Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Jackson County Reconstruction-era Christmas Story: "The Graveyard 'Possum"

       T. Thomas Fortune was born into slavery in Jackson County, growing up with his mother, Sarah Jane, in the Marianna home of merchant Eli P. Moore.  After Emancipation, Fortune's father, Emanuel, became the first African American appointed and then elected to public office in Jackson County. As an old man, at the end of a long career in the North, culminating in his recognition as the “dean” of African American journalists, Fortune remembered his Florida youth and wrote a series of autobiographical articles he titled “After War Times.”  Fortune vividly described Emancipation and the Reconstruction years in Jackson County and, after his family fled violence in 1869, later Jacksonville and Tallahassee.  I have been collaborating with Prof. Dawn Herd-Clerk of Fort Valley State Univ. to compile and present Fortune’s “After War Times” series for eventual publication.  In the meantime, I thought this delightful extract describing Christmas traditions and relating a wonderful story from the mid-1860s was an appropriate holiday entry for this blog.   
[Note: Fortune refers to his ten-year-old self in the third-person as "Timothy."]

“The Graveyard 'Possum
The Christmas holidays had always been among the most gala for the young and old folks of the country districts of the county, as it was the time of year when the sugarcane was ground and the animals were slaughtered for the year. “Cane grinding time” appealed to the youngsters as a holiday full of sweets, and the older ones also took part and rejoiced in the hunting of the opossum and other wild game, mostly at night, and fishing. Many of the youngsters of the village had been allowed to go up-country and spend the Christmas holidays with relatives on the plantations but Timothy had never been allowed to do so, as he was too young. The second Christmas week after freedom he was allowed to do so. He had grown to be a very wide-a-wake youngster, very much alive to country life and its many pastimes, which he had watched with his developing years and yearned to share to the full.

He went to the Russ plantation, where he had a lot of kinfolks and where he was very much at home. He stopped with Uncle John and there were plenty of children with whom he could make merry. The country eating was the best possible, with plenty of fish and wild game, and he never got his full of chewing cane and drinking hot syrup, - raw brown sugar, the only sort in common use in those days,- and what youngster did get his fill of such! Fishing in the many ponds and small streams was great sport, but the thing Timothy yearned most for was to go 'possum hunting. He had always heard that that was the greatest of things that go along with Christmas holidays.

'Possum hunts usually got underway about the midnight hour. Uncle John made up his party of six, including Timothy, the night after Timothy reached the plantation, and Timothy’s first experience in hunting 'possum was begun. He was all excitement and enthusiasm and felt as frolicsome as the dogs, who do know what the sport is and take a human interest in it. Dogs have lots of sense, with no instinct about it, just as some folks have, and I have often thought that dogs may be folks but can’t tell us they are, except by their actions, which are often very human.

We had not gone far from the plantation before the dogs gave the signal that they had struck a trail. It led straight to the plantation graveyard. The 'possum took to a small oak. When routed from this he took to a larger one, and then routed, he made for the largest tree in the graveyard. Uncle John decided to cut the tree down. Meanwhile the men and the dogs showed that they felt funny about the whole business from the beginning, a graveyard 'possum being regarded as a spirit and hard to capture. The dogs stood off in the direction the tree should fall, and when it fell they rushed for the prey, howling and whining in a most piteous way, but the 'possum eluded them for the third time, and Uncle John decided that was enough. His superstition took charge of him, and he was for giving up the hunt but was overruled by the others.

“Yoo cain’t have no luck when you start off wid a graveyard 'possum foolin’ yoo,” he said, with a shake of the head.

We got up into the persimmon district of the plantation where there were plenty of opossum. The dogs jumped one of the finest which made for a clump of trees and rock, and was grabbed just as he was going into his hole. Then we had no luck for a long time, when we reached the extreme limits of the farm, and were thinking of giving up the hunt. A big one was captured at this point, and, with his tail in a split white oak limb, he was turned over to Timothy to lug. We had to cross a small stream on logs, at this point. Timothy followed the others and the dogs followed him, and kept up a constant snapping at the 'possum. Timothy struck at the dogs behind him to make them desist and the 'possum drove his teeth through the third finger and second joint of the right hand, making him turn loose the limb and 'possum. They all fell into the creek, some on one side and some on the other of the log fence. All were thoroughly drenched, and it had turned freezing cold.

We got on the other side the creek and cut a big dead pine log resin fat, into sections and built a rousing fire and after awhile were dried and thawed out. Timothy’s finger was very painful, and he has yet a deformity of that finger because of the bite of the opossum.

“We ain’t goin’ to hunt no more tonight,” said Uncle John. “That graveyard 'possum done hoodoo the whole business.”

He had. Although Uncle John and the others were born and reared in that part of the county, they lost their way and did not reach their plantation until broad daylight.”

[Sources: Norfolk (VA) Journal and Guide, August 27, 1927; Philadelphia Tribune, September 1, 1927]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why all the sudden interest? (not complaining)

This blog, which typically has one or two unique hits each day, has smashed all its (admittedly meager) records over the last two days with more than 80 visitors.  Almost all of these hits entered on the Marianna Day posting from September.  I'm very curious: can anyone offer an explanation for the sudden popularity of thejacksoncountywar.com?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Frustration of Limited Sources

While there is extensive documentation of the Jackson County War, most of it comes from limited primary sources.  Most contemporary information comes from the extensive Congressional KKK Hearings testimony, numerous newspaper reports, and dozens of private letters among the Republican leaders, Hamilton, Purman, and Dickinson.  The words of many African Americans are found in the KKK testimony and the later Walls-Niblack hearings testimony. The missing element, ironically, are the words of the native, Jackson County white community, paricularly the Regulators. The views of their sympathizers are presented in Frank Baltzell's Marianna Courier editorials and several anonymous "letters to the editor" reprinted in the Florida Democratic press. I could not find records from James Coker and only a handful of letters from James McClellan, James McLean, or other white leaders in various archives. Also frustrating are the lack of photographs.  For example, there are no known pictures of the leader of the Regulators, James Coker, who remained a prominent Marianna merchant until his death in 1888.  In fact, there is no record of the location of Coker's grave, although his widow (his much younger, third wife) Ella Holliday lived well into the 20th century.  Nor are there any images, or grave location, for his infamous son, Billy Coker.  It is very surprising that there are no images or such information about attorney James F. McClellan, who, in addition to be being a successful attorney who argued numerous times before the state's supreme court in Tallashassee, served as a number of years as a Florida circuit court judge based out of Pensacola before his 1890 death.  It is much easier to list the photographs that can be found.  Among promiment Jackson County citizens, I've received contemporary images of only William H. Milton (a wartime photograph courtesy of Dale) and Charles W. Davis (courtesy of a family member), plus a group photo that includes an elderly William D. Barnes (also from Dale).  There are no images found (yet) from the Reconstruction era of Ely, Bond, Barnes, Lott, Myrick, Alderman, Baker, Baltzell, Bush etc.   

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 1870: A Brutal Election Day

On November 8, 1870, Jackson County witnessed perhaps the most violent election day in its history. After ambivalent, almost disbelieving, responses to previous elections won by Republicans candidates, the Conservative-Democrat whites were determined to win back control. James Coker and Dr. Alexander Tennille set the example for several white men brandishing sticks who intermittently harassed black men lined up at the polls to cast ballots and taunted that there would now be a "white man's government." Several black men were beaten and a riot seemed ready to explode at any moment. At one decisive moment, Jim Baker, a white man, grabbed Coker's pistol to prevent the Regulator's leader from shooting a black voter.  Republicans alleged that Judge William Anderson improperly closed the polls before sunset, preventing many men from voting. 

These tactics helped eliminate the large Republican majority. While Charles Hamilton had carried the county by 831 votes two years earlier, now the Republican candidate for congress, Josiah Walls, led by only 4 votes.  Conservative attorney James C. McLean, a rising leader in Jackson County, took an assembly seat, breaking the Republican hold over Jackson County's seats in the state legislature. John Barfield, a "scalawag" farmer, won a place in the assembly as a Republican, but resigned under pressure soon afterwards.  Ben Livingston, an African American grocer, whose son had been murdered at the picnic shootings a year earlier, gained the remaining assembly seat.

These mixed results seemed to infuriate the Regulators even more and frustration at their failure to win back control of the county government through the ballot led to the resumption of more extreme measures.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Black Confederates: A Different Viewpoint

The debate over African Americans having served in the Confederate Army is raging across the internet.  Much of the discussion focuses on nuance (e.g., did African Americans serve as "soldiers" as opposed to camp attendants, did they serve as slaves or of their volition, etc.) and many of the participants are speaking past each other. I found the following excerpt from Congressional testimony taken in early 1866 fascinating in offering the viewpoint of some Tallahassee blacks that suggests much of this debate is moot or misplaced. It must be considered, however, that this passage is retold by a white, Yankee interlocutor.  Rev. L. M. Hobbs toured much of Florida in 1864 and 1865 and became associated with the Freedmen's Bureau's education efforts. Sometime in late 1865, he spoke to some African American young men at a school in the Tallahassee area. The discussion eventually turned to service in the Confederate army, or maybe Florida's militia. Hobbs told his Congressional interviewers the following: 

 “I asked the boys what they understood freedom to mean. They said that to be free was to be their own; that is, that they were not under the control of another person to be bought and sold. I asked them if they could do as they pleased now that they were free. They said they could not break the law – could not do wrong without being punished. I asked them how they knew they had been made free. They said that when the Union soldiers came and hoisted the United States flag over the capitol, that meant freedom; they knew they were free then. Just before the surrender the rebels were organizing colored troops for their service, and on two or three occasions a large number had been taken to Tallahassee to be drilled. I have frequently asked the negroes what was their opinion of that. They said they were all going into the rebel army. I asked them if they would have fought against the United States government. They said, “Not a man of us; we had our plans all laid; we knew all about it; we would never have fired a gun at the Union soldiers, but on the very first opportunity we would have turned our fire upon the rebels, or we would have gone over to the Union side.” I asked them if they had always believed that that Union cause would prove successful. They said that at times they would feel discouraged, from hearing the rebels always say that they were whipping the Yankees, but that they had always hoped and believed that the Union cause would be successful.”   [emphasis added]. Rep. of Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 39th Cong. 1st Session, Part IV, p. 10.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"The Jackson County War" book

The University of Alabama Press has confirmed that it will publish The Jackson County War.  Release is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2012.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

141 Years Ago: The Picnic Shootings

This post is a re-posting from least year's anniversary:

The most tumultuous, and tragic, events in Jackson County’s history have taken place in the autumn, including the Battle of Marianna in 1864, and the infamous Claude Neal lynching seventy years later. The shootings and assaults of the Jackson County War lasted more than two years, but the most virulent phase came during several weeks beginning in late September 1869.

On the morning of Sept. 28th, five years and one day after the Battle of Marianna, a party of about twenty African American women and children set off on a picnic outing. Their destination was the Natural Bridge, a few miles outside of Marianna. A few men, including Constable Calvin Rogers escorted the group. Rogers, an African American, had long been resented by Regulator elements and, after the shootings of Purman, Finlayson and Constable Pooser the previous spring, an assault on Rogers seemed inevitable. At about 9 a.m., assailants concealed behind thick bushes fired thirteen or fourteen shots in "rapid succession." Rogers, sitting in an ox cart, had his clothes and wallet torn by three or four shots, but suffered only a grazed arm. Rogers fired back in the direction of the shooters with the one round in his gun. He called out to Wyatt Young, who had gone on ahead, to bring ammunition. Meanwhile, confusion and fright overcame the party of picnic-goers. An ox pulling a cart carrying two-year-old Stewart Livingston panicked and bolted. Wyatt Young grabbed the little boy from the cart just as a bullet passed through the boy's skull and into the left side of Young's chest, killing both of them instantly. 

As abruptly as it had begun, the firing ended. Within ninety minutes, news of this tragedy reached Marianna. John Quincy Dickinson, the senior law enforcement authority remaining in Jackson County, organized a posse of thirty men to search for the killers. They scoured the area around the site of the shooting for evidence. "A mysterious buggy-track" leading from Marianna to the Natural Bridge and out toward Greenwood was discovered, but nightfall ended the investigation.

This account is adapted from the forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Celebration of Marianna Day in the 20th Century

Coinciding with last year’s 145th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, the town of Marianna and Jackson County revived the celebration of Marianna Day. The commemoration of the Battle of Marianna has a long history and, early in the twentieth century, many Florida communities observed the anniversary. The events were typically organized by United Daughters of the Confederacy chapters and were refined affairs, involving recitations, musical performances and readings. Local veterans and children were invited to participate. The following accounts are probably representative:

“Wednesday afternoon at two-thirty, Mrs. Jos. E. Wilson entertained the veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy at the beautiful home of her father, Col. W. T. Weeks, on Cherry street.

The house was elaborately decorated with large and small flags, ferns and roses. On the front veranda was placed a large punch bowl and Mrs. J. M. Brownlee served the arriving guests with this refreshing beverage.

The chapter historian, Mrs. J. M. Alvarez, arranged a program suitable to the occasion, which was the anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, and was as follows:

Invocation, Rv. W. G. Law
“A Medley of Southern Airs” – Played by Victrola
Solo, “Somewhere a Voice is Calling” – Mrs. A. Z. Adkins
A paper on the Battle of Marianna by Mr. H. Robinson, of Jacksonville, sole surviving Confederate participant, read by Mrs. R. A. Weeks.
Paper, “Wrongs of History Righted” – Mrs. J. M. Alvarez
Song, “Silver Threads Among the Gold” – Victrola
Solo, “Mother McCree” – Mrs. A. Z. Adkins

The approach of refreshments was announced by white paper napkins being distributed among the guests . . .

The veterans thoroughly appreciated the occasion and were enthusiastic in the praise of the honors shown them.”

Bradford County Telegraph, Sept. 29, 1916.

Pensacola was disorganized in 1908 but then held two Marianna Day events in 1909:

“At eight o’clock this evening there will be special services at Christ church in celebration of the anniversary of the battle of Marianna, Rev. P. H. Whaley conducting the services. All the southern organizations are extended a special invitation to attend. The crosses of honor for the veterans will not be presented at this time, owing to the fact that the order for them could not be filled immediately.”

Pensacola Journal, Sept. 27, 1908

“The United Daughters of the Confederacy held a very interesting exercise at the armory hall Monday at 10:30 a.m., to commemorate Marianna Day and Raphael Semmes’ birthday. The president, Mrs. W. R. Snead, presided. The following program was rendered:

Prayer – Rev. Clyde Johnson
Suwanee River – Chapter
Report of Chapter – Miss. M. F. Milton
Instrumental Solo – Miss Gussie Whitaker
Recitation, 'Marianna' - Miss Clara Lorley
Poem of 'Battle of Marianna,' written by Mrs. F. B. Chapman, read by Mrs. B. S. Liddon.
'Dixie' – By children of Confederacy"

Pensacola Journal, Sept. 29, 1909

At the Hotel Escambia, a reception, given “in honor of Marianna Day… and also in compliment to the Confederate Veterans…proved a success in every particular.” At this event “Members of all the Confederate associations in the city together with many of their friends were present.” The program was similar in format, although different in content, from the armory hall event. The evening concluded with the presentation of “crosses of honor.”

Pensacola Journal, Sept. 28, 1909

Also in 1909, Gainesville’s Kirby Smith UDC Chapter gathered for a “meeting of historical nature” that was “well attended” at the residence of the chapter’s president, Mrs. H. H. McCreary. This event included music and readings, featuring the recitation of a paper titled “The Battle of Marianna and Reminiscences of the War” by the chapter’s historian, Mrs. F. M. Prewitt.

Gainesville Daily Sun, Sept. 28 and 30, 1909

In 1913, the Miami UDC chapter held a picnic to commemorate Marianna Day and marked the occasion by unveiling a “handsome monument” to Confederate soldiers at the courthouse.

Orlando Daily Sentinel, Sept. 19, 1913

One account of an early Marianna commemoration suggests a less formal and, perhaps, one hopes, a less sedate event: “S. M. Robertson, J. B. Locky, D. C. Buie, W. H. Waldon and J. Baxley attended the meeting of Confederate Veterans at Marianna Friday. The occasion was a celebration of commemoration of the Battle of Marianna. They say they had a most enjoyable time and were treated royally.”

Chipley Banner, Oct. 3, 1912

A journalist reported a poignant moment during the 1927 observance. That year, the Florida division of the United Confederated Veterans held their reunion in Marianna to coincide with Marianna Day. For the first time, the elderly veterans in attendance rode the parade route in automobiles rather than march on foot. An official explained that this change was necessary because the “cost” for these aged veterans of walking “was too high in past years…invariably the task has overtaxed a man and we have lost a part of the precious few.” The 1927 event also saw the participation of Union army veterans who returned the flag of Gen. Finley’s Florida brigade captured at the Battle of Franklin.

Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 28, 1927

As can be seen from the above accounts, the observance of Marianna Day was often the preserve of the UDC. The role assumed by the UDC and the popularity of these early twentieth century Marianna Day celebrations may have been spurred, to some degree, by Mrs. Fannie B. Chapman. Mrs. Chapman, the widow of Washington Chapman, lived in Marianna during the war years and Reconstruction before moving to Pensacola. She became very involved in the UDC, rising to leadership positions. Around 1908-10, Mrs. Chapman wrote a series of articles for the Pensacola newspapers recollecting ante-bellum and war-time Jackson County. Her account of the Battle of Marianna is an important source. Interestingly, during the chaos of the fall of 1869, Mrs. Chapman displayed her implacable courage when she probably saved the life of her servant’s friend, a young African American named Joseph Nelson, who had been seized by the Regulators taking control of the town. Mrs. Chapman marched up to the chief of the Regulators and declared Nelson’s innocence from involvement in violence and then demanded and obtained Nelson’s release from custody. The Chapmans may also have played a role in 1869 in protecting other persecuted African American families.

The commemoration of Marianna Day, at least as a public event, slowly faded over the course of the twentieth century as the last individuals with memories of the War passed away. Also, as Florida’s population changed rapidly during the mid and late twentieth century, the explicitly nostalgic “Lost Cause” nature of the programs greatly limited their appeal. We do have an account, however, of the centennial celebration held at Marianna in 1964, featuring an appearance by U.S. Senator (and former governor) Spessard Holland:

“The Celebration of the Centennial of the Battle of Marianna, was held in Marianna at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, on Sunday afternoon, September 27, at two o’clock, with the William Henry Milton Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in charge.

The services began with a religious service held in the main body of the church, and then the assembly filed out to the Parish House for the main program with Senator Spessard Holland as speaker. Mrs. Wilson L. Baker of Tampa, president of the Florida Division of the U.D.C. presented Senator Holland to the assembly, after the singing of “Dixie” by the group and a choral number by a group from Chipola Junior College.

Senator Holland gave a resume of the battle, stating that it was fought on the grounds where the first Episcopal Church stood, that it was burned during the battle, along with two fine residences, that there were casualties on both sides, that the Federals retreated to Pensacola with their wounded. The Federals were trained militia, sent to take the territory as a valuable farming source of Confederacy supplies along with the salt works on the coast, and the Confederate forces doing the defending were of “The Cradle to Grave,” being boys under fifteen and men too old for army service, who were at home farming. They only had old fire arms, no military weapons, but made a brave effort to defend their homes.”

Gadsden County Times, Oct. 1, 1964

The organizers of Marianna Day in 2009 preserved the historical origin of the celebration - to commemorate the valiant defense of the town and remember the fallen – while broadening its scope to encompass a festival with music and events that welcomed the entire community. Hopefully, with such an inclusive program, Marianna Day will continue be a great success and the precedent for an annual celebration.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Charles Hamilton and the 5th PA Reserves at Antietam

Corporal Hamilton and his Company A of the 5th PA Reserves fought in a sharp, fierce action charging up steep, rocky terrain at South Mountain. They then marched along with the rest of Seymour's First Brigade of Pennsylvania Reserve regiments in Meade's 3rd Division of Hooker's I Corps to Sharpsburg. On the early evening of Sept. 16th, they came down the Smoketown Road to the East Woods, bordering on the north east and east side of the cornfield to be become infamous the next day.

(The edge of the East Woods)

The 5th PA Reserves formed the extreme left of the I Corps.  There was heavy skirmishing that night, and Col. Fisher reconnoitered the ground to the east of the woods, coming into contact with the 4th Alabama in the darkness. Early the next morning, Sept. 17th, the 5th advanced through the east edge of the East Woods, driving out any Confederates and supporting the left of the 13th PA (the "Bucktail" regiment).  Moving just to the east of the Smoketown Road, the 5th emerged at the south-east corner of the East Woods.
(South east area of the East Woods from the Smoketown Road)

 According to Ezra Carmen, the 5th PA Reserves "lining up behind the fence, opened fire upon Trimble's Brigade, in line across the plowed field near the Mumma grave-yard, 300 yards distant. The fighting was severe, the Confederates suffering most, being on open ground, while the Pennsylvanians had the cover of trees."
(Fence along original fence line at bend in the Smoketown Road where it emerges from the East Woods, the Mumma graveyard in a brick enclosure in front of the trees in the center).

At this point the Bucktails ran out of ammunition and pulled back to be relieved by the 2nd Reserves. Col. Fisher saw the 13th pull back but not the 2nd coming into the line.  Apparently, believing his right was gone, leaving the 5th exposed now on the right as well as left, Fisher led his regiment back through the East Woods and out of action for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 1870: Debacle - Hamilton and Purman return to Marianna

Facing a serious challenge for the Democratic nomination for the congress, Hamilton planned to rally his support base by campaigning in Jackson County. The dedication of a new schoolhouse in Marianna in early August provided the occasion for a public rally and Hamilton’s first visit to Jackson County in nearly two years. Hamilton arrived accompanied by Purman, and a small band of supporters. From the start, this visit was a disaster. Hearing rumors of a planned assault, they fortified their lodgings, posted armed guards at the windows. The night was full of "great excitement" with the "running of horses and blowing of horns."

The rally was a catastrophe. To Hamilton’s complete surprise, J. C. Gibbs, Florida’s Secretary of State and a challenger for the Democratic nomination, appeared and attacked Hamilton, blaming him for the recent violence. This denunciation from Florida’s most prominent African American office-holder delighted the audience filled with the former Bureau Agents’ white antagonists.

After the meeting ended, Hamilton and Purman faced the daunting prospect of leaving Jackson County alive. Reliable information indicated their lodging would be stormed, but that all the routes heading east toward Gadsden County were picketed by waiting assassins. Purman and Hamilton upped the ante by proposing to raise a posse of several hundred armed blacks to escort them out of Jackson County. News of this proposal alarmed leading Marianna citizens who assembled to negotiate with Hamilton and Purman over measures to ensure their safe and swift exit from Jackson County. Hamilton and Purman prepared a list of twenty prominent white citizens and announced that if ten of the proposed men would escort them over the Apalachicola River, they would retract their call to raise a posse of blacks. The ten men gathered and the party left Marianna, selecting an unfrequented road northward toward the Georgia border and Bainbridge, rather than one of the main roads leaving east to Quincy.

Upon their safe arrival in Bainbridge, Purman and Hamilton thanked their escorts, treated them to champagne, and released them. Marianna Courier editor Frank Baltzell later accused the leading citizens who provided the escort as having "tarnished their honor and contaminated their characters" by consenting to protect Hamilton and Purman.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Bloody Settlement of an Old Feud in Jackson County"

Recent studies have shown that Florida was among the most violent states during the nineteenth century. Prior to the War, however, Jackson County held the reputation of one of the most peaceful regions in that state. The post-war period quickly ended that. Although occuring at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, the remarkable confrontation recounted in the following newspaper extract seems to have arisen from a personal dispute, not some political cause. This story is not directly pertinent to The Jackson County War, but gives a fascinating depiction of extra-legal dispute resolution:

"A serious shooting affair occurred at Neely's Store, in Jackson county, on Wednesday, 29th ult. [ed. Nov. 29, 1865]. The parties concerned were two men by the name of Williams, and one named Clare, on one side, and two Hams, father and son, on the other. The cause was an old feud existing for sometime. For the purpose of settlement they met at the precinct on election day, armed with rifles and double-barreled guns. At the first fire, one of the Williams was killed, and Ham, Sr., firing at the other brother, Newton Williams, missed his aim, the ball unfortunately taking effect on the body of a Baptist preacher, named Grantham, and inflicting what is believed to be a mortal wound. Meanwhile, the younger Ham was shot down, and his father, standing over him, defended his body with clubbed, but empty gun. While thus engaged, Newton Williams approached, and firing one barrel with fatal effect, into the breast of the father, turned and discharged the other through the head of the prostrate and disabled son. This ended the difficulty. Newton Williams remained on the ground nearly all day, assisted in the burial of his brother, and defied arrest. Next day, Captain [ed. Charles C.] Rawn of the Seventh Infantry, in command at Marianna, with a rifle of men, proceeded to the spot, and arrested Williams at his own house. Clare, at last accounts, was still at large.  - Quincy Commonwealth,"
quoted in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, Dec. 28, 1865. [recovered from http://dlxs.richmond.edu/d/ddr ]

3 men face off against 2 to settle "an old feud," and 3 of them, and possibly a 4th man, a bystander, are killed!  Some searching around on the census records gives information about the individuals involved. Newton Williams, also referred to as Jasper Newton Williams (not to be confused with a man born in 1847 in Jackson County with the same name) was about 31 at the time of this incident.  Williams was allegedly to have killed Green White and Sancho Turner during their botched attempt to seize Sgt. Bond described in the Aug. 1869 post.  In addition, Williams is said to have shot his friend Sgt. Bond in the leg during a drunken card game, giving him a total of 5 men shot and 4 murdered.  Williams had two brothers, James Williams, about one year older, and William Williams Jr., 5 years younger.  I'm not sure which brother was killed by the Hams, but I'm guessing it is James since the Williams brothers' father, William Williams Sr., was living with James in the 1860 census, but lives with Newton's family in the 1870 records.
The Hams are most likely William Ham, about 53 at the time of his death, based on the 1860 census, and his son is possibly Patrick, who, again according to the 1860 census, would have been about 19 when Newton Williams shot him in cold blood.  William Ham was fairly prosperous, listed as owning 120 acres of land in the 1860 records. The only Grantham who is plausible as a victim is Daniel, about 40 in 1865, but listed as a farm laborer, not a minister.
I cannot find any information about Williams brothers ally, Clare.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Fourth of July during Reconstruction days

For a description of Fourth of July celebrations in Jackson County during Reconstruction, refer to my post from last year:


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

May 1870: A Grand Tournament

The image of the old South as a society role playing the chivalrous world of a Sir Walter Scott novel is not entirely Hollywood myth. Riding skill competitions and feasts with fanciful medieval-like pageantry and ritual had been common in the South since the 1850s. In the post-war years, these events became even more popular. Jackson County held a particularly "grand tournament" in May 1870:

The field of play was set up midway between Marianna and Greenwood where a ring was suspended from an arch and a rostrum erected for the judges. In a nearby grove, a throne and dinner table were assembled. Captain Joseph Barnes of Greenwood commanded the band of twenty knights, dressed in "tasty and attractive costumes," who rode "their noble and beautifully caparisoned steeds with an ease and grace that challenged the admiration of all." John M. F. Erwin, serving as "Field Marshall," read the program and William D. Barnes addressed the audience. After tilting for the suspended ring, the champion, Robert Hearn, crowned Miss Lizzie Bryan the Queen of Love and Beauty. Other successful Knights chose four Maids of Honor. After a sumptuous dinner, the crowd returned to Marianna for a ball held across three large halls, and dancing lasted until dawn."

Such festivities must have been cathartic after the violence of the previous fall. Black citizens, however, did not attend, except for members of the "delightful band which discoursed sweet music the while." At least for a few hours, some Jackson County residents could pretend that nothing had changed.

This account is adapted from the forthcoming book, The Jackson County War.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Recognition for the "Samuel Fleishman" article

Serendipitously, I discovered yesterday that "Samuel Fleishman: Tragedy in Reconstruction-Era Florida" Southern Jewish History 8 (2005), 31-76, is listed among 36 articles nominated by the Organization of American Historians for its Best American History Essays of 2008 competition. Fleishman didn't make the final cut of ten essays chosen for reprint in the OAH's annual book, but apparently it was culled from among thousands of essays to receive the honor of nomination.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Sound of the Rebel Yell

John Quincy Dickinson wrote that on Oct. 2, 1869, Marianna men pursuing Calvin Rogers through the town's streets let loose the clarion call of the Rebel Yell. A Union army veteran of combat in the Louisiana theater, Dickinson was certainly familiar with the Rebel Yell from battlefield exprience. From my brief research, I've found contradictory statements about the sound of this legendary battlefield call. The Museum of the Confederacy staff think they've confirmed its sound. Check out these fascinating videos:



[credit to Ken Levin's excellent www.cwmemory.com blog for finding these videos]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remembering Calvin Rogers (c. 1831 - Jan. 26, 1870)

This African American farmer, a former slave, first entered the historical record when he signed a petition in March 1867 addressed to Florida Bureau chief Col. John T. Sprague asking that William J. Purman be reassinged to Jackson Co. after the Bureau had tranferred Purman away from Marianna. By the following year, Rogers was serving as president of Jackson County's newly formed Republican Party. Under his leadership the county party ratified the new state constitution and issued public messages offering reconciliation with white neighbors allied with the Democratic-Conservative opposition. In the elections in the spring of 1868, Rogers became the first African American elected to public office in the history of Jackson County when he was elected Constable.

A noted "stump speaker," Rogers spoke at mass public gatherings, such as the 4th of July picnic hosted by the county's African American community in 1869. Henry Reed, a free-born African American active in public affairs during the early years of Reconstruction in Jackson Co., testified that Rogers was "a good man and as true a man as ever there was in the world." Rogers made a memorable impression on twelve-year-old T. Thomas Fortune, who, years later, memorialized Rogers in his poem "Bartow Black." Fortune recalled Rogers as "far above the average of his race in intelligence and courage."

Jackson County whites, however, viewed Rogers quite differently. They bristled at the unprecedented situation of a black man holding a law enforcement position with the authority to arrest whites. They resented Rogers's "domineering manner" and accused him of "repeated acts of oppression in his office of both white and colored." White opinion regarded him as "a bad, bold and dangerous man." The country board of commissioners tried to discourage his service as constable by imposing the onerous obligation of posting a $1,500 bond for guarantee of his performance of the official duties. By the fall of 1869, the Regulators had targetted Rogers for assassination.

The story of Calvin Rogers's role in the terrible events of the fall of 1869 are told in detail in previous posts on this blog. After being wounded at the picnic shooting in late September, Rogers was accused, on very thin evidence, of culpability in the murder of Maggie McClellan. He was hunted relentlessly until finally cornered in Marianna on this day, 140 years ago. If Rogers was responsible for the reprisal shootings on Oct 1, 1869, when intended targets were clearly James McClellan and James Coker, he showed gravely poor judgment. He may have hoped to forstall his own inevitable murder by decapitating the Regulators' leadership. Instead, recklessness merely compounded the tragedies.

Monday, January 04, 2010

January 1870: Closing the Circle

After the reimposition of order and the arrival of the troops, normal life resumed in Jackson County. The circuit court judge finally deemed it safe enough to travel to Marianna and Calvin Rogers, still in hiding, was charged with Maggie McClellan's murder. Aleck Dickens was charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact. Murder charges were also brought against Jack Myrick, who was safely far removed from Florida and justice. Judge Anderson's county criminal court charged Myrick with assault with intent to kill and resisting an officer. Billy Coker, long since disappeared, was accused of only assault and battery. Quiet was not complete, however, as evidenced by some unidentified gunman's taking pot shots at the guard posted in front of the troops' quarters and the unexplained murder of Lassiter Shadrach, an African American farm laborer, in December.

The Regulators still had one score left to settle. On January 26, 1870, Calvin Rogers was finally tracked down. "Several citizens" cornered him at the home of a black resident of Marianna. The Courier reported that Rogers "in attempting to break arrest was killed by the constable and posse." Thus, the life of Jackson County's first black law-enforcement officer ended in a vigilante lynching. No evidence was ever put forth to prove Rogers's responsibility for the murder of Maggie McClellan other than James Coker's claim that he recognized Rogers's voice calling "fire" in the darkness.

The same day that Calvin Rogers was slain, the murder that had initiated the year of terror was remembered in Tallahassee. In the Florida legislature, Senator Purman had introduced a bill calling for state financial support of Dr. Finlayson's two orphaned children. The state assembly approved the proposal and awarded John and Sallie Finlayson, sheltered by their grandparents in Mobile, a grant of three hundred dollars per year to be paid out for ten years.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War.