emmett. I was surprised to find out the twins didn’t look anything alike.”

Source: The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. May 29, 1914

And this:

The Daily Northwester, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, February 12, 1913.

“So they were fraternal twins,” Carol said. “And Mama probably got her blue eyes from her father.”

Jule then reaches into an envelope on the table, and hands me a cardboard photograph of three children.

“I’d always thought that the two blond headed boys were the twins, but now we know better,” she says.

Emmett (left), Walker (center), Julian (right), in 1890, taken for New Year’s Day 1891. Source: Jule Wilson Perry, used with permission. Copyright EmmettWilsonbook.com

It is unmistakably Emmett. I turn it over and read the beautiful copperplate handwriting — Emmett’s name is on it, and the year 1891. I smile up at Jule, so full of gratitude and appreciation.

Emmett’s hand is not exactly clenched and not exactly relaxed. Maybe he didn’t like being dressed up with a fluffy bow around his neck, I say to Carol and Jule, who nod in agreement.

“But what’s incredible is Emmett’s expression. Every photo I have seen of him so far is the same look — serious, focused, maybe a little uncomfortable. And here it is again, even as a child,” I say.

Jule says this was the only photo she knew of with the twins together as children, though there probably had been other photos taken of them.

I ask Jule to talk to me about Julian — she’d already told me some things in our correspondence — but I am interested in hearing about Julian’s personality, if he had any hobbies, what he did for relaxation, his relationship with other members of his family.

While she talks, describing her father, she shows me several other family photos, starting with a group photo.

The summer place in Perdido Bay that Frank owned. Left to right: Everard Meade (son of Katie and Emmett Meade), Frank Jr., Katie [behind the dog], Emmett Meade, Julian Wilson, May Wilson (wife of Frank Jr. behind Julian), Jule Wilson Perry about age 11), and Jule’s mother on the end. Photo courtesy of Carol Ballard. Used with permission.

Jule remembers one aunt and uncle in particular, Uncle Frank Jr. (who lived in Pensacola and had a fishing boat) and Aunt Katie Meade (who lived in Virginia with her cousin Everard Meade). Fishing was a very big deal for Julian, she says and that was the thing he liked to do most for relaxation.

Carol says that Jule attended The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s, and that her cousin Everard and Aunt Katie were kind to her; seeing her often when she was in college, so Jule didn’t feel alone so far away from home.

Jule and Julian Wilson in the 1940s. Jule still has that lovely smile.

“The only time I saw my father cry was when he put me on the train from Montgomery to Washington, D.C., to go to school,” Jule says softly, as she hands me a photo of her with her father at a national park taken in the 1940s. “But he was always such a kind, quiet, peaceful man. I can say he was a happy and satisfied man; he loved our family very much.”

One of the packets of clips I sent to Jule a few months earlier included a copy of Emmett’s death certificate, along with two other corroborating reports that his death was directly related to alcoholism. I pull up the digital copy of Emmett’s death certificate on my computer while I ask Carol and Jule about it.

“I don’t remember that I met Uncle Emmett, but then, I was only a six-month old baby when he died,” Jule says, pointing at the date of May 28, 1918. “I might have, but I don’t know.”

The genealogy from Walker Wilson’s grandson mentioned alcohol as a problem with this branch of the Wilson family; but  did Jule know about this?

She shakes her head. “No. And that was probably the big reason why my father never mentioned his twin brother in any kind of conversation.” It wasn’t that Jule thought Julian didn’t love his brother, but it was probably overwhelmingly sad; frustrating. People even today don’t know how to deal with family members who have drinking problems, even with all the science and information available — imagine what it was like over 100 years ago.

Jule closes her eyes, rubs her forehead in thought as we talk about the relationship between Emmett and Julian. I’m worried if this is too much for her. She says no, it’s fine.

“Now that I think about it, with Daddy, it was more what he did not say about his brother than what he said.” She pauses a moment to gather her words carefully; she opens her eyes.

“Truth is, Daddy rarely drank, and now we know there was probably a reason for that. I know that there was also a sadness about Daddy when it came to talking about his family — and he never talked about Emmett, which seemed odd given that they were twins.”

I tell Jule and Carol that my own grandparents never talked about their family either — and I knew that several family members died of alcoholism.

Carol says that her grandfather would have an occasional beer, but only one, and that was it. Jule nods. “I imagine it was because of what he’d seen happen to Emmett.”

In the end, Jule said, it just didn’t seem like Emmett was a positive force in her father’s life, that he wasn’t happy, and perhaps that was behind her father’s choices to distance himself from a relationship with his twin brother.

I imagine this may have been a hard but necessary thing to see, much less live through in any family. I remember that Jule’s experience in social work throughout her career probably helped her understand the logic at Julian’s choice to set this boundary in his family, because there was nothing anyone could do to save his brother. It wasn’t just that Emmett couldn’t help himself — but according to addiction science, saving oneself only works when the addict decides to do whatever it takes to save himself.

“My father chose his family, and happiness, in the end,” Jule said.

And there’s a lot to be said for that.

 

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.

==

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.

===

There’s one more page of Katie’s narrative; stay tuned.

 

 

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:

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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