Monday, October 26, 2009

Oct. 26, 1869: U.S. Troops enter Jackson County

After demands for intervention from the Internal Revenue officials were finally joined by Florida's indecisive Gov. Reed, the War Department dispatched a detachment of twenty soldiers from the 8th U.S. Infantry stationed in Atlanta. The troops arrived in Marianna on Oct. 26. By this time, however, the violence had largely died down. Frank Baltzell, the young editor of the Marianna Courier, vehemently opposed to the entry of soldiers in Marianna, angrily pointed out that "peace and harmony" had already been restored. Baltzell feared that, instead of ensuring calm, the arrival of the soldiers would only serve to embolden the few remaining Republicans in Jackson County.

The arrival of the troops on October 26 certainly did not quiet James Coker. Coker announced that anyone who claimed a reward for the arrest of his son for the murder of Nichols family would not live to benefit from it. At a dinner a few nights later, Coker insulted and menaced Sheriff West and "damned" Hamilton, Purman, Assessor Lowe, Dickinson, "and any man that would take an office to 'boot-lick' these fellows." He regaled anyone who would listen about his past plots to kill Hamilton and Purman.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mid-October, 1869

On October 12, Dickinson learned that the dead man on the road was Fleishman, but he was warned not to retrieve the body. Dickinson held an inquest and the jury quickly returned the usual verdict of "killed by unknown." Only the next day was Fleishman's body recovered and his identity confirmed.

After Billy Coker, Jack Myrick, and Edward Alderman disappeared, violence continued only sporadically. A few freedmen's houses were shot at or broken into. A black woman, Lucy Griffen was "attacked three times on the street and frightened." Warnings were circulated that "a crowd had determined to kill" Matt Nickels's surviving daughter. Dickinson remained vigilant. Once, he reported seeing someone at his windows around midnight. Another time, he received a warning that Jack Myrick was on his track.

By mid-October news of the horrific events in Jackson County had begun spread. From Washington, both Congressman Charles M. Hamilton and State Senator William J. Purman reacted to Dickinson's letters reporting the violence. Purman confided to Dickinson that his "remedy" for the "bloody ills" of Jackson County was to dispatch "a battalion of colored militia." Then, he wrote, "the vermin and demons would leave for Texas and Hell" and "all good people would then find safety for their lives and property." Hamilton gave a statement to the press representing "a bad condition of affairs" with "eleven attempted or successful assassinations of prominent men since last spring." He feared going back to Jackson County since, he believed, there was a "strong probability" should he return "that his life will pay the penalty of his politics."

At the same time, an IRS assessor visiting Marianna, who had been threatened by Coker, reported to his supervisor that Jackson and Washington counties were "under the control of an armed mob" that prevented "the execution of the internal revenue laws." This report was printed in newspapers across the country. With a federal official fearing for his life and prevented from carrying out his duty, pressure begin to build for the dispatch of federal troops into Jackson County.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Oct. 11, 1869: The murder of Samuel Fleishman - 140 years ago

During the week following his expulsion, Fleishman had not been idle. After being ejected across the Georgia border, he proceeded to nearby Bainbridge. There he encountered Marianna merchant Louis Gamble who, on his return to Marianna, reported that Fleishman had informed him that he intended to go first to Quincy and then back to Marianna. Fleishman traveled to Quincy, where his relatives lived, but he soon departed for Tallahassee.

Fleishman was undaunted and determined to return to his family, home, and property. He was next spotted at the Chattahoochee penitentiary where he asked Malachi Martin for protection. Martin responded that he had no power in Jackson County and advised Fleishman not to cross the river. Fleishman, Martin later testified, insisted that he must return to Marianna as "all he had in the world was there...his family,... his store and stock of goods and all his interests." The two men proceeded to the village where they learned that communication with Jackson County had been cut and all were afraid to go there except those who were "one of the white people who belonged to the party there." Disregarding these warnings, Fleishman set off for Marianna. After crossing over the Apalachicola River, Fleishman encountered Martin's employee, Sims, who stold Martin he had warned Fleishman that he would be murdered should he proceed on his route and offered to drive him in his buggy back to Chattahoochee. Fleishman insisted on continuing his journey. Sims was the last person to report seeing Fleishman alive.

On Monday night, Fleishman's bullet-riddled body was spotted about a half mile from the place where he encountered Sims.

The story of the Fleishman family in Jackson County ended abruptly at this point. Fleishman's burial site is unknown and the county records contain no file of his estate. Shortly after the murder of her husband, Sophia Fleishman and her children left Jackson County for New York City. Unconfirmed stories suggest that the Altman store was ransacked. A final inquest held two months after the murder reiterated the previous inconclusive verdict. Despite the extreme likelihood that Fleishman's slaying was an orchestrated ambush, no suggestion as to the identity of the murderer was ever publicly offered.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Oct. 5 - Oct. 9, 1869

On Tuesday morning, Oct. 5, while Reed hid under the Ely house fearing for his life, Fleishman returned to Coker's store where found an "organized meeting" of "persons of influence in the county" in progress. Coker spoke first and informed Fleishman the attendees were a committee that represented the whole community and that it was their desire that Fleishman "should leave for the good of said community." If Fleishman did not leave, Coker announced, he would "be killed on account of certain expressions" he allegedly made on the day of the picnic shootings. The committee hoped that Fleishman would comply, and they would not to have to kill him. They were concerned, Coker continued, that Fleishman's death would lead to twenty or thirty more killings. His departure, they believed, would "save bloodshed."

Before this large gathering, Fleishman stood his ground. He insisted that he was not leaving. Fleishman now bargained with Coker and the committee over the terms of his banishment. He was informed he had two hours to leave. This deadline was pushed back until 5 p.m. and then sundown. Fleishman still refused to agree to exile. He declared that he would "rather die than leave." If he was accused of a crime, he argued, he should stand trial and accept the punishment. At the very least, he demanded that he be given until January to wrap up his business. With some exasperation, the committee members repeated that they had no desire to take his life, but rather "wished to save it, and to do the best thing they could for the safety of the community." Exasperated, the committee finally declared that Fleishman would be carried off at sundown, "willing or unwilling."

Leaving Coker's store, Fleishmen went straight to Dickinson, "the only officer of the law in the town," to protest the threatened eviction. Dickinson transcribed Fleishman's account and Fleishman signed the resulting statement in the form of an affidavit. A few hours later, Coker entered Fleishman's store and demanded that Fleishman turn over all the arms in his stock "for the men in defense of the town during the present excitement." When Fleishman hesitated, Coker assured Fleishman that he would take responsibility for returning his property. Wilbur Jenkins, Fleishman's clerk who had joined the earlier meeting at Coker's store, handed Coker the key and Coker left with eight guns, eleven pistols, powder, shot, and caps. Fleishman ran back to Dickinson and swore out another affidavit to report Coker's appropriation of his merchandise. At sundown, Fleishman still had not complied with the committee's order, stubbornly remaining in his home. After 9 p.m., four men came to take him from his wife and six children and carried him off to the Georgia border, about twenty-five miles from Marianna.

The night riders continued to terrorize the black community. By now, however, some likely targets took precautions by hiding and were not found in their homes when the anticipated knock came in the middle of the night. Richard Pooser, who had been shot the previous spring, did not show such foresight. Edward Alderman and E. Butler drew him out of his house in Marianna and ordered him to march down a street leading into the countryside. Pooser broke and ran, evading shotgun and pistol blasts, and found refuge under Dr. Theophilus West's dining room. Joseph Nelson, who was Henry Reed's step-son, saw how the Reeds had narrowly escaped with their lives and made his own plans to leave for Jacksonville. He arranged to escape by accompanying Washington Chapman to Gadsden County. Nelson joined a train of Chapman's wagons and managed to get out of Jackson County alive, despite being stopped several times along the way by groups of armed white men. Together with his dog, Sherman, Nelson continued on his journey until he arrived at the railroad in Quincy, where he boarded the train to Jacksonville.

By Thursday, Oct. 7, divisions began to emerge in the white community. At a meeting of white citizens, William D. Barnes, William H. Milton, and James C. McLean "favored peace on all sides" and spoke out against "drunkenness and abuse of power." James Coker, however, took offense at these comments and protested against this abuse of "our young men who had taken a little too much, or had acted a little irregularly." An appointed committee resolved to "use every lawful effort in our power to arrest and punish the guilty parties." They further condemned "all acts of violation of the laws by whomsoever committed," called for exertions "to restore peace and quiet to our distracted county." The committee closed by offering "a reward of One Thousand Dollars for the apprehension of Calvin Rogers, one of the perpetrators of the deed." As an afterthought, a motion was passed offering a one thousand dollar reward "for the apprehension of the murderers of Wyatt Scurlock and child."

On Thursday afternoon, Billy Coker's band committed their most barbaric atrocity. Matt Nickels may have dodged their bullets previously, but Billy Coker, "Pete" Alderman, and Jack Myrick were determined to finish him off. The Courier provided chilling details. The three young men came to Nickels's house and "conversed several minutes, pretending to have an order [from] an officer." They marched Nickels, his wife, Mariah, and his sixteen year old son, Matt Jr. "forward to town but changed their course after getting a short distance from the house." The family was led to a lime pit in the woods about one half-mile away. There, the family was brutally murdered, their throats slit. Only a daughter escaped death.

The slaying of the Nickels family was deemed excessive even by previously silent whites. On Friday, Oct. 8, Justice of the Peace Adam McNealy issued a warrant for the arrest of the suspected murderers. This time an inquest into the killings was held, and after one minute the jury returned a verdict indicting Myrick, Coker, and Alderman. By the next day, all three men were reported missing and were presumed to have fled the county. One legend placed them in France where Myrick's sister lived with her husband, the Comte de Lautrippe. Other rumors located Myrick in Texas years later. The departure of these young men facilitated the reestablishment of calm.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Oct. 3 & 4, 1869

The next two days were comparatively calm. Dickinson continued to be frustrated in his attempts at initiating legal proceedings into the McClellan and Granberry murders. It would be best, he reluctantly concluded, to "await the return of quiet."

On Monday, the 4th, prominent white citizens drafted an account of the past week's events, which they sent to Governor Reed and the Weekly Floridian newspaper. The letter's authors insisted that Rogers had shot the McClellans and strongly suggested that Granberry was complicit in that murder. They "felt compelled to state" that Rogers was to blame for "much of our troubles" because of his "domineering manner" and "repeated acts of oppression" as constable. The letter's authors advised, however, that the situation was now under control and that "[o]ur people are doing all in their power to keep down further violence, and we expect to be able to do so."

On the same afternoon Samuel Fleishman was summoned to a meeting at Coker's store with leading citizens, which was then adjourned to the next morning. Fleishman was one of the few openly Republican whites remaining in Jackson County. In the days following the picnic shootings, a rumor spread in Marianna that Fleishman had advised blacks gathered at his store to avenge the slaying of Stewart Livingston and Wyatt Young by murdering whites. Various versions of this story circulated.

After dark fell, the night riders again set out. Their target that night was Henry Reed, a freeborn black carpenter. At one o'clock in the morning, Reed heard a knock on his door. A voice told him that Dickinson was waiting for him at the courthouse. Reed saw through this ridiculous ruse and replied that he was too sick to go out and Dickinson would have to wait until morning. The besiegers insisted he come out. When Reed announced he was getting his coat and hat, he was told he would not need them and to come out immediately. Reed's fifteen-year-old son, William, jumped out of a window and, as he ran past the garden gate, a blast of buckshot missed him except for nicking his ear. Reed peeked outside and seeing a double-barreled shotgun pointed at him, quickly closed the door. Now the night riders were more insistent, yelling that they would bring more men to tear the house down and would blow out Reed's brains if he didn't comply. Reed's wife, Harriet, began to cry, fearing that her son was already dead and her husband was to be murdered momentarily. Reed observed the men guarding the back of his house move around to the front and he quickly leapt out the back-window. He ran in the darkness toward the Ely house where he hid underneath until the next afternoon.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Oct 2, 1869: A small hell on earth

The morning after the slaying of Maggie McClellan, fifty to sixty armed white men patrolled Marianna’s streets. John Q. Dickinson’s diary records the events of this terrible day and his frustration at being shut out from information. Calvin Rogers appeared and was immediately pursued by Coker’s son, Billy, and his friends. For the first time since the Battle of Marianna, and perhaps the last time, the hoots of the rebel yell resounded in Marianna as the young men chased Rogers through the town. Rogers escaped but Billy Coker, Jack Myrick and another man seized two black men, Oscar Granberry and Matt Nickels, ordering them to help track down Rogers. After the two men were instructed to march ahead, Granberry was shot down dead, but Nickels managed to escape into the woods.

Throughout the morning, white men continued to stream into Marianna from the countryside. By noon, Dickinson estimated that at least two hundred men, most armed with double-barreled shot-guns and many mounted, roamed the town and scoured the surrounding area. Dickinson found "wild excitement" with young men "drunk and desperate" and "elder and better men" afraid and keeping out of sight.

Dickinson pleaded for the restoration of the rule of law and proper procedure, but he was threatened by Coker and ignored by everyone else. Eventually, James McClellan agreed to swear to an affidavit and Dickinson issued a warrant for the arrest of Calvin Rogers for the murder of Maggie. Dickinson, however, was warned not to hold an inquest over the killing of Granberry.

The rest of that Saturday, "drunkenness and misrule and excitement abounded" in the streets. In Dickinson's words, Marianna had become "a small hell on earth." After dark, the night riders ventured forth, for the first time since the spring, to terrorize black families in their isolated homes in the countryside.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

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.