Tuesday, January 19, 2010

John Milton as a Defendant: The Murder Trial of the Future Governor of Florida

By Dale Cox

For more than a century the story has been told in Jackson County that John Milton had killed a man in a duel at some point in his early life. Milton, of course, was the first person from the county to ascend to the governor’s chair and is remembered primarily as the calm hand that guided Florida through the turbulent years of the War Between the States.

Thirty years before, however, John Milton was the defendant in a sensational murder trial that attracted attention throughout the South. The trial and his killing of J.T. Camp in Columbus, Georgia, is the basis for the duel legend that is a significant part of Jackson County folklore.

The incident took place when Milton was twenty-seven years old. A lawyer and militia colonel living in Columbus, he had run for a seat in the U.S. Congress on the Nullification or States’ Rights platform promoted by former Vice President John C. Calhoun. The “Nullifiers” as they were called drew severe criticism from the supporters of President Andrew Jackson, a national hero then at the height of his power and popularity. Jackson believed that the Union of the states must be preserved at all costs, while Calhoun and his supporters believed that each state was an individual nation that voluntarily made up part of the Union. As such, they believed the states had the right to secede from the Union at any time.

The political campaign in resulted in an angry dispute between Milton and the major in his militia regiment, J.T. Camp, that came to a head in 1834. A newspaper of the time described what happened:

…Col. Milton understanding that his life had been threatened by Maj. Camp, procured a double barreled Gun, and walked over to Nicholas Howard’s Store, and discharged the contents of one of the barrels into his back, and while falling discharged the other into his left breast. – Camp lived but a few moments after he was shot and spoke not a word…I was some distance from them, but can state that Col. Milton discharged his gun with more coolness and deliberation than any man I think would have done under similar circumstances – and left the spot with seeming unconcern.

The future governor surrendered himself to the authorities in Columbus and, as things moved much more quickly in that day, was brought to trial on charges of murder just two weeks later. After hearing from a number of witnesses, likely including Milton himself, the jury acquitted him of all charges.

Milton soon moved to Mobile, Alabama, and eventually on to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he practiced law until he was severely burned in a steamboat accident on July 1, 1845. The accident seems to have prompted his decision to seek a more comfortable life in a rural setting and by 1847 he had acquired thousands of acres surrounding Blue Spring. Naming the plantation Sylvania, because the main house stood in a grove of trees, Milton eventually expanded the farm to include more than 6,330 acres of prime Jackson County land.

He was elected Governor of Florida in 1860 and took office in 1861. The collapse of the Confederacy evident, he took his own life at Sylvania on April 1, 1865, having told friends that death would be preferable to defeat by the North. He is buried at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Marianna.

The historic marker pointing out the site of Sylvania was damaged on election night in 2008, but is now being repaired. To learn more about the life of Governor Milton and his plantation at Sylvania, please visit www.twoeggfla.com/sylvania.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

C.S.S. Chattahoochee: The Maiden Voyage of the Forgotten Confederate Defender of Jackson County

by Dale Cox

In January of 1863, the residents of the northeastern corner of Jackson County were stunned by an unexpected sight coming down the Chattahoochee River. The Confederate warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee was making her maiden voyage down the river.

Commissioned on January 1, 1863, the Chattahoochee was a ship of high hopes for the Confederacy. Nearly 150 feet long, she had three retractable masts as well as two independently operating steam propulsion systems. The former allowed her to sail on the open seas without expending coal, while the latter enabled the ship to navigate the sharp bends of the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers.

Crewed by over 100 men, the ship was powerfully armed. Her guns included a state of the art 32-pounder rifle (meaning that it fired shells weighing 32 pounds), a 9-inch gun capable of firing solid shot weighing more than 100 pounds, and four 32-pounder smoothbores. The rifle and 9-inch gun were mounted on pivots so that they could be turned and aimed in any direction. In short, the C.S.S. Chattahoochee was the most powerful warship to actually operate on the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River system during the War Between the States.

An indication of the significance placed on the vessel by the Confederate government was the assignment of Lieutenant Catesby ap R. Jones (ap was an old term meaning “son of”) to her command. A veteran naval officer, Jones had commanded the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (also known as the Merrimac) in her historic clash with the ironclad U.S.S. Monitor. In early 1863 he was one of the heroes of the Confederacy. Many of the other officers and men aboard the ship had also served in the clash of the ironclads at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The design, armament and staffing of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee clearly indicates that the original plan was for her to steam down the river, break the blockade at Apalachicola Bay and then raid Union shipping in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. In short, she was to be a Confederate raider similar to the famed C.S.S. Alabama.

Time and events conspired against this plan. The ship took longer to complete than expected and by the time she was ready for action, the Confederate army had already placed heavy obstructions in the Apalachicola River near present-day Wewahitchka. These barriers prevented Union warships from coming up the river to attack the plantations in Jackson County and beyond, but also prevented the Chattahoochee from going down to Apalachicola Bay. The warship was stranded in the river and became a defender of the Apalachicola Valley instead of a raider of the seas.

Even so, she presented an impressive site as she neared Neal’s Landing on that January day in 1863, but then something went wrong. As the ship was rounding a bend near the northeast corner of Jackson County, the current of the river drove her stern into shallow water. The rudder was damaged and the Chattahoochee began to leak. Men were ordered to the pumps to keep the vessel afloat.

The damage turned out to be serious and a steamboat was called for to tow the warship down to Chattahoochee Landing. To avoid any additional accidents, men were also put on each shore of the river to handle guide ropes to help the ship navigate additional bends in the river between Neal’s Landing and Chattahoochee. Her progress along the eastern border of Jackson County was slow, but she eventually reached her destination.

The damage from the accident would take weeks to repair. It was an inauspicious beginning for a ship that would soon be involved in the greatest naval disaster of the Civil War in Florida. To learn more about that disaster, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/csschattahoochee.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Pirate of Two Egg, Florida

In continuing the expansion of my http://www.twoeggfla.com/ website, I've added a new page on the man I like to call the "Pirate of Two Egg."

William Augustus Bowles was probably one of the most fascinating individuals ever to walk the soil of Jackson County. Born in Maryland to a Loyalist family in the years before the American Revolution, he served in the British military when he was still just a young teenager. He was sent to Pensacola, where he quickly ran afoul of his superior officers and found himself cast out the service with no means of support, a long way from home.

Wandering into the wilderness, he became lost and was on the verge of starvation when he was rescued by a party of Indian warriors from the village of Tellmochesses which stood about 7 miles east of Two Egg. This was one of the Perryman Towns, so named because they were headed by various members of the Perryman family. William Perryman, the chief of Tellmochesses, was a grandson of the English trader Theophilus Perryman. Like other members of the family, he could speak English and was a prosperous and educated man. He took Bowles across the Chattahoochee River to meet his father, Thomas Perryman, the head of the clan and a prominent leader among the Lower Creek and Seminole Indians.

The Perryman family adopted William Bowles and he married William Perryman's oldest sister. He would go on to become one of the most notorious pirates of the Gulf Coast, a man celebrated each year at Fort Walton Beach's "Billy Bowlegs Festival."

To learn more, please visit the new page at www.twoeggfla.com/billybowlegs.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Battle of Ekanachattee page now online!

Continuing the expansion of my TwoEggFla.com website, I've added a new page on the Battle of Ekanachatte.

This little known battle took place on March 13, 1818, at what is now Neal's Landing Park in the northeastern corner of Jackson County. The park is located where State Highway 2 intersects the Chattahoochee River and the Georgia line.

For more than 50 years prior to the battle, this had been the site of the Lower Creek village of Ekanachatte ("Red Ground"). The warriors of this town had fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution, taking part in numerous battles and skirmishes in northeastern Florida and Georgia. A British force even camped here briefly in 1778. The town also later sided with the adventurer and pirate William Augustus Bowles during his Florida intrigues in the 1780s and 1790s.

By the time of the Creek War of 1813-1814, Ekanchatte was under the leadership of a chief known by his title of Econchattimico ("Red Ground King"). When U.S. forces overran the Creek villages of central Alabama, he welcomed refugees into his town and did his best to feed and house them. As a result, the village grew to become one of the largest in the Florida/Alabama/Georgia borderlands.

In 1817, when U.S. troops attacked the Lower Creek village of Fowltown in what is now Decatur County, Georgia, Econchattimico joined other Creek and Seminole chiefs across the region in launching what became known as the First Seminole War. His warriors took part in the Battle of Ocheesee on December 15-20, 1817, but returned to their village as a brutal winter settled across the region. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia so impacted the climate of the world that by March of 1818, heavy snow was falling in Jackson County and the creeks and ponds were choked with ice.

Brigadier General William McIntosh, the commander of 1,500 Creek warriors allied with the United States against their own people, took advantage of the severe weather to march south from Fort Mitchell, Alabama. His target was Ekanachatte and on the morning of March 13, 1818, he surprised the village with a devastating attack. When the smoke of the battle cleared, 20 of the town's warriors lay dead and 30 others, along with 130 women and children, had been taken prisoner.

To visit the new page and learn more about the Battle of Ekanachatte, please go to www.twoeggfla.com/ekanachattebattle. You can also read a full account in The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years.