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Wilson, Jeffrey Thomas, 1843-1929



  • Existence: 1843 - 1929

Biographical Note

Jeffrey Thomas Wilson was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1843. There is uncertainty about the ownership of his mother at the time of his birth and conflicting accounts, but Wilson appears to have been owned by the Charles A. Grice family, who he lived with beginning in 1853. Prior to then, he was living with his mother and stepfather (Moses Taylor?). 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.

Prior to 1871, Wilson married his first wife, Imogene (also recorded as Emma J.) (1854-1882). They had at least seven children before her death: Joseph (b. 1871), Emily O. (1873-1881) (recorded as Emma on the census and once in Wilson's diary as Mary Emily Orphelia), Jeffrey Thomas, Jr. (b. abt. 1875), Mary Jane (b. 1876), Allen (b. abt. 1877), Margaret (b. abt. 1879), and Frank (b. 1881). His second wife was likely Laura Frances, as included on a list of "Colored Births, City of Portsmouth, 1857-1896. They had at least one child: Laura Frances (b. 1893). Information about Wilson's third wife was not found. Wilson's fourth wife was Blanche Blake, a woman many years his junior. They had at least four children: Wendell (b. 1912), Blanche (b. abt. 1915), Mary (b. abt. 1918), and Clyde Lorraine. Wilson was 75 when the youngest of his children was born. When he died at age 86, he had outlived four wives. At least six of his children were still alive.

Other Resources:
  • The African-American Historical Society of Portsmouth, Virginia, has a brief article on Wilson's "Colored Notes" column available online.
  • Jeffrey T. Wilson was the subject of a research project by a Norfolk State University student in 2004. Research from the project, including a transcript of Wilson's obituary, can be viewed online.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

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

 Digital Record
Identifier: Ms2011-015_WilsonDiary1913

Jeffrey T. Wilson Diaries

Identifier: Ms-2011-015
Abstract The collection consists of two diaries (1913, 1928) written by Jeffrey T. Wilson (1843-1929). Wilson was a former enslaved person who spent most of his life in and around Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia. He worked as a bailiff in the Norfolk courts after leaving the U. S. Navy and wrote a column, "Colored Notes," for The Portsmouth Star from 1924 until his death in 1929. He outlived four wives and had at least twelve children. Wilson's diaries...
Dates: 1913, 1928

Additional filters:

Digital Record 2
Collection 1
African Americans -- History 2
Diaries 2
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 2