It is difficult to write about Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, because most of the details of her story are couched in her husband Dr. Frank Wilson’s story. Bear with me as I tease out the details about Elizabeth.
As mentioned in an earlier post, Dr. Wilson started his medical studies at a university, but once the Civil War started in 1860, he dropped out, much to the irritation of his father, and enlisted with the 11th Alabama Infantry.
Dr. Wilson didn’t serve in any medical capacity during the war; he was a regular soldier. He went in as a private; he was mustered out as a private.
In my last post, the letter from Elizabeth is dated February 4, 1865. At that time, Dr. Wilson was still serving in the Confederate Army; I know this because Dr. Wilson’s war record states he was with Lee when at Appomattox when Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. If Elizabeth and Dr. Wilson were serious about each other, I’m sure she would have written about him, instead of the other fellow, “Duncan,” who was not such a great correspondent! The thing was, Dr. Wilson did not know Elizabeth yet, but, he knew her family, because Dr. Wilson’s father and Judge Maxwell stayed in touch with each other over the year.
The family genealogy reports that after the surrender at Appomattox, Dr. Wilson came home to his family in Mt. Hebron, Greene County, Alabama. In Fall of 1865, he went to Pensacola to begin his medical studies as an apprentice to an established physician. Why Pensacola? There was the Medical College of Alabama, in Mobile, likely the school he had started his original studies in 1860. Dr. Wilson probably thought he’d save up and re-enroll. But life — and love — intervened.
I surmise that when Dr. Wilson arrived in Pensacola in Fall of 1865, on the advice of his family, he looked up Judge Maxwell, to renew family acquaintances and to get advice on establishing himself in Pensacola.
He stopped at the Maxwell’s home, Oakfield Plantation, which was six miles north of Pensacola proper. He introduced himself, and, Judge Maxwell introduced Dr. Wilson to his daughter Elizabeth.
Dr. Wilson arrived at Oakfield Plantation with not much more than what he had in his suitcase: Clothing, books, a little money, a lot of heart. He was restarting his medical studies; he didn’t have the means to support anyone other than himself in the Fall of 1865. Logic says that Dr. Wilson, medical student, wouldn’t have been in a position to marry anyone for at least a few years.
But love trumped logic, because the courtship of Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth Maxwell was less than six months.
Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth were married February 22, 1866 at Oakfield Plantation by the Episcopal priest from Christ Church in Pensacola. This was a home wedding, which was sensible: The war had just ended. Money was short, as were dress goods, sugar, and other everyday necessities that were plentiful before the war. It would have been in bad taste to have an ostentatious, showy wedding when less fortunate neighbors were still struggling less than one year after the war.
The Wilsons lived at Oakfield Plantation for almost four years. While they were there, their first son, Max, was born in December, 1866. A second son, Cephas, followed in 1868.
In 1870, the Wilsons are in Holly Springs, Marshall County, Mississippi. They rented a home next door to Elizabeth’s sister and her husband, Lucy and Everard Meade. This was a practical move: There was a need for physicians in rural Mississippi, and, because Elizabeth’s family was there, they wouldn’t be strangers as they started over in a new place.
When the Wilsons arrived in Holly Springs, they didn’t have much other than a few trunks of possessions, and some furniture given to her by Judge Maxwell.
Living in Holly Springs was quite different than living in the spacious Maxwell home in Pensacola, a plantation certainly large enough to accommodate extended family for indefinite periods of time. Elizabeth’s father may have been fine with them staying on forever, and perhaps Elizabeth was fine with staying in her childhood home, too.
I believe Elizabeth would be happy wherever she was, as long as she had her husband and children with her.
She strikes me as the type that might not have been bothered with the struggles she encountered raising a family with little money, and having to be creative with whatever resources she had available. In fact, her daughter Katie writes that Elizabeth was always positive, upbeat, as she taught her children how to playing the piano, often encouraging her children to sing hymns along with her. Katie presents Elizabeth as a joyful parent; resilient, living her life on life’s terms, and not being resentful over whatever might have been had the war never taken place.
The person I think was bothered the most about having to struggle financially for several years was Dr. Wilson. It was very tough going for him and Elizabeth the first years of their marriage; he ministered to patients who probably couldn’t pay him in cash most of the time, and he still had to provide for his family. That must have been frustrating and worrisome for a man who was needed constantly by both his family and his patients. I don’t think Dr. Wilson was able to eat a complete dinner with his family that often, because he was so busy.
If you notice in the 1870 Census, his personal estate is valued at only $180. He does not own property. That $180 was the value of what they had, plus whatever available cash — which probably was not much.
The Wilsons remained in Holly Springs for the next five years; they were active in the Episcopal church, and Dr. Wilson’s medical practice grew. Four more children were born here: Frank Childria Wilson Jr., in 1870; Percy Brockenbrough Wilson in 1871; Everard Meade Wilson in 1873; Eudora Neely Wilson in 1875.
But big changes were coming for the Wilson family: An opportunity came about to rebuild their lives as they once knew them, before the Civil War broke out. It was risky; would Dr. Wilson take it?
Stay tuned for the next installment in a day or so.