Saturday, June 17, 2006

Finally: the Charles Hamilton article is in print

"'More Courage Than Discretion': Charles M. Hamilton in Reconstruction Era Florida" appears in the Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, Number 4, Spring 2006. Copies are available from the Florida Historical Society at

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Abraham Coles Osborn, D.D., L.L.D.: The Biography

The Eagle offers the following description: "He is about 35 years of age [May 1871], five feet ten inches in height, rather light build, has a fair complexion, brown hair, and dark blue eyes, a sandy moustache, and a large mouth. Otherwise his appearance is not striking. He dresses in plain black, and wears a black necktie. He speaks so distinctly that every word and even syllable can be heard in any part of the church, but nevertheless his voice is not pleasant, and he pronounces some words in such a peculiar way that he would sooner be taken for an Englishman or Irishman than a native of New Jersey, which he is said to be." [Brooklyn Eagle, May 15, 1871].
Abraham Coles Osborn was born in Scotch Plains, NJ (near Plainfield) on Feb. 20, 1831. Brother Thomas Ward was born two years later. In the early 1840s, the Osborn family moved to Wilna, NY, between the Adirondacks and Lake Ontario. He studied at Madison Univ. (the predecessor of Colgate Univ.), a Baptist institution, and prepared for the ministry at Hamilton Theological Seminary (later Colgate Rochester Divinity School). Osborn's first pastorate was in Louisville, KY where he was ordained "a minister of the gospel" in 1858. In June 1861 (after Fort Sumter), Osborn left for Germany where he studied for seven months. He returned to Louisville and married Miss. Sarah E. Matthews of Louisville in December 1861. A year later the Osborns moved to St. Louis where A.C. accepted the pastorate of the Fourth Baptist Church. In 1867, Osborn received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Shurtleff College (a Baptist seminary that became part of Southern Illinois University in the 1950s). Osborn's wife died in August 1868 and he spent most of 1869 touring Europe, at least partially, in the company of Senator T.W. In December, 1869 he accepted the pastorate at the Brooklyn Tabernacle church. In 1872, he married Miss. Emma Hatfield of New York (whom he had met in Paris) and, the following year, left Brooklyn for the Second Baptist Church on West 25th St. in Manhattan. In 1877, Osborn moved once again, now to North Adams MA until he accepted a pastorage in New Albion in Western, NY. In 1895, Osborn became President of Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. (a black college for the training of "teachers and preachers") where he remained until 1911. He received the degree of Doctor of Laws from Colgate in 1905 where he served as a trustee for many years. He returned to North Adams, MA where he died in 1916 at the age of 84 and was buried between Emma and T.W. Osborn was survived by three sons, Robert H., Ralph and Harold. [Obituary of A.C. Osborn from North Adams newspaper by Rev. J. Wilcox; Bio. sketch by Elizabeth Osborn Slater Hubbard]. These sources are courtesy of Mr. James Peck of Corona CA, a descendant of Spencer C. Osborn, older brother of A.C. and T.W. Mr. Peck has commented that "It seems [Osborn] spent more time in the secular world than the religious. He was a Chaplain to the wealthy and was married twice, both women from wealthy families."

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Freedmen's Tribute to William Purman

William Purman, Hamilton's boyhood neighbor and friend, resigned his War Department post in Washington and came to Marianna, Fl. in early 1866. In mid-April, after Hamilton's request, Purman was appointed the Freedmen's Bureau's civilian agent for Jackson County (Hamilton was the military officer responsible for Jackson, Washington, Calhoun and Holmes Counties). Purman was appointed "Special Agent" at Marianna at the salary of $100/month beginning in June. Technically, Purman was Hamilton's subordinate, but after a short time it became apparent that they served as equals. Hamilton's attention and time were disseminated across his geographically large jurisdiction where much of the freedmen's population was widely dispersed. Dissatisfied by civilian agents previously appointed by Osborn, Hamilton was compelled to spend time away from Jackson County riding around the other counties under his responsibility. This burden became heavier in February 1867 when the Bureau terminated the positons of civilian agents in Hamilton's territory. In mid-February, Purman was instructed to report to the Bureau's Florida headquarters for further orders and in March he was appointed Bureau Agent at Volusia City. In April, the Bureau directed Purman to investigate Ralph Ely's ill-fated freedmen's colony in New Smyrna, FL. Shortly after Purman's reassignment, Hamilton wrote to his Bureau superiors requesting the return of Purman ("an Agent of very considerable efficiency- with a heart devoted to the Freedmen’s cause") to Jackson County [Hamilton to A.H. Jackson, March 21, 1867].
Hamilton's letter was soon followed by a remarkable document delivered to Colonel John Sprague, the superior Bureau officer for Florida:
Your petitioners would lay their humble request before you in this form and ask you to restore to us our good Freedmen Bureau Agent, W.J. Purman, if it is possible to do so. As you are now Head we ___ to you in confidence asking this, though we know you are doing everything for the best.
He worked day & night for our good. Starting up our education. Starting up our societies. Making speeches. Settling our Difficulties, and explaining our difficulties and settling them up for us. explaining to all through the country how to work, how to make money & how to live in peace and harmony. We feel that he has done all of us more good than any man we ever saw. The people all want him back. And therefore Colonel if you can possibly do it, We will pray and thank you for it, with our blessings on the whole Freedmens Bureau. We remain your humble petitioners."
This letter, dated March 25, 1867 was signed by 70 freedmen led by Rev. Emanuel Fortune. Well-known signers include Calvin Rogers (later constable and murdered in early 1870), Benjamin Livingston (later state legislator, county commissioner and Marianna postmaster and councilman and the last black office holder in Jackson County prior to Jim Crow's entrenchment), Jesse Robinson (later state legislator and justice of the peace), Rev. Fuller White (later county commissioner and Marianna councilman), and Isham White (county commissioner) [For biographical information, Canter Brown, Jr., Florida's Black Public Officials, 1867-1924].
Purman was dispatched in May by the Bureau on an inspection tour of West Florida and returned to Jackson County by the end of June 1867.