Chapter 31: Doorway to the past

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Friday, May 24, 2014, 1:30 pm, 6th Street, Chipley

Barbara Russell is buckling her seat belt in my van, as I start the engine, and turn up the air conditioning as high as it will go. The heat is rising off the hood of my car in shimmering waves. Even though I parked in the shade, it must be about 140 degrees in this car.

Barbara and I are heading off, after a delicious lunch with her Mother and several local friends, to their home. Once Dr. Wilson’s home. Not really Emmett’s home per se, I tell Barbara: Dr. Wilson’s original house was on land outside of Chipley proper; this house was built right after he remarried.

The fact that she volunteered to ride in my car, me, a total stranger to her until this day, says a lot about her. She’s giving me a chance; she believes in my research to uncover the story of Emmett Wilson, and more to the point, the true purpose of telling his story, which still is elusive to me at this point.

During lunch, I’d told Barbara and the group of ladies who met me at Bailey’s Surf & Turf about my weird ‘message’ from Emmett to tell his story, and the family connections that arose that I’d had no idea were there. No one at the table seemed to think that was strange at all — at least, Barbara wasn’t acting like it.  She seems to understand that ‘something,’ a force beyond my comprehension compels me to work on Emmett’s story. I think several of the local women at the table understood that too.

“Genealogy research can be addictive,” one of the ladies said, in between bites of fried chicken during lunch. “Not everyone would get that.”

And Barbara seems to understand I’m not some kind of crackpot maniac from the vapors of the Internet world, and for that, I tell her how much I greatly appreciate her time and sharing the story of the Wilson-Myers house with me.

This isn’t just a one-way relationship, though. Barbara tells me that for years, they’ve been trying to get the Wilson-Myers house on the National Historic Register. Emmett’s connection, and the prominence of his family in early Florida history will be of tremendous help.

Now known as the Myers-Wilson House in Chipley, Florida. Built in 1895. Photo by the author.

“But the thing is, once the house is approved and listed on the National Historic Register, then we have to allow for tours at specific times in the year. And,” she said, with a grimace, “if the Wilsons had wallpaper with purple and orange stripes back in the day, we have to replicate that as well.”

“Good grief,” I said, grimacing back at her. “How will you be able to sleep in the house, with such loud wallpaper?”

Barbara laughs, then directs me out of the parking lot of the restaurant.

===

Here’s how Dr. F.C. Wilson’s house became the Wilson-Myers House, according to Barbara, and related historic documents:

The Wilson house was built around 1895, after Dr. F.C. Wilson married the widow Kate Langley Jordan. They were married in 1893; it took about two years for the house to be built.

Kate Jordan and Dr. Wilson’s marriage announcement in the Columbus (Ga.) Daily Enquirer. Source: Genealogybank.com

The new Mrs. Wilson had resources; she was a wealthy widow whereas Dr. Wilson, while financially comfortable, did not have spare funds enough for a second home. It is most likely that Mrs. Wilson paid for the construction of the new house.

Dr. F.C. Wilson’s house, about 1895. Photographer unknown. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Meade Howard. The picket fence, tree next to the curb, the cow, and the dirt road are long gone, but most of the house footprint remains the same.

Like the old Lucille Ball/Henry Fonda movie, Yours, Mine, and Ours, this was a merging of large families — maybe not 18 children, but Dr. Wilson had 10, and Kate had two. And notice that this doesn’t look like a large house to shelter 12 children and two adults.

Rest assured, that didn’t happen. In 1895, Dr. Wilson’s oldest children (Max, Cephas, Percy, Frank Jr. and Meade) were mostly on their own. Max was a musician and pharmacist; Cephas and Lula Wiselogel had married in September of 1893, just a few weeks before Kate and Dr. Wilson were wed; Percy was in medical school in Mobile; Frank Jr. and Meade were working for the L&N Railroad.

The daughters Eudora and Katie were almost of marriageable age, but were still in school. According to The Chipley Banner, the Wilson girls were earning teaching certificates for Washington County schools, so were likely in the family home.

The Wilson youngest children, obviously, lived at home: Twins Emmett and Julian, age 12; and Walker, age 8, attending Chipley public schools.

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson had two daughters, Lucille Lavinia Jordan and Catherine Caroline Jordan.

(L to R): Lucille, Kate, and Catherine Caroline (later known as Miss John) Jordan, around 1895.

I guestimate that, in 1895, seven children and two adults lived in the Wilson home. I mention that as I walk up to the Wilson house with Barbara. “There was a sharing of bedrooms, then,” she said. The 21st century iteration of the Wilson-Myers House is not that much different than the original structure. There was a few rooms added to the rear of the house, but not until the mid-20th century. I tell Barbara I have census records from 1900 that tell us who was here five years after Dr. Wilson and Kate Langley Wilson were married.

The 1900 U.S. Census, Chipley, Florida. The notation indicates an enumeration of Chipley town; Emmett’s name has an arrow next to it. There are only five children listed as residents of the Dr. F.C. Wilson home. Source: U.S. Census for 1900, via Ancestry.com

The youngest child enumerated on the 1900 Census was John J. Wilson, listed as a son. The census taker must not have been a local; he or she would have known that the John was actually “Miss John” Jordan. An unusual name for a girl in the late 1800s. Miss John led mostly a quiet life, never married.

The back story of Miss John’s unusual name was that when Catherine Jordan‘s first husband, Dr. John Jordan, died of tuberculosis in Columbus, Georgia, she was so bereft that she had her youngest daughter’s name changed to John, so that her deceased husband’s name was always on her lips. She never got over the loss of her first husband, even after remarriage to Dr. Wilson in 1895.

The Jordan and Wilson families called Miss John  “Johnnie.” Johnnie later attended now defunct Palmer College and obtained a music degree. Miss John supported herself by teaching piano in the Wilson home.

“Miss John was the last Wilson family member to live in the house,” Barbara said, as we walked towards the front door. “She made a few changes to the house, such as added a bathroom in the one of the bedrooms for convenience. She was bedridden towards the end of her life.”

I wonder what it was like for Emmett and his brothers to have two new sisters added to his family after Dr. Wilson’s remarriage. Not to sound cold, but most of the information I have on this remarriage indicated it was one of necessity. Not grand passion.

As such, I don’t believe Emmett and the Jordan girls were particularly close; they weren’t enemies, but they got along because that was what was done. Also, most of the Wilson family documents I have indicate Emmett was closest to his older brother Cephas and sister Katie Wilson Meade. Interestingly, both siblings acted unofficially as mother and father figures to Emmett most of his life.

So, Miss John was probably as much of an enigma to Emmett as he was to everyone else in his life as well.

“I wish this entrance could talk,” I say to Barbara, as I look up at the doorway. Barbara nods. She waits while I take the house in for a moment. Emmett was here, I think to myself. He walked onto that porch, through those doors, how many times in his life, I wondered.

I know many things may have been updated since Emmett stood before this house decades ago, but that doorway is the same; the entrance remains the same. Photo by the author.

I touch the columns on my way in; I imagine Emmett sitting here, leaning against the column, maybe reading a book, writing a letter, or planning his future as a lawyer one day….

I smile at Barbara as she indicates I should go on in. “Feel free to look at anything you want; take pictures of anything you need. I have the historic building application here if you want to look at the paperwork,” she adds, as she organizes papers on a nearby table.

Next: More on the house.

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Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, Part I

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Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, has been an enigma.

Augustus Emmett Maxwell, Emmett's grandfather.

Augustus Emmett Maxwell, Emmett’s grandfather.

Of all the women in Emmett’s life, it is clear that Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson had the most impact. But ironically, it has been hard to find anything out about her.

For almost three years, I hadn’t found much other than she was the daughter of an important judge from Florida; her mother was from an important family in Virginia; she was the wife of an important doctor in Washington County, Florida. There had to be more to Elizabeth than the fact that she was (as many women were back in the day) an adjunct; i.e., someone else’s wife or daughter.

This changed in January, when I met Elizabeth’s great-granddaughter (and namesake), in Charlottesville. I was there to learn more about the relationship between Emmett and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, who was one of Emmett’s closest siblings. Katie died in the 1960’s; today, her daughter Elizabeth, is the keeper of Katie Wilson Meade’s family records.

During our visit, I spent several hours with Elizabeth going through scrapbooks, looking through documents, photographing and documenting everything, when I came across a letter, dated February 4, 1865.

The handwriting was spindly and blotted, hard to read, but decipherable. The paper was thin and fragile. Initially, I didn’t think it was important, because I didn’t recognize any of the names in it. But on the last page, was this:

A letter from Emmett's mother to her stepmother, Julia Hawkes Maxwell.

A letter from Emmett’s mother to her stepmother, Julia Hawkes Maxwell. Bingo!

I gasped when I saw the signature. Elizabeth looked at me and asked if I was OK. More than OK, I said; I was overjoyed! I found a letter written by Katie and Emmett’s mother! I hadn’t expected to find anything about Emmett’s mother on the trip to Charlottesville, and this was gold!.


From the letter, I learned that Elizabeth was very close to her stepmother, Julia.

Julia Anderson Hawkes married into the Maxwell family three years after the death of Augustus Emmett Maxwell’s first wife, Sarah. (When Sarah died, she left Maxwell with three children: Lucy, age 5; Elizabeth, 4; and Simeon, three months.)

According to family sources, Augustus Emmett Maxwell had found love again after Sarah’s death. Julia was, by all reports, a kind, intelligent, loving young woman who took the three Maxwell children immediately under her wing. Elizabeth and her siblings cherished the relationship they had with Julia, and it was mutual.

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson, about 1895.

It is important to note the relationship Maxwell had with his second wife, and the impact on his children, because it is quite different from the relationship Emmett had with his stepmother, Kate Langley Jordan, who came into the Wilson family 18 months after Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson died.

Had Dr. Wilson and Kate Langley Jordan married the second time for love, it might have made a difference for Emmett, and the way he interacted with women later in life. But that’s an essay for another day.

 

Back to Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson. This photo was taken at about the time the letter was written.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

When the above letter was written to Julia, Elizabeth was 19 years old, a young woman; but, the language of the letter strikes me as that of a young girl. She mentions several times that she misses Julia, and wishes she could see Julia. The letter is a little gossipy, a little frivolous. This is not a serious letter; rather, it is one that a daughter would send to a mother, just to let her know what was going on with her while she was away visiting friends. But it is clear in the text of the letter that Elizabeth is a treasured, precious daughter to Julia and Augustus Emmett Maxwell. She refers to Maxwell as ‘her dear, beloved Father,’ and he is an attentive, caring parent, always interested in all of his children’s well being. This was poignant, touching to read; I’ve long suspected that was the relationship between Elizabeth and her father, but it was wonderfully affirming to read about it in Elizabeth’s own handwriting.

The date of the letter is interesting; it is written almost exactly one year before she marries Dr. Francis C. Wilson, and there is no mention of him in the letter he’s not mentioned. But, another fellow is: someone named “Duncan.”  Elizabeth wanted her stepmother to ask him why he hadn’t written her back yet!

At this point, though, it is possible that Dr. Wilson was in the picture, but he hadn’t won Elizabeth’s hand yet. Elizabeth and her family had a home near Oakfield Plantation, about six miles north of Pensacola in the 1860s, and Dr. Wilson was in the middle of his three-year apprenticeship with an established physician in Pensacola. (Dr. Wilson had started his medical school studies in 1860, but left to join the Confederate Army when the Civil War broke out. When the war was over, there was no money for him to go back to medical school, so he took the next acceptable route, which was to study under an established physician for three years; then, Dr. Wilson would have his ‘credential’ — nothing more than a signed letter by the established physician — that Dr. Wilson was competent to practice medicine.)

The Maxwell and the Wilson families were not strangers to each other. In the 1840s, after Augustus Emmett Maxwell married his first wife Sarah, they moved to Mt. Hebron, Green County, Alabama to set up his first law practice — and Mt. Hebron was the location of the Wilson family plantation.

Maxwell did not stay long in Alabama; he and his family moved to Tallahassee in 1845, just before Elizabeth was born. So, Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth would not have been childhood sweethearts, but, Dr. Wilson would have been familiar to Augustus Emmett Maxwell later, when he would come to call on Elizabeth as a suitor.

I’ll have more on Elizabeth in a day or so. Stay tuned!

Recipient Most Likely

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The quest to locate the Wilson family Bible continues. Here’s what I’ve determined so far:

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson, remarried about 18 months after the death of wife Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson. The new mizzus, Kate Langley Jordan Wilson entered the scene. She was a decent person; had no desire to erase the memory of the first Mrs. Wilson, but, clearly, she was now the family matriarch. She had her own family Bible, which she would want on display in the parlor.

The Wilson family Bible, which Elizabeth was the keeper of, was not discarded, but given to one of the older children, who would hold it dear, appreciate it for what it was — a treasured family relic.

Family records were kept in this book; it was also precious from a legal standpoint, as birth certificates were not necessarily issued by states, nor kept on a regular basis, until after the turn of the century. One example from as recently as the 1940s, was when Katie Wilson Meade took her family Bible to obtain a delayed birth certificate for son Everard Wilson Meade, so that he could join the Navy in World War II.

Everard's delayed birth certificate. If you look midway in the document, there's reference to a family Bible as proof of his birth. Source: Ancestry.com

Everard’s delayed birth certificate. If you look midway in the document, there’s reference to a family Bible as proof of his birth. Source: Ancestry.com

When Elizabeth died in 1891, there were several young children in the house. They would not have been given this precious relic. So, that would have eliminated Walker (six years old); Emmett and Julian (eight years old); Katie (12 years old). I’ve confirmed this with family descendants from these four Wilson children.

Turning now to the older children, here’s what I’ve determined, based on research to date:

  • Eudora, the oldest daughter: Dora was 16 when her mother died, and in my view, she would have been an obvious choice to be given her Mother’s Bible, had there not been older siblings already married and settled down. Dora’s grandson has shared with me that while Dora did not receive the Wilson Bible, she did receive the Maxwell Bible. This makes sense: Elizabeth would have been given her family’s Bible by her father, Augustus Emmett Maxwell. Perhaps Dora was given a choice: The Wilson Bible or the Maxwell Bible, and she knew that her mother held the Maxwell Bible especially dear.
  • Maxwell, the oldest son: When Elizabeth died, Max was part of a traveling band, on the road a lot, and generally considered unsettled. He was not yet married. It seems unlikely this precious book would be in his possession.
  • Cephas, the second son: In 1891, Cephas was still living at home but working with W.O. Butler as his law clerk and apprentice. In 1893, eighteen months later, Cephas was a newly minted lawyer establishing a practice in Marianna. He also married Lula May Wiselogel in 1893, three months before Dr. Wilson married Kate Langley Jordan Wilson. Although I have not been able to prove it yet (because I have not located any of Ceph’s descendants yet), it makes absolute sense (to me) that Dr. Wilson would have given the Wilson family Bible to Cephas as a wedding gift, and, symbolically, as a way of carrying on the Wilson family standard.
  • Percy, the third son: When Dr. Wilson remarried, Percy was in transition — he was an apprentice with a local physician, and, preparing to go away to medical school in Mobile. Percy was an unmarried teenager at this time, too. It seems unlikely that Percy would have been given the Wilson family Bible.

The next two sons in the family, Meade and Frank Jr., were teenagers, unmarried, and living at the Wilson home when Dr. Wilson remarried. They were also working with the Louisville & Nashville railroad in various capacities (luggage manager, conductor, and the like). Neither of these boys were home consistently, as they were assigned to different depots along the railroad line now and then. It would seem that Frank Jr., as Dr. Wilson’s namesake, would be the obvious next candidate to have been given the Wilson family Bible, but the timing was off.

It’s true that Frank Jr. could have been given the Wilson family Bible later, after he settled down, married, and had his own family. But, I’ve been in contact with Frank Jr.’s descendants, and they don’t have the Bible.

One other clue that makes me think that Cephas received the Wilson family Bible was a notation I found in Katie Wilson Meade’s correspondence on the recent trip to Charlottesville:

Katie mentioned in a document from the 1930s that she copied a list of the births, marriages, and deaths recorded verbatim from the Wilson family Bible, and she stated that directly on the list. So, Katie did not have the actual Bible. Katie’s granddaughter confirmed that with me.

Katie was in close, regular contact with a few of her siblings and their spouses at that point, though: Frank Jr., Julian, and Lula Wiselogel Wilson, the widow of Cephas. Based on communication I saw between Lula, Cephas, and Katie Wilson Meade while I was in Charlottesville, I believe that Cephas was the recipient of his mother’s Bible.

 

Now, to track down Ceph’s descendants! Wish me luck!

Marriage as Business Arrangement

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I have a lot of papers to grade today, but before I can focus on them, I came across something in Emmett’s research that is quite enlightening.

It is this:

Marriage License of Dr. Frank Wilson and Kate Langley Jordan. Source:  Florida, Marriages, 1830-1993," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/23C7-JXH : accessed 03 Nov 2014), F C Wilson and Kate Langley Jordain, 22 Sep 1893; citing Washington, Florida, United States, p. Washington, Florida, United States; FHL microfilm 000931851

Marriage License of Dr. Frank Wilson and Kate Langley Jordan. Source: “Florida, Marriages, 1830-1993,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/23C7-JXH : accessed 03 Nov 2014), F C Wilson and Kate Langley Jordain, 22 Sep 1893; citing Washington, Florida, United States, p. Washington, Florida, United States; FHL microfilm 000931851

This is the wedding license of Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson and Kate Langley Jordan, Emmett’s stepmother. On the surface, this is simply a vital record of a wedding; but, knowing what I know about the players involved, the document seems to confirm a lot of what I’ve thought about this relationship.

What’s so enlightening?

  • Numerous scratch-out marks on this document. When I see scratch-out marks in an official document, I tend to think the event was makeshift, or thrown together without a lot of planning. That may not have been the case, but still: This was about a marriage — why not take the time and get this right, so the historic document doesn’t look so crappy, and researchers 100 years later won’t think this looks crappy?
  • Her name is misspelled. The misspelled bride’s name on the wedding license is a big deal. Why didn’t this get ‘scratched out’ and fixed, too? Did she not care?
  • The wedding was in Vernon, not Chipley. Why not get married in your own town, where your family and friends can come, too? Kate Jordan was a devout Baptist; her father (now deceased) had been a Baptist minister in Chipley. Surely the local minister could have done this service for Kate; after all, wasn’t it tradition that the service would have been done according to the bride’s preference? I have a hard time thinking that Kate would have preferred a non-church service. Also: There were judges and other officials in Chipley who could have conducted the service, too. Why go to Vernon?

This strikes me as a rush wedding. But what was the rush? She wasn’t pregnant; in fact, there were no more children, although it was possible. Kate Jordan was 20 years younger than Dr. Wilson; Elizabeth seemed to be pregnant regularly every 18 months, so, there weren’t any problems in that department.

What I think happened was that 18 months — or any stretch of time — without Elizabeth around was very hard on Dr. Wilson and this family. Dr. Wilson needed someone — a woman — permanently to step into the maternal role. He still had 10 children at home, five of whom were under 15. Housekeepers and neighbors were helping out, but the family needed a mother figure. Kate Jordan could fit that bill.

Kate Jordan was wealthy; she was also the widow of a doctor, so she knew what life was like married to a community healthcare professional.

And…almost right after the wedding, Dr. Wilson built a new home in Chipley, and the family seems to have stabilized — at least for the time being. That was the effect of Kate Jordan Wilson on the family.

This marriage strikes me as a business arrangement rather than a romantic relationship. I have no doubt Kate Jordan Wilson was a good stepmother to this family; everything I’ve read about her thus far indicates she was a true helpmate for Dr. Wilson, and she was good to the Wilson children. They were not looking for a replacement for Elizabeth, nor was Kate Jordan Wilson wanting to do that, either. Still, even with Kate Jordan Wilson on the scene, the absence of Elizabeth had long-term, long-lasting effects on the Wilson children, especially on Emmett.