Wednesday, April 6, 2016
At the Mention of a Name
Now that you know who Peachy Taliaferro Wilson was, and how he came upon such a distinctive name, you may remember that there was one remaining detail in this saga yet to be discussed: just how his name came to be borrowed by a world-renowned author in one of his well-known stories.
To explain that story, we need to attend to yet another rabbit trail, this time one not having to do with any family relationships. For this story, we need to return to the United States, to a small town in Pennsylvania known as Beaver. At one time, this historic county seat was home to a college by the same name (now known as Arcadia University, relocated to Glenside, Pennsylvania).
Six years after the college's founding back in 1853, a newcomer to town—Riley Treadway Taylor—became its President, serving there for the next thirty five years. During his tenure, his daughter Edmonia was born and raised there.
Edmonia was considered a striking beauty, and as could be expected, was soon married to an English college professor by name of Hill. Eventually, the newlyweds left Pennsylvania and moved to India.
It was in India that the Hills made the acquaintance of—and became close friends with—a journalist who was to become an internationally-respected author. It was at one visit with the Hills that this writer asked his hosts to give him suggestions for names to use for the characters in one of the stories he was writing.
While Edmonia apparently was stumped at first with this unusual request and had to give the question some thought, her husband Alec immediately offered the very name we've been discussing this week: Peachy Taliaferro Wilson.
What I'd like to know is: just how did Alec Hill come upon the name Peachy Taliaferro Wilson? Admittedly, it is an unusual name. But India is also an unusually large country. What were the chances that Professor Alec Hill and the Reverend P. T. Wilson knew each other? Even a chance acquaintance in a location of that size and population would be improbable.
Mrs. Hill did eventually come up with a suggestion of her own. Thinking of a prominent man from her hometown—someone who also served on the board of the college where her father was president—she suggested industrialist John F. Dravo.
Their friend, the writer, took these suggestions and modified them to suit his purposes, and by 1888, the story was published, featuring main characters by the names of Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan and Daniel Dravot.
The author was Joseph Rudyard Kipling.
Above: Oil on canvas portrait of Rudyard Kipling, done in 1891 by English artist and author John Collier; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.