Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Killing of Maggie McClellan - A Reconstruction Tragedy in Jackson County

Col. James F. McClellan
The years after the Civil War were the most turbulent in Jackson County's nearly 190 year history.
A Reconstruction war broke out in the county when local residents took up arms against Carpetbagger rule and, in essence, issed a silent declaration that they would only answer to such federal and state authority that they considered just and reasonable.

It was a time when almost all local officials of any consequence were appointed by the governor, when whites and freed slaves were trying to adjust to the new order of things, when crop failures and a bleak economy caused hunger and suffering, and when U.S. soldiers often marched the streets and roads of the county, enforcing the will of the appointed officials in control of local affairs.

In the midst of this situation, a tragedy took place that electrified Jackson County residents, both white and black, and ignited a violent outbreak that eventually assumed legendary status in the county's history. On the evening of October 1, 1869, shots rang out from the dark and a young woman named Maggie McClellan was shot and killed while sitting on a boarding house veranda. Her father, who was also wounded in the attack, held his daughter in his own bleeding arms and watched her breath her last.

Jackson County Courthouse, late 1800s
The boarding house attack has been shrouded in a degree of mystery for more than 140 years, but the discovery two weeks ago of a treasure trove of records from the Reconstruction era has shed dramatic new light on the incident. Among the documents found as the old Jackson County Jail is being demolished was the case file and testimony from the trial of Alex Dickens. He was arrested, tried and convicted on charges that he was an accessory to the murder.

Included in that file is a transcript of the testimony of Maggie's father, Colonel James F. McClellan:

Lafayette Street in Marianna, late 1800s
  James F. McClellan being duly sworn says that on Friday evening, Oct. 1st, 1869, between half past seven and eight o’clock (an hour in the night at least) at the Hotel (Mrs. Attaway’s) in town, my daughter Margaret Y. McClellan, James P. Coker, Miss Mary Ann Tillinghast, Miss Mollie Attaway and I were sitting in the front piazza, and were talking at the time. Am confident I was talking at the time. I was sitting near the right hand pillar as you pass in to the parlor. Col. Coker was at my left and the rest of the company also. I heard a slight noise near the fence which at the moment I supposed to be a calf or other animal. Immediately after I heard in a low but very distinct whisper the word “fire” which I recognized as the voice of Calvin Rogers. Instantaneously following the word fire was the report of two guns. They were just enough apart to distinguish that they were two guns fired very near to me. I felt the concussion. The charge of one of the guns hit me in the shoulder, passing out in the muscle of the arm. Either the same charge, or the other, hit my daughter immediately in the breast with four or five shot. I saw that she was hit from the fall of her head on her breast. The load that hit me produced some concussion to the nervous system but I soon recovered, and I said to the company to go into the house. I found my arm around my daughter and carried her into the passage where she slipped out of the chair and was carried into the room where she died a few moments after. She breathed I think but twice after being laid upon the bead. This occurred in Jackson County. The order to fire was in a suppressed tone but was very distinct. At first I thought I heard a hog or calf or something like a shuffle on the pavement. It was in a low tone, but very distinct. I know Calvin Rogers very well. I remember once to have heard him prompt a witness in a whisper before going before a Justice of the Peace. It was a distinct whisper. I have never had any doubt that it was the voice of Calvin Rogers. His enunciation was very distinct whether whispering or speaking. More so than other persons. I have never seen him since until the 27th of January. He was then dead. His residence was at that time in this place, and he was in Marianna almost daily. From the time of the killing, although diligent search was made, I have never been able to found out his exact whereabouts, was alleged he was in the county. The next morning I sued out a warrant for him. I think not later than nine o’clock. He was not arrested on that warrant, but was taken. I sued on another warrant. On the morning after the killing I made affidavit before Justice Dickinson of the murder of my daughter, Margaret Y. McClellan, against Rovers, on which, I believe, a warrant was issued. On the Tuesday or Wednesday afterwards I made affidavit before Adam McNealy, Justice of the Peace, charging Rogers with the same murder, and had seven or eight warrants issued and placed in the hands of the parties deputized. When Mr. West was appointed Sheriff, I had a warrant placed in his hands. After an indictment was made against him I consulted with Mr. West and with Mr. Davis as to the best means of capturing him believing that he was still in the county.

John Q. Dickinson
Clerk of Court during Dickens Trial
  An indictment was found against him at the next term of the Court. A public meeting was held nine or ten days after the murder at which a thousand dollars was offered for his capture. I subsequently published in the “Courier” a statement guaranteeing this reward. A large reward was offered by the Executive for the apprehension & conviction of the murderer of my daughter. Am uncertain whether Rogers’ name is in proclamation or no.


Col. McClellan's testimony was taken on May 21, 1870, and offers a heartbreaking description of the death of his daughter.

Her murder led to a region-wide manhunt for the suspected assassin, a former slave of mixed race named Calvin Rogers. He was the constable of Jackson County at the time of the attack. In coming days, I will post more from the newly discovered case file that includes eyewitness accounts and a wealth of new information on Maggie McClellan's murder and the subsequent manhunt for and killing of Calvin Rogers.

To read an account of Maggie's murder by another eyewitness, please click here:
Be sure to check back regularly!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Dale you are so kind to share this with us!
For years I have wanted to know about this Lady!

Dale Cox said...

You are very welcome. I will have more on her over the coming days.


Terry Sirmans said...

This is really exciting to find first hand information and accounts about this period in Jackson County's history. Hope something on G.W. shows up. Thanks for sharing, Dale!

Dale Cox said...

Terry, I have seem some brief mentions of him Nothing major, just notes on jury lists and such. But I will definitely keep my eyes open for you.


Terry Sirmans said...

Thanks Dale.