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.


Dexter King said...

Nice work, thank you. I look forward to the next article.


Allison King said...

Ditto what my Dad said. Great research, thank you for keeping this history alive for the next generation.

Dale said...

Thank you both very much! I'll be adding the story of the flag later today.


Anonymous said...

Appreaciate for the work you have done into the article, this helps clear up some questions I had.