Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Secret Meetings, Night Riders & the Lincoln Brotherhood in Jackson County

William J. Purman
Library of Congress
In the early summer of 1866, Charles M. Hamilton was reinforced at the Freedman's Bureau in Marianna by another Federal appointee, William J. Purman.

Few Reconstruction era officials would generate as much outrage as this Pennsylvanian did among the people of Jackson County. And white citizens were not alone in objecting to Purman's tactics and operations. John Wallace, for example, was an educated freedman who served as a state legislator in Florida during Reconstruction. He linked Purman's arrival in Marianna to what he called,"The Purman-Hamilton Reign of Terror in Jackson County."

Wallace left no doubt of his opinion of Purman and Hamilton, saying of them that, "Every device was resorted to by these agents to embitter the colored man against the white man." In fact, Wallace corroborated the claims of many white citizens who accused the two Bureau officials of operating Jackson County like their personal fiefdom:

Fancified Northern Artist's View of a Brave Bureau Agent
Library of Congress
...What incendiary harangues failed to accomplish they sought to do by exhibitions of their power over the whites, which they displayed in frequent acts of the grossest tyranny. They set at defiance the orders and decrees of the courts of justice when the matters involved were mere questions of right between two citizens, neither of whom were freedmen. They arrested and imprisoned peaceable citizens without any real cause, and refused to furnish them or their counsel with the charges upon which they were held. - John Wallace, Carpet bag rule in Florida,

John Wallace
Critic of Purman & Hamilton
Purman, according to Wallace, was a key supporter of a shadowy organization that Bureau officials organized among the freed slaves of Florida. With rituals based upon corruptions of those of the Masonic Lodge, the organization conducted its meetings in the dark of night and was called the Lincoln Brotherhood. Its presence in Florida was well known long before anyone heard the term "Ku Klux Klan."

Wallace himself was familiar with meetings of the Brotherhood near Tallahassee and there is no doubt that the sessions in Jackson County were very similar:

...The freedmen considered this league a great thing, and their meetings at the church were carefully guarded by armed sentinels, who halted any one who came into the vicinity of the church, requiring the countersign under the penalty of the contents of the old musket. Auxiliary lodges were formed in every part of the county and throughout the State. The regular meetings of these lodges were held every Thursday night, in the most secret places to be secured. - John Wallace, Carpetbag Rule in Florida,

The Lincoln Brotherhood
John Wallace said many Brotherhood members believed they
became true brothers of Abraham Lincoln when they joined the group.
Wallace went on to describe how applicants to the Brotherhood were forced to swear on a human skull they were told was that "of a brother who had been recreant to his trust, had broken his oath and exposed the secrets of this league." Anyone who did so, they warned, would share the man's fate.

The activities of the Lincoln Brotherhood played a significant role in the violence that took place in Jackson County during the Reconstruction era. In fact, local freedmen later would testify before the U.S. Congress that they had been threatened by what they called the "Black Klan." This, they said, was a Klan-like organization, but made up of black men instead of whites. The reference, undoubtedly, was to the Lincoln Brotherhood.

Not all of the targets of the Brotherhood were freedmen, as two Jackson County families soon would learn. I'll detail the group's raids on the McKay and Watson farms in coming posts. But first, in the next of this continuing series on Reconstruction in Jackson County, I'll focus on an event remembered in Marianna to this day as the "Battle of the Flowers." Check back on Thursday for that!


Mike Bethea said...


I have just discovered your blog. Thanks for your efforts. As I dig into my Florida roots, I find they lead more and more to north Florida (Bradford, Hernando, Columbia, Jackson, Nassau counties). Your blogs shed light on true history of our state. Keep up the great work.

Mike Bethea

Dale Cox said...

Mike, Thank you very much for the nice words. I try to write about things a little off the beaten path. The stories fascinate me!