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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Remarkable Josephine Fleming

I've become committed to learning more about this amazing woman, who was a beloved daughter, wife, sister, and mother, but was also a benediction to all who knew her. In order to know what kind of woman Josephine was, I had to know what kind of family she came from. They always say if you want to know more about a person you must learn more about their family. Who they are and what kind of influence did they have over that person. Based on what I've learned so far, Josephine came from a very good family. She was a virtuous woman who's upbringing formed the very person she was. Josephine was surrounded by the combined influences of a large loving family, her friends, and her church.

Josephine Fleming was born:  Laura Josephine Cowan March 14, 1838, in Eufaula, Alabama.

Josephine, at the age of 19, met her soon to be husband, Dr. Robert A. Fleming, just after his arrival in Eufaula.  It was 1857 and he was fresh out of Medical School.  He attended a Medical School somewhere in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Robert was just 22 years old and would be working under the tutelage of Dr. Cowan, Josephine's father.  

Josephine would later marry Robert, September 22nd, 1858.

Laura Josephine was the second oldest daughter of the Cowan girls. She had 7 siblings, 3 of which died at birth or as children. Those who died were Mary, Ann, and Emily.

These are her siblings: Maldonetta, James, Rosa, and Willie. With exception of James, All the sisters married very well.  Each sister married a lawyer who, in one way or another became District Attorneys, Senators, Representatives, as well as having in-laws who were Governors, Senators, and so on.  If there is one thing these girls did well, it was marry well.

Josephine's brother, James G. Cowan was an interesting guy as well.  He is a West Point Graduate, who, just as he was graduating learned the Civil War was just cranking up.  He put his plans to attend Law School on hold and served as an officer in the Civil War.  After the war was over, he resumed his plans to become a lawyer.  James later began his law practice in Abbyville, Alabama. He never married. I do have a little more information about him, but I will save that for a later post.

Dr. William L. Cowan, Josephine's Father, passed away in 1859 and by this time, Robert had already been living in the Cowan home for several months before Dr. Cowan died.  He is now the man of the home since his brother-in-law, James, was away at school.

Josephine's Mother was Anna Silva Pugh Cowan. She was from Burke Co., Georgia and born in 1812.  There is not much information available about her. What I have learned about Anna is that she is the older sister to Senator James L. Pugh. She is about 8 years older than James. When their parents passed away, James was only 11 years old.  Anna and Dr. Cowan took him in and raised him as one of their own.  Dr. Cowan even paid for his education.  He sent him to college and then on to Law School.  Wow, that's what I call a great Brother-in-law. Anna was also a devout Christian as was her husband and children and they all attended the first Presbyterian church to open it's doors in Eufaula. I believe it's safe to say that Anna had a great influence on her children. I also have a good bit more information about James L. Pugh and will post more about him later.

I have seen throughout much of my research of the Cowan family, a common trait among almost every member I've looked up. That trait is humility.  Sometimes you see families who are wealthy, have large homes, servants, cooks, and nannies for their children, enjoy flaunting their wealth and even seek attention for almost everything they do, including charity.  Not the Flemings.  They were as humble as it gets. Both Dr. Fleming and his wife, Josephine, each had a cheery disposition and walked in humility always.  Not that they never had the same challenges, tragedies, and heartaches we experience on a daily basis.  But it was how they handled these challenges that made them who they were.   

In the meantime I did find a photo of the Cowan family home in Eufaula. This is Josephine's childhood home.
This isn't what it looked like when she lived there.  At the time of this photo it would have been 40 years later. 


As fate would have it, while living in this very house, Dr. Robert Fleming's life would forever change.  It was a terrible accident that took place here one night.  It was sometime in the summer of 1862, that Dr. Fleming took to walking in his sleep. Robert mindlessly walked down the hallway and toward that 2nd floor balcony when the last step he took caused him to fall over the railing to the porch below. When his body slammed down on the porch, he hit in such a way that his injured spine would never recover. Robert was left paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.  

Josephine was pregnant with the only child the couple would ever have.  

My research has led me to learn that it was immediately following this accident that Dr. Fleming went for a time to stay with his uncle who lived in Hurtsboro, Alabama. His uncle's name was Dr. James Turner Persons.  It is believed he went here to recover under the care of his uncle who may have been well suited to help with some type of rehabilitation and possibly helping him to adjust to learning how to get around in his wheelchair.  His uncle would have assisted in bathing, dressing, and other things one would have to learn. There were also the emotional aspects to his healing too. His promising career as a physician was now seemingly a thing of the past.  I came across information that indicated he actually gave up his career as doctor and took a position in county government.  It was a position as Register in Chancery in Bullock County.  This was a position that he would hold until his death. 

Based on newspaper clippings, Dr. Fleming was still referred to as 'Doctor' until his death.  There is no evidence that he practiced medicine at all in Union Springs.  He may have, but I don't have any proof that he did.  What is known, was that he held the position of Register in Chancery, which is basically a court recorder.  It's kind of like a County Clerk. He was also a business man.  He owned several properties and possibly an investor in other businesses. Most notably, The Josephine Hotel.  I will go into this more in other posts, particular to those related to him. 

On December 6, 1862, Josephine gave birth to their only child. Lola J. Fleming.  The J is for Josephine.  This would account for some confusion over the years as both Josephine and Lola have the same initials- L. J. Fleming.  Remember Josephine's first name is Laura. Some census reports have messed that up. Just look at what I did find on the 1880 Census that could have been the source of much confusion, especially for those who are hunting for information on Lola, the daughter of Robert and Josephine.

Below: Note the first three names here. (Robert and the Fleming name is not here because it's on the page before.) The Census interviewer has Laura J. (Josephine), as Robert's wife, age 39 at the time of the interview.  Her occupation is... 'Keeps House'.  Over to the right the question asks of her place of birth which is Alabama. And Josephine's father P.O.B is Tennessee.  Next is a mistake.  It lists their daughters name as Laura J.  This should be Lola, as in Lola Josephine Fleming, age 17 and attends school. Also it says that her father, who is Robert, that his birthplace was Georgia.  *As a side note, I have found lots of evidence of his place of birth being in Georgia.  This should put to rest the years of speculation that he was from North Carolina. I've never found evidence of any sort that his family was from North Carolina.  Also you see a third name below where Lola's name should be, and you'll find Willie S. Cowan.  This was Josephine younger sister that she practically raised since the death of their Mother.  Willie did live in the Fleming home until she was married.  So the ages of all three I can tell you are wrong. Josephine was actually 42 in 1880, Lola was 19, and Willie was 22. No wonder it's hard to find information on your ancestors. Census records are often wrong.

After Robert took the position as Register in Chancery in Union Springs, it is unclear exactly when he and Josephine moved there. From what I gather it is most likely around 1862.  As far as the house they lived in?  I am still investigating some clues I have found. In time I hope to get those answers.  

Below: Robert Fleming on the bottom line.  They have him as age 40, when he was actually 45 at the time. But I do find this to be a clarifying as to whether he practiced medicine in Union Springs. Here is occupation is listed as 'Register in Chancery' and not a Physician.  Yes, he was still a Doctor, but he was not practicing medicine as far as I've been able to find. 

Below: This is a letter from Robert Fleming, as Register in Chancery.  See, it even has his name printed on this official stationary from his office.  I will post more about this letter on a later blog post.

After Josephine's second youngest sister married and left home in 1868 this left only her 54 year old Mother and her youngest sister Willie who was only 11 years old. Josephine's brother was still away at Law school and there was no one at the Cowan Family home in Eufaula to look after her ailing mother and this young 11 eleven year old child, Willie.  At this point they moved in with Robert and Josephine.  When Josephine's Mother, Anna passed away the following year this would leave young Willie an orphan. Josephine and Robert continued to care for and raise her as their own. 

In 1880, The Josephine Hotel was completed.  It was named after Dr. Fleming's wife, Josephine. Named in her honor, as she was described as a virtuous woman and was devoted to her husband. She was also an accomplished lady.  It is believed that she played the piano and possibly did so at her church.  She was a Presbyterian and since there was only one Presbyterian church in Union Springs it is likely that it was at the same one that is still standing today.  I understand that the original building was destroyed by storm around the turn of the century and the current one stands in its place today.  Also based off some documents I have, I believe that the home where Dr. Fleming and Josephine lived may have been across the street from this church.  Of course it is no longer there as this is where the Union Telephone Company building is now.  I'm still working to confirm this, but it is quite possible it was.  I will post more on this in a later post.

See below the current church as it is today:

 It is important to note that Robert and Josephine Fleming never ran the hotel at anytime.  Nor did they run any of the three retail spaces located on the first floor.  The hotel was run by a highly respected hotel manager, one of the best in the country of that day and personally picked by Dr. Fleming.  The businesses who leased space below, were handled and leased by Dr. Fleming.  

On September 27th, 1891 Robert passed away.  It was likely due to infection or pneumonia as was common to those with paralysis. Their 33 years of marriage had come to an end. Josephine's grief lasted just 11 months and she also passed away. It is not known what was the cause of her death. She was just 54.  Some agree that it may have been grief itself. 

This is what Josephine had placed on his gravestone:

The elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, "THIS WAS A MAN" 
              and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be nor more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain for the former things are passed away.  Rev. 21:4

It seems a sad ending, but it's not the end of the Josephine Hotel. The spirit of the Josephine still lives.  This is evident because after 136 years the building still stands.  It has seen better days, true, but she's making a come back.  I can't wait to see her returned to her glory days.  Until then we will always remember the remarkable Josephine Fleming.

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