Reflections of The Rev. William A. Wilson

by Glenn N. Holliman

Additional Memoirs by an Amazing Ancestor....
The Rev. William Albert Wilson, 1861-1951, a minister of the Gospel, a scholar, a writer, a man of integrity. Family tradition is that this photograph was taken in the field where his father was shot in 1864 in Sutherland, North Carolina.  A Southern Methodist Church minister, he served forty years as a missionary to Japan from 1890-1930.

Years ago, I wrote in this space of the book Neighbor to Neighbor published in 2007 by the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. This work largely concerns William A. Wilson (1861-1951) telling of the bushwhacking of my great, great grandfather Isaac Wilson (1822-1864) of Sutherland, Ashe County, NC in June 1864. The Civil War borderland unrest and violence between pro-union residents of East Tennessee and pro-Confederate residents of Western North Carolina was vividly played out by the ambush slaying of Isaac by his neighbors.  Isaac was a lieutenant home on leave from the Confederate Army.

This horrible event was witnessed by my great grandmother, Frances Wilson Osborne (1851-1940), who was with him in that cornfield.  She orally passed this traumatic memory along to her grandchild, Geraldine Stansbery Holliman Feick (1923-2015), my mother. As a child living in Johnson City, Tennessee in the 1950s, I vividly remember my mother telling me this awful story. 

Her interpretation, which varies from Will's, had her great grandfather, Isaac, observing a band of 'guerrillas', irregular Union men, approaching his fields.  He sent Frankie, my 13 year old great grandmother, back to the farm house while he confronted the armed men on horseback. While she ran to the house, her father was shot and killed.

With the advent of the internet and in my retirement years, I discovered William A. Wilson's version of the bushwhacking on the Johnson County, Tennessee history web site.  To my amazement additional research found the story in the Appalachian Journal, Fall 2006, a publication of the Center for Appalachian Studies.  Later I  discovered and purchased a copy of Neighbor to Neighbor, an even fuller description of the horrid event by William A. Wilson, who was only three years old at the time of the tragedy.

The 2006, Fall Applachian Journal with considerable material on the Isaac and William A. Wilson families.

Upon his retirement as a Southern Methodist Church missionary in Japan in 1930, my great great Uncle Will, collected numerous memories of the 1864 tragedy, typed it up by 1940 and put it away, only to have descendants make it available to scholars two generations later.  This was the nucleus of Neighbor to Neighbor.

There must have been a bit of the writing bug in the family.  Will was very well educated for the time and place in which he found himself.  Whereas Will matriculated at Trinity College (now Duke University), Frankie, one of his older sisters, had her limited schooling interrupted by the War. She married at age 15 to George Washington Osborne, and together they had numerous children, the last one being my grandmother, Mayme Osborne Stansbery (1896-1943).  

Frankie left a diary begun in 1914 which continued until a month before her death in Bristol, Tennessee in 1940.  Her spelling was 'the way she talked', irregular and in the vernacular of the mountains.  When I found the diary in 2009, I was entranced and taken into a world of relatives and events previously unknown to me.  Frankie in the 1930s, right.

For several years, I transcribed it, trying to understand who the persons were, relatives I had never known.  I discovered my Ashe County ancestors, and came to appreciate the part played by the Greers, Wilsons, Boones, Wilcoxsons and others in the construction of not just my DNA but also values that helped form my life.  

This journal can be found at www.bholliman.com/ in the Record's section.  Place in the Search bar the title - Diary of Frances Wilson Osborne, 1914-1940 and click.  It took time to upload so it will take time to download - over 100 pages.

In 2011 with the diary 'translated', I felt it should be preserved and not tossed out by some descendant of mine in some future generation, so I donated it the Center for Appalachian Studies at ASU.  While there I met historians who passed along to me a copy of additional memoirs by The Rev. William A. Wilson, material too expansive for the 2006 Journal and 2007 Neighbor to Neighbor.  I quickly reviewed the 110 pages or so, and filed it in my genealogical papers.  These memoirs are entitled Reflections of The Rev. William Albert Wilson.

There has been more than enough material to keep me busy writing in this blog space, trying to capture stories of my maternal ancestors. Recently, worrying about the mass of family manuscripts entrusted to me, I created a virtual archive at www.bholliman.com, a place for the storage, hopefully for generations, of family materials that in previous decades would have remained hidden in attic or even worse tossed to a garbage pail.  I remembered Will's additional memoirs, which covered in detail his work in Japan and his voyages to and from this Asian nation, and wanted to make them available to all.

I emailed Michael Ignelzi, a great grandson of Will, and with his encouragement scanned the manuscript and uploaded it to the aforementioned web site.  I broke it into 19 sections for ease of both up and downloading.  This manuscript which covers years and family from 1890 to 1930 is now available at no cost.  

Just go to the Records page, find the 'search' bar, key in Reflections of  The Rev. William A. Wilson or even just the name "Wilson", and the work will be available for downloading to one's computer.  This is a 1980 typed and privately printed manuscript saved by his grandchildren to whom I am very grateful.

In future posts, I plan to analyze this marvelous gift from the past and share some insights. William Albert Wilson was a man of God, dedicated to sharing the Gospel in Asia.  He was steadfast in his difficult work and a man of integrity and high intelligence.  I encourage my relatives and historians to visit this document and discover the good work to which Will gave his life.

The Wilson Cemetery in Sutherland, North Carolina where William A. Wilson and his parents are buried.

A Special Note from Michael Ignelzi, great grandson of William A. Wilson -  Michael reports that cousin Ruth Duncan of Sutherland has been insuring that the Wilson Cemetery is mowed numerous times each summer.  The cost of this is approximately $350.00 a year.  The Ignelzi family contributed to this effort this summer, and invite all of us cousins to assist in maintaining this important part of our past.  Checks can be sent to Mrs. Ruth Duncan, 21861 NC Highway 88 West, Zionville NC 28968-9561. Thank you. - GNH

The virtual archive can be found at www.bholliman.com/ .

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