Jeffrey T. Wilson Diary, 1913 (Ms2011-015)

Dublin Core


Jeffrey Thomas Wilson (1843-1929) was a former slave who spent most of his life in and around Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia. He outlived four wives and had at least twelve children. Wilson's diaries include entries on a range of topics from local news and politics, race issues in the South, and much of his personal history. The 1913 diary contains extra pages on which Wilson recorded events from that date in the past.

According to his obituary, he learned to read and write in secret. Based on his diary, he was the body servant of A[lexander]. P. Grice, likely the son of his owner, who served with Company A, Cohoon's Battalion, Virginia Infantry, at least during a part of 1862. In 1866, after being freed, Wilson enlisted and went to Europe with the U.S. Navy. When he returned home, he lived in the house he inherited from his mother. Wilson worked at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, as a laborer, and as a bailiff for the Federal Court at Norfolk. In his later years, from 1924 until his death in 1929, he wrote a column called "Colored Notes" for The Portsmouth Star. The column included social news, Wilson's political views, and issues of race relations--all themes that occur throughout his diaries. Wilson was active in the Emmanuel AME Church in Portsmouth, where he taught Sunday school. In June of 1929, Wilson was hit by a car. He died at his son's home, two months later, on August 25, 1929.

Entries for the 1913 diary were kept in a Wanamaker's Diary (produced by the department store chain) actually designed for 1911. As a result, Wilson has hand-corrected the days of the week throughout to reflect 1913. The diary includes advertisements, as well as a history of the Wanamaker stores.

In addition to the entries recorded (two to a page), throughout the year, Wilson attached additional pages to continue writing. Many of these consists of reminiscences of his life in previous years on topics from the Civil War, his service in the U. S. Navy, segregation and race issues in Portsmouth and Norfolk, and local news. He also writes of daily events: his family's health, church events, the weather, and his frequent concerns about money.