The George Wilson Story, part Three
Submitted by Betty Webb
The Ironton Tribune
7 Aug. 1938
Editor’s Note: This concludes three articles prepared by Mr. R. C. Hall Ph.D. on the life of Theodore Wilson, outstanding colored man, whose life is identified with Lawrence County, and who now after 80 active years is ” waiting for the call. ” The sketch of the Wilson family has been a part of Mr. Hall’s Lawrence County History, a Tribune Sunday feature. 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 whom 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. Trackson, W. O. James, J. M. Jasper, Wm. Morgan, and James 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 problem often baffling indeed. In this case, although the patient recovered, he was rendered 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 that accident left him with that limb slightly shorter than 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 community and the Proctorville Board of Education maintained a special school there for the colored folks of the district. The well-known colored Baptist church of Mount Pisgah still stands in that community, but the school was generally known as the Red Hill school. After a successful tenure at this school, Mr. Wilson returned to the West Virginia schools and secured a position as a teacher at Guyandotte. Meanwhile, this progressive and able young man had found time to improve his knowledge and skill both by reading and formal school as well as experience. Oberlin College at Oberlin, Ohio, 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 the year 1885. After studying for a time at Oberlin, Mr. Wilson returned home again and took up his work. Another one of the leading colored schools of Cabell County, West Virginia, at that time was located at Barboursville and Mr. Wilson taught there for awhile and then secured a position at Wayne Court House as the county seat of Wayne County was then called. After that he taught in Kentucky both at Louisa and Blaine. Thus it will be seen that he had a wide and varied experience as a teacher in three states, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. But teaching has been, and was especially a notoriously poorly paid profession. That is teachers themselves were poorly paid so far as actual money was concerned although the satisfaction coming to a 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 securing the financial backing of white friends able to assist him. He says that it was the backing of Mr. A. O. Ash who still lives 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 venture was naturally 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, Ohio. Mr. Wilson’s first wife did 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 September 21st, 1882, and passed away in the year 1890. On July 16,1896, Mr. Wilson was united in marriage with Miss Emma Layne, They had one son H. C. Wilson, who was born on March 15, 1897. He was, but slightly younger than this writer. We were boys together in the same community. We for a short time attended the same school, and as at times our fathers were associated 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 – 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 sell them for the best prices of any of the hucksters in 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 spick and span delivery express, on the side of which was painted in bright letters “Lizzie B.,” which was the name of the spirited horse which drew the conveyance, which pulled the plow across the fields at home and which led him on the proverbial merry chase when her spirit was aroused. 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, it was necessary, if he expected to sell his produce for the best prices. Accordingly Mr. Wilson after a hard day in the field, a little sleep in the evening and the rest of the night spent on the wagon en route to market and under the river bank waiting his turn on the Proctorville ferry would proceed to Huntington, dispose of his produce, return home and perhaps catch a short nap before returning to the field again. Such was the life of a market gardener in Quaker Bottom thirty years ago. At least such was the life of those, who like Theodore Wilson who made a success of it. It is little wonder he succeeded where so many others failed. Nor should we neglect to mention his faithful help and co-operation given to him by his devoted wife. For many years Mrs. Wilson not only faithfully preformed the duties of a wife and companion but assisted her husband in the field, in a small store which he operated on the premises and by serving a number of wealthy families in various capacities. Like her husband, she was an intelligent and well-educated person. 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 in Huntington, W. Va., 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, a charter of his lodge of Odd Fellows and a member of the Order of Galilean Fishermen. And now after over 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 for the call.” However, his many friends on this side cannot help hoping devotedly that “the call” will be deferred.