Thursday, July 2, 2015

Civil War Stories: The Musgroves

The election of 1860

1860 political cartoon
Like the rest of the country, the debate over slavery was heated in Florida the fall of 1860. No decision to leave the Union over the issue was, as yet, made.

Everything hinged on the outcome of the election in November. Lincoln wasn't on the ballot in Florida that year.

In the lead up to the election, the 'true believers' of both opinions - the Abolitionists of one and Secessionists of the other - were literally fighting it out.

In the mid-western territories of Kansas and Ohio rogue bands of vigilantes on both sides were killing one another over whether the area would enter the Union as 'slave' or 'free states'.

John Brown

John Brown
May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859
John Brown was an abolitionist from Ohio who led a group in Kansas that hacked five slave owners to death with swords in 1856.

If Lincoln's election in 1860 was the catalyst for Southern secession. John  Brown's attack on Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1859 set the stage for it, With twenty-one troops carrying 20,000 guns, Brown marched into Harper's Ferry.

His plan pivoted on arming the slaves and leading a successful revolt. The slaves didn't rise up and he was defeated by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee. He was put on trail and sentenced to hang.


In prison, awaiting trial and execution, he spoke out passionately against slavery and became a hero of the anti-slavery movement. Many abolitionists in the North viewed John Brown as a martyr who had been sacrificed for the sins of the nation.
“Did John Brown fail? John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic.”
Abolitionist and free former slave Frederick Douglass
A poem about him, 'John Brown's Body', sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", became a favorite marching song for the Union.

John Brown execution poster
He spoke no last words but handed a letter containing an ominous prophecy to a reporter just before he was hanged.
Charlestown, Va, 2nd, December, 1859 
I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood.
Southern Response

John Brown confirmed Southerners' worst fears; Abolitionist fanatics from free states arming blacks in slave states. Many areas in the South reorganized the decrepit militia system used during the Indian wars. Our Musgrove Civil War story begins at this point in history.

Musgrove Civil War Story

Our second great grandfather (see relationship notes at bottom of page), John David Musgrovewas only fourteen years old at the start of the American Civil War; his brothers, younger still. Their father, James Walter Musgrove, died before 1860. None of our ancestors fought in the war.

Baker County sign
Family tradition has it grandpa James Walter was raised in Baker County,Georgia,. However, this researcher has found no record of him.

That said, our traditional family lineage (based only on itself) counts him a son of Larkin Culbert Musgrove, Sr. 

Larkin Culbert Musgrove, Sr. 

Our ancestor, James Walter (known as Gordon according to this account) Musgrove was born of Larkin Culbert Musgrove, Sr.  and Nancy Poole in  between two brothers, Larkin Culbert, Jr. and Willis Simeon Musgrove.

(Note: Everything that follows is history. The unknown is if we are descended from Larkin Culbert, Sr.)

Musgrove Mill State Park sign
Larkin Culbert Musgrove, Sr. was born in 1787 in South Carolina.

His grandfather, our supposed sixth great grandfather, Col. John (the Tory) Musgrove Jr., was the brother of Edward Gordon Musgrove of the the Musgrove Mill Battle.

Larkin Culbert Musgrove, Sr., married Nancy Poole, left South Carolina and raised his family in Baker County, Ga. He retired to Abe Springs in Calhoun County, Florida. He died by 1860.

The Calhoun County War of 1860

On the 1860 census, Jesse Durden, Willis and Larkin Musgrove (the claimed brothers of grandpa Walter James aka Gordon) were farmers and neighbors in the sparsely populated Calhoun County in Florida.

They were in their mid-thirties, married and had children. Though they owned a good sized farm  in Northern Florida, they didn't own slaves.

On September 25th, 1860 the Marianna Post reported,
"Yesterday a party in Calhoun, styling themselves `Regulators,’ went to the house of one Jesse Durden, and we learn shot him, giving him a mortal wound. They then met and shot Willis Musgrove from his horse, who died instantly, also wounding Larkin C. Musgrove. ... All this happened near Abe’s Spring Bluff, in Calhoun Co."
An excerpt from The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years by Dale Cox;
"The report of the death of Willis Musgrove appears to have been premature.(ed note: Willis lived until 1908). ...
Jesse Durden and Larkin Musgrove, however, were gunned down by the vigilantes and their outraged and frightened families fought back with a vengeance. "
Author Cox sums up the story.
"In the fall of 1860, eleven months after John Brown’s ill-fated raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, a party of “regulators” launched a wave of violence in Northwest Florida that ended only with the intervention of the state militia."
The End of Violence 

Jesse J. Finley, the Presiding Judge of the district and later, a Confederate soldier, declared a state of insurrection and ordered General William E. Anderson and the Jackson County Militia
" suppress the violence. During several days in the field, Anderson's force arrested twenty-seven men, jailing 26 of them at Apalachicola and one in Marianna."  
Jerrell H. Shofner,
Jackson County, Florida —A History.

American Musgrove surname historian Richard Graham Musgrove writes in his book The American Family Musgrove on page 379,

"The Floridians issue of October 31, Patriot, "of the 17th inst": (ed. 'of this instant', i.e. of this month) 1860, again quoted the Marianna Post
Jesse J. Finley
Presiding Judge 
"Our Militia, under Gen. Anderson, have returned from Calhoun county, in good health & bringing with them twenty seven prisoners. And we are gratified to hear that all is peace and quietness in that distracted county. ...  
Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon our Militia and officers for the prompt manner in which they responded to the call of Judge Finley, when the county of Calhoun was declared to be in a state of insurrection."
Historical Background 

In his Jackson County, Florida —A History  (pp211,212), Jerrell H. Shofner writes that just prior to the Civil War. Florida Governor Perry
Florida Governor Madison Perry
October 5, 1857 – October 7, 1861
"...denounced northern anti-slavery sentiment as aggression toward the South. The Legislature enacted laws calling for counties to be divided into militia beats. 
Citizens were to be enrolled for possible military duty. Slave patrols were soon on the roads at night, looking not only for errant slaves but also for possible abolitionists."
About Jesse Durden and the Musgrove brothers, historian and author Dale Cox picks up the story with a.
", published in the Augusta, Georgia, Chronicle and Sentinel on October 17, 1860, and apparently written from the point of view of the 'regulators,' (that) described the Durdens as 'notorious for immorality and crime.' 
The 'immorality' that so outraged the regulators was never explained, but local legend holds that the two families favored the abolition of slavery. At least one modern historian has asserted that abolition meetings were held at the Durden home ..."
In a lengthy excerpt from his book, the author of The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years concludes.

1860 Map of the
Underground Railroad
It is interesting to note that although they farmed more than 400 acres, neither the Durdens nor the Musgroves owned slaves. This was a significant acreage for the time and their operation was among the largest in Northwest Florida that did not make use of slave laborers.

It is also interesting to note that there was an escalation of slave disappearances from the plantations of the region throughout the year 1860 and fingers were steadily pointed at Calhoun County.

One of the more widely publicized incidents took place only two weeks before the attack on the Durdens and Musgroves:

"We are in the receipt of a letter from Dr. David L. White, of Gadsden County, informing us of an attempt to decoy off two of his negro boys. They were young, and decoyed off about the first of this month. Elias H. Kemp, Esq., of our county, captured one of the boys, and the other returned home. 
The boys say a white man in West Florida persuaded them off, mounted upon pony horses, and told them as soon as they crossed the Chattahoochee river to leave the telegraph road, which they did. 
Evidently the man or men who decoyed off these boys resides in West Florida. Let our citizens give an eye to this matter, and soon the thieves will be brought to justice. ..."
The report provides pretty solid evidence that someone living west of the Apalachicola River was involved in an aggressive effort to lead slaves away from the plantations of the region.

(End of Excerpt)

The Outcome of the Insurrection

Marianna Courthouse marker
Richard Graham Musgrove, in researching his book, American Family Musgrove, visited the courthouse in Marianna, Florida on June 27, 1991 and reviewed a number the Criminal Dockets of the old Circuit Court Records for the Spring and Fall terms from 1860 through 1866. He found, of the twenty seven (or thirty) reportedly arrested for the Calhoun Insurrection,
"...only one of this group, Elias Hammond, received any judgment from the court...a fine of $25 for carrying arms secretly. The majority had their cases continued due to the judge disqualifying himself.'"
He concludes his research on this matter:
Why would the judge disqualify himself? Remember, this was a very volatile time, just prior to the Civil War. The majority of the citizens were anti-abolitionist. Whether Jesse, Larkin and Willis were really having an abolitionist meeting or not is immaterial. It was only sufficient that the mob thought they were.

And, as a lady I chatted with at the courthouse said, 
"The judge was a traveling judge. There were only three roads into Marianna, and all could easily become the site of an incident. Cases get postponed all the time. It could have easily been for his health."
NoteRelationships are expressed from the perspective of the grandchildren of Willis Edgar and Carrie (known as) Mae (Merritt) Musgrove. 

*Terms of relationship - grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc.  - are used here generically to include  relatives such as fourth great grandfathers, great grand uncles, second cousins twice removed, etc. 


  1. Jesse H. Durden is my 3rd Great Grandfather. My 2nd Great grandfather was his son James Miles Durden (5 years old when Jesse was gunned down at his house). Among those later killed were his mother and father, Fancis E. and Miles Durden, and his brother John Gordon Durden.

    I would love to read your family's book.

    1. Thanks for this information. I research my Musgrove family line and blog about it. The only book written on our family was done in the 90s by the late Richard Graham Musgrove. I've updated his work, added family pictures and left my research records on this blog. I don't expect to write a book.

      Thanks again for the info.Interesting families we have,no?

    2. I just came across this whole incident and very much appreciate this well written blog. Jesse Durden was my 3rd great grandfather, His son Jefferson "Jesse" Durden was my 2nd great grandfather. Also, thanks to the comment of Adam (above)...I just came across a very short newspaper clip from 1866 saying that John Durden was murdered as a result of prior conflict with a "Myer" man. I figured it was related to this same incident, but I was searching for more information. Again, thanks for the blog.