Chapter 25: We began a new life

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Page six of Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative continues from the trip out of the jungle back to civilization. This section picks up from the last sentence of page five in the previous post.

The men walked along side of the wagon, so when the oxen got stubborn the men yelled and lashed them with long raw-hide whips — But nothing doing! They wouldn’t move!

At last, a native worker made great balls of mud and pushed it up their noses and they struggles so hard they pulled us out!

We went from Punta Gorda to Belize that way. We boarded a ship in Belize, going up a rickety ladder hung over the side. It was a sailing vessel going to New Orleans.

The trip took about a week. It was here that I saw my first train, as it huffed and puffed into the station, the steam coming out from both sides and black smoke out of the smoke-stack. It was a fearsome sight to a child raised up to this time in a jungle.

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My mother’s father gave her about 60 acres of land about half-way between Pensacola and Tallahassee, and we built a new house on it and began a new life. Father practiced medicine in the little town and for forty or fifty miles in the surrounding country. He was available day and night, from a baby case to small-pox to yellow fever. He would off a man’s leg one day and pull his tooth the next!!

A much beloved “family doctor,” whose chief interest in his life were his patients and his family of ten children — eight boys and two girls. A brave man and a Christian gentleman.

P.S.

Occasional reference to the ‘Big’ boys in this story means the five older boys who were born before either of the girls. My sister, Eudora, was four years older than I; then came a pair of twin boys, and last, my youngest brother, Walker. All these married in due course of time, except Emmett Wilson, the Congressman.

There are so many nieces and nephews scattered around in Florida I cannot tell the names, nor where they live.

When I was born the natives working on the Plantation came in to see the ‘picayune bambino’ and from that day to this I was called “Pic;” all the folks in Florida still use that nick-name — in Miami, where I visit each year the friends of Eloise (my niece) call me “Aunt “Pic”. I don’t mind; it reminds me of the old days of long ago.

In the Spring our parents took us all on a little trip to the Sapodilla Keys (Islands), not many miles from the coast of British Honduras where only natives lived. We ran around half clothed and played with the natives and loved every minute of it.

The steamer “City of Dallas,” a ship of the Macheca Line, which ran between the US from 1868 to 1900. This is the ship that carried Emmett and his family back to the U.S. in 1884. Source: http://onewal.com/jpmacheca/mships.html

The “City of Dallas” was a 915 ton steamer that ran regularly between the Port of New Orleans, Belize, and other Carribbean destination, according to the website. The ship’s master at the time the Wilsons boarded for their trip back to the United States was Reed.

Information about the “City of Dallas” from Macheca Fleet.

Katie mentions climbing aboard the steamer by way of a ‘rickety ladder,’ perhaps a rope ladder tossed over the side. Katie and Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Wilson, was about three months pregnant with Walker Wilson in June, 1884, the date of their departure [Walker Wilson was born December, 1884 in Chipley, Florida]. Poor Elizabeth — I hope she didn’t suffer seasickness in addition to morning sickness simultaneously during the week-long voyage between Belize and New Orleans.

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

From New Orleans, Katie said the family took the train to Chipley — it is possible they would not have had to pay for the fare, because Elizabeth’s father, Augustus Emmett Maxwell, in addition to his important political connections, had railroad connections — he was once president of the Pensacola & Montgomery Railroad, and family members could travel free or at a significantly reduced rate. But, it is more likely Maxwell paid for the railroad trip because there are several family sources that state the Wilsons’ sugar plantation investment was not successful (despite Katie’s description of a box of gold British coins in an earlier post).

Even though he was not president of the railroad in 1884, it is likely Maxwell paid the fare for the family because of the financial problems reported at this point in other Wilson family genealogies. Source: Herringshaw’s Encyclopedia, page 626

Here’s another clue that the Wilson family’s finances were in bad shape: Katie said that Augustus Emmett Maxwell gave his daughter, Elizabeth, 60 acres between Pensacola and Tallahassee. We now know that property was in Chipley, Washington County, Florida, and today it is located outside the city limits, on Orange Hill Highway. I wrote about it in an earlier post, here, which explains why I thought Maxwell gave the property to his daughter (and not Dr. Wilson).

Dr. Frank and Elizabeth Wilson’s original home on Orange Hill Road, about 1890. The property was given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, around 1884-1885, and not Dr. Wilson. Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard.

The mystery of who “Aunt Pic” was was finally solved with this page of Katie’s narrative. I’d seen the reference to ‘Pic’ here and there in the genealogies, but I wasn’t sure if that was a reference to Katie, Dora, or even Lula Wiselogel Wilson (Cephas’ wife, and Katie’s sister-in-law), or if it referred to another Wilson relative.

“Eloise”, mentioned in the narrative, was Eloise Smith, the daughter of Dora and W.E.B Smith.

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There’s one more page of Katie’s narrative; stay tuned.

 

 

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.)

 

Chapter 20: Katie’s Story About British Honduras

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Katie Wilson Meade, June 23, 1936, Bluemont, Virginia.

Although Emmett mentioned in an interview that he was too young to have any real memories about what his life was like when he lived in British Honduras (he was two years old when his family emigrated back to the United States), his sister, Katie Wilson Meade, wrote a narrative about her memories living in British Honduras, and I have copies of the pages, thanks to Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard.

For the next several posts, I’ll let Katie tell the story. (Please note that the information in the text following is a verbatim personal narrative of Katie Wilson Meade, and is not reflective of the views of this blog’s author.)

 

Page one of Katie Wilson Meade’s story of her childhood in Belize, British Honduras. Published with permission of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

In 1878, I was born in a thatched house (thatched with palm leaves and other leaves I can’t recall) on a sugar plantation in Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras, Central America.

The plantation was named “Big Hill.” My parents were Doctor Francis Childria Wilson and Elizabeth Virginia Maxwell. Father was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, and removed at an early age, to Mt. Hebron, Alabama. His parents acquired a cotton plantation on which prospered so well they finally had 3000 acres. His father had a good many slaves at the time of the War Between the States, and at that time he gave my father a negro boy named Jim. Jim went through the whole war with his young master and many times managed to get food for them both when they were in sore need. Much later in life I was privileged to visit this old plantation and actually saw five of the old slaves. One white-haired old fellow swept off his had and bowed nearly to the ground, calling me “little Missy.” It was quite an experience for me.

Augustus Emmett Maxwell, Emmett’s grandfather.

Mother was born in “Oakfield,” her father’s country home outside Pensacola, Florida. Her father was a lawyer and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Florida. This man rode on horse-back from his home in Florida to the University of Virginia. While there, he married a girl named Sarah Roane Brockenbrough, daughter of a Proctor of the University. Judge Maxwell was in U.S. Congress before the War, and later resigned to become Senator in the Confederate Congress. He held 16 different public offices in his state.

Now to Honduras — My father practiced Medicine after the War in Mississippi until a group of sons of some cotton planters decided to go to Central America and he joined them. They sailed to Balize (now spelled Belize) and from there looked over the plantations. Father bought one near Punta Gorda. He had an overseer who ran the place while he practiced medicine. They raised sugar cane and made brown sugar which was shipped in big barrels to the United States to be refined.

A little bit of conflicting information from the last two posts about Dr. Wilson and property ownership, isn’t it? Even though we have a sworn statement from Katie’s brother, Francis Jr., that Dr. Wilson never relinquished his American citizenship, the fact Katie claims he owned British property when one had to be a British citizen makes me wonder….

Of course, Katie wrote this reflection at least 30 years after the event, so she may not have had all the facts straight. Still, her personal recollection is the only one I have (so far) unless another one turns up.

Stay tuned for the second page.

 

(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.)

 

 

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, Part IV

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The only information I have about Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson (to date) comes from a narrative written by her youngest daughter, Katie Wilson Meade, and the narrative jumps from the family’s return on a steamer from Belize in 1884 to Chipley, Florida, in 1891.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

During that eight-year period, Katie gives us only a few details about the Wilson’s family life — and she doesn’t mention her mother, except to say that one day, while Katie was being a bit annoying and underfoot, Elizabeth sent her, with older sister Dora and one of the brothers, out of the house for several hours!

Of course, her issues and concerns raising 10 children in the 1880s seem different from my issues and concerns raising four children in the 21st century, but Katie’s comment makes me think that, surely, Elizabeth and I have some thing in common!

Katie’s narrative reveals that Elizabeth spent her life following Dr. Frank Wilson around as he reinvented himself at least four times during their marriage — as medical student, as fledgling physician, as sugar plantation owner, and by 1884, once again starting over, this time in Chipley, Florida, and again, at the advice of Elizabeth’s father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell.

The house and property that were given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, around 1890.

The house and property that were given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, around 1890.

What is also telling in this latest Wilson-family mulligan is that this time, Judge Maxwell deeded 60 acres near Chipley to Elizabeth, and not his son-in-law, Dr. Frank Wilson (despite the fact that Maxwell liked and respected Wilson). By this point, Maxwell wanted to be sure that Elizabeth had something of value to call her own, so that she would not have to continue to struggle for the rest of her life.

It must have been tough for Dr. Wilson to have to ask his father-in-law, again, for help.

 

The Wilson’s new house was built in 1885, and located a few miles south of Chipley (the property today is on Orange Hill Highway. Caring for the family, home, and 60 acre farm was a full time job involving everyone. Katie’s narrative says that education was important in this family: Seven of the 10 Wilson children attended school together in town, all walking to school together. (At this point, the two oldest boys, Max and Cephas, were working and the youngest, Walker, was too young to attend school with the rest of the children.)

And, as expected, money was tight for the Wilsons, as Katie commented on how costly it was for her parents to send seven to school at once (even though the schools were in session only an average of about four months a year, according to county education records for that period).

The most striking item in Katie’s narrative is the abrupt way in which her life was thrown into chaos with the sudden, unexpected death of Elizabeth. Katie was only 12. Emmett was eight.

The narrative does not reveal much in the way of emotion, only details: Dr. Wilson had been away for several months to medical school to obtain a college credential in order to practice medicine in Florida (the state medical association was cracking down on quackery and now required all practicing physicians to have the credential).

The day after he returned, June 22, 1891, Dr. Wilson picked up his practice right away, and took Elizabeth with him on rounds. It was a hot June day.

They stopped at a drugstore in town for a cold drink (Katie doesn’t say what it was). Elizabeth drank the beverage, then fainted. Dr. Wilson tried to revive her, but was unable to do so. He took her to a neighbor’s house, put her in a bed there, and tried for hours to revive her.

Emmett, Katie, and the rest of the children were taken to the house, but were not in the same room as their mother. They may have been allowed to see her; Katie doesn’t say that in the narrative, though.

Elizabeth never regained consciousness; she died the next morning.

Emmett's mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson.

Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson, died on June 23, 1891.


In going through Katie’s narrative, I’ve learned a lot about Elizabeth, but still, there are huge gaps I’d like to fill with actual information rather than my extrapolation from the bits and pieces collected over the past three years: What kind of books she enjoyed? Did she plant a garden? What was it like being a single parent for about six months, keeping house, family, and farm together on her own while her husband was away at medical school that last year?

Some of these questions may yet be answered down the road.

 

 

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, Part III

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We continue with the story of Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson.

In our last post, Emmett’s parents were living in Holly Springs, Mississippi, with six young children, renting a house next to Elizabeth’s sister, Lucy Maxwell Meade and her husband, Everard. The Wilsons has been married almost 10 years, with not much to show in terms of money and professional opportunities. Emmett’s father, Dr. Frank Wilson, was a dedicated and well respected country doctor, having a difficult time making ends meet during in Reconstruction-era Mississippi.

Meanwhile, things were not going well for Dr. Wilson’s parents, Cephas and Emily Wilson and Dr. Wilson’s siblings, who were struggling to keep the homestead (property taxes were high; the Cephas Wilsons has lost almost everything at the end of the Civil War). Survival was becoming an exercise in futility, as money was running out, time was running out. The Cephas Wilson family had few options, and did not relish the idea of becoming homeless.

Charles Swett's Travelogue of 1868. It really is more of a field report of the Confederate expatriates' life in the unsettled tropics. The book is expensive, but, I obtained a copy from InterLIbrary Loan. Source: Amazon.com

Charles Swett’s Travelogue of 1868. It really is more of a field report of the Confederate expatriates’ life in the unsettled tropics. The book is expensive, but, I obtained a copy from InterLIbrary Loan. Source: Amazon.com

Cephas and his sons had come across a pamphlet, Charles Swett’s Travelogue of 1868 (copies are still available today, via Amazon.com), which described a group of ex-Confederates from Mississippi and other Southern states who had fled Reconstruction to settle in British Honduras (now Belize), and recreate a plantation life. The British government wanted settlers who knew how to grow sugar and cotton, and were willing to relocate, establish the crops, and make a good living. Several members of the Alabama Wilson family thought this was a good option, took what remained of their savings, and, in 1869, emigrated to Punta Gorda, British Honduras.

According to an interview Emmett gave in 1913, Dr. Wilson visited his family in British Honduras two or three times between 1870 and 1875. Dr. Wilson’s family managed to get a sugar plantation established, and they offered him a part interest. The British government was also interested in Dr. Wilson relocating to British Honduras, as medical professionals were in short supply. They would pay him well, help him and his family relocate.

Apparently, Dr. Wilson felt the money and opportunity to live among family members, and away from the struggles of Reconstruction far outweighed the struggles the family would face relocating to a jungle with no infrastructure and minimum civilization. Things were that bad for the Wilsons, apparently.

This was not just a situation of being disenchanted over minor things

It was so bad that Dr. Wilson had to borrow $1000 from his father to make this move. I’m certain Dr. Wilson would have talked this over with Elizabeth instead of making this decision on his own. Did they also think to ask for help from Elizabeth’s father, Judge Maxwell, before taking this drastic step? Did they think they had already imposed enough on the Judge’s hospitality to ask for help?

(One source that discusses life during Reconstruction is The Day Dixie Died, by Thomas and Debra Goodrich. It provides good background reading on life during Reconstruction, but it is neither comprehensive nor objective.)

Emmett’s parents must have believed that the economic and political situation in the South was not going to improve, and their best bet was to start over somewhere else, even if that was in a jungle. At least other family members would be there with them.

Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth moved to Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras in 1875.

The Wilsons lived in Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras (now Belize). They emigrated from the Port of New Orleans to Belize City; then traveled by ox cart down to Punta Gorda. There were few roads; this was not an easy move for this family. Source: www.scf.usc.edu

The Wilsons lived in Toledo Settlement, Punta Gorda, British Honduras (now Belize). They emigrated from the Port of New Orleans to Belize City; then, traveled by ox cart down to Punta Gorda. There were few roads; this was not an easy move for this family. Source: http://www.scf.usc.edu

Despite the opportunities to establish a new, independent way of life, it was not easy. According to a narrative written by Emmett’s sister, Katie Wilson Meade, their home in Toledo Settlement was a simple house thatched with palm leaves. An overseer ran the plantation while Dr. Wilson practiced medicine on horseback, traveling from settlement to settlement every day. The Wilsons grew sugar cane and produced barrels of brown sugar, which was shipped to the United States.

Katie’s narrative also describes how no family member was ever allowed to be outside alone; someone would have to carry a weapon on their person at all times because wildcats roamed the jungles, as did boa constrictors (one that was as thick as a man’s thigh was shot in the front yard by Dr. Wilson himself). Katie describes how Elizabeth used to wait up at night for Dr. Wilson to come home after seeing patients; that she could hear large animals rubbing against the side of the house in the darkness. I can imagine how she must have felt, not knowing if the beast outside was capable of destroying the wall that stood between herself and her children, or if perhaps that animal lay in wait for her husband.

There were no schools except what the Wilsons and their neighbors could organize on their own in the settlements; any furniture had to be handcrafted right there on the plantation itself; if it couldn’t be made on the plantation, it had to be imported, which was expensive. Then, getting the imported products from the Port of Belize to Toledo Settlement was a journey in and of itself. Elizabeth was living her life on a frontier, unlike anything she could have imagined doing. It was difficult and challenging; but Katie reports that her mother was always cheerful even in the face of hardships, and if she was worried, her children did not see it.

Elizabeth and Dr. Wilson had three more children while they were living in British Honduras: Katie Elizabeth, born in 1878, and Emmett and his twin, Julian, born one day before Elizabeth’s 36th birthday, in 1882.

During this period, Elizabeth and Dr. Wilson realized that their children needed a more solid education than what they were receiving via community schooling, and they made the difficult decision to send their sons back to the United States. They sent Percy, then Frank Jr. back sometime between 1880 and 1884.

In June of 1884, the Wilsons decided to sell their property and return to the United States. According to Katie’s narrative, there were two reasons her parents chose to give up the plantation in British Honduras: First, it was difficult, expensive, and dangerous sending young boys back to the United States alone, and they missed their sons dreadfully. Second, the sugar plantation was not successful. Dr. Wilson’s father and brothers had all returned to the United States by 1880, because the plantations were not successful.

Elizabeth was three months pregnant when she, along with her two young daughters and four sons climbed up a rickety ladder and boarded the City of Dallas at the Port of Belize, to return to the United States via the Port of New Orleans.

The steamer "City of Dallas," a ship of the Macheca Line, which ran between the US from 1868 to 1900. This is the ship that carried Emmett and his family back to the U.S. in 1884. Source: http://onewal.com/jpmacheca/mships.html

The steamer “City of Dallas,” a ship of the Macheca Line, which ran between the US from 1868 to 1900. This is the ship that carried Emmett and his family back to the U.S. in 1884. Source: http://onewal.com/jpmacheca/mships.html

 

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. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

There’s one more part to Elizabeth’s story, to be continued in a few days.