Chapter 23: More Anecdotes of Wilson Family in British Honduras

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What I love about Katie’s narrative about her family’s years in British Honduras are the anecdotes. She’s a wonderful storyteller, sharing family experiences in detail. I wish she were still alive — I would love to interview her.

Here’s the fourth page of Katie Wilson Meade’s story:

Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative of the Wilson family in British Honduras. Source: Elizabeth Wilson Howard. Used with permission.

We had a plague of locusts one time while in Honduras; the ‘big” boys and a young uncle visiting from the “States” went out with their machetes and had fun trying to kill them but it was impossible because the things rained down too thick. They stayed only about an hour and disappeared, leaving a few stray ones lying around dead.

Great mahogany trees grew in the forest, and once a native (in the spirit of gratitude to Father for some kindness shown him) carved a beautiful walking cane out of a solid piece of mahogany and presented it to Father. It had a round knob on top and the man shined it up, and it was used in the family for many years. It is now in the possession of my youngest Brother’s son, who is a doctor in Rochester, N.Y.

Another native carved a huge shallow bowl from a mahogany log and presented it to Father, and it was used every day to make bread and biscuits.

Father was commissioned by the English Government to vaccinate the natives against yellow fever. He did this by getting a boat and traveling up and down the coast, the only way to reach them. Some of these people had worked on his place and once he noticed some of Mother’s big silver spoons. He picked them up and said his wife had been wondering where they had gone. There was no protest. They had sense enough to know he was right. They had Mother’s monogram on them.

For this work the Government paid in gold. So when he got home he called us all in to see this gold — large tin box full. I put in both hands and played in it. A child of today would  have to go to Fort Knox to do that!

One interesting occurence was when we moved from our first house to “Big Hill.” Sister had a parrot that could talk. She used to stand and call my brother in a voice exactly like mother’s. Well, the parrot got away and flew into the jungle while the family was busy with their moving. No-one noticed she was gone till they arrived at the new home. Then every one was distressed because Ada (the parrot’s name) was missing. This lasted a week. Then one morning, we were sitting in the house with Mother and we heard the voice calling, “Maxwell, Maxwell” on the same high note that Mother used — but there sat Mother right in the room with us! We hurried out side and there was old Ada on the roof looking down on us with a twinkle in her eye!

Ooooh, lots of background in this page!

This is a page from Dr. Wilson’s father’s will, which was written while several of Emmett’s family had emigrated to British Honduras. Several Wilson brothers are still in the U.S., namely Cephas Jr. (not Emmett’s brother, but yet one of many Cephases in this family) who ultimately moved to Virginia), William, and Walter or Walker. 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

  • I contacted Walker Wilson’s grandson about the walking cane anecdote, and copied Katie’s memoir to him as well. He knows the story, and said as far as he knows, the cane still exists. It was given to Dr. John (Jack) Wilson of Rochester, New York. I have not been in contact with the John Wilsons of Rochester yet; I haven’t been able to locate any descendants.
  • “Big Hill”, the second Wilson home, is a bit of a mystery. I found this reference to Big Hill, but no reference to the Wilsons. Interestingly, there is a “Wilson Road” leading to Big Hill, but because there were many Wilsons in Belize, it isn’t clear which Wilson family is attached to the name of the road:

Big Hill is a resort in Belize today. But since the family story is that Dr. Francis Wilson only had a part ownership, was this perhaps a Wilson family compound? Another mystery unfolds in Emmett Wilson land….

Hang in there; page five is next.

 

(N.B.: Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard, graciously shared the typed narrative, and has given me permission to share the information. Please note that the original contents and information belongs to Elizabeth Meade Howard.)

Chapter 22: The Wilsons in British Honduras

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The third page of Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative of her family’s experiences in Toledo Settlement, British Honduras continues.

In yesterday’s post, the Wilson boys, Frank Jr. and Percy, went on an illicit Sabbath fishing trip:

Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative of the Wilson family in British Honduras. Source: Elizabeth Wilson Howard. Used with permission.

Father quietly turned to Percy and got the truth!

Frank got a good whipping for his lie. Percy didn’t because of his truth. Alas, it came later in the day — from Frank!

Father practiced medicine on horse-back, day and night riding through the jungle on trails cut through. There was only one real road, and that was up to Belize [the city]. It was a rugged business but he was rugged too! The four years of war did that! He (and others, of course) carried a conch shell and when they were uncertain where they were on a dark night they would blow into the shell and get an answer from the nearest home.

I can remember my brothers answering him on the kind of shell they kept for that purpose. In this way he kept on the trail and always got home safely, even on the darkest night.

Occasionally, in the day he would see monkeys playing in the trees over his trail. One day he saw them swinging across the trail from tree to tree holding the tails of those in front. Once one of them jumped down on the back of his horse and scared the poor thing nearly to death.

Another time he was returning home and saw a red mountain lion coming down from the mountain to his place. His cattle had been disturbed lately and now he knew what  had been after them. He called to one of his sons to bring his rifle. When the lion got close enough he shot him.

Another time he came home and found a big snake curled up in a large pit in the back yard. Again he used his rifle and killed him. The snake measured nine feet and was as big around as father’s thigh. We were never allowed out in the yard without an older member of the family with us because of the jungle. My mother heard wild animals scratching themselves against the house at night while she sat alone waiting for the “Doctor” to get home. The jungle grew very fast and had to be cut back at least once each week or it would have been up to our very doors.

The moon and stars seemed very close and they were larger and brighter then than they are in this country. Once, I recall my father waking me in the night and carrying me to the window and showing me a big gleaming light with a flaming tail — a comet. He said I would probably never have a chance to see another; which I haven’t!

This happened in the 1880s, so you may be able to place the comet. John Kieren could tell you.

This page has great information!

First, Katie gives us an image of the Wilson home truly in the middle of a wild, untamed, dangerous jungle. I can only imagine what it was like for Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson to raise children in this environment, and that Katie’s family found it preferable to living in post-Civil War America. There were some amenities, I have the feeling it would be similar to long-term camping.

Second, when Katie talks about the house being a plantation, one has the image of a huge white mansion similar to what the Wilsons knew during pre-Civil War days. The plantation house in Toledo Settlement had a thatched leaf roof — a clue that the building was not Tara from Gone With the Wind. (The Bocawina National Park in Belize has a photo of a modern thatched roof which is similar to what it would have looked like in the 1880s.) True, the house could have been large, but it definitely was not a mansion.

Another thought — if Elizabeth Wilson could hear animals rubbing up against the outside walls of the house at night while she waited up for Dr. Wilson to return home, the house could not have been a huge building with thick, insulated walls. This plantation was likely a modest house.

Third, the red mountain lion shot by Dr. Wilson might have either been one of the two lions mentioned in this overview of big cats in Belize: A puma or a jaguarundi.

Fourth, the comet! It was probably the Great Comet of 1882, which was reportedly easily visible to the naked eye.

Great Comet of 1882 as photographed by David Gill, Cape Town. Source: Wikipedia

Finally — John Kieren! I have no idea who this gentleman is, although I am looking for the connection to Katie. Likely this was not someone who knew the Wilsons when they lived in British Honduras, but rather a colleague of Katie’s.

The Wilson family saga in British Honduras continues tomorrow!

(N.B.: Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard, graciously shared the typed narrative, and has given me permission to share the information. Please note that the original contents and information belongs to Elizabeth Meade Howard.)

Chapter 21: Katie’s Memories of British Honduras

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We continue with the second page of Katie’s narrative of her family’s years in British Honduras. There’s a lot of good information on this page, specifically related to the Wilsons  settlement in Punta Gorda.

The second page from Katie’s narrative. Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard; used with permission.

This place was situated on a creek named after some Englishman — Joe Taylor! There was a great building called the “Mill House”  and I can remember dozens of big barrels of brown sugar standing under that shed. They were there waiting to be hauled to Belize and shipped to the U.S.A.

An early recollection is of the sugar cane being cut down with machetes (a sword-like knife that every man carried all the time on account of wild animals). The cane was rolled in to bundles and carried by the native workmen to the “Mill-house” to be ground. These Caribs were a mixture of American, and Spanish and spoke a sort of “pidgeon” (stet) Spanish.

Their women-folk were the house servants. One of them dropped me from her arms down a flight of steps and broke my collar-bone.

The Caribs fed the sugar-cane in between large metal rollers which squeezed out the juice, and was kept rolling by being hitched to a pair of oxen that walked round and round all day long. This juice ran down into a metal basin and was boiled until it thickened into syrup, then it was run through an evaporator– starting as syrup and coming out as brown sugar.

With the aid of Julious (stet) Payne, an Englishman from the old country, and two brothers, Beers, from Montreal, Canada, our parents started a little Episcopal Church on the edge of the Plantation. Mr. Payne, who was my Godfather, was also the lay leader, Organist, and general handy-man around the Church. A very fine fellow and friend of all the “Big” boys. He later married the lady who was my Godmother, a native of British Honduras.

We were supposed to keep the Sabbath holy, but sometimes slipped a bit, as the following incident will show.

My brother, Frank, loved to fish. So one Sunday he persuaded Percy, the angelic one, to go fishing with him. They went down to the creek and had marvelous luck! When time came to go home they were afraid to take the fish home, it being Sunday. Old Frank was not going to throw back his good fish, so he strung them on a line which he tied to a tree and let them float in the stream.

Monday morning came and the boys asked permission to go fishing. They went but did not stay nearly long enough. Father knew they had not stayed long enough to have caught that many fish, so he accused Frank of catching the Sunday, which Frank stoutly denied!

Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Frank, Percy, and the Illegal Fishing Expedition, which continues tomorrow!

 

(N.B.: Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard, graciously shared the typed narrative, and has given me permission to share the information. Please note that the original contents and information belongs to Elizabeth Meade Howard.)

 

Percy’s Funeral

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On March 10, 1918, Emmett’s older brother Percy Brockenbrough Wilson died of tuberculosis.

Percy’s death, as reported in The Chipley Banner, March 1918.

 

Percy’s death, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1918, Vol 70, No. 14, page 1025. Source: Google Books

Percy was only 46 years old, a well-respected and admired community physician.

 

The quote on the headstone says: “We knew no sorrow, knew no grief, till that bright face was missed.” Source: Findagrave.com

Percy’s funeral was held one hundred years ago today, March 12, 1918, in Sneads, Florida. It was likely well attended by most of Percy’s family, although I wonder about Emmett’s attendance. If I could find a copy of the obituary from any of the Jackson County, Florida archives, it would tell us who was at the funeral. But according to the holdings records of the Library of Congress, and the holdings records for institutions that have archived Jackson County, Florida newspapers, a copy for this particular date doesn’t exist. (Percy’s descendants apparently don’t have a copy of the local obituary either — at least, not one known to them at this point. At least we have two obituary sources that provide some information — that’s better than nothing!)

Emmett was in end-stage alcoholism only weeks away from death, and mostly shunned by his siblings. Several articles from The Pensacola Journal mention Emmett’s presence at different local activities, so we know he was ambulatory and getting around, but may not have been in any condition to attend the funeral.

I tend to think family members may have simply asked Emmett to stay away.

And Emmett, who himself shunned family dramatics, who himself probably didn’t want to face his family members anymore, would have complied.

Something New

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I signed up to be an election judge this year, for the November 8 general election. The training is rather easy: You read the materials the election board provides, then take an exam. If you pass the examination, you’ll be contacted later for an in-person classroom training session.

Interestingly, I’ve discovered in Emmett’s research that three of his brothers — Percy, Frank Jr. and Meade — served as precinct judges, monitors, or managers in different state and national elections for years. Max didn’t; neither did Cephas, Meade, or Emmett, as they were candidates themselves, or served in some elected/appointed capacity (for example, Emmett was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney in 1906), which would disqualify them. But, they could have served as an election judge, at least up until the time they decide to run for office, as did Meade Wilson, below:

Meade Wilson was an election judge, at least up until the point he ran for office in 1909. Source: The Pensacola Journal, April 1909.

Meade Wilson was an election judge, at least up until the point he ran for office in 1909. Source: The Pensacola Journal, April 1909.

Here’s the outcome of that election:

The Pensacola Journal, May 2, 1909.

The Pensacola Journal, May 2, 1909.

Circle of Family: Percy Brockenbrough Wilson

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Emmett’s brother, Percy Brockenbrough Wilson, was born in Holly Springs, Marshall County, Mississippi, on October 25, 1871.

 

Percy was the fourth son of Dr. Francis C. and Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, only about 18 months after the Wilsons moved from Pensacola to Holly Springs. As discussed elsewhere in the blog, the Wilsons moved to Belize in 1875, hoping to rebuild the fortunes the family had lost during the Civil War.

Percy was about four years old when he and his family emigrated to Central America. There is very little information about his childhood — except that we know he was considered ‘the angelic one’ of the Wilson children!

According to a narrative written many years later by Percy’s younger sister, Katie Wilson Meade:

Percy and Frank Jr. decided to go fishing on a Sunday, which wasn’t allowed (Katie said her parents preferred to dedicate Sundays to church and related activities). The boys snuck off to a river, caught at least half a dozen fish, and kept them on a line in the water, until the next day, Monday.

The next day, the boys asked their father permission to go fishing. When they returned, he knew they hadn’t been gone long enough to catch that many, and so asked them directly if they had gone fishing on Sunday. Frank said no. Percy said yes. Dr. Wilson knew that Percy was not one to tell lies, and so Frank received a punishment (a spanking). Katie tells us in the narrative that Frank later got even with Percy (we aren’t sure what happened, but she hints that it involved fisticuffs).


Sometime around 1882, when Percy and Frank were 12 and 13, respectively, their parents put them on a steamer for a two-week trip through the pirate-infested Gulf of Mexico headed for New Orleans. Percy wanted to become a doctor like his father; the Wilsons knew the small settlement schools in Belize were fine for primary education, but as the Wilson children got older, the teachers were not equipped for the higher grades. That’s when the Wilsons made the tough decision to send their children back to the United States for schooling.

Percy and Frank Jr. were sent to Pensacola via the port of New Orleans, where Elizabeth’s father, Judge Maxwell, would take care of them, and where they would attend school.

This plan only lasted a few years: The Wilsons didn’t like the idea of sending more of their children back to the U.S. It was a difficult, dangerous trip for a child on his or her own; also, they didn’t like being separated from their children for so long, and at such a great distance. Finally, the sugar plantation in which Dr. Wilson had invested his family’s savings was not doing well. The family decided to cut their losses, and return home.

Manifest of the passengers on the City of Dallas, June 1884. The Wilsons only had a few trunks of possessions and clothing to take back to the United States, not much more than they had brought with them on the original trip to British Honduras back in 1875. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

Manifest of the passengers on the City of Dallas, June 1884. The Wilsons only had a few trunks of possessions and clothing to take back to the United States, not much more than they had brought with them on the original trip to British Honduras back in 1875. Sons Percy and Frank Jr. were not passengers on this trip. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

When their parents emigrated back to the U.S. in 1884, they reunited with their sons in Pensacola; then moved to Chipley, where Dr. Wilson established his practice.

Eventually, Percy would attend medical school in Mobile. Frank would attend school in Pensacola, and eventually get a job with the L&N Railroad.

Percy graduated from the Medical College of Alabama (which was in Mobile) in 1895. He established practice in Sneads.

Lulie Butler Wilson. A child bride. Source: findagrave.com

Lulie Butler Wilson. A child bride. Source: findagrave.com

He married Lulie Butler in June, 1897.

Lulie Butler Wilson died October 23, 1897, only 17 years old. Percy’s great-granddaughter once told me that the family story is that she died in childbirth — which is possible — I tend to doubt it because they were only married four months. Of course, she could have been pregnant when she married Percy, but we’ll never know.

A news item in The Chipley Banner makes me think it was most likely tuberculosis, which was a problem in West Florida at the time. (Interestingly, tuberculosis is what eventually killed Percy, and several other Wilson family members too). Percy was devastated by her death.

Percy remarried in 1900, to Bonnie Bessie Stapleton. They had six children: Irene, Elizabeth, Percy Jr., Bonnie Jr., Katie, and Robert. Interestingly, Percy and Bonnie were twins!

Their first child, Irene Elizabeth, was born November 20, 1900.

Irene Elizabeth Wilson, the first child of Percy and Bonnie Wilson. Source: Findagrave.com

Irene Elizabeth Wilson, the first child of Percy and Bonnie Wilson. Source: Findagrave.com

An article in the February 12, 1903 issue of The Chipley Banner mentions that one of Percy’s children became critically ill in February, 1903. The child is not named in the paper, but it was Irene.

Percy brought Irene to Chipley from Sneads in the hopes that his father could help treat her, but unfortunately, the child died on February 6, 1903, and was taken back to Sneads for burial.

We don't know the cause of death, but at this time, several Wilson family members had come down with scarlet fever, and Dr. F.C. Wilson had recently gone to Pensacola to help treat Frank Jr.'s daughter, Clara for scarlet fever. Unfortunately, Clara died. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 12, 1903.

We don’t know the cause of death, but at this time in 1903, several Wilson family members had come down with scarlet fever, and Dr. F.C. Wilson had recently gone to Pensacola to help treat Frank Jr.’s daughter, Clara for scarlet fever. Unfortunately, Clara died. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 12, 1903.

An aside: There’s still no vaccine for scarlet fever (today called ‘scarletina’, which originates from strep-A bacteria), but it is treated with antibiotics. Interestingly, in the early 1900s, scarlet fever itself wasn’t always deadly , but it often led to other more serious illnesses, such as meningitis, pneumonia and/or kidney or liver failure.

Percy led the typical Wilson family life: Active in community service and politics, effective in his chosen profession.

Percy was named State Medical Examiner for the Florida first judicial district in 1901. Source: 1901 Florida Secretary of State's Report.

Percy was named State Medical Examiner for the Florida first judicial district in 1901. Source: 1901 Florida Secretary of State’s Report.

Apparently, he did well enough in his rural practice to purchase an automobile. In 1910, according to a record in Florida Memory.com, Percy owned a Brush Runabout.

A 1910 Brush Runabout. It cost $495. Source: http://www.brushauto.net/

A 1910 Brush Runabout. It cost $495. Source: http://www.brushauto.net/

In 1913, he took a step up to a Hupmobile!

1913 Florida Secretary of State's Report. Percy had a Huppmobile! I'm not sure if the certificate number was the same as a 'tag' number; but I do know you could purchase your car tag for only $1 back then! Source: Florida Secretary of State's Report for 1913.

1913 Florida Secretary of State’s Report. Percy had a Hupmobile! I’m not sure if the certificate number was the same as a ‘tag’ number; but I do know you could purchase your car tag for only $1 back then! Source: Florida Secretary of State’s Report for 1913.

A 1911 Hupmobile. Source: Theoldmotor.com

I couldn’t find a photos of a 1913 Hupbmobile, but here is the 1911 model. Source: Theoldmotor.com

After Emmett became a U.S. Congressman, in 1914, he had Percy named Postmaster for Sneads, Florida. The postmastership was a plum political appointment in the early 1900s — it was a sinecure, and, depending on the size of the postal grade of each district, paid between $1800 to $2400 a year. That was big money, given the average income of a family of four was between $400 and $600 a year.

Percy was appointed Postmaster of Sneads, Florida, Marcy 18, 1914. Source: U.S. Appointments of Postmasters, 1832-1971, via Ancestry.com

Percy was appointed Postmaster of Sneads, Florida, Marcy 18, 1914. Source: U.S. Appointments of Postmasters, 1832-1971, via Ancestry.com

Yeah, this was definitely nepotism, but Emmett was also doing it because Percy was failing.

The one letter I have from Emmett to his sister Katie Wilson Meade, dated summer of 1913, states that Emmett had had a letter from Cephas telling him that they feared Percy had tuberculosis, that Percy was not doing well at all. By 1914, Percy was probably not practicing medicine anymore; he was that ill.

Percy had been spending time in San Antonio, in a sanitarium, for tuberculosis. Source: The Pensacola Journal, August 29, 1917.

Percy had been spending time in San Antonio, in a sanitarium, for tuberculosis. Source: The Pensacola Journal, August 29, 1917.

I think the writer was being kind in the article, because Percy’s health never improved, and he died of tuberculosis on March 10, 1918.

The quote on the headstone says: "We knew no sorrow, knew no grief, till that bright face was missed." Source: Findagrave.com

The quote on the headstone says: “We knew no sorrow, knew no grief, till that bright face was missed.” Source: Findagrave.com

What’s great about Percy’s story is that I have been in contact with his descendants; specifically, his great-granddaughter!

Although the descendants report that they don’t have any anecdotal information or photos of Percy, I think this brief essay paints a pretty of the man who was Emmett’s big brother.

I’d love to have more anecdotes, and even photographs, if they exist, to include in Percy’s story, and to share with his descendants. We never know — the photos may come to light one of these days!