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.

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