Monday, December 21, 2009

December 1869: President Grant

At the end of December, Florida Congressman Charles Hamilton and Florida Secretary of State Jonathan C. Gibbs called upon President Grant and Secretary of War William Belknap to appeal for help in preventing future violence in Jackson County. They argued that recently "a bitter spirit" prevailed in West Florida, and the formation of a militia to keep the peace required a nucleus of United States soldiers. They asked that three or four companies of soldiers, preferably colored troops, be sent to "overawe the lawless element." President Grant and Secretary Belknap reportedly responded with great interest to this presentation and assured the Florida Republicans that the federal government would assist in the preservation of law and order. No additional troops were sent, but the soldiers who arrived in Marianna in late October stayed there until the following April (1870). This would not be the last time President Grant showed personal interest in the situation in Jackson County.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

William J. Purman biography blog

William James Purman may not be my favorite Florida Carpetbagger, but he is the most interesting and, perhaps, the most controversial of his peers. He is a fascinating subject for a biographical article. I considered writing a "formal" article for a scholarly journal, such as the FHQ, but past experience has proven that journal articles about long-forgetten Reconstruction Era figures garner little, if any, attention. The blog format is appealing because of the informality which encourages revisions, digressions, and copies of long quotations. Furthermore, more readers will stumble across a blog page, either through google searches, or just accidentally, than will ever see an article in a local history journal. I've assembled quite a lot of information about Purman, and I'll be posting over at over the next few months.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Speaking of baseball.... an 1874 game in Jax between the Fat Men and the R.E. Lee Club

From Jacksonville's The New South newspaper dated July 25, 1874:

"Fat Man's Club
There will be a contest between the above named Club and the R.E. Lee's second nine. The name and weights of the Fat nine are as follows:
Captain - Peter Jones, Catcher, 190.
F. E. Little, Pitcher, 195.
M. S. Littlefield, Short Stop, 205.
J. H. Dove, 1st Base, 177.
R. P. Moody, 2d Base, 179.
J. J. Holland 3d Base, 215.
H. Vandolen, Centre Field, 282.
H. A. Pattison, Left Field, 200.
Charles Fridenberg, Right Field, 185.
P. Bettelini, Lieratary, 265.
T. W. Osborn, Umpire, 230.
J. J. Finley, Scorer, 200.
R. L. Wood, Long Stop, 195.
Total 2,718.
The above named members of the Fat Man's Club, will be promptly on hand on the ground known as the R. E. Lee grounds, at the head of Hogan street, at 3 o'clock P. M., Tuesday the 28th of July. The public are invited to attend, especially the Phat ladies.
J. H. Dove, Secretary.
Peter Jones, Captain."

Notice that the svelte short stop, M. S. Littlefield, was the culprit in the most infamous railroad financing scandal in Florida's history. Former U.S. Senator Thomas W. Osborn, no stranger to railroad schemes himself, was the umpire. The scorer, J. J. Finley, was a former Confederate general and later U.S. congressman from Florida. Surprising that he didn't play with the R. E. Lee's. What is a Lieratary? This may be only baseball team fielded in history where the first baseman was the lightest and the center fielder the heaviest. No wonder a "long stop" was needed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Oct. 26, 1869: U.S. Troops enter Jackson County

After demands for intervention from the Internal Revenue officials were finally joined by Florida's indecisive Gov. Reed, the War Department dispatched a detachment of twenty soldiers from the 8th U.S. Infantry stationed in Atlanta. The troops arrived in Marianna on Oct. 26. By this time, however, the violence had largely died down. Frank Baltzell, the young editor of the Marianna Courier, vehemently opposed to the entry of soldiers in Marianna, angrily pointed out that "peace and harmony" had already been restored. Baltzell feared that, instead of ensuring calm, the arrival of the soldiers would only serve to embolden the few remaining Republicans in Jackson County.

The arrival of the troops on October 26 certainly did not quiet James Coker. Coker announced that anyone who claimed a reward for the arrest of his son for the murder of Nichols family would not live to benefit from it. At a dinner a few nights later, Coker insulted and menaced Sheriff West and "damned" Hamilton, Purman, Assessor Lowe, Dickinson, "and any man that would take an office to 'boot-lick' these fellows." He regaled anyone who would listen about his past plots to kill Hamilton and Purman.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mid-October, 1869

On October 12, Dickinson learned that the dead man on the road was Fleishman, but he was warned not to retrieve the body. Dickinson held an inquest and the jury quickly returned the usual verdict of "killed by unknown." Only the next day was Fleishman's body recovered and his identity confirmed.

After Billy Coker, Jack Myrick, and Edward Alderman disappeared, violence continued only sporadically. A few freedmen's houses were shot at or broken into. A black woman, Lucy Griffen was "attacked three times on the street and frightened." Warnings were circulated that "a crowd had determined to kill" Matt Nickels's surviving daughter. Dickinson remained vigilant. Once, he reported seeing someone at his windows around midnight. Another time, he received a warning that Jack Myrick was on his track.

By mid-October news of the horrific events in Jackson County had begun spread. From Washington, both Congressman Charles M. Hamilton and State Senator William J. Purman reacted to Dickinson's letters reporting the violence. Purman confided to Dickinson that his "remedy" for the "bloody ills" of Jackson County was to dispatch "a battalion of colored militia." Then, he wrote, "the vermin and demons would leave for Texas and Hell" and "all good people would then find safety for their lives and property." Hamilton gave a statement to the press representing "a bad condition of affairs" with "eleven attempted or successful assassinations of prominent men since last spring." He feared going back to Jackson County since, he believed, there was a "strong probability" should he return "that his life will pay the penalty of his politics."

At the same time, an IRS assessor visiting Marianna, who had been threatened by Coker, reported to his supervisor that Jackson and Washington counties were "under the control of an armed mob" that prevented "the execution of the internal revenue laws." This report was printed in newspapers across the country. With a federal official fearing for his life and prevented from carrying out his duty, pressure begin to build for the dispatch of federal troops into Jackson County.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Oct. 11, 1869: The murder of Samuel Fleishman - 140 years ago

During the week following his expulsion, Fleishman had not been idle. After being ejected across the Georgia border, he proceeded to nearby Bainbridge. There he encountered Marianna merchant Louis Gamble who, on his return to Marianna, reported that Fleishman had informed him that he intended to go first to Quincy and then back to Marianna. Fleishman traveled to Quincy, where his relatives lived, but he soon departed for Tallahassee.

Fleishman was undaunted and determined to return to his family, home, and property. He was next spotted at the Chattahoochee penitentiary where he asked Malachi Martin for protection. Martin responded that he had no power in Jackson County and advised Fleishman not to cross the river. Fleishman, Martin later testified, insisted that he must return to Marianna as "all he had in the world was there...his family,... his store and stock of goods and all his interests." The two men proceeded to the village where they learned that communication with Jackson County had been cut and all were afraid to go there except those who were "one of the white people who belonged to the party there." Disregarding these warnings, Fleishman set off for Marianna. After crossing over the Apalachicola River, Fleishman encountered Martin's employee, Sims, who stold Martin he had warned Fleishman that he would be murdered should he proceed on his route and offered to drive him in his buggy back to Chattahoochee. Fleishman insisted on continuing his journey. Sims was the last person to report seeing Fleishman alive.

On Monday night, Fleishman's bullet-riddled body was spotted about a half mile from the place where he encountered Sims.

The story of the Fleishman family in Jackson County ended abruptly at this point. Fleishman's burial site is unknown and the county records contain no file of his estate. Shortly after the murder of her husband, Sophia Fleishman and her children left Jackson County for New York City. Unconfirmed stories suggest that the Altman store was ransacked. A final inquest held two months after the murder reiterated the previous inconclusive verdict. Despite the extreme likelihood that Fleishman's slaying was an orchestrated ambush, no suggestion as to the identity of the murderer was ever publicly offered.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Oct. 5 - Oct. 9, 1869

On Tuesday morning, Oct. 5, while Reed hid under the Ely house fearing for his life, Fleishman returned to Coker's store where found an "organized meeting" of "persons of influence in the county" in progress. Coker spoke first and informed Fleishman the attendees were a committee that represented the whole community and that it was their desire that Fleishman "should leave for the good of said community." If Fleishman did not leave, Coker announced, he would "be killed on account of certain expressions" he allegedly made on the day of the picnic shootings. The committee hoped that Fleishman would comply, and they would not to have to kill him. They were concerned, Coker continued, that Fleishman's death would lead to twenty or thirty more killings. His departure, they believed, would "save bloodshed."

Before this large gathering, Fleishman stood his ground. He insisted that he was not leaving. Fleishman now bargained with Coker and the committee over the terms of his banishment. He was informed he had two hours to leave. This deadline was pushed back until 5 p.m. and then sundown. Fleishman still refused to agree to exile. He declared that he would "rather die than leave." If he was accused of a crime, he argued, he should stand trial and accept the punishment. At the very least, he demanded that he be given until January to wrap up his business. With some exasperation, the committee members repeated that they had no desire to take his life, but rather "wished to save it, and to do the best thing they could for the safety of the community." Exasperated, the committee finally declared that Fleishman would be carried off at sundown, "willing or unwilling."

Leaving Coker's store, Fleishmen went straight to Dickinson, "the only officer of the law in the town," to protest the threatened eviction. Dickinson transcribed Fleishman's account and Fleishman signed the resulting statement in the form of an affidavit. A few hours later, Coker entered Fleishman's store and demanded that Fleishman turn over all the arms in his stock "for the men in defense of the town during the present excitement." When Fleishman hesitated, Coker assured Fleishman that he would take responsibility for returning his property. Wilbur Jenkins, Fleishman's clerk who had joined the earlier meeting at Coker's store, handed Coker the key and Coker left with eight guns, eleven pistols, powder, shot, and caps. Fleishman ran back to Dickinson and swore out another affidavit to report Coker's appropriation of his merchandise. At sundown, Fleishman still had not complied with the committee's order, stubbornly remaining in his home. After 9 p.m., four men came to take him from his wife and six children and carried him off to the Georgia border, about twenty-five miles from Marianna.

The night riders continued to terrorize the black community. By now, however, some likely targets took precautions by hiding and were not found in their homes when the anticipated knock came in the middle of the night. Richard Pooser, who had been shot the previous spring, did not show such foresight. Edward Alderman and E. Butler drew him out of his house in Marianna and ordered him to march down a street leading into the countryside. Pooser broke and ran, evading shotgun and pistol blasts, and found refuge under Dr. Theophilus West's dining room. Joseph Nelson, who was Henry Reed's step-son, saw how the Reeds had narrowly escaped with their lives and made his own plans to leave for Jacksonville. He arranged to escape by accompanying Washington Chapman to Gadsden County. Nelson joined a train of Chapman's wagons and managed to get out of Jackson County alive, despite being stopped several times along the way by groups of armed white men. Together with his dog, Sherman, Nelson continued on his journey until he arrived at the railroad in Quincy, where he boarded the train to Jacksonville.

By Thursday, Oct. 7, divisions began to emerge in the white community. At a meeting of white citizens, William D. Barnes, William H. Milton, and James C. McLean "favored peace on all sides" and spoke out against "drunkenness and abuse of power." James Coker, however, took offense at these comments and protested against this abuse of "our young men who had taken a little too much, or had acted a little irregularly." An appointed committee resolved to "use every lawful effort in our power to arrest and punish the guilty parties." They further condemned "all acts of violation of the laws by whomsoever committed," called for exertions "to restore peace and quiet to our distracted county." The committee closed by offering "a reward of One Thousand Dollars for the apprehension of Calvin Rogers, one of the perpetrators of the deed." As an afterthought, a motion was passed offering a one thousand dollar reward "for the apprehension of the murderers of Wyatt Scurlock and child."

On Thursday afternoon, Billy Coker's band committed their most barbaric atrocity. Matt Nickels may have dodged their bullets previously, but Billy Coker, "Pete" Alderman, and Jack Myrick were determined to finish him off. The Courier provided chilling details. The three young men came to Nickels's house and "conversed several minutes, pretending to have an order [from] an officer." They marched Nickels, his wife, Mariah, and his sixteen year old son, Matt Jr. "forward to town but changed their course after getting a short distance from the house." The family was led to a lime pit in the woods about one half-mile away. There, the family was brutally murdered, their throats slit. Only a daughter escaped death.

The slaying of the Nickels family was deemed excessive even by previously silent whites. On Friday, Oct. 8, Justice of the Peace Adam McNealy issued a warrant for the arrest of the suspected murderers. This time an inquest into the killings was held, and after one minute the jury returned a verdict indicting Myrick, Coker, and Alderman. By the next day, all three men were reported missing and were presumed to have fled the county. One legend placed them in France where Myrick's sister lived with her husband, the Comte de Lautrippe. Other rumors located Myrick in Texas years later. The departure of these young men facilitated the reestablishment of calm.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Oct. 3 & 4, 1869

The next two days were comparatively calm. Dickinson continued to be frustrated in his attempts at initiating legal proceedings into the McClellan and Granberry murders. It would be best, he reluctantly concluded, to "await the return of quiet."

On Monday, the 4th, prominent white citizens drafted an account of the past week's events, which they sent to Governor Reed and the Weekly Floridian newspaper. The letter's authors insisted that Rogers had shot the McClellans and strongly suggested that Granberry was complicit in that murder. They "felt compelled to state" that Rogers was to blame for "much of our troubles" because of his "domineering manner" and "repeated acts of oppression" as constable. The letter's authors advised, however, that the situation was now under control and that "[o]ur people are doing all in their power to keep down further violence, and we expect to be able to do so."

On the same afternoon Samuel Fleishman was summoned to a meeting at Coker's store with leading citizens, which was then adjourned to the next morning. Fleishman was one of the few openly Republican whites remaining in Jackson County. In the days following the picnic shootings, a rumor spread in Marianna that Fleishman had advised blacks gathered at his store to avenge the slaying of Stewart Livingston and Wyatt Young by murdering whites. Various versions of this story circulated.

After dark fell, the night riders again set out. Their target that night was Henry Reed, a freeborn black carpenter. At one o'clock in the morning, Reed heard a knock on his door. A voice told him that Dickinson was waiting for him at the courthouse. Reed saw through this ridiculous ruse and replied that he was too sick to go out and Dickinson would have to wait until morning. The besiegers insisted he come out. When Reed announced he was getting his coat and hat, he was told he would not need them and to come out immediately. Reed's fifteen-year-old son, William, jumped out of a window and, as he ran past the garden gate, a blast of buckshot missed him except for nicking his ear. Reed peeked outside and seeing a double-barreled shotgun pointed at him, quickly closed the door. Now the night riders were more insistent, yelling that they would bring more men to tear the house down and would blow out Reed's brains if he didn't comply. Reed's wife, Harriet, began to cry, fearing that her son was already dead and her husband was to be murdered momentarily. Reed observed the men guarding the back of his house move around to the front and he quickly leapt out the back-window. He ran in the darkness toward the Ely house where he hid underneath until the next afternoon.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Oct 2, 1869: A small hell on earth

The morning after the slaying of Maggie McClellan, fifty to sixty armed white men patrolled Marianna’s streets. John Q. Dickinson’s diary records the events of this terrible day and his frustration at being shut out from information. Calvin Rogers appeared and was immediately pursued by Coker’s son, Billy, and his friends. For the first time since the Battle of Marianna, and perhaps the last time, the hoots of the rebel yell resounded in Marianna as the young men chased Rogers through the town. Rogers escaped but Billy Coker, Jack Myrick and another man seized two black men, Oscar Granberry and Matt Nickels, ordering them to help track down Rogers. After the two men were instructed to march ahead, Granberry was shot down dead, but Nickels managed to escape into the woods.

Throughout the morning, white men continued to stream into Marianna from the countryside. By noon, Dickinson estimated that at least two hundred men, most armed with double-barreled shot-guns and many mounted, roamed the town and scoured the surrounding area. Dickinson found "wild excitement" with young men "drunk and desperate" and "elder and better men" afraid and keeping out of sight.

Dickinson pleaded for the restoration of the rule of law and proper procedure, but he was threatened by Coker and ignored by everyone else. Eventually, James McClellan agreed to swear to an affidavit and Dickinson issued a warrant for the arrest of Calvin Rogers for the murder of Maggie. Dickinson, however, was warned not to hold an inquest over the killing of Granberry.

The rest of that Saturday, "drunkenness and misrule and excitement abounded" in the streets. In Dickinson's words, Marianna had become "a small hell on earth." After dark, the night riders ventured forth, for the first time since the spring, to terrorize black families in their isolated homes in the countryside.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Oct 1, 1869: Revenge gone astray

On the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 1, the grand jury that convened two days earlier after the slaying of Wyatt Young and two-year-old Stewart Livingstone abandoned its deliberations and returned the verdict of "shot by unknown person." Tempers that had simmered with anger since the Finlayson murder the previous spring now exploded. Some Marianna African Americans plotted to settle accounts once and for all. The targets for their vengeance were not the rumored shooters at the picnic, but the leadership of Jackson County's Regulators - the secretive, organization of whites determined to resist Reconstruction policy and Republican control.

At about 9 p.m., merchant James P. Coker and attorney James F. McClellan stood on the porch of Marianna's hotel, speaking with some other men. McClellan's eighteen-year-old daughter, Maggie, sat beside the two leaders of Jackson County's Regulators. Shots burst out from the darkness, apparently from quite nearby. Tragically, the assailants blundered just as badly as the ambushers who botched the attempted assasination of Calvin Rogers earlier in the week and another child suffered the consequences. Maggie, "a beautiful and amiable girl," fell dead, and her father was wounded in the shoulder. Coker, unhurt, fired back with his pistol into the night. McClellan or Coker, depending on the account, claimed to have recognized the voice of Calvin Rogers giving the command to fire.

Coker sprung into action, summoning all men from his organization to gather in Marianna. His Regulators immeidately seized control of the town and detained any black men who dared venture out of their homes. A number of riders galloped out into the countryside to sound the alarm. Decades later, Joseph Barnes told historian William W. Davis that he had ridden that night "almost to the Choctawhatchee" River to rouse the white men of Jackson County.

Maggie McClellan's tombstone (pictured above) with its faded inscription can be found in the graveyard of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna. The burial location of Stewart Livingstone is unknown.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sept 29 & 30, 1869

The morning after the picnic shootings, the investigation of the picnic site continued, but no new evidence turned up. The same morning, Dickinson convened a grand jury in Marianna. Amid speculation about the identity of the shooters, one young white man affiliated with the town's Regulators was named. In the meantime, another shooting was reported. About nine miles outside of Marianna, Columbus Sullivan, a white preacher, and George Cox, black, were hauling cotton when they were riddled with buckshot. Cox was lightly wounded. Sullivan's face was mutilated and he died from his wounds about a week later. The gunman escaped. Dickinson wrote to his friend Congressman Charles M. Hamilton about the need for "a first-class detective" in Marianna or, alternatively, "a few Henry rifles" which, he wrote, "would have an excellent moral effect here." During these tense days, rumors began to spread in the white community that dry goods merchant Samuel Fleishman had made some kind of statement advising a group of African American men gathered in his store to avenge the picnic shootings.

Friday, September 25, 2009

September 28, 1869: the War erupts

The most tumultuous, and tragic, events in Jackson County’s history have taken place in the autumn, including the Battle of Marianna in 1864, and the infamous Claude Neal lynching seventy years later. The shootings and assaults of the Jackson County War lasted more than two years, but the most virulent phase came during several weeks beginning in late September 1869.

On the morning of Sept. 28th, five years and one day after the Battle of Marianna, a party of about twenty African American women and children set off on a picnic outing. Their destination was the Natural Bridge, a few miles outside of Marianna. A few men, including Constable Calvin Rogers escorted the group. Rogers, an African American, had long been resented by Regulator elements and, after the shootings of Purman, Finlayson and Constable Pooser the previous spring, an assault on Rogers seemed inevitable. At about 9 a.m., assailants concealed behind thick bushes fired thirteen or fourteen shots in "rapid succession." Rogers, sitting in an ox cart, had his clothes and wallet torn by three or four shots, but suffered only a grazed arm. Rogers fired back in the direction of the shooters with the one round in his gun. He called out to Wyatt Young, who had gone on ahead, to bring ammunition. Meanwhile, confusion and fright overcame the party of picnic-goers. An ox pulling a cart carrying two-year-old Stewart Livingston panicked and bolted. Wyatt Young grabbed the little boy from the cart just as a bullet passed through the boy's skull and into the left side of Young's chest, killing both of them instantly.

As abruptly as it had begun, the firing ended. Within ninety minutes, news of this tragedy reached Marianna. John Quincy Dickinson, the senior law enforcement authority remaining in Jackson County, organized a posse of thirty men to search for the killers. They scoured the area around the site of the shooting for evidence. "A mysterious buggy-track" leading from Marianna to the Natural Bridge and out toward Greenwood was discovered, but nightfall ended the investigation.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly. Updates to will be more frequent over the coming weeks as the 140th anniversary is remembered.

Friday, August 07, 2009

August 1869: A Plot Foiled

After the Finlayson/Purman shootings, Florida's Governor Reed posted a two thousand dollar reward for the arrest of Dr. Finlayson's murderer. The leading suspect, Sergeant Thomas Bond, was supposed to have fled to Texas, but in August, rumors spread that Bond had appeared in Jackson County. Green White, a Jackson County freedman, decided to take advantage of Bond's return to claim the money. White devised a plot seemingly taken straight from the Bible. Bond was known to visit a house of prostitution on Jackson Co. side of the Chattahoochee River. White enlisted a woman at the House in his plan. On Bond's next visit, the woman was to grab Bond's guns, presumably while he was in a vulnerable state, and White, waiting outside the House, would then enter and seize Bond. White recruited two black soldiers stationed as guards at the Chattahoochee penitentiary to join this conspiracy.
The result was a complete debacle. Instead of Bond's capture, the attempt ended in the shooting deaths of two of the conspirators: Sergeant Sancho Turner and Green White, and the wounding of a bystander.
Despite the murder of one his soldiers, Malachi Martin, the prison's warden, feared provoking Bond and his friends. Martin tried to convince his guards to accompany him without their weapons to investigate and recover the bodies. Naturally, the soldiers refused to disarm themselves. Instead, Martin and a Mr. Sims hired the ferry to carry them and two coffins across the river. Martin found the corpses about twenty paces apart with their loaded guns at their feet. Because the bodies were too decomposed to be moved, he buried them where they lay. No one was ever brought to account for the murder of Green White and Sgt. Turner.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, “The Jackson County War,” to be published shortly.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Excellent Barbecue": Celebration of the 4th of July in Jackson County during Reconstruction

During the Reconstruction years, the commemoration of the Fourth of July in Jackson County reflected not just the turmoil of the era, but also hinted at the possibility of racial and community reconciliation. There is no record of celebration of the nation’s birthday in 1865 when the county was still recovering from the shock of both defeat and emancipation while under military occupation. The next year, however, after the arrival of Freedman’s Bureau’s agents Charles Hamilton and William Purman, dramatic developments ensued.

In late June, 1866, Hamilton was approached by a delegation of African Americans who sought permission to organize a parade through Marianna to be followed by a barbecue to celebrate the Fourth of July. The marchers intended to carry the stars and stripes and portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Hamilton gave his tentative approval, but immediately dispatched a message to Tallahassee requesting the consent of Florida's Governor David S. Walker and Maj. Gen. John G. Foster, commander of both the Bureau and the military Department of Florida. The general and governor approved, but warned Hamilton to take precautions to avoid disorder and ensure that no arms were carried at the parade. Meanwhile, Jackson County whites, learning of the proposed event, angrily objected, insisting that the freedmen had no right to celebrate. The sheriff asked General Foster to reconsider his approval. Dr. Ethelred Philips reflected the suspicions of many when he remarked in a letter to his brother that the "pest" of a Bureau agent had "put up the negroes to celebrate the 4th." Anger was inflamed by rumors that Hamilton had ordered the freedmen to attend the event bearing arms. With more than one thousand freedmen expected to take part, Philips admitted that whites felt "a little uneasy." It was now hinted that some white men were ready to stop the celebration by force and shoot anyone who dared carry the banners and United States flag in Marianna.
Hamilton next consulted attorney William H. Milton, who served as Marianna's mayor and judge of the county court. Milton did not object to the celebration on principle but advised that it was not a wise idea. Parading Lincoln's portrait would appear, he warned, as though the blacks were "flaunting defiance in our faces." Hamilton took it upon himself to bargain terms and agreed to persuade the freedmen to abandon the plan of bearing the portraits. Hamilton insisted, however, that the stars and stripes must be carried. "The time had passed," he declared "when the American flag could not be unfurled anywhere within the National domains."
Hamilton became increasingly anxious and confessed that he feared for his personal safety. He requested that General Foster dispatch U.S. troops, but the response from Tallahassee was less than reassuring. Because of illness, the only soldiers available to send to Marianna were the 82nd U.S. Colored Troops. Instead of sending in black soldiers, Foster advised that it would be better to let "matters take their natural test the feeling prevailing" in Jackson County.
In a welcome anticlimax, the Fourth of July celebration of 1866 was a complete success. The event passed "with remarkable quietness and good feeling on all sides." Not only did they not interfere, but most white males of the area came to partake of the "excellent barbecue." At first, Hamilton was at a loss to explain this surprising outcome. He surmised that the approvals of General Foster and Governor Walker had proved decisive in persuading the whites to relent. After further thought, he supposed that the threats had been mere bluster and that he and the freedmen had called their opponents' bluff by insisting on holding the celebration regardless of intimidation.

The following year’s festivities were not preceded by the same tension and near hysteria. More than 5,000 people, including many local whites and visitors from neighboring counties and states, attended a peaceful celebration that was even more successful than the previous year's event. The day began with a long procession through Marianna led by the Stars and Stripes and, this time, the parade included portraits of Washington and Lincoln. A speaker’s stand was erected by the Chipola River, and the barbecue was opened with a prayer and a recitation of the Declaration of Independence. Resolutions venerating the memory of fallen patriots were read along with addresses advocating the Republican party. The speeches were followed by an "excellent & abundant barbecue."

The murder of Dr. John Finlayson and the other killings and shootings early in 1869 did not discourage Jackson County blacks from continuing their new tradition of hosting a mass Fourth of July celebration. Once again bringing together both races, the 1869 event was a success. The day was beautiful as was the setting "upon the slope of an extensive hill that was covered with grand and massive oaks." The festivities were presided over by Jesse Robinson, one of Jackson County’s African American state assemblymen. Robinson was followed by a diverse list of speakers, including Democrats William H. Milton, William E. Anderson, Dr. West, and Republicans Calvin Rogers and Purman, who had returned to Marianna for the occasion despite narrowly escaping assassination just over three months earlier. All orators were met with "the ringing applause of the large assemblage."

With this triumphant celebration, however, ends the record of grand Fourth of July barbecues organized by the black community for the enjoyment of both races. It may well be that such events continued to occur but became so routine that they did not merit reports in newspapers. It is more likely that as the Republican Party weakened and collapsed under the pressure of white resistance and redemption during Reconstruction, the capability and willingness of African Americans to sponsor such celebrations faded along with their freedoms.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, “The Jackson County War,” to be published shortly.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

June 1869: Secession (to Alabama) Agitation

With the heat of summer, violence waned. The races settled into simmering, but peaceful, co-existance. Meanwhile, the attention of the Jackson County political leadership and business community turned toward renewed discussions between the states of Florida and Alabama over a proposal for Alabama to annex the Florida Panhandle in exchange for financial assistance. Purman, who left Marianna as soon as he recuperated from the February shooting sufficiently to travel, had been appointed by Governor Reed as a commissioner to negotiate on behalf of Florida.

Jackson County residents had long been frustrated by the state's inability to support the building of a railroad to Marianna. The most desirable plan was the extension of the tracks that ended in Quincy to Chattahoochee and over the Apalachicola, thereby finally connecting Marianna by rail with Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Plans included extending this line west from Marianna to Pensacola to traverse the entire state. Democrats already predisposed to despise Gov. Reed's Republican "carpetbagger" administration found further cause for outrage in the state's continuing financial crisis and the backroom deals with politically-connected speculators that later erupted into the Swepson-Littlefield scandal.

In an unique confluence of both Republicans and Democrats, Jackson County residents supported secession of Florida counties west of the Apalachicola to Alabama. Hopes for the eastern route abandoned, plans were floated and companies incorporated to build a rail line north to Dothan and south to St. Andrew's Bay. In the pages of his Marianna Courier, Frank Baltzell enthusiastically endorsed the plan negotiated by Purman, the man he detested most.

Frank Baltzell gave voice to the frustration of his fellow citizens:

"The whole railroad scheme is a sham and humbug, and instead of commencing a road they are squabbling over precedents of incorporations, rights of franchise and other stuff of like nature to postpone beginning until after the election in November. The bills making the appropriations were framed in such a manner that a subterfuge can be sought and obtained, in case extension to the Apalachicola river will better conserve the interest of the Middle and East.
The only hope for facilities and improvement lies in annexation, and we appeal to our citizens to abandon the irretrievably indebted State of Florida, that is unwilling to give them their rightful part of the internal improvement fund and would deceive them in the last breath of connection, and rally to the annexation and Alabama, and our long neglected section will soon see the smoky signals of prosperity and happiness hovering over our valleys and the echo of its pulses throbbing among our lonely hills.
If our aprehensions are unfounded it would behoove our friends to vote for annexation that would at least, make these companies develope their pretended intended intentions."
[Pensacola West Florida Commercial, July 16, 1869]

A public meeting was held in Marianna in August attended by one of Alabama's negotiators, and a referendum was scheduled for the Panhandle counties for October. With the endorsement of both Republican and Democratic leaders, Jackson County residents were certain to approve annexation by a wide majority. In the fall, however, other events intervened to draw attention away from annexation. Marianna did not get its railroad connection to the east until early 1883. [Greg Turner, A Short History of Florida Railroads, 85]

Monday, May 11, 2009

May 1869: Return of Frank Baltzell's Marianna Courier

From the Tallahassee Sentinel of May 15, 1869:

SALUTATORY- The first number of the resuscitated Courier, published at Marianna, is before us, with the salutatory address of the Editor, from which we extract the following:
With this number we resume the publication of the Marianna Courier, suspended in December last.
It is customary on such an occasion to open with an elaborate editorial article setting forth the interests to which it will be devoted, the opinions to which it will adhere, the doctrines it will advocate, the political party it will support, and at the same time showing up the wants of expectant readers with a prospectus or bill of fare of the interesting articles to be introduced. But we will deviate from this honored custom, let our bastling speak for itself, and make our dissertation brief.
To advance the interests of Jackson county and West Florida, to have a local expositor of the opinions of the town and county, and to disseminate information important to the advancement of the farmer and mechanic are the objects to which the Courier aims it efforts.

Frank Baltzell was still a teenager when he joined his brother George A. as editor and publisher of the Courier newspaper which they had founded in 1866 with their father George F. Baltzell, the prominent jurist. An 1870 newspaper directory listed the Courier as consisting of four pages, appearing each Thursday, with a circulation of 850. It was described as the "only paper publshed in the five eastern counties of west Florida, where it has an extensive circulation and commanding influence" (The Men who Advertise, Geo. Rowell & Co., NY, 1870, p. 627).
Frank Baltzell had already gained reknown for his feats as a boy during the Battle of Marianna. A committed Democrat and opponent of Reconstruction policy, Baltzell soon gained attention for his caustic and eloquent editorials and became a favorite of Charles Dyke, editor of the Tallahassee Weekly Floridan, the state's leading Democratic newspaper. Baltzell can be blamed for inciting hatred of Hamilton and Purman, but his views apparently accurately reflected the opinion of most of Jackson County's white community towards the Bureau agents and their allies. Baltzell did not reserve his criticism solely for Republicans, but also attacked the young "chivalry" who failed, in his view, to adapt to the post-war situation through economic industry and initiative. As conditions deteriorated in Jackson County, however, Baltzell came increasingly to rationalize inexcusable offenses committed by local whites. Unfortunately, no intact copies of the Courier remain from the years that Frank edited the newspaper. Numerous extracts in other Florida papers, however, give a strong impression of Frank's powerful and influential, and sometimes irresponsible, writing style and opinions.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April 1869: Aftermath of the violence

There are no records of arrests - and certainly no convictions - for the shootings of the spring of 1869. The circuit court grand jury, led by foreman John M. F. Erwin of Greenwood, expressed with "deepest regret...[its] utter inability to obtain evidence sufficient to bring to justice a large number of the guilty." Erwin commeneded the "hearty cooperation" of the county's civil officers and citizens, but, conveniently or not, conceded that "crime of the deepest die goes unpunished." Erwin was a prominent merchant and sometime politician who bitterly opposed the Bureau and its aims. His stately home stands in Greenwood today.

The violence of the spring terrified Jackson County African Americans. T. Thomas Fortune later recalled the extraordinary efforts of his father, state assemblyman Emanuel Fortune, to fortify and defend their home. Fortune wrote that white men stalked the home day and night and vividly recalled tripping early one morning over a man sleeping beside a shotgun at a position overlooking their homestead. Emanuel Fortune sensed his "life to be in danger at all times." Finally, Fortune heeded the counsel of his friends, white and black, to leave. He distributed his property among his relations and neighbors and packed up his family, settling in Jacksonville. His son rued that his father received almost no compensation for the farm, business, and chattel he had assiduously built and accumulated since Emancipation.

Monday, March 09, 2009

March 1869: violence following the Finlayson/Purman shooting

The Finlayson/Purman shooting initiated a period of violence that left an additional five Jackson County men dead and six more wounded during the spring of 1869. The first of these victims was James T. Colliette, a forty-two-year-old white farmer and father of five children, shot to death in his house. There was speculation that Colliette had been involved in the Finlayson/Purman shooting, although his role may have been limited to his "sanctioning the foul deed." A few weeks later, a young white man named Swain, staying at the McGriff farm near Chattahoochee, "was decoyed out...after night by a noise made about the stables...shot and killed." In the same neighborhood, two weeks later, two black men were shot and wounded. On the night of April 3, Richard Pooser, an African American county constable was severely wounded by a load of buckshot.

Meanwhile, Jackson County's leadership responded to the violence. James. L. G. Baker, one of the county's largest land-holders, presided over a meeting of Marianna citizens, which condemned the Finlayson/Purman shooting and arranged for resolutions to be printed in Florida's major newspapers. The committee, however, defeated any movement toward reconciliation by asserting that Purman had confessed, on his presumed deathbed, that the shooters' motives had been personal, rather than political. Purman, gradually recovering, insisted from his sickbed in Marianna that the assassination "was entirely political" and contended that the committee had misrepresented him. John Q. Dickinson, the Jackson County Bureau Agent who succeeded Purman, took upon himself the task of promulgating Purman's position and sent letters to several Florida newspapers and even to his native Vermont. Dickinson's letters immediately provoked a letter writing campaign accusing him of disparaging Jackson County's white citizenry.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Feb. 27, 1869: the (almost) sack of Marianna

Jackson County's African American community was outraged by the assault on their two friends. The next day, Feb. 27th, a committee representing the black community visited Purman who lay in his bed, clinging to life. The committee men - "armed to the teeth" - informed Purman that they had assembled six hundred to eight hundred men ready to "come in and sack the town that night." (This "assembling of an unlawful mob of armed citizens" was confirmed by the circuit court grand jury's presentment later than spring). Purman later testified that he had begged the delegation to desist from their threatened plan, and coaxed them to swear that they would call off their men and order them to return to their homes. A Marianna resident confirmed that "but for Major Purman's influence, the town would have been destroyed by the excited colored population, over whom the Major has complete control." The town was spared that night and, for the moment, open racial warfare in Jackson County was averted.

An investigation at the shooting scene found tracks of two men leading from the site of the shooting. Although no further evidence was discovered and no witnesses came forth, the names of the shooters were openly discussed in Marianna during the following days.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The opening salvo of the Jackson County War: The murder of Dr. John L. Finlayson and wounding of William J. Purman

Late in the evening of Feb. 26, 1869 in Marianna, FL, - 140 years ago this day - Dr. John L. Finlayson and state Senator William J. Purman were peppered by buckshot fired by a hidden assailant. Finlayson, struck through the forehead, died within mintues while Purman was more lucky and survived the shot that passed through his neck and jaw, although his life was in doubt for several weeks. The two young men were returning from a minstrel performance by the small garrison of U.S. troops periodically stationed in town when they were ambushed close by the Davis-West home that stands in Marianna today. Dr. Finlayson, about thirty years old at the time of his death, was a native of Jackson County and the oldest son of a fairly prosperous planting family that lost much property during the Battle of Marianna. Although a Confederate army veteran, Finlayson befriended Hamilton and Purman - the Bureau agents stationed in Jackson County - and, by 1867, had become active in the Republican Party, drawing the resentment of his neighbors. Purman had served as Bureau agent in Jackson County from early 1866 until his election to the state senate in May 1868 and was detested as a carpetbagger by Jackson County's white population although highly esteemed by its African American citizens.

The consequences of the shooting were severe: long simmering tensions exploded into violence and terror that lasted, with varying degrees of intensity, for almost three years. Finlayson's death left an enormous void: he was the only Marianna medical doctor willing to attend to the region's black population, whose many poor he treated gratis. He also had recently been appointed county clerk of court. Almost immediately after Finlayson's murder, his wife, Sarah Jane Bond, left Marianna with her two small children, John and Sallie, to mourn at the home of her parents in Mobile. Within two months Sarah Jane died, falling "an innocent victim to grief in devotion to her husband."

[Photo: Dr. John L. Finlayson - from the Florida State Archives collection]

ADDED 5/1/2012:  Link to image of grave of Sarah J. Finlayson at Mobile's Magnolia Cemetery:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jackson County War - Anniversary

2009 marks the 140th anniversary of the nearly three years of sporadic violence known as the Jackson County War. The estimated total number of murder victims ranges from 80 to 180 - of whom at least 90% were Republicans and, of these, 90% were African American. The full story of the Jackson County War will be told in my forthcoming book to be released by Dale Cox's publishing house later this year. In anticipation of the release of the "Jackson County War," and to memorialize the events of the terrible period, I will periodically post information about key dates as their anniversaries come up in the course of the coming years. The shooting that signaled the start of this conflict will be described tomorrow.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Purman biography at

My biographical sketch of William J. Purman for Oxford Univ. Press's American National Biography site is currently viewable at the update section at . I had also written a similar piece about Hamilton early in 2008.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

143 Years Ago Today: Charles M. Hamilton arrives in Marianna

On Jan. 29, 1866, Charles M. Hamilton arrived in Marianna, Florida to establish the Freedmen's Bureau office for Jackson, Calhoun, Washington and Holmes counties. Hamilton, then twenty-five years old, remained an officer in the Veterans Reserve Corps. With no practical experience, other than brief service as a judge advocate general staffer, Hamilton now found himself responsible for promoting the welfare and defending the rights of more than 5000 recently freed slaves in his district.