Monday, November 3, 2008

The Rough and Tumble Election of 1849

As Jackson County voters go to the polls for this year's General Election, it should be a peaceful experience. In our modern times election day is still exciting, but doesn't quite involve the bodily risk that it did in earlier times! Consider the election of 1849 for example.

The following is excerpted from my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One...

One of the more fascinating documents to survive from the early days of Jackson County is an autobiography written by Dr. Charles Hentz. The doctor maintained a medical practice in Port Jackson on the Chattahoochee River in the year 1849. His writings, based on his memories and a shorter diary he kept during his time in the area, reveal much about the rough and tumble nature of life in the rural areas of Jackson County during the late 1840s.

In one fascinating passage, he described the election of 1849 as a day of drinking, rowdiness, drug use and murder:

…It was an eventful day, in more ways than one. In the forenoon, some of the reckless, drinking men came to me to ask me to give them some chloroform; they having heard of its wonderful effects in the way of sudden exhilaration; I did my best to get rid of them; told them they had too much aboard already &c., &c., but they insisted so perseveringly, and declared that I should be held blameless, I finally announced loudly from my window what was going to happen, and warned everybody to look out; I got several of them – the two Keels, a man named Bowers, &c., &c. – to roll their handkerchiefs up, & I poured in a good dose of chloroform into each, and told them to walk up and down under the cotton shed, & smell deep and hard. It was not long before I regretted my folly.

It is difficult to imagine such a scene today. Not only was Hentz a trained physician, but he was the clerk and inspector for the Port Jackson precinct in the election that was underway. In addition to administering chloroform to the crowd of rowdy voters, he was also accepting ballots through the window of his office.

His description of what happened next is nothing short of bizarre:

…A wild scene of confusion took place; yelling & screaming; & flying fists created for a while a pandemonium; one of them came bounding in the window, seeking shelter from one of the Keels, who looked like a raging demon.

Old Tommy Hair (sic.) was leaning against a cotton bale, in a state of blissful repletion with his favorite beverage, not noticing the wild chloroform excitement, when he received a clip on the side of the head that sent him off in a summerset to one side….

Once he recovered from the attack and discovered the cause of the frenzy, Hare grabbed a stick and rampaged up and down outside Hentz’s office, cursing him for giving the men “stuff that made them crazy.” Apparently it was a lesson well learned, as Hentz noted that he was “careful never to give any chloroform again to such a set of people as we had about us there.”

It might have been expected, however, that such a day would not end without further violence. It came later in the afternoon when a man named Jordan left the voting precinct accompanied by a second man named Lott Owens. Jordan had been accused of paying improper attention to the wife of one of his neighbors, B.F. Wood. Jordan and Owens had not been gone from Port Jackson for more than about thirty minutes when Owens suddenly reappeared:

…Owens made his appearance, on foot, out of breath from running and excitement; and called out to the crowd about the store, “Boys, Wood has killed Jordan, get on your horses all, & come up the road.” There was immediately wild excitement; everybody mounted, I had my horse saddled, & joined the crowd.

The party found Jordan lying face down on a dirt road. Upon examination it was found that he had been killed by a shotgun blast to the chest. Owens, who had witnessed the killing, described how he and Jordan were riding in a wagon along the road when they saw Wood approaching them on foot with a whip in one hand and a shotgun over his shoulder. Wood blocked the road, dropped to one knee, aimed his gun and showed “Stop Sir.” At that, Owens said he took shelter behind a tree, but Jordan tried to rush their assailant. Wood fired and Jordan was killed.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One, please visit for information on how to order the book directly from the printer.

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