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.)

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Chapter 22: The Wilsons in British Honduras

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The third page of Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative of her family’s experiences in Toledo Settlement, British Honduras continues.

In yesterday’s post, the Wilson boys, Frank Jr. and Percy, went on an illicit Sabbath fishing trip:

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

Father quietly turned to Percy and got the truth!

Frank got a good whipping for his lie. Percy didn’t because of his truth. Alas, it came later in the day — from Frank!

Father practiced medicine on horse-back, day and night riding through the jungle on trails cut through. There was only one real road, and that was up to Belize [the city]. It was a rugged business but he was rugged too! The four years of war did that! He (and others, of course) carried a conch shell and when they were uncertain where they were on a dark night they would blow into the shell and get an answer from the nearest home.

I can remember my brothers answering him on the kind of shell they kept for that purpose. In this way he kept on the trail and always got home safely, even on the darkest night.

Occasionally, in the day he would see monkeys playing in the trees over his trail. One day he saw them swinging across the trail from tree to tree holding the tails of those in front. Once one of them jumped down on the back of his horse and scared the poor thing nearly to death.

Another time he was returning home and saw a red mountain lion coming down from the mountain to his place. His cattle had been disturbed lately and now he knew what  had been after them. He called to one of his sons to bring his rifle. When the lion got close enough he shot him.

Another time he came home and found a big snake curled up in a large pit in the back yard. Again he used his rifle and killed him. The snake measured nine feet and was as big around as father’s thigh. We were never allowed out in the yard without an older member of the family with us because of the jungle. My mother heard wild animals scratching themselves against the house at night while she sat alone waiting for the “Doctor” to get home. The jungle grew very fast and had to be cut back at least once each week or it would have been up to our very doors.

The moon and stars seemed very close and they were larger and brighter then than they are in this country. Once, I recall my father waking me in the night and carrying me to the window and showing me a big gleaming light with a flaming tail — a comet. He said I would probably never have a chance to see another; which I haven’t!

This happened in the 1880s, so you may be able to place the comet. John Kieren could tell you.

This page has great information!

First, Katie gives us an image of the Wilson home truly in the middle of a wild, untamed, dangerous jungle. I can only imagine what it was like for Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson to raise children in this environment, and that Katie’s family found it preferable to living in post-Civil War America. There were some amenities, I have the feeling it would be similar to long-term camping.

Second, when Katie talks about the house being a plantation, one has the image of a huge white mansion similar to what the Wilsons knew during pre-Civil War days. The plantation house in Toledo Settlement had a thatched leaf roof — a clue that the building was not Tara from Gone With the Wind. (The Bocawina National Park in Belize has a photo of a modern thatched roof which is similar to what it would have looked like in the 1880s.) True, the house could have been large, but it definitely was not a mansion.

Another thought — if Elizabeth Wilson could hear animals rubbing up against the outside walls of the house at night while she waited up for Dr. Wilson to return home, the house could not have been a huge building with thick, insulated walls. This plantation was likely a modest house.

Third, the red mountain lion shot by Dr. Wilson might have either been one of the two lions mentioned in this overview of big cats in Belize: A puma or a jaguarundi.

Fourth, the comet! It was probably the Great Comet of 1882, which was reportedly easily visible to the naked eye.

Great Comet of 1882 as photographed by David Gill, Cape Town. Source: Wikipedia

Finally — John Kieren! I have no idea who this gentleman is, although I am looking for the connection to Katie. Likely this was not someone who knew the Wilsons when they lived in British Honduras, but rather a colleague of Katie’s.

The Wilson family saga in British Honduras continues tomorrow!

(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 21: Katie’s Memories of British Honduras

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We continue with the second page of Katie’s narrative of her family’s years in British Honduras. There’s a lot of good information on this page, specifically related to the Wilsons  settlement in Punta Gorda.

The second page from Katie’s narrative. Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard; used with permission.

This place was situated on a creek named after some Englishman — Joe Taylor! There was a great building called the “Mill House”  and I can remember dozens of big barrels of brown sugar standing under that shed. They were there waiting to be hauled to Belize and shipped to the U.S.A.

An early recollection is of the sugar cane being cut down with machetes (a sword-like knife that every man carried all the time on account of wild animals). The cane was rolled in to bundles and carried by the native workmen to the “Mill-house” to be ground. These Caribs were a mixture of American, and Spanish and spoke a sort of “pidgeon” (stet) Spanish.

Their women-folk were the house servants. One of them dropped me from her arms down a flight of steps and broke my collar-bone.

The Caribs fed the sugar-cane in between large metal rollers which squeezed out the juice, and was kept rolling by being hitched to a pair of oxen that walked round and round all day long. This juice ran down into a metal basin and was boiled until it thickened into syrup, then it was run through an evaporator– starting as syrup and coming out as brown sugar.

With the aid of Julious (stet) Payne, an Englishman from the old country, and two brothers, Beers, from Montreal, Canada, our parents started a little Episcopal Church on the edge of the Plantation. Mr. Payne, who was my Godfather, was also the lay leader, Organist, and general handy-man around the Church. A very fine fellow and friend of all the “Big” boys. He later married the lady who was my Godmother, a native of British Honduras.

We were supposed to keep the Sabbath holy, but sometimes slipped a bit, as the following incident will show.

My brother, Frank, loved to fish. So one Sunday he persuaded Percy, the angelic one, to go fishing with him. They went down to the creek and had marvelous luck! When time came to go home they were afraid to take the fish home, it being Sunday. Old Frank was not going to throw back his good fish, so he strung them on a line which he tied to a tree and let them float in the stream.

Monday morning came and the boys asked permission to go fishing. They went but did not stay nearly long enough. Father knew they had not stayed long enough to have caught that many fish, so he accused Frank of catching the Sunday, which Frank stoutly denied!

Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Frank, Percy, and the Illegal Fishing Expedition, which continues tomorrow!

 

(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.)

 

Henry Lee Bell Photograph Collection

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In the University of West Florida Archives, there’s a wonderful collection of more than 20,000 photographs of everyday Pensacolians between 1911 and 1949.

Henry Lee Bell opened photography studio in 1911 in Pensacola Florida. Used to be partnered with George Turton. Was Turton & Bell around 1900 to about 1911, when they separated into their own businesses. Bell’s studio operated until around 1949. Both considered excellent photographers, ability to capture the real person on film.

And, surprise, I found these photographs:

Francis C. Wilson Jr. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

Francis C. Wilson Jr. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

May McKinnon Wilson. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

Two separate poses of Emmett’s older brother, Frank Jr., and one of his wife, May McKinnon Wilson, of Pensacola. There’s a strong resemblance between Frank Jr. and Emmett, if you compare their photos.

I have a few photographs of Emmett’s father, as well as Emmett’s twin brother Julian in his later years. There’s strong resemblance among the Wilson menfolk, and so we get a hint of what Emmett might have looked like as an older man.

So, in five years of compiling research and artifacts to tell Emmett’s story, the only family member I don’t have a photograph of is Emmett’s older brother Percy Brockenbrough Wilson. Percy was a physician who lived in Sneads, Jackson County, Florida. I have reached out to a few of Percy’s descendants, but unfortunately, they do not have any photographs of him. Perhaps one may turn up as the search (and the writing) continues!

Emmett, Texter

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Did you know that Emmett got his professional start texting (of sorts) for a living?

True. And if you think about it, telegraph operators were early ‘texters.’ (Here’s a great history of telegraphing — see the first half of the article for details about the importance of the telegraph in our society.

Emmett Wilson’s first “official” job was as a general, all-around assistant at the Chipley, Florida Pensacola & Atlantic train depot, sometime around 1894. Working for the railroad was not just a family tradition among the Wilson men; it was today’s equivalent of a kid interested in space working for NASA.

And Emmett was a kid, starting out at the bottom of the railroad depot job hierarchy, at about the same age as his older brothers Frank Jr. and Meade. Working for the railroad was important; and, if Emmett was willing, he’d rise up the ranks to a professional position, as did Frank Jr. and Meade, who were now conductors. (Emmett once told a reporter that he once dreamed about working for the railroad so that he could run along the tops of the cars while they were in motion, en route to faraway, more interesting places than Chipley. Early on, Emmett probably saw working for the railroad as a means to an end.)

Emmett was more than willing. He was super ambitious from the get-go — his eye was on the telegrapher’s job — a coveted and critical communication position that served not only the messaging for the community, but the telegrapher often conveyed critical transportation data up and down the rails.

After a year or two proving himself capable around the depot, Emmett eventually became expert with Morse code, and was tapped to train as a telegrapher, and by age 17, was managing small depots along the P&A line.

Emmett was 17 when he was dispatched to run small-town train stations on his own, which included the telegraph. Source: The Chipley Banner, December 2, 1899, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s full-time career with the railroad was over within a year, as he would enroll at West Florida Seminary in 1900, to pursue a college degree. He’d fill in at both the Chipley and Marianna train depots now and again, when home from WFS on vacations or weekend visits to supplement his school funds.