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.