Ear­li­er this week, Sabra Wald­fo­gel wrote about the Jews who lived in Mound Bay­ou. Her most recent book is Freedom’s Island, about an all-black Mis­sis­sip­pi town men­aced in the 1880s by a greedy cot­ton planter and a for­mer Klans­man, and aid­ed by a Jew­ish mer­chant. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

On Octo­ber 3, 1869, in Mar­i­an­na, Flori­da, a crowd of twen­ty men ordered mer­chant Samuel Fleish­man to leave the town where he had lived and done busi­ness for six­teen years. He told them that he would rather die than leave. That night, four men removed him from town by force. He nev­er returned. A lit­tle more than a week lat­er, his body was dis­cov­ered in rur­al Jack­son Coun­ty. No one was ever charged with his murder.

Street Scene in Mar­i­an­na, 1880s, State Archives of Flori­da, Flori­da Memory

Liv­ing South, Look­ing North

Samuel Fleish­man was born in the 1820s in Bavaria, where Jews were severe­ly restrict­ed in their occu­pa­tions, their res­i­dences, and even in their oppor­tu­ni­ties to mar­ry. He left Ger­many in the 1840s, set­tling in New York City, where he worked as a ped­dler and swift­ly became an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. By 1850, he had moved to Gads­den Coun­ty in Flori­da, join­ing a rel­a­tive already there, to set up a dry goods store. Three years lat­er, he moved again, to Mar­i­an­na in neigh­bor­ing Jack­son Coun­ty, where his busi­ness prospered. 

Fleish­man lived in the South, but he retained close ties to the North. He trav­eled to New York to buy goods for his store, and he mar­ried Sophia Alt­man, born in New York, whose fam­i­ly had also come from Ger­many. Sophia’s broth­ers were dry goods mer­chants in Man­hat­tan; the younger, Ben­jamin Alt­man, would rise to fame as the founder of a retail empire by the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Fleish­man had busi­ness deal­ings with his broth­ers-in-law until he died.

Fleishman’s new home was hos­pitable to busi­ness. Jack­son Coun­ty was a Whig strong­hold before the Civ­il War. The Whigs, polit­i­cal oppo­nents to the Democ­rats, felt that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should pro­mote inter­nal improve­ments and the free flow of trade. Their views appealed to cot­ton planters, par­tic­u­lar­ly those who had strong ties to the North­ern bro­kers who bought their cot­ton and the North­ern mills that wove it into cloth. Fleish­man, who ben­e­fit­ed from the free­dom to do busi­ness and who had close con­nec­tions with his rela­tions in New York, must have found the Whig plat­form congenial.

When the Civ­il War broke out, Fleish­man did not rush to join the Con­fed­er­ate cause, and when the Con­fed­er­a­cy sub­ject­ed men over forty-five to the draft, mak­ing him eli­gi­ble for the Con­fed­er­ate Army, he fled to New York. He spent the war assist­ing his North­ern broth­ers-in-law in their dry goods busi­ness. His busi­ness inter­ests helped him to cast his fate with the Union.

Free to Do Business

When Fleish­man returned to Mar­i­an­na in 1865, he found the place great­ly changed. The war had rav­aged the coun­ty, destroy­ing his busi­ness. Eman­ci­pa­tion had freed half of the pop­u­la­tion. The Union Army was gar­risoned there, rep­re­sent­ed by a black reg­i­ment, which galled the defeat­ed Con­fed­er­ates of Jack­son Coun­ty. And ear­ly in 1866, the Freedmen’s Bureau, charged with enforc­ing the rights of for­mer slaves, opened an office in Mar­i­an­na. The Bureau agents were unapolo­getic sup­port­ers of the Rad­i­cal Repub­li­cans, who believed that Eman­ci­pa­tion meant social, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty for for­mer slaves.

Fleish­man sided with the Union and the Rad­i­cal Repub­li­cans. He was one of the few res­i­dents of Mar­i­an­na to befriend the agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau, who thought so high­ly of him that they rec­om­mend­ed him for the posi­tion of tax col­lec­tor in 1867. The Bureau’s regard for him infu­ri­at­ed his neigh­bors. Lat­er that year, some­one shaved the manes and tails of his hors­es and van­dal­ized two bug­gies worth $200. It was the begin­ning of the harass­ment that would end with his expul­sion from Mar­i­an­na and his death.

To rebuild his dry goods busi­ness, Fleish­man turned his atten­tion to a new set of cus­tomers: freed black peo­ple. He treat­ed them with com­mon decen­cy, which offend­ed his Con­fed­er­ate neigh­bors. Much more threat­en­ing to the planters of Jack­son Coun­ty was Fleishman’s will­ing­ness to sell direct­ly to for­mer slaves and to extend them cred­it. After the war, cash-poor cot­ton planters hired black labor­ers by employ­ing them as ten­ants and extend­ing them cred­it against the future crop. A mer­chant like Fleish­man threat­ened the cycle of cred­it and debt that became a new form of white con­trol over black peo­ple. And for that, even more than his sym­pa­thy with the Bureau and its pol­i­tics, or his cour­tesy to his black cus­tomers, he was in deep trou­ble in Jack­son County.

The Mar­tyr

Dur­ing Recon­struc­tion, the coun­ties that suf­fered the most vio­lence were even­ly divid­ed in pop­u­la­tion between black and white. In Jack­son Coun­ty, which was the scene of mur­der­ous vio­lence between 1868 and 1871, the racial ratio was fifty-fifty. As else­where through­out the South, the Jack­son Coun­ty planters who despised free blacks and their allies, the Rad­i­cal Repub­li­cans, found their own allies in the orga­ni­za­tion that used vio­lence and mur­der to ter­ror­ize both: the Ku Klux Klan.

In Jack­son Coun­ty, the rela­tion­ship between planter and Klan was lit­er­al­ly famil­ial. James Cok­er had been one of the rich­est planters before the war and after­wards, was still one of the town’s lead­ing cit­i­zens. His son Bil­ly, whose ten­den­cy to vio­lence was fueled by alco­hol, was fore­most among the redeemers” who harassed, intim­i­dat­ed, and assault­ed black peo­ple, whether polit­i­cal or not, and who tar­get­ed whites who were Rad­i­cal Republicans.

On Sep­tem­ber 28, 1869, the local redeemers shot and killed the town’s con­sta­ble, a free black man named Calvin Rogers, along with a num­ber of bystanders, includ­ing women and chil­dren. After the mur­ders a rumor spread that Fleish­man was urg­ing black peo­ple to retal­i­ate and offer­ing to pro­vide them with guns. The rumor sealed Fleishman’s fate. He was forcibly removed from Mar­i­an­na a few days lat­er, and ambushed on the road a few days after that. 

Samuel Fleish­man nev­er intend­ed to die for free­dom. He want­ed the free­dom to do busi­ness. But on Octo­ber 9, 1869, his ded­i­ca­tion to that free­dom made him a martyr.


I am deeply indebt­ed to Daniel Weinfeld’s bio­graph­i­cal essay, Samuel Fleish­man: Tragedy in Recon­struc­tion Flori­da,” South­ern Jew­ish His­to­ry (2005, Vol­ume 8), pp. 31 – 76, as well as his fuller treat­ment of the con­text, The Jack­son Coun­ty War: Recon­struc­tion and Resis­tance in Post-Civ­il War Flori­da (Uni­ver­si­ty of Alaba­ma Press, 2012). On the role of the Klan through­out the South, the best source remains Allen W. Tre­lease, White Ter­ror: The Ku Klux Klan Con­spir­a­cy and South­ern Recon­struc­tion (Louisiana State Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1979).

Sabra Wald­fo­gel writes his­tor­i­cal fic­tion about South­ern Jews and African Amer­i­cans in slav­ery and free­dom. For more infor­ma­tion about her and her work, vis­it her web­site.

Relat­ed Content:

Sabra Wald­fo­gel earned her B.A. inHis­to­ry from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty and a Ph.D. inAmer­i­can His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Minnesota.She is cur­rent­ly writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. Her nov­elSlave and Sis­ter, about a Jew­ish woman in Geor­giawho owns her slave half-sis­ter, was pub­lished ear­lierthis year.