John Milton (Florida politician)

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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
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[edit]

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."[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 and former Georgia Secretary of State, John Milton (1756–1804). Born near Louisville, Georgia, he 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.[3]

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.

American Civil War[edit]

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."[4]

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.[5] 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. 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.[6] Governor John Milton was buried in the 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.[6]

He is buried at Saint Luke's Episcopal Cemetery in Marianna.

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.[7] 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.[7]


  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. ^ Gene M. Burnett: Florida's Past (Band 1: People and Events That Shaped the State), 1986, page 197
  4. ^ "Suicide of Gov. Milton, of Florida". The New York Times. 1865-05-01. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  5. ^ "Florida Governor John Milton". National Governors Association. Archived from the original on 9 December 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  6. ^ a b "The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Civil War Years". Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  7. ^ a b Dutton, Robin (2010-06-15). "Milton, Jefferson Davis". Retrieved 2019-01-13.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Madison S. Perry
Democratic nominee for Governor of Florida
Succeeded by
David S. Walker
Political offices
Preceded by
Madison S. Perry
Governor of Florida
October 7, 1861 – April 1, 1865
Succeeded by
Abraham K. Allison