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.

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