Monday, February 13, 2012

The Reconstruction War in Jackson County, Florida

Charles M. Hamilton
Head of Freedman's Bureau in Jackson County
Between 1865 and 1876, a group of people in Jackson County waged the only successful rebellion against the U.S. Government in American history.
The Reconstruction War, sometimes called the Jackson County War, developed as a response to policies implemented by a handful of Northern officials who arrived in the county following the end of the Civil War. Although it has been claimed by some that 168 or more people were killed in the uprising, it was nowhere near that bloody.

The discovery of a huge quantity of "lost" case files from the county and circuit courts of Jackson County from the time of the Reconstruction War has provided a wealth of new information on the conflict. These files, found piled in boxes in the old county jail, are pushing back the mists of time to clarify the details of the uprising.

William J. Purman
Served as State Senator without living in Jackson County
They prove, for example, the long held local contention that Northern (Carpetbagger) officials were profiting greatly from their positions in Jackson County. They also prove that local courts did consider cases involving both white citizens and former slaves, repudiating the contention by some writers that freed slaves were unable to obtain justice for crimes committed against them.

In 1866, for example, a former slave named Robin filed a petition with Circuit Judge Allen H. Bush seeking a writ of habeus corpus. He was being held in the Jackson County jail and sought his release on the grounds that the charges against him were false. Judge Bush, who had served as an official under the Confederate government, considered the case and agreed with Robin's claims. He ordered the man released from jail after determining that Robin was being held "without any charge against him."

Other cases that have emerged so far from the newly discovered files show that for the first time in the county's history, black women began receiving justice - from former Confederate officials - for crimes committed against them, including rape and assault and battery.

Everything changed, however, when an array of former Union officers arrived to take control of political affairs in Jackson County. These included Charles M. Hamilton, W.J. Purman and John Q. Dickinson. From 1866 to 1871, they ruled Jackson County with fists of iron. Local citizens, the files reveal, were kidnapped from their homes, threatened with death and held against their will and without charges.

John Q. Dickinson
From Bankruptcy to Wealth in Three Years of Office
Other files show that Carpetbagger officials, including John Q. Dickinson, profited greatly from their official positions. Dickinson, for example, arrived in Jackson County after having declared bankruptcy in Escambia County. In just three years he accumulated more than 1,800 acres of land, including numerous city lots in Marianna. The documents also show that he was profiting greatly from fees he charged citizens - both white and black - by holding multiple positions at once in violation of the Florida Constitution.

Long-held claims that the Northern officials ran up assessed values of land owned by their political enemies have also been verified by way of the newly discovered documents. An audit ordered by the County Commission in 1871 revealed that a large number of land owners in Jackson County were being double taxed and that the land owned by the men who opposed the Reconstruction rule of the county by Hamilton, Purman, Dickinson and others had been appraised at much higher levels than were the norm in the county at the time.

The wealth of new documentation is telling a new and clear story about what happened in Jackson County during the Reconstruction era. Over coming days I will be sharing some of the discoveries with you, so be sure to check back regularly. I think you will find it interesting.


Terry Sirmans said...

I'm anxious to hear all the new info. Great find Dale!

Dale Cox said...

Terry, Thanks for the note. It is pretty exciting to read some of the material. Last week I was opening envelopes that had not been touched since 1870.


Terry Sirmans said...

Don't you just love the musty smell of history??!!

Dale Cox said...

Yes I do. There is something special about reading words that no one has seen in more than a century.

Dexter King said...




Dale Cox said...

Dexter, It went into his estate. An administrator was appointed to represent the family back in Vermont. The property was held by the estate for a few years and eventually sold off, with the money from the sale being sent to the family. I have found in the records where his final payments for work done for the county were also approved and sent to his estate after his death. The sum was a pretty good amount.