Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, Part I

Standard

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!

Advertisements

Recipient Most Likely

Standard

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

Standard

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.