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:


Dale said...


You mentioned Dr. Finlayson's service with the Confederate Army. He was a member of the Marianna Dragoons, a unit that eventually became Company B of the 15th Confederate Cavalry.

This company included the sons of many of Jackson County's most prominent individuals, including members of the Alderman, Baker, Bellamy, Davis, Dekle, Dykes, Irwin, Long, Lewis, McNealy, Myrick, White and Wynn families.

One of the members was Littleton Myrick, brother of John "Jack" Myrick, who later was accused of being one of the leaders during the "Jackson County War." Littleton was killed at the Battle of Marianna.


DRW said...

Thanks for the comment Dale. I've often speculated about the courage of the handful of white Republicans in Jackson County during the Reconstruction period, particularly Dr. Finlayson, whose family appears to have been an integral part of Marianna's small, tight knit "society." One remarkable and, I'm guessing, unusual aspect is that although the oldest son of planting family, Finlayson chose medicine for his profession. Despite his turning away from the expected careerpath, he remained in Marianna to begin his practice. The fact, as you point out, that his military unit was pepppered with scions of other Jackson Co. society families suggests how dramatic and surprising his conversion to Republicanism after the war must have been.