The George Wilson Story, part Two
Submitted by Martha J. (Kounse) Martin
The Ironton Tribune
July 28, 1938
Editor’s Note: This is the first of three articles on Theodore [George] Wilson, colored, whose life became so much a part of this section of the country that it is aptly included in the History of Lawrence County which Mr. R.C. Hall has been preparing for The Tribune. The second article will appear next Sunday.
After this narrative, Mr. SLOAN said to him, “I have a log house down on the creek (Indian Guyan), move there and clear up some ground and I will do what I can for you!” Father, with a glad heart, rode back to the cabin where he had left us. On reaching the cabin on the DILLON farm, the Ku Klux had been there again, and left word for him to move out. Mr. DILLON placed a guard over the house. Mother prepared supper, father took the old George horse, a quilt and an arm load of horse weeds and went up to a cliff near by and slept there all night.
The next morning, he loaded us all in the one horse wagon and drove to Mr. SLOAN’S farm. On reaching the place, we moved into the little cabin, with its dirt floor. Making a long story short, we began life.
The Ku Klux Klan tried to run us off from there, but Mr. SLOAN gave them to understand they had to let us alone. After four years on the farm of Mr. SLOAN, we moved to Rome. Father rented seven acres of land from L.D. MORRISON.”
We have quoted the above several paragraphs from some notes we asked Mr. WILSON to prepare on his experiences. As they may tell so vividly of that portion of his life and show so well his ability, even after all these years, to relate the events in which he participated.
After his father got settled at Rome, he looked about for means to educate his children. In this he was assisted by the farseeing and philanthropic citizens of Quaker Bottom who made arrangements to provide a school for colored as well as white students. And it was not long before The Board of Education of Rome Township and also that of Union Township was offering schooling facilities for the colored folks. The WILSON children attended some in both townships and had to trudge a long distance through the snow
and cold of winter to avail themselves of this opportunity. But Mr. WILSON says that they liked it and the result, in his case speaks for itself. For by the year 1876, he was able to secure his teacher’s certificate.
Thus, at the age of nineteen years, Theodore WILSON, entered the
profession of teaching. He secured a school in Huntington, WV, which was just then beginning to show signs of the great city into which it was destined to so quickly develop. And one of those first signs was the progressive attitude taken by its leading business and professional men on the question of education. Moreover, their wisdom was further shown by their sponsorship of schools for the colored citizens such as that to which Mr. WILSON was called. It is interesting to note that this, his first school, was located within four city blocks of his birthplace, namely at the corner of Third Avenue and Twelfth Street, Huntington, WV. His immediate and continued success as a teacher is indicated by the fact that he taught in Huntington for thirteen years.
Naturally his success was due in part to the support given him by the
leading white citizens of the city, and no one could show greater gratitude for this support than Mr. WILSON himself. Of his own accord he has listed for us the names of the following gentlemen who he says were his “ardent supporters” during the thirteen years of his work there: Gen. J.H. OLEY; Col. D.W. EMMONS; Foster STEWARD; D.I. SMITH; George F. MILLER; J. Hooe RUSSELL; Sam GIDEORN; B.T. DAVIS; Dr. BUFFINGTON; W.H. HOLESWADE; Taylor WELLINGTON; B.H. TRACKSTON; W.O. JAMES; J.M. JASPER; Wm. MORGAN and Thomas WELKINS.
Meanwhile, young WILSON had been severely and dangerously injured in playing what was even then perhaps considered as “the great American game”, baseball. Somehow, during a hard game, he had the misfortune to turn one limb in such a way that the hip was dislocated. Such an injury is perhaps always serious, but in those days of comparatively limited surgical skill, it presented a permanent cripple, so far as that one limb was concerned. But even this did not prevent him from continuing his education and his work. After three years of hobbling about on a crutch, he was able to dispense with this assistance and to walk unaided although with a limp, as the accident left him with that limb slightly shorter that the other.
After teaching in Huntington, Mr. WILSON returned to Ohio and was employed to teach at what is known locally as Red Hill. That is the community just over the hill, on the Jackson Road, about a mile north of Proctorville. A half century and more ago, it was essentially a colored community and the Proctorville Board of Education maintained a special school there for the colored folks of that district. The well known colored Baptist church known as Mount Pisgah still stands in that community, but the school, was generally known as the Red Hill School. After a successful tenure as teacher at this school, Mr. WILSON returned to the West Virginia schools
and secured a position as teacher at Guyandotte.
Meanwhile, this progressive and able young man had found knowledge and skill both by study and formal school as well as by experience. Oberlin College at Oberlin, OH, then offered the best and most available means for a young colored person to secure a college education. Accordingly, Mr. WILSON finally succeeded in being able to attend that great institution.
That was in the year 1884. After studying for a time at Oberlin, Mr. WILSON returned home and again took up his work.
Another one of the leading colored schools of Cabell County, WV, at that time was located at Barboursville and Mr. WILSON taught there for a while and the secured a position at Wayne County Court House, as the county seat of Wayne County was then called. After that, he taught in KY, both at Louisa and Blaine. Thus it will be seen that he had a wide and varied experience as a school teacher in three states.
But teaching has been, and was a boisterously poorly paid profession. That is, teachers themselves were poorly paid so far as actual money was concerned although the satisfaction coming to a really interested teacher is something not to be measured in dollars and cents. However, Mr. WILSON wished to establish his permanent home in his boyhood neighborhood and returned to the old homestead to look for a place of his own. He had the opportunity to buy a small tract of land and although he lacked the necessary cash, his reputation for honesty, industry and thrift was such that he had no difficulty in securing the financial backing of Mr. O.A. ASH, who still is a neighbor to him and the late C.H. HALL, of Huntington, this writer’s uncle, that he was able to purchase the farm on which he
still lives. The century naturally was a success and now for many years the Theodore WILSON home has been one of the landmarks, so to speak, of the Rome community in Quaker Bottom, OH.
Mr. WILSON’S first wife didn’t not survive long after their marriage and his life was further saddened by the passing of their son, Kelso Lee WILSON, who was born on 21 September 1882 and passed away in the year 1890.
On 16 July 1897, Mr. WILSON was united in marriage with Miss Emma LAYNE. They had one son, H.C. WILSON, who was born on 15 March 1897. He was but slightly younger that this writer. We were boys together in the same community. We, for a short time, attended the same school, and as our gathers were at times associated with each other in farming ventures, we boys played together. He was a likable boy and grew up to be a bright young man, full of promise and of course dearly beloved by his parents.
But he was stricken ill in the year 1917, and passed away while just on the verge of manhood.
We have just referred to Mr. WILSON’S association with our father in farming and so perhaps should explain, that by that time, which was about thirty-five years ago, Theodore WILSON had become one of the leading gardeners of Quaker Bottom and frequently, in addition to farming, or gardening, his own land, he rented land of neighboring farmers and marketed their produce for them. Thus, for a number of seasons he marketed the strawberry crop produced on our home farm and preformed other services for our family. He had the reputation of being able to handle such crops with the least loss and to sell them for the best prices of any of the hucksters of the community. And our folks found this to be so true that they secured his services, year after year.
No doubt, many people who frequented the Huntington market and groceries in days gone by will remember Mr. WILSON distinctly. He kept a spic and span delivery service, on the side of which was painted in bright letters “Lizzie B”, which was the name of the spirited horse which drew the conveyance. In those days it was necessary for a Quaker Bottom gardener to start with his produce for the market the night before the day of the sale. That is, and was necessary, if he expected to sell his produce for the best prices.
In addition to the many other services Mr. WILSON has rendered, the community in which he lives, he acted for many years as caretaker of Rome Chapel and as Sexton of the Proctorville-Rome Cemetery.
In Christian work, Mr. WILSON has long been a member of the Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church in Huntington, WV, having joined under the pastorate of Rev. S.M. JEFFERSON.
He is also a charter member of the A.F. & A.M. Lodge of Masons of Huntington, WV. A charter member of his lodge of Odd Fellows and a member of the Order of Galliean Fishermen.
And now, after some 80 years of life well spent, Mr. WILSON, in a recent communication to the writer, expressed his contentment and peace of mind by simply saying that he is “waiting the call.” However, his many friends on this side cannot help hoping devotedly that “the call” will be long deferred.