Not the Villain

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Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: State Archives of Florida.

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: State Archives of Florida.

Am I going soft on Emmett’s womanizing older brother, Cephas Love Wilson?

A friend who had read this recent essay on Cephas asked me the other day if I had changed my mind about Cephas — did I now view him as less of an antagonist?

I told her it wasn’t so much that as I’ve come to understand him better after studying him for three years.

This doesn’t mean the same thing as agreeing with or liking the guy. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a huge fan of Ceph. He cast a long shadow, had a huge ego, and never let Emmett forget who was the senior partner during their tenure as Wilson and Wilson, Attorneys-at-Law.

From where I sit, the brothers worked well together, but there were epic power struggles between them, with Emmett often landing on the losing side of the battles, and Cephas doing the equivalent of a Gilded-Age head noogie on Emmett more often than not.

But — as I’ve discovered over the past three years of research — Cephas wasn’t always a complete jackass to Emmett. He was also known to be downright generous, kind, and unselfish to his younger brother, when given the opportunity.

A few weeks ago, I was going through my file collection for Emmett’s post-Stetson chapter, and I came across this:

Emmett sworn in mid-June, 1904. But he had already been sworn in the day after he graduated law school back in May, in Jacksonville. What gives? Source: Jackson County (FL) Courthouse

Emmett sworn in at the Jackson County Courthouse, June 14, 1904. But he had already been sworn in the day after he graduated law school back in May. What gives? Source: Jackson County (FL) Courthouse

According to the court record for June 14, 1904, Emmett was sworn in by Judge Charles B. Parkhill ‘to practice law in this Circuit and inferior Courts of the State of Florida.’

Judge James W. Locke. An appointee of President U.S. Grant. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_William_Locke

Judge James W. Locke.Source: Wikipedia

But wait — I knew Emmett and his fellow law school graduates friends left Stetson University the day after graduation (May 25, 1904), took the train to Jacksonville, and were sworn in to the Florida bar upon presentation of their diplomas to the court by Judge James W. Locke.

According to the Stetson University Law School Bulletin for 1904, that was all an aspiring lawyer had to do in order to hang up his shingle — and — I knew that Emmett’s swearing-in in Jacksonville with his fellow graduates is on the record in the Duval County Archives, too.

Emmett presented his diploma to Judge Locke in Jacksonville and was duly sworn in. Source: Stetson University archives.

Emmett presented his diploma to Judge Locke in Jacksonville and was duly sworn in. Source: Stetson University archives.

Did a man have to petition every county in which he wanted to practice law? And if so, wouldn’t that be incredibly inefficient?

I posed this question (and showed the court archive record) to my colleague, the excellent Sue Tindel of the Jackson County (FL) Court Archives. It turns out that all Emmett needed to do was to be sworn in once. What happened in the Jackson County Courtroom that day was something special:

“Actually, the entry read circuit and inferior courts in the State of Florida – not just the Jackson County Bar.  It almost sounds redundant for Emmett to gain admission to the Bar in Duval County and then come to Jackson County and do it again.  Wonder if Cephas had a hand in it and made a big deal about it.

“It would have been a grand kind of thing for him to have his little brother acknowledged by the legal elite – which is what sounds like happened.”

I mention this because I think this would have been something Cephas would have done for Emmett, especially because no one from the Wilson family was on hand to attend Emmett’s graduation ceremony from Stetson University. I haven’t found out why — I do think it is odd, particularly since Emmett was the valedictorian.

Regardless, Cephas and the Wilsons were proud of Emmett’s accomplishments, and I believe this special acknowledgement went far to mend whatever disappointment Emmett may have felt.

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The Company He Kept

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Yesterday, I came across this little article, nothing more than a little snippet from a news roundup about weekly goings-on in Washington, D.C.

Emmett in Washington, D.C., in high-powered company. Source: Genealogybank.com

Emmett in Washington, D.C., in high-powered company. Source: Genealogybank.com

It was something easily overlooked, buried away on the second page of the paper.  Actually, I found it about two years ago, when I was busily collecting anything and everything that had ‘Emmett Wilson’ in it, and filing it away to read/reference later.

Now, three years into Emmett’s research, I now see that it is full of information about Emmett. It speaks volumes to me about Emmett’s ambition, his resiliency, and what he was willing to do to make it big in West Florida politics.

I say all of this because I’ve been in a bit of writer’s funk for the past week. I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter that is going nowhere. When that happens, frustration builds, because I think I should be much further along with the manuscript than I am at present — bla, bla, bla — and then, I have an experience like I did yesterday, of looking back at a seemingly minor and unimportant article, and recognizing important details.

Two years ago, I didn’t (and couldn’t) see the importance of this short article, and now I do.


Why is this little article important? Here’s the back story:

In 1904, Emmett was the valedictorian of the Stetson University Law Class of 1904, a young man full of promise and potential, and energy. He had it made, too. This was a young man who (unlike most of his graduating class) had a job ready to go in his profession of choice upon graduation, a home where he would live rent-free, and powerful and important political contacts to use in fledging his career.

Emmett never had to ‘apply’ for a job at any time in his entire 35-year existence. Seriously.

Emmett never had to scan want ads in a newspaper, or sign up with a placement agency. He never had the experience of sitting in a stuffy reception room, sweating it out with other applicants, perhaps fiddling with his uncomfortable three-inch collar while waiting for his name to be called for an interview. He didn’t have to worry about the interview questions. He really didn’t have to ever worry about unemployment. Must have nice, huh?

Every single job he had was provided to him, by a family member.  No effort (and, so it seems, no significant experience) required.

Once Emmett started whatever job he had, he worked hard. I know this — his work ethic is mentioned several times across his career. We really don’t know what the actual quality of his overall work product was — but it had to have been at least adequate for him to represent clients. He didn’t win every single case, but he didn’t lose every single case, either.

During his first year as an attorney, his cases weren’t all that exciting: Mostly, his clients were either plaintiffs or defendants in lewd cohabitation, bigamy, assumption, partition, and embezzlement cases. My friend, the excellent Sue Tindel (the clerk and archivist of the Jackson County [FL] Court), once commented to me that Emmett was either a fiery, aggressive attorney or there was some influence that got him appointed federal prosecutor in 1907, because his court experience appears limited.

I rather think it was the latter, based on how Emmett was ‘given’ every one of the jobs he ever held — and — given the fact that two years after he graduated from law school, Emmett was jobless, homeless, and having to move back home with his father for a short period.

That must have been a hugely humbling experience for Emmett.


Emmett meets this guy, Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. I wonder if he could have imagined that, 18 months earlier? Source: Biography.com

Emmett mets this guy, Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. I wonder if he could have imagined that, 18 months earlier? Source: Biography.com

Back to the topic of the article in today’s post: Eighteen months after Emmett hit bottom, he’s apparently near the top again, as he is in the company of several highly important political figures in West Florida history, to meet the 26th President of the United States.

It is unclear why this group was in Washington, but one name jumps right out at me: General W.A. Maxwell. That would be Walker Anderson Maxwell, Emmett’s uncle, brother to Evelyn Croom Maxwell (with whom Emmett was a law partner in 1908) of Pensacola, son of Augustus Emmett Maxwell.

There isn’t a lot of information available about Walker, but this is what I’ve discovered so far:

In 1900, Walker was enumerated in the Phillips household, in Marianna, Florida. He was listed as a boarder, and was a bookkeeper by profession. Walker would have known (and seen) his nephews Emmett and Cephas on a regular basis.

Wedding announcement from The Richmond Dispatch, January 15, 1902. There must be an error in the reporting, as Judge Augustus E. Maxwell's actual death was in 1903. Source: Virginia Herald archives.

Wedding announcement from The Richmond Dispatch, January 15, 1902. There must be an error in the reporting, as Judge Augustus E. Maxwell died in May, 1903. Source: Virginia Herald archives.

In 1902, Walker married Emilie Cussen in Richmond Virginia.

I wasn’t able to locate any military service associated with Walker, but then, I found a source that indicated that his title was an honorific often given to members of the Florida governor’s staff.

From the May 21, 1909 edition of The Pensacola Journal. Source: Chronicling America.gove

From the May 21, 1909 edition of The Pensacola Journal.
Source: Chronicling America.gove

Walker Maxwell died in 1909 at age 48. I have a request in for the death certificate; I’m curious about the sudden death. The newspaper’s explanation (above) is worded very much like Emmett’s obituary; an ‘illness’ which, in reality, was not of a ‘short duration’ at all.


I’ll present a quick sketch of the other members of the group listed in the first article in a follow-up post. I remember once reading an article from Emmett’s days at Stetson, when he vocalized great disdain for the hero of San Juan Hill. After I dig around a little bit into these other fellows’ lives, I may be able to figure out why this group of important Florida Democrats would visit Teddy Roosevelt.

For now, I feel the muse speaking to me about the book chapter that’s been driving me crazy this past week.

Intestate Man

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The search for Cephas Love Wilson’s descendants continues.

I had a brainstorm last week about how I might track down the descendants — or, at least where Cephas’ papers, books, and unfinished client work would have gone when he died in 1923: Find his will.

So, I asked my friend, the excellent Sue Tindel (at the Jackson County [FL] Courthouse) about Cephas Love Wilson’s will. Surely a guy like Cephas, who has just been named to the Florida Supreme Court bench, would have planned ahead about the disposition of his law practice in the event of his eventual demise.

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Intestate Man. Source: State Archives of Florida.

Cephas Love Wilson. Intestate Man. Source: State Archives of Florida.

But guess what?

The prominent lawyer-judge-state attorney-mayor of Marianna-president of a local bank… died intestate.

No will.

“Can you believe that?” Sue asked me.

Heck no, I said.

That really surprised me. This was a guy who had it ALL together when it came to his career, his property, his money, his professional life… or, at least that has been the impression I had over the past three years.

Even Emmett, who died almost exactly one year to the day that he wrote his will — and who knew he was on the final spin cycle of life — got something down on paper about what to do with the little personal property he had. I wondered why Cephas didn’t.

Sue told me that he probably left everything orderly, and so it didn’t really matter. It sounds like he didn’t have any outstanding debts. Or, some unacknowledged child out there who might make a claim for support.

Anyway. Sue said that since both of Ceph and Lula’s children were grown and married, Lula received everything. It sounds as if Lula was well provided for after Ceph died.

By 1926, Lula had remarried, and moved to Jacksonville.


 

So, the search for the descendants continues. Next, I’ll put in a request for Lula Wiselogel Wilson’s will. We’ll see where that leads.

In Praise of County Courthouse Archivists

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I spent most of last week in three different courthouse archives: Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Jackson Counties, Florida. I don’t have a favorite. They are all my favorites. Know why?

It isn’t about the records. It’s about the archivists — the unsung heroes and heroines who care for ancient and important court records. They care for these ancient, well-handled books, mostly undigitized.

A small section of court records available at Escambia County Courthouse Archives.

A small section of court records available at Escambia County Courthouse Archives. There’s no online ‘index.’ It is good old-fashioned, hands-on research.

The records tell the story of who really runs things in county politics. The ladies I met, the keepers of the archives, are the people who know the interesting stories to read in the heavy court records from 100 years ago.

Escambia
I’d waited over a year to get into this building. If you recall, my first visit to Pensacola was the week after a hurricane hit, and the archive had sustained flooding and other damage. Thankfully, the records were fine.

I spend the entire first day in the Escambia County Court Archive with my friend Nancy. We were on a quest for five specific trials featuring Emmett as prosecutor. In each of these five trials, Emmett reportedly gave eloquent, moving speeches to the juries. I wanted to read what he said, ‘hear’ how he spoke to juries, hear his speech patterns, if you will.

The 'starred' list on the far right? That's where Emmett's case numbers were supposed to be listed. The documents for the specific cases aren't available. Where are they? The mystery continues....

The ‘starred’ list on the far right? That’s where Emmett’s case numbers were supposed to be listed. The documents for the specific cases aren’t available. Where are they? The mystery continues….

Nancy and I found it odd that the details about Emmett’s cases — the five cases I wanted to see were murders he was prosecuting — were not available. He prosecuted the cases. We have the records of the outcome. But what about the testimony itself? What about the stenographer’s notes?

If you hang out all day with archivists, and talk to them about what your research is about, you’ll find empathy for the hard search that is hands-on research, and, great suggestions if what you need cannot be found or is not readily available — which is what they gave us. One suggestion was to go to the federal courthouse downtown. Another was that one of the murder cases may not have been tried in Escambia, but in another jurisdiction — something that was not made clear in the newspaper report about one of the cases.

We came out of the archives with oratory for a few smaller cases, plus other valuable information about Emmett as a prosecutor. We also left having made friends with the ladies of the Escambia County Court Archive. They asked us to stay in touch with them, because one never knew — they may come across something of interest.

Santa Rosa
One of the murder cases Nancy and I continued to discuss the next day piqued our interests. The ladies at the Escambia Archive had suggested that because the name of the defendant Emmett was prosecuting was prominent in Florida politics — and a name still prominent today — it was possible that the case was sealed. “Or,” Nancy said, “maybe it was tried in the next county. Did Emmett prosecute a lot of cases in Santa Rosa?” He did, I said.

We knew the name of the murdered defendant — we looked it up, and sure enough, the guy was buried in Milton, Florida — the seat of Santa Rosa County! We looked at a map — we were only 20 miles away, and decided to go for it!

Santa Rosa County Court Archives. A nondescript building with a lot of valuable information within. Also, wonderful archivists ready and happy to assist researchers.

Santa Rosa County Court Archives. A nondescript building with a lot of valuable information within; also, wonderful archivists happy to assist researchers.

When we came in, we were greeted by two pleasant women, Susan and Margaret, who had me fill out a research request form, and check my identification as a matter of record. When I told them what I was looking for — they knew immediately what I was talking about.

“Oh sure,” Margaret said. “That bunch was always in trouble with the law for decades.”

I could barely contain my giddiness. “Do tell,” we said.

And they did. And they pulled up the electronic file of the 113-year-old case. And there was Emmett’s name all over the document. No courtroom oratory, alas, but a lot of useful information.

On a whim, I asked about another case that had stumped me, that I knew originated in Santa Rosa County involving Frank Penton, who Emmett tried for murder, and who later became sheriff of Escambia County.

“Oh yeah,” Margaret said. “They used to call Frank Penton ‘Doogie.'”

Is it appropriate to hug an archivist? Well, I did. She just laughed, retired to the store room, and brought me several county archival books. “We aim to please,” she said, pleasantly.

Another case of reading through the books page-by-page, but it was worth it!

Another case of reading through the books page-by-page, but it was worth it!

When I finished up, we got the grand tour of the store room — I worry about the books stored there. The building itself doesn’t strike you as permanent when you see it, and in fact, the archive was supposed to move into a more solid facility 10 years ago. We were told that was still the plan, whenever funding gets approved.

Jackson
Sue Tindel, the Jackson County Court Archivist, is one in a million. She’s also someone I’d been corresponding with regularly over a year, and so, when I met her, I’d felt like we’d been friends for a long time.

Obviously, not the original courthouse where Emmett and Cephas worked; but, the current courthouse is on the original site.

Obviously, not the original courthouse where Emmett and Cephas worked; but, the current courthouse is on the original site.

Sue is a fantastic lady. She’s funny, she’s interesting, and she loves history. I was immediately comfortable with her; Sue is the kind of person who, clearly, loves what she does. The documents in the archive are more than simple information resources to her; they are the history of Marianna, all original documents, and I don’t think people realize that. There are so many interesting stories to be found here.

Original court case documents from one of Cephas' cases. Most of the records here featured Cephas rather than Emmett, since Emmett was such a junior lawyer when he lived here.

Original court case documents from one of Cephas’ cases. Most of the records here featured Cephas rather than Emmett, since Emmett was such a junior lawyer when he lived here.

In addition to working all afternoon with her — she gladly sat at a table with me for several hours as we both read through minutes books — she gave me a personalized tour of downtown Marianna. Sue had located where Cephas Love Wilson’s house was back in 1900 (when Emmett lived with him), as well as Ceph’s original office, and his second office, which he built in 1910 (and still standing today).

Cephas built the red brick building, directly across the street from the Courthouse, in 1910. Emmett was not living in Marianna at this time, but, he would have come to Ceph's office. Ceph's law office was on the top floor, right. The bottom floor was a hardware store.

Cephas built the red brick building, directly across the street from the Courthouse, in 1910. Emmett was not living in Marianna at that time, but, he would have come to Ceph’s office. Ceph’s law office was on the top floor, right. The bottom floor was a hardware store.

The corner windows where Ceph's office was located. He and Emmett would have looked out the windows at the Courthouse across the street, probably while waiting for juries to reach decisions.

The corner windows where Ceph’s office was located. He and Emmett would have looked out the windows at the Courthouse across the street, probably while waiting for juries to reach decisions.

Sue took me to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (where Cephas is buried). This is not the same church the Wilsons attended back in the day; that one burned down in the 1940s, and was rebuilt. However, there is a plaque commemorating Ceph’s membership.

Ceph's plaque in St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Marianna.

Ceph’s plaque in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Marianna.

Sue spent the entire day with me. I learned so much about Marianna in the early 1900s, but what’s more, is that I got a real feel for what it must have been like for Emmett to live there. Marianna is a lovely place. The people are friendly to strangers; they are happy to answer questions about the history and love to share interesting details — even ghost stories — about some of the mansions located along Lafayette Street.

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In sum: Three different county court archives. Hundreds of pages read and photographed. Lots of great new information. But most important, many new friends.

My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of the archivists I worked with on this trip.