Bovina, Mississippi; Interesting New Twist

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While I was in Mississippi last week, I had an experience that seems so typical of the research work on Emmett’s story; i.e., I discovered that Emmett’s uncle lived, literally, down the road from my ancestors in Vicksburg at the turn of the last century.

Did they know each other? Maybe.

Emmett’s uncle was Simeon Brockenbrough Maxwell, his mother Elizabeth’s youngest brother. There’s not much information available about Simeon, except that he was born in Tallahassee, lived in Pensacola at the same time as his older sisters Lucy and Elizabeth; and, after his sisters married, he went West to seek his own fortune, in Mississippi.

Bovina, Mississippi, to be exact.

Bovina, Mississippi; a tiny community in Mississippi. Source: Google maps

Bovina: a tiny community in Mississippi. You can be sure it lives up to its name, as there are many cows about. Source: Google maps

That was a surprise. Why? Because my family comes from Vicksburg. What are the odds that Emmett has a close relative that lived about eight miles up the the road from my own relatives?

1900 U.S. Census, Bovina, Mississippi.

1900 U.S. Census, Bovina, Mississippi.

Simeon married Emma J. Overby on November 12, 1873, in Hinds County, Mississippi; they moved to Bovina where he was a farmer. They had several children: Frank, Edward, Julia, John, Georgia, and Emma.

If you look closely at this census, you’ll see that it lists that Emma Overby Maxwell had 10 children, but only six are living. In this census, she’s 42 years old, married for 27 years.

Confederate expats settled in British Honduras with the idea that they would recreate another plantation world. Very few were successful; Emmett's family tried to get a sugar plantation going, but it failed miserably. Source: Amazon.com

Confederate expats settled in British Honduras with the idea that they would recreate another plantation world. Very few were successful; Emmett’s family tried to get a sugar plantation going, but it failed miserably. Source: Amazon.com

Also, notice that her son, Edward was born in British Honduras. That’s interesting!

If you recall in an earlier post, Emmett was also born in British Honduras, in 1882.

When our Emmett ran for Congress in 1912, much was made of the fact that he was born while his parents were in the British colony as ‘temporary residents,’ and he would get all testy when his citizenship would be called into question by members of the press.

I find it odd now that this is the THIRD family set from the Wilson clan that decided to ‘temporarily reside’ in a faraway British colony.

If Emmett were sitting here, I’d say to him: “Bud, your family had lost everything they had, and they were trying to recreate another plantation world in Belize. Own it. One doesn’t just move entire families to an undeveloped jungle when there’s no money, no prospects, just for kicks and grins.” Emmett’s father had to borrow $1,000 from a relative just to move to British Honduras, money he knew he’d be hard-pressed to pay back in his lifetime (it was the equivalent of about $20,000 in today’s dollars).

Temporary residency, my ass.


Simeon Maxwell was someone I hadn’t investigated much simply because he didn’t seem to be a major presence or influence in Emmett’s life.

Simeon and his family left Belize before Emmett was born; they lived in British Honduras from 1875 to 1879. I found the emigration record:

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 1874, when they pretty much had lost everything in the failed sugar plantation venture. 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

Simeon hasn’t been mentioned in family stories or documents other than that he was Elizabeth and Lucy’s brother, and that he moved to Mississippi in his early 20s. He and his family returned to Bovina after their experiences in Belize. But, discovering that he was actually in Belize at the same time as Emmett’s parents, and a few other Wilson relatives was interesting; it reinforced the idea that Emmett’s citizenship might have certainly come into question at one point.

What happened to the Simeon Maxwell family?

St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Bovina, Mississippi.

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Bovina, Mississippi.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything remarkable, other than they moved to Bovina, they were a farming family, they lived their lives, they died here.

Father is Simeon; Mother is Emma O Maxwell. The youngest daughter was also named Emma.

Father is Simeon; Mother is Emma O Maxwell. The youngest daughter was also named Emma. Notice the death dates, and how close they are.

I’ve tried tracking down obituaries to find out what happened to Simeon and his family; if you notice the dates, Simeon and his son John died only within two and a half months of each other. John is only 21. Also, the two Emmas — mother and daughter — died within a few months of each other.

They are, left to right, Emma O Maxwell, Emma the daughter; John, and Simeon. The foot stones have the initials of the deceased.

They are, left to right, Emma O Maxwell, Emma the daughter; John, and Simeon. The foot stones have the initials of the deceased.

I find it odd, but comforting, thinking here’s a direct relative of Emmett who may have known MY direct ancestors.

Bovina (a tiny community in 1900, still tiny in 2015, as it did not even show up on my car’s GPS) is only eight miles down the road from Vicksburg, and considered part of Vicksburg’s micropolitan statistical area. If, back in the day, Bovinians wanted to go shopping for things not found at the local dry goods store (there was only one or two in Bovina), for instance, they’d go to Vicksburg, a larger, bustling, busy port city.

Perhaps my ancestors saw them on the street, doing their shopping. Maybe they smiled at each other, and said hello in passing. I like to think that.

I’ve passed by the exit on Interstate 20 on my way to Vicksburg for years. I’ve never had a reason to stop there before — until now. I’ve found another branch of the family. I hope to discover more about them in my continuing research saga.

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The Illinois Experiment

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Back in the mid-1980’s, when I was a year or so out of journalism school with some experience writing for daily newspapers under my belt, I got the itch to move on to a bigger newspaper market, with a more interesting beat, and more exciting stories to write. Columbus, Mississippi was a nice place to live, and the newspaper, The Commercial Dispatch, was a great paper to hone my skills right out of college, but once I had been exposed to big-city journalism (as I had my senior year at MSU as an intern at the Memphis Commercial Appeal), the small-town reporting routine got tedious.

The Commercial Dispatch. Same building for decades. Source: flicker.com

The Commercial Dispatch. Same building for decades. Source: flicker.com

I was impatient to do bigger, more interesting stories. I asked my editor for more important assignments. She told me that I needed more experience, and some patience to boot. I thanked her for the advice, then started shopping around for another job.

I thought I knew better.

I moved on to a larger paper, but I quickly realized that the ‘bigger, more interesting’ stories often went to reporters with many years of small-town, beat reporting experience. I wound up making some errors that indicated professional immaturity. Clearly, I had a lot of growing up to do in my writing career, and that was only going to happen with time and work.

Even now, I realize that writing is a lifelong skill. A true writer is always learning and sharpening his or her craft, even with 20 or 30 years experience.

I share this because I think this is the lesson Emmett learned too, in 1906, when he was also about a year and a half out of law school, and with some legal experience under his belt. He wanted to be a big shot like his brother: Successful. Rich. Powerful. He was impatient, though, and made a move that slowed his progress up the West Florida political ladder.

Different profession, different century, but it is the same old story. Here’s the scoop.


I came across the following item from the 1905 edition of The Chipley Banner:

Source: The Chipley Banner, 1905

Source: The Chipley Banner, 1905

This surprised me. In tracking Emmett’s career from 1904-06, there was no indication that the Wilson & Wilson law firm of Marianna had clients from Illinois, or had legal business outside of the state … except there was an item in the Pensacola paper in October, 1905, that said Emmett was headed to Illinois for a trip, and would pass through Chicago on his way home. There was no other information about that trip available.

I remembered seeing an item I found over a year ago from the Tallahassee Weekly True Democrat for August, 1906, that said Emmett Wilson, of Illinois, was visiting his friend JTG Crawford. Initially, I thought this was a factual error (or perhaps another man named Emmett Wilson). I’m glad I kept the news item. The timing is excellent: I haven’t been able to account for Emmett for the first six months of 1906, and now, I can.

Initially, I thought this was wrong. Source: Weekly True Democrat, August 24, 1906

Initially, I thought this was wrong. Source: Weekly True Democrat, August 24, 1906

This not only opens up a whole new set of sources to check for information on Emmett’s life, but it also raises more questions:

  • If Emmett’s family’s political/legal/judicial power base is in Jackson/Escambia Counties, why move 1800 miles away from it?
  • If Emmett’s family was strongly Democratic (and important players in the Democratic party), why move to a heavily Republican state to start your career over completely, as a virtual unknown, in a community where you have no family or close friends?
  • Was the work uninteresting, or, was Emmett not given that much responsibility on big, important cases? Were the locals more used to Cephas handling the important cases, and bypassing Emmett altogether?
  • What was in Sterling, Illinois, a small town not much larger than Marianna and at least a day’s travel from Chicago, that would make Emmett pull up roots?

Was it a woman? I strongly doubt it. The local papers were quite gossipy, and into everyone’s business. If he was seeing someone, it would have been mentioned. There wasn’t anyone serious. He was seeing someone in college, but that relationship ended when he graduated.

Would Emmett uproot his entire career for a woman back in the day? Maybe, but it seems to me that, in general, it was the woman who moved to where the man (the breadwinner) lived, not the other way around. Emmett’s career was just getting started. He had little money saved, he didn’t own a house or property. He was in no position to support a wife at this point.

To answer the last question first: What was in Sterling, Illinois?

Source: Robinson Constitution, November 20, 1905

Source: Robinson Constitution, November 20, 1905

Nicholas Van Sant.

I mentioned him in an earlier blog post: Wealthy, older, self-made man who went back to school because he wanted to fulfill a childhood dream, and graduated with Emmett from Stetson in 1904. Van Sant was 56 years old, and lived in Sterling, Illinois.

According to this news report, he also had just been admitted to the Illinois bar in October, 1905. Emmett and Nick were friends in college; they stayed in contact with each other. Nick told Emmett he wanted to start his own law firm. He knew Emmett was smart, he probably also knew Emmett was bored and/or wanted to get out from under Cephas’ shadow, and start over.

Emmett knew that an affiliation with Van Sant was good; he’d be allowed to practice law without the shadow of his successful big brother hanging over him. Also, Van Sant was a successful, well respected businessman, who brought himself up from nothing — he understood Emmett’s struggle to make something of himself. Finally, the political connections, albeit Republican, were not something to discount. Nick’s big brother was the governor of Minnesota.

Win-win, right?

I think it could have worked out well for Emmett if he could have stuck it out. Six months after he had moved to Sterling, this article appeared in the 1906 Chipley Banner:

Source: The Chipley Banner, July 26, 1906.

Source: The Chipley Banner, July 26, 1906.

Emmett’s visit in Chipley lasted longer than one month: He was back in Florida permanently. By mid-September, Emmett moved to Pensacola, where J. Walter Kehoe took him under his wing, and the whole mentorship-with-a-mature-professional routine started over again. This time, with Kehoe, it sticks.


From what I’ve learned, Nicholas Van Sant was an excellent choice as a mentor and/or business colleague. I’m curious about why Emmett lasted only six months with him. Perhaps Emmett was unable to pass the Illinois bar. Perhaps Van Sant was a worse taskmaster and/or business partner than Cephas. Perhaps Emmett was simply homesick for Florida, friends and family.

I think the issue was that Emmett was simply not seasoned enough a lawyer to go into practice with a mature businessman like Van Sant. Here’s a clip from an interview Van Sant gave about his first year as a lawyer (and this is when Emmett would have been working with him in Sterling):

Source: Stand By Magazine, December 12, 1936.

Source: Stand By Magazine, December 12, 1936.

I get the impression that the first year was tough, even though Van Sant was, basically, a millionaire and a business success story. I wonder if Emmett had anything to do with the low earnings that first year. Maybe some mistakes were made, and Van Sant had to cover them.

You can read the entire interview with Van Sant here. It is a great story.


 

I’ll order the Sterling, Illinois newspaper microfilm in a few days to track what was going on with Emmett’s career while in Illinois, and perhaps, we’ll find out what happened between Emmett and Van Sant.