Reconstruction 150: Dr John. L. Finlayson - A "Scalawag" Murdered


Feb 7, 2014
New York
Dr. John L. Finlayson (1838-1869), murdered February 26, 1869: 150 Years Ago Today

The Finlaysons were a large, prosperous, land and slave-owning family in Jackson County, Florida. Their fortunes turned during the war. First, the patriarch, Angus, died in 1863 (apparently not war related) and then the family lost much of its property during the September 1864 Union raid that culminated in the Battle of Marianna. The oldest son, John L. Finlayson was listed as a medical student in the 1860 census. During the war, Finlayson served in the local Marianna Dragoons, the 15th Florida Cavalry, and was detailed as a hospital clerk. After the war, Finlayson befriended the young Freedmen Bureau's officials, Charles Hamilton and William Purman, stationed in Marianna in 1866. Remarkably, Finlayson allied himself with the Bureau, providing medical services to freedmen - becoming acclaimed as the only medical doctor in the county willing to treat African Americans - and teaching adults at the Bureau night school in Marianna. He attended a Florida Republican convention in 1867 and accepted appointments as Bureau medical officer and later clerk of court for Jackson County (July 1868). Dr. Finlayson was shot dead by a concealed assassin on the night of Feb. 26, 1869 in Marianna while walking together with Purman after attending a minstrel performance by the local army garrison. Purman was severely wounded in the attack but recovered. No arrest was ever made, although Purman and others identified the shooter as a notorious local Regulator.

Dr. Finlayson's assassination was followed by the "almost immediate death of his wife, [Sarah Bond Finlayson] who fell an innocent victim to grief in devotion to her husband." The Finlaysons left behind "two little orphans": Sallie (born 1865) and John P. (born 1867) who went to live with their maternal grandparents in Mobile. When John P. grew up, he named his son John Purman Finlayson. "Purman Finlaysons" have resided in Mobile ever since.

Shortly after Dr. Finlayson's murder, his sister Mary Martha married Florida Congressman Charles Hamilton in Washington DC. In October 1871, his sister Leodora married Purman. In a letter, Hamilton recalled Finlayson as "that good brave, noble, valuable friend, whom I loved with an almost holy affection." Dr. John L. Finlayson's burial place is unknown.


Dr. John L. Finlayson
(Florida State Archives)


Artist: Warren Clark, commissioned by a Finlayson family member
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Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Jan 7, 2013
Long Island, NY
Hi DRW. The Reconstruction Forum is temporarily on hiatus for several complicated reasons. If the problem is resolved, I will let you know.

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!