|5th Governor of Florida|
October 7, 1861 – April 1, 1865
|Preceded by||Madison S. Perry|
|Succeeded by||Abraham K. Allison|
|Member of the Florida House of Representatives|
|Born||April 20, 1807|
near Louisville, Georgia
|Died||April 1, 1865 (aged 57)|
|Spouse(s)||Susan Amanda Cobb|
John Milton (April 20, 1807 – April 1, 1865) was governor of Florida through most of the American Civil War.
A lawyer by background, he successfully advocated the secession of Florida from the Union, becoming governor in October 1861. In that post, he turned the state into a major supplier of food for the Confederacy. In his final message to the state legislature as the war was ending, he had declared that death would be preferable to reunion with the North, and was found dead of gunshot soon after. Although this was assumed to be suicide, recent research has supported the theory that it was a hunting accident.
Milton was the "son of a prominent Southern family and a relative of the famed English poet of the same name. A capable lawyer and wily politician, he guided Florida through much of the maelstrom of the War Between the States with unique concern for the citizens of all means who populated his state."
He was the son of Homer Virgil Milton (1781–1822), an officer who fought in the War of 1812, and the grandson of Revolutionary War hero, United States presidential candidate of 1789, and former Georgia Secretary of State, John Milton (1756–1804). Born near Louisville, Georgia, John Milton married Susan Cobb († 1842) in about 1830, and they had three children. John and Susan Milton lived in Georgia and later in Alabama. John got remarried to a Caroline Howze (1826-1901) from Alabama in 1844; they had two sons and seven daughters.
John and Caroline lived in New Orleans (Alabama) and eventually settled in Marianna (northern Florida). One of his sons was Old West lawman Jeff Milton. One of John's grandsons, William Hall Milton (1864–1942), served as a United States Senator from Florida (1908–1909).
During his career, John became a lawyer, practicing in a number of communities in Georgia and Alabama, before settling in New Orleans. He came to Florida in 1846, and quickly entered the Florida political scene. In 1848, he served as a presidential elector for the state, then in 1850 was elected to the Florida House of Representatives.
As a strong supporter of states' rights, he was an early advocate for secession of Florida from the Union. He was a delegate to the 1860 Democratic National Convention from Florida and in the same year ran for the office of governor. A convention was called for to take up the issue of secession and on January 10, 1861, the measure passed. He took the oath of office on October 7, 1861. During the Civil War, Milton stressed the importance of Florida as a supplier of goods, rather than men, with Florida being a large provider of food and salt for the Confederate Army. As the war drew to a close and the Confederacy was close to defeat, he became worn down by the stress of his office. Governor Milton left Tallahassee for his plantation, Sylvania, in Marianna, Florida.
In his final message to the state legislature, he said that the Northern Army leaders "have developed a character so odious that death would be preferable to reunion with them."
On April 1, 1865, he was found by his son, William Henry Milton. His death from a fatal gunshot wound to the head was reported as an accident by his family, church, and the West Florida News. The New York Times assumed Governor Milton’s death to be suicide at the prospect of Union victory and Republican government. The president of the Florida Senate, Abraham K. Allison, was sworn in as governor of Florida later that day. Asserting that the governor has recently stated to the legislature that he did not want to live under the prospective oppression of a lost cause, the New York Times writer drew his own conclusions. The article is polemic in tone. There was no hint of a suicide by local press. Instead, Governor Milton was found by his son at the Milton plantation, Sylvania, in Jackson County, Florida. He had suffered a fatal wound to his head. The West Florida News reported the sudden death of Florida’s fifth governor as a “hunting accident.” Governor John Milton was buried in the consecrated Episcopal cemetery at Marianna, Florida, near his home, Sylvania. Several recent works have investigated the event and discovered that the death was probably from an accident as Milton prepared for hunting. However, the unsubstantiated New York Times article displaced the smaller local and state periodicals of recently defeated Florida.
Governor John Milton is buried at Saint Luke's Episcopal Cemetery in Marianna. The late governor’s remains lie in a Milton family section of the cemetery notable for the forty-three graves bearing the name, “Milton” (including the Milton maiden name).
Like so many families of the era, Reconstruction was an economically difficult time for the late governor’s family in Jackson County, Florida. Milton’ youngest son, Jefferson Davis Milton (1861–1947) moved to Texas, later Arizona. He distinguished himself as a Texas Ranger, police chief of El Paso, and served for over twenty-five years as America’s first border agent. William Hall Milton (1864–1942), grandson of the governor, was a U.S. Senator from Florida from 1908–1909.