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.

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