John Milton
John Milton Florida.jpg
5th Governor of Florida
In office
October 7, 1861 – April 1, 1865
Preceded byMadison S. Perry
Succeeded byAbraham K. Allison
Member of the Florida House of Representatives
In office
1850
Personal details
BornApril 20, 1807
near Louisville, Georgia
DiedApril 1, 1865(1865-04-01) (aged 57)
Marianna, Florida
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Susan Amanda Cobb
Caroline Howze

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.

Early life and personal life

Milton was the son of a prominent Southern family and a relative of the famed English poet of the same name. A lawyer and politician, he was the governor of Florida through much of the Civil War, being a strong supporter of secession, as well as a slave owner.[1]

He was the son of Homer Virgil Milton (1781–1822), an officer who fought in the War of 1812,[2] and the grandson of Revolutionary War hero, United States presidential candidate of 1789, and former Georgia Secretary of State, John Milton (1756–1804).[3] 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.[4]

John and Caroline lived in Alabama, New Orleans,[5] 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).

Career

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.

American Civil War

As a supporter and enabler of slavery, 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.

Death

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."[6]

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.[1] The New York Times assumed Governor Milton’s death to be suicide at the prospect of Union victory and Republican government.[7] The president of the Florida Senate, Abraham K. Allison, was sworn in as governor of Florida later that day.

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).[8]

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.[9] 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.[9]

References

  1. ^ a b Cox, Dale (2010). The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Civil War Years. Two Egg, FL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 191. ISBN 978-1448685141.
  2. ^ Johnson, Rossiter; Brown, John Howard (1 September 2018). "The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans ..." Biographical Society – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "Presidential Election of 1789: A Resource Guide". Presidential Elections, Library of Congress. The Library of Congress. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  4. ^ Gene M. Burnett: Florida's Past (Band 1: People and Events That Shaped the State), 1986, page 197
  5. ^ "John Milton". Florida Department of State. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
  6. ^ "Suicide of Gov. Milton, of Florida". The New York Times. 1865-05-01. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  7. ^ "Florida Governor John Milton". National Governors Association. Archived from the original on 9 December 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  8. ^ "Saint Lukes Episcopal Cemetery Memorials". Find a Grave®. Findagrave.com. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  9. ^ a b Dutton, Robin (2010-06-15). "Milton, Jefferson Davis". tshaonline.org. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
Party political offices Preceded byMadison S. Perry Democratic nominee for Governor of Florida 1860 Succeeded byDavid S. Walker Political offices Preceded byMadison S. Perry Governor of Florida October 7, 1861 – April 1, 1865 Succeeded byAbraham K. Allison