Death of a Governor

On April 7, 1865, Florida governor Abraham K. Allison wrote to Confederate president Jefferson Davis of “my painful duty to announce the death of His Excellency John Milton, late Governor of the State of Florida.” Allison informed Davis that the “melancholy event” occurred on April 1, 1865, at Milton’s plantation in Jackson County, Florida. What Allison did not relay to his president, who was enduring his own “melancholy event” in flight before victorious Union armies, was the probable cause of Milton’s death—suicide.

Portrait of Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (circa 1850s).

Portrait of Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (circa 1850s).

Milton’s governorship was the most dramatic and difficult in the history of the state. Inaugurated on October 7, 1861, he inherited a weak Confederate state with growing dissension. The lengthening war and the likelihood of Northern invasion demoralized loyal Confederates while heartening Florida Unionists. Criticized by the legislature, which sought to weaken his authority, and largely ignored by the Confederate government, which spared Florida few troops and weapons, Milton worked tirelessly to strengthen Florida’s defenses and secure supplies for the home front. At the same time, he remained steadfast in his loyalty to the Confederate States and its president, Jefferson Davis, whom he championed even as the South faced certain defeat. A staunch defender of secession and slavery, Milton could not envision or support a reunited and emancipated nation.

Portrait of Governor John Milton (circa 1860s).

Portrait of Governor John Milton (circa 1860s).

On the morning of April 1, 1865, as Union armies prepared to enter Richmond, Governor Milton arrived at his plantation, Sylvania, in Jackson County. Although distressed and exhausted, Milton’s trip from Tallahassee was not unusual. He often journeyed between the capital and Sylvania to see to the welfare of his wife and children and take care of plantation business. Soon after his arrival, the governor entered his study and a shot exploded. William Henry Milton, the governor’s oldest son, discovered his father’s  body, which had sustained a shotgun blast to the head.

The earliest reports of Milton’s death pointed to suicide. Worn down by work and deeply depressed by the inevitability of Confederate defeat, Milton probably took his own life; however, without any eyewitness or evidence of a suicide note history cannot be certain—later family accounts claimed the shooting was accidental. Whether a suicide or not, Milton’s demise has come to symbolize the death of Confederate Florida.

For Governor Allison’s letter to Jefferson Davis see page 189 of Governor John Milton’s letterbook, 1863-1865, part of Record Group 101, Series 32, State Archives of Florida. The details of Milton’s death are reexamined in Ridgeway Boyd Murphree, “Rebel Sovereigns: The Civil War Leadership of Governors John Milton of Florida and Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, 1861-1865,” Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 2006.

LeRoy Collins’ Birthday (March 10, 1909)

LeRoy Collins was born March 10, 1909, in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1934, Leon County elected Collins to the Florida House of Representatives. Collins later served in the Florida Senate, until successfully running for Governor in a special election in 1955. He won the gubernatorial election again in 1956, becoming the first Florida Governor to serve two consecutive terms in office.

Painted portrait of Florida's 33rd Governor LeRoy Collins: Tallahassee, Florida

Painted portrait of Florida's 33rd Governor LeRoy Collins: Tallahassee, Florida

As governor of Florida, Collins clashed with members of the Florida legislature who wanted to halt integration following the historic Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education ruling in 1954. Governor Collins wrote that efforts by the legislature to uphold segregation constituted an “evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria.” (See the document below for more information.)

LeRoy Collins on the Interposition Resolution by the Florida Legislature in response to Brown v. Board of Education (May 2, 1957)

LeRoy Collins on the Interposition Resolution by the Florida Legislature in response to Brown v. Board of Education (May 2, 1957)

Collins remained in public service after his second term as governor ended, until losing a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1968. When his career in politics ended, Collins and his wife Mary Call Darby Collins retired to their family home, known as The Grove, located in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1981, Secretary of State George Firestone designated LeRoy Collins as the first “Great Floridian,” in recognition of his achievements and significant contributions to the progress and welfare of the state.

LeRoy Collins died in 1991, followed by his wife Mary in 2009. Before LeRoy’s death, the Collins family sold The Grove to the State of Florida. The agreement allowed the couple to remain in the home until both passed away. In 2009, the State of Florida began efforts to restore The Grove for use as a multipurpose historic house museum.

Governor LeRoy Collins and Mary Call Darby Collins are remembered for their legacy of public service and for promoting equality for all Floridians.