Thursday, October 7, 2010

Florida's Confederate governor

John Milton
Today’s the day in 1861 when Gov. John Milton took over the state government from Gov. Madison Starke Perry. Milton has been elected the fifth governor of Florida in March but didn’t take office for seven months.

Milton was born in Georgia, a descendant of the English poet, John Milton. His grandfather was a Revolutionary War hero and had been secretary of state in Georgia. Milton practiced law in Georgia, Alabama and New Orleans. Eventually, he settled in Marianna and became involved in state politics.

Milton was a staunch states’ rights advocate and vocally urged the secession of Florida from union. He got his wish on Jan. 10, 1861, when the state the third in the south to secede. The next day, during a ceremony to sign the Ordinance of Secession, the governor-elect unfurled a white silk secession flag on the east porch of the state capitol. The three stars represented the first three states to leave the union: South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida.

Museum of Florida History
As governor, Milton saw to it that Florida became an important source of goods rather than men for the Confederacy’s war effort. Florida provided large supplies of cattle and salt. He may be the only southern governor who cooperated fully with the Confederacy. Squabbles among others have been blamed for contributing to the South's defeat.

On April 1, 1865, as the Confederacy was collapsing, Milton left Tallahassee for the 65-mile trip to Sylvania, his plantation near Marianna. There he died of a gunshot wound through his head. Many believe it was suicide, a theory bolstered by his last statement to the Florida Legislature, in which he said that  “... death would be preferable to reunion.” However, historian Dale Cox says there is a local tradition that it might have been an accident.

Information from the Museum of Florida History,  National Governor’s Association, The Florida Historical Society and the blog, Two Egg, Florida, was used in this report.

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