Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Armed and Dangerous

W.B. Green on the USS Texas abt 1927
I was looking at some old photos my grandfather had kept and found this one of my uncle William Bryant Green. He was born in 1908 and died on February 1, 1943 aboard a Navy plane that crashed in Arizona.

The more I looked at this picture the more I thought it looked kind of strange. There were a couple like it and the caption says "Old Glory on Stern of the USS Texas." Bryant graduated in 1926 from Taylor County High School and enlisted in the Navy so I assume this was taken a year or so later.

I knew he served on the USS Texas but was wondering why they would have a gun like that on the ship?

The USS Texas was the most modern Battleship in the US Navy when it was launched in 1914, one of the group of ships originally proposed by Teddy Roosevelt when he was President.

Ten years later it would still have been considered state of the art with the biggest guns around, 14 inches wide that could shoot a 1,400 pound shell over 13 miles. In fact it was officially the Flagship of the United State Fleet when Bryant was aboard.

So why did they have this cannon that looks like it came from the Civil War on deck?

I contacted someone who runs the USS Texas historical web page and asked him. The ship was taken out of service in 1948 and is now a museum on the Texas Gulf Coast near Houston. At first he couldn't ID the gun and said it would not serve any function aboard a ship like the Texas but agreed the photo was of the ship.

He sent me a link to an inventory of all the armament used aboard the Texas over it's 34 year history.

In a subsequent email he said the cannon looked like a 3 inch 25 caliber field gun. It was called a landing gun, something Marines could use if they were doing an invasion. Sure enough there on the inventory was one 25 caliber Mark IV Landing Gun assigned to the ship in November 1919. So the Marines, if they took it with them would need to be pretty good shots because they only had one of them.

They didn't have to invade any foreign fields while Bryant was aboard. He transferred to another ship in the Pacific during WWII when the USS Texas was part of the invasion of North Africa in 1942 (with Walter Cronkite aboard the Texas and reporting) and then Normandy beach on D Day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Roadside Attraction

A couple years after I got out of college I had moved back to Tallahassee, Florida and got a job that required me to travel to Pensacola, Florida about once a month. On one of those trips I stopped at the T.T. Wentworth Museum in Pensacola. At the time I didn't know there was any family connection.

I've since learned that T.T. Wentworth's grandfather was James Hamilton Wentworth who lived in Taylor County Florida and married my gg aunt Elizabeth Green in 1883.
TT Wentworth Museum in the 1970s
Theodore Thomas Wentworth Jr. was born in 1898 and died in 1989. I don't know if he was there the day I visited. He could have been since he kept shop up until he died.

Tom's father started the roadside attraction in 1907 on Santa Rosa Island but the son was the one that filled it up with things he had acquired. It was a typical Florida tourist stop.

TT Wentworth

Wentworth found many civil war artifacts and dinosaur bones in the area himself and displayed them with what the museum web page describes as a collection of "shrunken heads, moldy birthday cake, petrified cats, and Robert Wadlow's left shoe." Yes, everything a Florida tourist would want to see on a rainy day when they couldn't go to the beach.

Robert Wadlow's right shoe located at Snyder Shoes
If you haven't been there you might not know that Wadlow (1918-1940) at 8 feet 11 and a half inches was the tallest man ever recorded. So having his size 37 1/2 left shoe was a big deal. His right shoe is on display at a shoe store in  Manistee, Michigan.

Before he died Wentworth convinced the State of Florida to accept his collection upon his death and move it to the old Pensacola City Hall where they were creating a museum. Since his collection was originally the main attraction it is called The T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum.

One of his great nieces who I got to know doing family research, Karen Wentworth Penton, along with a couple of her relatives just wrote a book "T. T. Wentworth Jr. Museum 55th Anniversary."

For now you can only buy it in Pensacola but hopefully it will be available online soon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


My great great grandmother Vashti had an unusual name and unusual life. Vashti the First was a Persian Queen in the Book of Esther. Some associate the name with a strong willed and independent woman. I don't know if that description fit my grandmother or not but I have a couple of them around today.

Vashti Ann Graham was born in Montgomery County, Alabama in 1836. When she was 21 years old she married a man old enough to be her father.

Moses Wilson was 44 and needed a wife pretty bad since his first wife died after bearing 12 children, 6 of whom were still in the house. Vashti Graham's parents Mercer and Mary Graham had known Moses Wilson for a long time, moving from North Carolina and later to Florida together in a migration for better land. Mercer Graham was a veteran of the War of 1812 and he and the Wilson clan moved to Alabama when it was opened up to homesteads and then to Florida after the Civil War.

Vashti bore Moses 13 more children and number 10 was my great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Wilson. He was born on March 22, 1875 near Fort Dade, Florida and died in Oneco, Florida on September 15, 1933.
Moses Wilson died on April 17, 1896 in Pasco County, Florida at age 83, leaving Vashti with a house full of children. She also had a large extended family in the area. That happens when you have over two dozen kids, the oldest an AARP member himself by that time.

The younger children moved to Manatee County around the turn of the century and settled near Oneco and Myakka, Florida. Several of them died within a few years of Moses.

For years I've wondered what happened to Vashti after Moses died in 1897. I could never locate any trace of her. I found these records after a cousin told me about a cemetery listing in Gadsden County, Florida for a Vasters Wilson. Her name had been spelled all kind of ways on census and other records so I decided to contact the hospital to see if it could be her.

They told me the old patient records from that period, that had not been destroyed, were sent to the Florida Archives 50 plus years ago. Several weeks after contacting the Archives in Tallahassee I received a file that included these commitment records. The records confirm the Vasters Wilson they have listed in the State Hospital Cemetery, dying in February 1904 was Vashti Ann Graham Wilson.

Florida State Hospital Cemetery

She was apparently living with one of her children when the 1900 census was taken although I have not found her on it yet. By 1903 her youngest son, James Wilson and James Mack Childers, son in law and husband of daughter Mary Salenca Wilson filed these papers to have her committed to the State Hospital for the Insane in Chattahoochee, Florida.

At age 67 Vashti was depressed and unable to cope with the loss of her husband and children. The Court file says she had been this way for 2 years and the family could no longer take care of her. Her son James moved to Gadsden County Florida around 1905 or at least that is what family members remember. I am still looking for him. I am not sure if Vashti's grave has a marker. Next time I'm in the area I'll check on it.

My grandmother died in 1992 and I never asked her about her grandmother so don't know if she knew this story or not. I talked to her younger brother Walt Wilson several times and he didn't know what had happened to either Moses or Vashti after his father moved to Manatee County.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dempsey's Rock

Dempsey Burgess was the brother of my ggg grandfather William Burgess. He was born in 1751 and died in 1800 in what is now Camden County, North Carolina. Their grandfather William Burgess started the first Baptist Church in North Carolina in 1727. I wrote about the Shiloh Church in an earlier post.
Dempsey Burgess was a member of the North Carolina Provisional Congress before the Revolutionary War and when the war started was appointed Lieutenant Colonel in the North Carolina Militia. After the war he was elected to the 4th United States Congress in 1795 and served four years. When he died on January 11, 1800 he was buried in the small cemetery next to Shiloh Baptist Church, about 13 miles southeast of Elizabeth City, NC.

That is how I first came across him, looking at the cemetery records. I was trying to find the graves of his father and grandfather. The State put a historical marker on North Carolina Hwy 34 in Camden County that says his grave was in the church cemetery 7 miles away. Unfortunately there was no record of a marker for him or the other family members when a cemetery census was done in recent years.

The folks at Shiloh Church are proud of their history as the first Baptist Church and since the Burgess family started it and gave the land for the church they know the family names. They said others had asked about Dempsey's grave and it could never be located. There are two areas of graves, one across the street from the other and they assumed his was in the section that has a lot of unmarked graves. They told me there was no marker for him or the other Burgess family members.
I contacted the VA about obtaining a marker for them and was told they would do one for Dempsey but not his father or grandfather. They both had served in the military but since their service was prior to the Revolutionary War and not during or after they wouldn't qualify for a VA marker.

I've since found a brochure the church published in the 1970s and in it they had this photo of a rough stone marker for Dempsey Burgess. It wasn't much, just his name and date of death. The folks at the church don't know what happened to it but apparently it's no longer around. Hopefully I can visit the area one day and check for myself.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Super Bowl Week

1928 Taylor County High School Bulldogs
This being Super Bowl week I decided to write about football. This photo was taken in 1928 when my Dad was playing for the Taylor County High School Bulldogs. That's him on the far right, bottom row. 

I shared this picture before along with information on the team holding a 50th anniversary party in 1978 and have the names of all those in the photo in that story.

William Bryant Green
The photo of my Uncle William Bryant Green sitting on the goal posts was taken about 1923. Prime Time had nothing on him!

Bryant was born in 1908 and died on February 1, 1943 when the Navy plane he was on crashed trying to land at an Army base in Tuscon, Arizona.

This football field was one the five brothers created in an empty lot next to their house on Green Street in Perry, Florida.
Well neither my Dad or Uncle played football after they graduated from high school but I can add a Super Bowl to this story, although not family related.
Fred Biletnikoff played at FSU, graduating in 1965 as the school's first consensus All American. I was in elementary school at the time but was lucky enough to live near the football field and allowed to go to the practices almost every day after school. I am sure my effort to retrieve wayward footballs, set out paper cups of water and sliced oranges and collect discarded pads at the end of the day contributed to his great season. I've saved this newspaper clipping and autograph for 48 years.
He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, including being chosen as the MVP of the 1977 Super Bowl!