Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Recollections of Some Noted Floridians"

Following is an engaging memoir recalling some of the prominent figures in mid-19th century Florida politics, including several men from Jackson County.  The source is the Frank Papy Woodword Collection at the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee.  The author is probably Alfred L. Woodword Jr. (1841-1915).

During the decade lying between the years 1840 and 1850, the little town of Marianna nestled on the west bank of the Chipola river in Jackson County, Florida, possessed as intelligent and cultured society, and could boast of as fine an array of legal and literary talent as could be found in many of the larger cities of the South.
These man and their families were settlers in the newly acquired territory of Florida, and had emigrated principally from the border states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North and South Carolina, lured by prospects of pecuniary or political gain in the new Eldorado. Some were appointees to office under the federal government; some had brought their slaves from the older states, had cleared vast plantations from the pri­meval forests and were now established as prosperous planters; while others still had come as volunteers in the Indian wars, had fought under General Jackson and were so pleased with the country that they had de­cided to remain and adopt it as their permanent home. There were very few of that class of adventurers among them so common to a new country, the old ante-bellum hospitality and courtliness was the rule and not the exception, and characterized their intercourse in all departments of life.
The St. Joseph's Convention - which gave Florida the constitution under which she had been admitted to the Union - had been held in 1838; the Indians through the energy of General Jackson had been conquered, transported or pacified, except a few roving bands of creeks which made occasional raids from Georgia; and taken altogether, no more ideal place for a permanent home could, be found than Jackson county and Marianna. Game was abundant - deer and wild turkey - while the waters of the Chipola teemed with fish, it being no uncommon, thing to catch "Rock Fish" weighing from fifteen to twenty pounds a species of fish which I have never seen in any other river in Florida.
Railroads were unknown.  The shriek of the locomotive had never desecrated the stillness of the virgin forests, and tales of such wonders were listened to with bated breath as they were recounted by more fortunate ones - recent comers - who had actually seen them with their own eyes.
The commerce of the community was all carried on by water - from Columbus, Georgia, by steamboat to Chattahoochee, thence by wagon to Marianna; or from the latter place by barges propelled by poling down the Chipola, through the Dead Lakes to the Big River, thence by boat again to Apalachicola. St. Joseph and its railroad to Blountstown were already waning and being shorn of their glory by the new queen city at the mouth of the river, which had secured a monopoly of the cotton trade down the .river, including Columbus, Eufaula, Ft. Gaines and Bainbridge, and was the only shipping port for a vast area of country.
At Chattahoochee was the ferry for crossing travelers from West Florida to the Capital and East Florida.
The families located at Marianna had a very pleasant social custom of visiting around among each other after supper, and at these family gatherings the conversation generally assumed a literary, legal or political turn. Often have I seen gathered in my father's parlor fifteen or twenty gentlemen with their wives - men who either then or afterwards were distinguished in the history of the state. Though quite a child at the time, I think I can recall some of them sufficiently to present them to you.
There was the towering form of Judge A. E. Maxwell, who I think, has a son still living in Pensacola. The expression on his feathres [sic] was always one of extreme kindliness and mild dignity. Then there was Judge Thomas Baltzell, almost, if not quite, as tall as Judge Maxwell, but heavier built. He was decidedly of a Lincoln type of man, having a mas­sive head with short hair inclined to curl. He was afterwards Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida. He had been a member of the St. Joseph's Convention with such men as John C. McGehee, who was president of the Secession Convention in 1861. Other members of the St. Joseph Convention were D. L. Yulee, afterwards United States Senator. William Marvin, afterwards governor of Florida; Alfred L. Woodward, afterwards receiver of the United States Land Office under President Buchanan.
One of the most prominent figures in these social gatherings was Judge George S. Hawkins, who was, I think, at the time Judge of the Western Circuit and afterwards member of Congress. He was rather under medium size, neat and dapper in appearance, and noted for his keen wit and biting sarcasm - also remarkable for having buried six wives and was then living with his seventh. Many were the joking comparisons made (not in his presence I assure you) between him and Henry the VIII of England. Then there were Thomas and Allen Bush, the latter of whom afterwards became the author of Bush’s Digest Laws of Florida.
But I would be sadly recreant to personal feeling and long, stand­ing friendship did I fail to mention the “noblest Roman of them all," Major Jesse J. Finley, who came from Tennessee, and earned his title fighting the Florida Indians under General Jackson himself.
He was a very large man; tall and well-formed, a man of com­manding presence and courtly bearing and a dignity tempered by great sweetness of disposition and suavity of manner. Before coming to Florida in 1846, he had served in the Arkansas legislature and been mayor of Memphis, Tennessee. He represented. Jackson County in the Florida Senate in 1850, was made Judge of the Western Circuit in 1861, Judge of the Confederate Court in 1862, resigned that position and entered the Con­federate army- as a private and rose successively to captain, colonel and Brigadier General; commanded the Florida Infantry in the army of Tennessee, and was wounded at the battle of Resaca and again at Jonesboro. Removed from Marianna to Lake City in 1865, was a member of Congress from 1875 to 1879 from the Second Congressional district.
In 1879 he was appointed Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit and after serving for six years retired from active life and died in 1904. A record duplicated by but few men.
Where are they now, these noble men of yore, who served their country well and fell asleep? The Chipola still flows on "to join the brimming river," winding in and out among her sluggish lakes. The sweet notes of the boatman's bugle is heard no more. The barges have long since rotted at their moorings; the neigh of the iron horse startles the echoes of her caves and swamps as he leaps her narrow stream.
Resuming my recollections of those Floridians who resided in Marianna during or about the period of time of which I am writing, there looms up very prominently one who afterwards filled a very important and responsible position in-the history of the state during a crisis of great danger and which required unusual courage, firmness and statesmanship. I refer to Colonel John Milton, who was elected governor in 1860 or 1861, and guided the ship of state during the disturbed and dangerous period of the four years of civil strife.
He was known as "Florida's War Governor," and as such was con­fronted by problems peculiarly intricate and difficult which few can now realize of appreciate.
My first recollection of him was when I was a small child in my father's home in Marianna. He resided then on his plantation several miles out from town. I knew him better during the dark days of strife when I was a young soldier, and shall ever hold him in grateful remem­brance for his unvarying kindness to one who was "only a private." These were the days when the noble women of Tallahassee met as a sewing society in one of the rooms at the capitol to make uniforms and knit socks for the men at the front, and it was the duty of the governor to provide the mate­rial from which their handicraft was wrought—grey jeans and woolen yarns. When I chanced to be at home on furlough I sometime dropped in and saw them at their work. Were I an artist I could paint those groups from memory--Mrs. Ellen Call Long; her sister Mrs. Brevard; Mrs. J. J. Williams; Miss Mag Brown, daughter of ex-Governor Brown. Mrs. Pearce, Mrs. Woodward; Mrs. T. J. Perkins; Mrs Selim Myers; a host of Maxwells from Belle Aire, Mrs. Hopkins, Mrs. Dan and George Meginniss, and many more. How they did sew and--talk.
How they would pause now and then to listen with breathless inter­est to some item of news from Tennessee or Virginia, while here and there one attired in darker robes walked silently aside while the big tears would course each other slowly down her cheeks. Such an one had "received news from the front," and such a heart was breaking for a grey-clad warrior who rested in a far off nameless grave.
Governor Milton was ever courteous, gallant and sympathetic, while ordinarily full of life and jest.  Then the scene changes and memory on shifting wing transports me once again to childhood's sunny realm, and I see one calm, sedate, dignified; yet with sunny mein and pleasant face, pass athwart the stage. A large man with a heart and brain to correspond. One who wore the ermine without a stain--W. D. Barnes. Who lifted the bench out of the realm of politics and served with spotless integrity as Comptroller under Bloxham, and several terms thereafter.
Then there approaches one with heavy frame and martial tread. One with force of character and earnestness of purpose stamped upon his every lineament—-John H. McClellan, a fitting man to compile a Digest of Florida laws. I knew him when he commanded on Virginia's plains a company of the immortal 2nd Florida Infantry under the chivalric George T. Ward.
Leonine in his courage, and steadfast in his friendship yet enjoying a joke with the best, as witness how he bore with us when we guyed so unmercifully when he accidently rolled the barrel over the bluff and down among the tents of the 14th Louisiana, camped just below us, and who thought he did it purposely, and in consequence "had it in" for the 2nd Florida.
Just now there dropped from my pen the name of Bloxham.
No true Floridian can write that name without an extra heart­beat and a quickening of the pulse; nor can he pass "the lapse of earth" where rests his honored head without an involuntary slackening of his step and lifting of his hat. Bloxham! He needs no eulogy here. My hand is not worthy to write his epitaph. Patriot, orator, statesman. Patient under misconstruction--genial under criticism; pursuing still his high ideals when least appreciated by men. Caesar and Napoleon left no off­spring, and nature gave us no model when she sent us Bloxham.
We will see thy genial face no more, nor hear thy ringing voice.

[Located at: M73-10, Frank Papy Woodward Collection, Box 1, folder 8, Alfred L. Woodward Writings, FSA] 

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