Finding and Remembering Benjamin F. Livingston — Slave, Politician, Father to a Murdered Child

A couple of years ago, while googling background on Jackson County politician Benjamin Livingston, I came across an informative internet posting written by Odell Robinson. The Polk County researcher had discovered Livingston’s grave in Bartow's historical Evergreen cemetery, picture in the featured image above. Robinson sought to direct well-deserved attention to the impressive, but unheralded and forgotten, African American political activist, and businessman.

Benjamin F. Livingston was born in 1841 in slavery. After the war, when Congressional Reconstruction policy was implemented under the guidance

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the Freedman’s Bureau, Livingston rose to prominence. Florida’s Governor Harrison Reed appointed Livingston to the board of county commissioners after the state government, reconstituted under Republican rule, was readmitted to the Union in June 1868.

This achievement, however, was soon overshadowed by tragedy.

In late September 1869, Livingston’s two-year-old son Stewart, and presumably his wife Grace, joined a group of women and children on an A.M.E. church picnic excursion. The group was escorted by Constable Calvin Rogers, an African American who had drawn the ire of Jackson County whites for taking his law enforcement role seriously and for having the temerity to arrest white men. An ambush had been set. The intended target was most certainly Rogers, but bumbling assassins botched their mission and instead sent a bullet through the skull of Stewart (as known as “Mack”) Livingston.

Livingston was undaunted by his toddler son’s murder. Determined that white Democratic antagonists not take back the county by intimidation, he prevailed in the bitterly contested 1870 election, winning a seat in the state assembly. He was re-elected twice and served through the spring 1875 session. In 1874, Governor Hart returned Livingston to the Jackson County board of commissioners. He was briefly considered as a potential U.S. senator during assembly deliberations in 1875 and, in a sign of further respect, Florida’s Republican Party sent him as a delegate to the 1876 national convention in Cincinnati.

Livingston’s legislative record was not particularly distinguished,

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although he had the privilege to vote in favor of Florida’s landmark 1873 Civil Rights bill. He enjoyed a no-show patronage job as a Federal timber agent, courtesy of his friend, Congressman William J. Purman, that drew some scrutiny during a civil service investigation.

An example of Livingston’s political skill in bridging party lines is his appearance on a list of founding shareholders in 1875 of the West Florida Railroad Company together with such disparate political opponents as James McClellan and William D. Barnes. Livingston’s strong Republican connections served him well as he was one of the handful of Jackson County African

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“redemption” in early 1877. He was elected to the Marianna town council and held the federally controlled position of postmaster during the Republican Garfield-Arthur administrations. Livingston was probably the last black public officeholder in Jackson County for a century.

As Odell Robinson recounts, Livingston and his large family – eight children – made their way to Bartow between 1900 and 1910, probably drawn by opportunities presented by the growing phosphate mining industry. He died in Bartow in 1926.

Inspired by Odell Robinson’s reference to a grave in Bartow, the Blood & Oranges field investigation unit set out on a search operation two weekends ago.

We arrived at the historical African American Evergreen Cemetery in Bartow and through the deployment of the remarkable Townsend cemetery analytical software*, soon came across Livingston’s marker which is photographed here. [From Billy — This software consists of Billy simply saying, “Trust me, we'll find it. Just look around.” And so we did.]


We stood for a moment in silence to remember this remarkable man who, born a slave, persevered through tragedy and an

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a large family in central Florida. An apt epigraph can be found in the Philadelphia Christian Recorder newspaper which described Livingston as “a man who reflects credit upon his race by his upright character and attention to official duty.” Livingston's grave stone simply says “Father” and “Rock of Ages”

Postscript: unfortunately Mr. Odell Robinson, who marked the trail that led us to Livingston’s grave, passed away in February 2013. An obituary describes Robinson’s curiosity and devotion to history, demonstrated by his prominent role in the Polk County Historical Society.

[Sources for this essay are: Mr. Odell Robinson’s on-line essay at :; Canter Brown Jr.s Florida’s Black Public Officials, and my research files]

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  1. Diane Dean White May 1, 2013