Monday, March 28, 2011

140 Years Ago: John Quincy Dickinson's last week alive

Through the 1870 election, Jackson County African Americans and their few white Republican allies had faced political violence with surprising resiliency. In early 1871, however, the weight of the relentless pressure began to show. Jackson County’s Regulators, undeterred, even spurred by the disappointment in the 1870 election, were plotting even more audacious crimes. Rumors of their plots reached alleged targets in neighboring Gadsden County and even the governor’s office.

White Republicans began falling out of the ranks. John Barfield resigned his seat in the state assembly shortly after it convened in January 1871. Sheriff Thomas West, beaten on a Marianna street in early February "by a crowd of scoundrels," abandoned his post and Jackson County. In March, James W. Yearty, a state assemblyman from adjacent Calhoun County was murdered, allegedly by outlaw Luke Lott. Yearty's offense was that he "acted with the Republicans.”

John Quincy Dickinson, the highest Republican county official, was depressed by these events, believing his assassination was inevitable. He confessed his despondency to his friends, who received each communication from Dickinson as though it might be his last. Regulators’ defiance and abuse of freedmen was brazen. “Everyone seems inclined to take advantage of the absence" of Sheriff West, Dickinson wrote, and "[i]t just seems as if the devil had possessed the whole community." Dickinson’s pessimism in late March was well placed. He was fated to join the victims soon enough.

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