|Governor John Milton of Florida|
The governor died of a gunshot wound at Sylvania, his Jackson County plantation, on April 1, 1865.
Northern newspapers immediately leaped on the incident, claiming that Milton was so terrified of losing the war that he took his own life:
The late Gov. Milton, of Florida, was first a lawyer, then a duellist, then a preacher, then a politician, and, finally, a suicide. - Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, May 6, 1865.
We learn through a gentleman recently from Barrancas, that a report reached there a short time before he left, that upon hearing of the capture of Petersburgh and Richmond, Gov. Milton, of Florida, committed suicide at his residence, a few miles from Marianna. The report was subsequently confirmed by a refugee directly from that place. - Trenton State Gazette (New Jersey), May 2, 1865.
|Governor John Milton|
Gov. Milton, of Florida, has committed suicide. He did not want to be hanged. - Newport Mercury (Rhode Island), April 29, 1865.
Hundreds of such accounts appeared in Northern newspapers, almost all of them claiming that Milton killed himself after hearing of the fall of Richmond. This claim remains widely accepted today, even though it is completely false. Richmond did not fall until after the death of Governor Milton.
A newly discovered account of the governor's death tells a very different story. It appeared in an Extra edition of the West Florida News, a Marianna newspaper, on April 3, 1865:
|Sylvania Plantation historical marker at Blue Springs|
Gov. Milton has been killed by the accidental discharge of a gun. The Governor was in his home when he retrieved a shot gun in expectation of an expedition to shoot birds. The gun discharged and the Governor was killed.
The discovery of this long lost account confirms tradition in the Milton family regarding the circumstances of Governor Milton's death. Mrs. Bruce Milton Singletary repeated family legend of the Governor's death to me in a 1982 interview. According to her grandfather, Major William Henry Milton who was present when Governor Milton was killed, the shooting was an accident.
|William Hall Milton, grandson of the Governor|
The discovery of the 1865 Marianna newspaper account substantiates family tradition of how Governor John Milton died and confirms that he did not commit suicide, but instead was killed in "a tragic accident." This, of course, explains why the Governor was buried in the cemetery of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna, since in those days suicide victims were not allowed to be interred on sacred ground.
Governor John Milton rests in sacred ground.
Note: Thank you to Albert Milton of Marianna for inspiring me to dig deeper into the story of Governor Milton's death. Our recent conversation about the Governor raised my curiosity and I began to look for a local account of the incident. I was able to find one and it changes accepted history. - Dale Cox