Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Dickinson Flag - A Unique Artifact of Reconstruction in Jackson County

The Dickinson Flag
The flag shown here holds a unique place in American history. It covered the coffin of John Q. Dickinson, Jackson County's assassinated Reconstruction era Clerk of Courts, on its journey north to Dickinson's home in Vermont.

Dickinson was shot and killed on the night of April 3, 1871, as he walked from the courthouse to his Marianna home at around 10 o'clock p.m. The motive for his murder remains controversial. Some say it was because he was an appointed Northern Republican or "Carpetbagger," sent to Jackson County with other such men to rule over local residents during the years after the Civil War. Others say it was because he was engaged in selling the lands of local men on the courthouse steps for taxes they could not pay during the hard times of Reconstruction. A third theory holds that he was having an affair with the wife of a Greenwood man and was murdered by the jealous husband. The final theory is that his murder was part of a robbery. Dickinson was carrying a substantial amount of cash at the time he was killed, only a few dollars of which was ever found.

Personally, I find the robbery possibility to be very intriguing, as it seems to coincide with the evidence gathered by local officials immediately following his death. I'll post more on that soon.

John Q. Dickinson
Following a coroner's inquest, Dickinson was buried in Marianna but his body was exhumed after only a few days and his coffin carried east to Quincy by wagon (the railroad had not yet been extended to Marianna). In Quincy it was placed on a train car for its journey east to Jacksonville. The flag was mentioned in a reporter's account of the arrival of the train in Tallahassee:

The remains of Capt. J.Q. DICKINSON arrived at the Depot in this city from Marianna yesterday afternoon, and were received by quite a number of persons, including the Governor and other officials, with a large concourse of colored people of both sexes. When the train stopped, the doors of the car containing the coffin, which was draped in the United States colors, were thrown open and the crowds of colored women and children present drew near and showered into the car a perfect avalanche of flowers, so that in a few minutes the coffin was completely buried beneath the floral offerings. - Tallahassee Weekly Floridian, April 11, 1871.

From Tallahassee the train carried the flag-draped coffin on to Jacksonville, where it was placed aboard ship and sent north. A memorial for him was held at the Grammercy Park Hotel in New York City and from there the coffin was taken on to Benson, Vermont. Funeral services were held there, followed by his burial.

The huge flag that drapped Dickinson's coffin was given to his family and remains in the hands of descendents to this day. According to Dexter King, a direct descendent of Dickinson and current owner of the flag, "His brother, Albert kept the flag until his death. Albert had 3 daughters, Fannie, Florence and Colleen. On January 31, 1908 Colleen Amelia Dickinson married Carl Fish King. They had 3 children, Kenyon and Coleman (twins) and Carl Fish King II (my father)."

The Kingston Place farm in Vermont was passed down over the years and now belongs to Dexter. The flag, which appears to be a large garrison type flag, has been a treasured family memento through the years. I did not know of its existence until I was contacted by Dexter last year. Since then, we have become long distance friends and he has helped tremendously in my research of his ancestor and of Reconstruction in Jackson County.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

140 Years Ago Today: Assassination of Clerk of Court was Major Event in Jackson County History

Davis-West House
One of the most significant events in the history of Jackson County took place on a Marianna street corner 140 years ago today.

John Q. Dickinson, an officer from the Seventh Vermont Veteran Volunteers, had been appointed the county's clerk of courts during the Reconstruction era. A Republican appointee at a time when such appointees were violently opposed by many former Confederates, Dickinson was shot down by unknown assassins who fired from behind a fence that then surrounded Marianna's historic Davis-West House. Located at the intersection of Madison and Putnam Streets, the house was then the home of Dr. Theophilus West.

The following account of Dickinson's assassination was written by Daniel R. Weinfeld, the nation's foremost authority on the events of the "Jackson County War," the name given to the Reconstruction era violence that shook the county for nearly one full decade.

John Quincy Dickinson
The Assassination of John Quincy Dickinson
by Daniel R. Weinfeld

One hundred and forty years ago, on the evening of April 3, 1871, about 9 P.M, John Quincy Dickinson, Jackson County, Florida, clerk of court, fell at the hands of an assassin.

Dickinson had survived the worst violence of the period from 1869 through 1871 that became known as the Jackson County War. As a Republican official, Dickinson could not avoid clashing with Regulators determined to return the region to white, Democratic control. With prominent Republicans being eliminated one-by-one, Dickinson was an inevitable target.

Dickinson was born in Vermont in 1836. He graduated from Middlebury College, worked for a while as a political reporter, and then spent the Civil War with the 7th Vermont Infantry in the Louisiana theatre. He remained on the Gulf Coast after the War, eventually settling in Florida. After a false start in the timber business, Dickinson accepted an appointment in September 1868 as Freedmen’s Bureau agent for Jackson County, Florida.

As Bureau duties wound down, Dickinson became active as a Republican Party operative. He accepted an appointment as Jackson County clerk of court, replacing his friend, Dr. John L. Finlayson, who was assassinated in February 1869. Jackson County sheriffs came and went, and Dickinson often found himself the only law enforcement official in the region. He signaled his future career plans when he gained admission to the bar shortly before his death.

Site of the Assassination
Dickinson was a serious, but mild-tempered man, determined to perform his duties, no matter the personal risk. His concise, clear writings, particularly his 1869 diary that became evidence in Congressional hearings, contain some of the most vivid and powerful descriptions of Reconstruction era violence. His courage was remarkable: most men would have fled the unrelenting pressure and threats he stoically endured. He also had a wry humor and good-natured side and was dearly loved by many friends. Unlike his Bureau predecessors in Jackson County, Dickinson won the grudging respect of bitter political opponents. Nonetheless, a gunman concealed in the darkness shot him down as he returned home from his office. The assassin was never identified, but speculation focused a few men Jackson County men notorious for their political violence.

His murder drew condemnation across the nation. Crowds of mourners in Florida and Vermont gathered to pay their respects as Dickinson’s coffin traveled North to his hometown of Benson, Vermont. Reports claimed that the funeral for the thirty-four-year-old was the largest ever held in the state. His tombstone, a stout, marble monument on the crest of a hillside cemetery, declares: “Capt. Dickinson Was Assassinated By the Ku Klux Klan Near His Home On the Night of April 3. He Fell at the Post of Duty in the Integrity of a True Patriot.”

Note: To read more of Dan's writings on the "Jackson County War," please visit him online at I will post more tomorrow on the national impact of the Dickinson assassination.