The Weaver of Wesley Chapel

Local Historian unveils frontier community's first written history

All of my creation is an effort to weave a web of connection with the world.”
– Anais Nin

Thousands of miles away from the Pasco County community of Wesley Chapel, Mayan women in the Highlands of Guatemala practice the art of loom weaving – a distinctive and defining practice of traditional culture. Long after weaving and other “old ways” of living were abolished by the Spaniards, brave, bold South American women refuse to part with their traditional clothing or weaving practices, in an effort to keep the arts of their ancestry alive.

Many of our male comrades recognize the wealth of knowledge we have,” says Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchú. “Our women know how to struggle for our culture. It’s women who are the weavers, we preserve the art and culture. We keep our history by threading color together and creating something much larger.”

Though she weaves with colorful words, not colorful fabrics, 63-year-old Floridian writer Madonna Wise weaves cultural tapestries of her own as she unearths lost and hidden threads of the Tampa Bay area’s fascinating history. And much like the weavers of the Highlands, Wise weaves something much larger than herself – a preservation of authentic history filled with humanity.

Tampa Bay historian and author Madonna Wise
Tampa Bay historian and author Madonna Wise

When I write and research my books, I really want to walk in their shoes, so to speak,” the retired educator and public school administrator explains. “As a teacher of history, I did not dwell on wars or political upheavals, but attempted to grow emotional archaeologists who unearthed stories, anecdotes, experiences—and sought wisdom from ordinary people, like you and I. It is instrumental in understanding communities and the world. We’re dealing with human nature, and there’s application everywhere!”

Journalist Michelle Miller who met Wise when she was a school principal says her love of history truly runs deep.

Unearthing the past has been a long-favored hobby for Madonna Wise,” Miller says. “It’s a passion that often has the local historian digging through old letters and ancestry websites to connect with her own heritage, and poring through other people’s yellowed photographs to create a cohesive record of what once was.”

Her passion has yielded four Tampa Bay history books, unraveling the pasts of Zephyrhills, Dade City and most recently, Wesley Chapel. Wise weaves together its stories with a handful of dedicated genealogists, paving the way for Wesley Chapel’s first written history.

Weaving-Wesley-Chapel2

Uncovering the story of Wesley Chapel was like the proverbial ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ of Florida frontier – with open range livestock, charcoal kilns, moonshining operations and community.” Wise reports. “And researching this book only magnified the importance of interviewing primary and secondary sources for documentation, in historical or genealogical research. The story unfolded during the document review and over 30 interviews with Wesley Chapel descendants, the keepers of precious knowledge nowhere recorded. Compiling it all in a cohesive way revealed the true depth of this frontier community.”

Wesley Chapel (Images of America ) was launched at the first annual history fair in Wesley Chapel. Quinn Porter Miller of the Wiregrass Ranch Foundation thanked Wise for preserving a history headed towards its disappearance.

Thankfully, Madonna was able to get Wesley Chapel people together and really document all these wonderful stories,” Miller says. “That would otherwise really go down with the people.”

Madonna Wise’s new book Wesley Chapel (Images of America) is now available for purchase at Amazon.com.

 

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