Our History: He Brought the First Typewriter to Douglas County
Richard M. Wilson is Douglas County's typewriter guy and a Civil War hero.
Richard M. Wilson – A Life of Service
This week’s column began with a critical look at my beloved laptop.
I took time out long enough from tapping on the keys to really look at the keyboard. I have to admit – it looks terrible.
Huge white spots where I’ve work the keys down.
I’ve actually typed the letters right off the keys. Luckily I’ve been typing for years and “know” the keyboard intimately….in other words, I don’t have to look at the keyboard.
Every week I begin the process of writing this column by looking through my many pages of notes to see if something speaks to me. This week is no different. I read through my notes, and then I saw it – the phrase “brought the first typewriter into Douglas County.”
Seriously, it had to be more than just a mere coincidence I see those words moments after I had been examining my own keyboard…….but on second thought, I didn’t think I had enough material for column.
I didn’t think there was enough there to hold your attention.
All I had was I knew who brought the very first typewriter into the county, and I had worn out my own keyboard.
I returned to my search through my notes.
A little later I saw the words “Civil War soldier….” along with phrase “related to an American Revolution printer”.
I read further. I zeroed in on the Civil War soldier’s name.
Richard M. Wilson.
Another hmm….something seemed familiar.
Typewriter guy and the Civil War soldier were the same person!
We have a column.
Many months ago I had run across an old Neighbor News article by Joe Baggett that concerned Richard M. Wilson. Baggett identified Mr. Wilson as the great-grandson of an English printer who helped spark the American Revolution and as the grandfather of one of Georgia’s most influential politicians….Joe Mack Wilson.
Richard M. Wilson was born August 20, 1837 in Pendleton County, South Carolina to Richard T. Wilson and Martha (Miller) Wilson. Unfortunately, he was left without a father at the age of 12. An obituary published in the Pendleton Messenger….a paper actually owned by Wilson’s maternal grandfather…the printer…dated February 23, 1849 states the elder Wilson “died in his 45th year of age, a resident of our village for near 20 years, leaving a wife and six small children.”
Baggett’s article goes on to state Richard M. Wilson’s maternal grandfather, John Miller was born in London and was a well-known printer. There were also claims he was the anonymous author of The Junius Letter which were attacks on the government of King George III which helped to spark the American Revolution.
Miller eventually made his way to South Carolina at the end of the Revolution. I’ve researched the Janius Letters a bit more, and you can read about them here at my blog, History Is Elementary.
As a young man Richard M. Wilson clerked in various retail stores in Pendleton, Anderson and Charleston, South Carolina as well as Memphis, Tennessee where he sold everything from clothing to groceries. Wilson moved to Atlanta where I’ve read he clerked in a store and a hotel just prior to the beginning of the Civil War.
An article from the Douglas County Sentinel dated April 22, 1909…..over one hundred years ago… claims Mr. Wilson was the only soldier holding the rank of Captain during the Civil War who was not called by his official military title. Wilson enlisted as a private at the beginning of the war with the First Georgia Infantry, Company D also known as Lee’s Volunteers under Captain G.W. Lee for 12 months. Baggett’s article further advised this was the first company from Georgia mustered into Confederate service and the mustering in ceremony took place at Montgomery, Alabama in the presence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, but I have been unable to verify this to date.
Once the year was up the men returned to Atlanta where the company was reorganized and Jazeb Rhodes was the Captain. The company was stationed at Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island near Mobile, Alabama. Later the company was sent to Tennessee where Wilson was captured at Fort Donelson at some point during the third week of February, 1862. He was taken to the POW installation at Johnson Island near Sandusky, Ohio. The prison camp website advises Wilson along with other prisoners taken in 1862 would have been exchanged after only five months, so by September, 1862 Wilson would have been making his way back to his company.
Wilson was also at the Battle of Chickamauga. His company entered the battle with 42 enlisted men. Following the battle 21 were wounded and two had been killed. They regrouped during winter quarters at Dalton, Georgia. Wilson was then elected to fill the vacancy of Captain Jazeb R. Rhodes who had been found guilty during a court marshal and ordered shot at Chattanooga. Wilson took on the job of a captain, but technically the paperwork had not been done.
After leaving Dalton, the fighting began to move south towards Atlanta and Wilson ended up participating in most every engagement.
So, Wilson ended the war with a promotion and did his duty as a Captain but technically the paper work didn’t come through until much later. It has been discovered that Wilson’s Confederate Pension papers on file with the Georgia Archives does indeed show Wilson’s rank at the end of the war as Captain.
Following the war Wilson returned to Atlanta but remembered a girl he had met along the Dog River. He moved to the area and married Mary Frances Dorsett in 1866. Wilson settled in teaching school and operating a small farm in the Harris Community (the area where the Dog River empties into the Chattahoochee River). He also served as a justice of the peace.
In 1889, Richard M. Wilson was elected as Douglas County’s first clerk of court, and held the position for some time. Fannie Mae Davis recounts in her history of the county that during the election of 1902 Mr. Wilson received 843 votes out of 1700 registered voters in the county.
Mrs. Davis also writes about an exchange she had with a then 93 year old Frank Wilson concerning his father. He remembered how he had a job in the 1880s assisting his father with keeping the fire going in his office at the courthouse……the second version built in 1880, but abandoned for new construction by 1886. Frank Wilson also remembered his father’s offices were on the ground floor of the building along with other offices while the jury, witness and large courtroom took up the second floor. Unfortunately, there are no photographs that have been located to date of this particular courthouse.
An article in The New South dated January, 1902 relates how Wilson brought the very first typewriter brought into Douglas County. Up until then all of the records he created involving the court had to be handwritten. The typewriter would help him be more efficient. The newspaper advises, “The machine was bulky and heavy, weighing 50 pounds or more. The purchase price was $175.”
I looked online and found a picture of a 1902 Remington typewriter. You can see it in the pictures here.
It is rather bulky, isn't it?