Tombstone Tuesday: Horatio Nelson Jackson

HoratioNelsonJacksonHoratio Nelson Jackson was born on March 25, 1872 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to parents Reverend Samuel Nelson and Mary Ann (Parkyn) Jackson.  Samuel was a minister who was also born in Canada (Brome), although according to census records Samuel’s father had been born in Massachusetts, thus it is possible that he could claim United States citizenship as well.  Mary Ann was Canadian by birth and she and Samuel had seven children, the first two dying in infancy, followed by five sons who all lived to adulthood.  Not long after she and Samuel married in 1866, Mary Ann completely lost her hearing and became an expert lip-reader in order to communicate.

According to 1900 census records, Horatio entered the United States in 1873.  Whether or not he claimed dual citizenship by virtue of his father perhaps claiming dual citizenship, is not clear.  In the 1920’s Horatio applied for passports as a sworn citizen of the United States (although his birthplace is noted in all records as Toronto).  Nevertheless, after completing his public school education, Horatio entered the University of Vermont to study medicine at the age of eighteen (his father has also received his degree in medicine from the same institution in 1871).

Horatio graduated in 1893 and was in residence at the Mary Fletcher Hospital as a House Surgeon until 1895 when he began working at Brattleboro Retreat, a mental health facility in Brattleboro, Vermont.  In 1900, after a mild bout with tuberculosis, Horatio gave up the practice of medicine.

On July 6, 1899 Horatio married Bertha Richardson Wells, daughter of General William and Adrianne Richardson Wells.  Her father was a decorated Civil War veteran, and his post-military career as the manufacturer of so-called patent medicines (popular at that time some would call them “quack cures”), made him a very wealthy man.  His “miracle cure” was called Paine’s Celery Compound, comprised of twenty-two percent alcohol and a touch of coca (i.e., cocaine).

PainesCeleryCompoundWith Bertha’s family money, the two newlyweds were able to travel extensively in Europe and later purchased Providence Island in Lake Champlain for a summer home, as well as investing in mining and race horses.  The mining investments brought the couple to San Francisco in May of 1903 where they had stopped after visiting Alaska.  On May 19, 1903, Horatio made a $50 wager (with strangers, no less) that he could drive one of the new “horseless carriages” across the country in less than three months.  For an account of that adventure, see Monday’s Motoring History article here.

After the history-making journey, Horatio and Bertha (and Bud the bulldog who rode along with Horatio from Idaho to New York City) settled in Burlington, Vermont where Horatio became a successful businessman as a newspaper publisher, owner of the town’s first radio station and president of a bank, among other entrepreneurial ventures.

When World War I broke out, Horatio was well into his forties yet insisted on enlisting in the service of his country.  Newspaper records indicate that in 1899 Horatio was a member of the Vermont National Guard, a captain and assistant surgeon.  So determined was he to serve that he arranged a personal meeting with an aging Theodore Roosevelt to plead his case.

HoratioNelsonJacksonArmyHe entered the Medical Corps as a Captain and was later promoted to Major.  He was wounded at Battle of Montfaucon while attending to a wounded soldier – the bullet that wounded him killed his patient.  For his service Horatio was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, Croix de Guerre (French), as well as induction into France’s Legion of Honour.  Upon his return, he was promoted to Colonel in the Officer Reserve Corps and became a founding member of the American Legion in 1919.  He also ran unsuccessfully for Vermont governor.

There are no records of any children being born to Horatio and Bertha, who he affectionately called “Swipes”.  From his letters to her during the 1903 trip across America, he wrote fondly of their relationship and his love for her, none more poignant than the letter he wrote on the occasion of their fourth wedding anniversary:

My darling Swipes,

We expected our express on No. 5 at three this afternoon, but a message this noon from the train agent says that he has nothing, so it is another day. It has been an awful long time to us and I shall be mighty glad when we are on the way again… and unless another serious accident happens we ought to be able to make good time across these plains…

Well, tomorrow is our anniversary & I wish I could be with you. I want to celebrate here by getting my new parts. I shall think of you a good deal tomorrow, as I always do. You are the best little wife in the world and I am a mighty lucky fellow to have you.

Yes, old girl, I appreciate it, if, sometimes I have a queer way of showing it.

Four years tomorrow!!!! They have been very short & dear ones to me. You have done everything in the world to make me happy.

I shall just tear up the ground until I can be with you. With lots of love to all I am yours.


P.S. I am not much of a hand to write love letters: you didn’t give me a chance for much practice, but you know dear how I feel.

Although they had no children of their own, census records indicate that in 1920, along with their domestic staff, living with them were two girls: Mary A.P. Jackson (16) and Bertha R.W. Jackson (13) who were enumerated as Horatio’s nieces.  They were obviously sisters since both records list New Mexico as the birthplace of their mother.

Their father was Horatio’s brother Joseph Addison Nelson, a physician who had practiced medicine in Santa Rosa, New Mexico before migrating to California in 1903 with his wife Eva Florita Fairbank.  By 1930, Mary and Bertha, then 26 and 23 respectively, were enumerated as the adopted daughters of Horatio and Bertha.  Joseph died in 1929, although Eva lived until 1948.  The circumstances surrounding the reference to two adult young women being the adopted daughters of Horatio is unclear to me.  However, the Ken Burns PBS documentary entitled Horatio’s Drive includes interviews of two women, introduced as Horatio’s granddaughters, presumably Mary and/or Bertha’s children.  By the way, the documentary is one of the best Ken Burns works I’ve ever seen – I highly recommend it, especially if you are an Amazon prime member (prime members view it free).

Horatio donated his historic Winton motorcar, The Vermont, to the Smithsonian in 1944, along with his scrapbook of newspaper clippings and Bud’s goggles.  According to Burns’ documentary, “for the rest of his life he never tired of telling anyone who would listen, the story of his great adventure crossing the continent with Sewall Crocker and the bulldog, Bud, in a 1903 Winton called the Vermont.”


Horatio Nelson Jackson passed away on January 14, 1955 at the age of 82.  Bertha, his beloved “Swipes”, the love of his life, had preceded him in death by precisely one month (December 14, 1954).  They are buried side by side in Burlington’s Lakeview Cemetery.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.


  1. I enjoyed reading this. Mary is my grandmother. William Forbes III

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the article … thanks for stopping by!

  2. Wonderful couple, “Swipes” and Dr. Jackson, and a wonderful story. Just viewed the PBS docu-drama and found it most enlightening. By the way, Mrs. Bertha Jackson’s father was an incredibly brave cavalry soldier in the War Between the States; he received our nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor. Brave family on both sides!

    P.S. Trust that “Bud,” their fearless companion in the cross country trip, lived a full and splendid canine life!


    • The PBS program was the inspiration for the article … just the spirit of the whole adventure was inspiring! Thanks for stopping by.

      If you’re a lover of history, please consider stopping by my new site (still under construction) when I launch Digging History Magazine. Digging History is going digital with monthly issues and special editions for sale every month. Special offers (giveaways and prizes too!).


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