John Lewis WhiddenAge: 53 years1838–1891
- John Lewis Whidden
|Birth|| about 1838|
|Marriage||Artemissa Driggers — View this family|
|Birth of a brother||James Whidden|
December 1842 (Age 4 years)
|Birth of a brother||George Washington Whidden|
about 1844 (Age 6 years)
|Death of a paternal grandfather||James W. Whiddon, Sr.|
about 1845 (Age 7 years)
|Burial of a paternal grandfather||James W. Whiddon, Sr.|
about 1845 (Age 7 years)
|Death of a mother||Lucinda …|
August 1853 (Age 15 years)
|Burial of a mother||Lucinda …|
1853 (Age 15 years)
| Birth of a son|
|William F. Brazella Whidden|
about 1859 (Age 21 years)
| Birth of a son|
|James I. Whidden|
May 1860 (Age 22 years)
|Census|| June 11, 1860 (Age 22 years)|
|Residence|| 1860 (Age 22 years)|
|Residence|| 1870 (Age 32 years)|
|Marriage of a child||William F. Brazella Whidden — Louisa Charity Whidden — View this family|
March 11, 1882 (Age 44 years)
|Death|| November 11, 1891 (Age 53 years)|
|Family with parents|
Death: August 1853 — Sumter County
5 yearsyounger brother
Birth: December 1842 — Florida, USA
Death: before August 11, 1909
2 yearsyounger brother
George Washington Whidden
Birth: about 1844 — Florida, USA
Birth: about 1828 — Georgia, USA
|Family with Artemissa Driggers|
Birth: about 1841 29 26 — Georgia
William F. Brazella Whidden
Birth: about 1859 21 18 — Florida, USA
James I. Whidden
Birth: May 1860 22 19
John L. (Long John) Whidden
By Spessard Stone
South Florida, USA in its pioneer days, like the "Wild West," had a wide-open range with a number of infamous outlaws, one of whom was John L. Whidden, commonly known as "Long John" Whidden.
A member of the prominent Whidden family, John L. Whidden was born ca. 1838 in Florida, USA, probably Levy County. He was a son of William and Lucinda Whidden. Early Hillsborough, Florida, USA records of guardianship show that on January 11, 1855 James Whidden, Sr. and others petitioned that James Whidden, Jr. be appointed as guardian of John, William, Mary, James, and George W. Whidden, "minor heirs of Lucinda Whidden, late of said county." On July 29, 1859 James L. Whidden, Jr., guardian of James and George W. Whidden, reported 35 head of cattle belonging to the estate. On September 26, 1859, however, James and George W. Whidden, minor children of William Whidden, citing the failure of James Whidden Sr. to perform his duty, requested that their brother, John Whidden, be appointed their guardian.
Thus orphaned with the care of his siblings, John L. early learned the old saying, "Life isn't always fair." How John was to react, however, was to set him apart from other members of his clan and the community-at-large.
During the Third Seminole War, John enlisted as a private in Capt. Leroy G. Lesley's Company. Here John L. first began to evidence that nonconformist conduct which would later lead to his downfall. Capt. Lesley, who was also a Methodist minister in the Old Testament warrior tradition, on November 25, 1857 requested that Unknown Whidden be discharged for disobedience and insolence and he was drummed out of service.
John T. Lesley of Tampa, son of Capt. Leroy G. Lesley, in May 1904 declared of John, Â“Whidden known as Cutthroat John and his brother William Whidden with another man did desert the company at Fort Meade when the company was ordered to the Big Cypress..."
John T. Lesley on June 4, 1910 further averred:
"This John Whidden who had a brother William deserted together with his brother William. We were stationed at Fort Meade and were ordered to go to the Everglades in the interior of the state and they John Whidden and his brother William said they would not go and were put under guard. They then promised to go with us but when we started they were missing. At this time this John Whidden and his brother William were members of my father's company."
It appeared, however, that John was ready to settle down from his errant ways as on January 14, 1858 he took as his bride 17-year-old Artemissa Driggers. It seemed only an aberration when he in April was charged with "willfully marking the calf of another." His mavericking was settled, and John and his wife started anew at Fort Hartsuff.
The Whiddens were enumerated in household 34/34 in the Fort Hartsuff area (now Wauchula) in the 1860 census of Manatee, dated June 11. Living with John, 22, and Artemissa, 19, besides their one-year-old son, William, and one-month son, James, were John's 18-year-old brother, James, and 16-year-old brother, George W. Neighbors included the families of: Daniel Douglas, Isaiah Smith, and Ann Driggers.
During the Civil War, John enlisted as a private at Key West on December 8, 1863 in Company A, Second Florida, USA Cavalry, United States Army. Company records described him as a refugee from the Confederacy, born 1835 Levy, 6 feet, with blue eyes, light hair & fair skin, occupation, farmer. He was mustered out November 29, 1865 at Tallahassee.
After the war, he settled near Fort Ogden, where he resumed his livelihood as a farmer/stockman.
1869 found John again in trouble with the law. In May 1869, he was charged with larceny. Owen R. Blount and David D. Whidden became his sureties, which action they would later regret when on November 11, 1872 John L. was declared in default, and they were ordered by the state to pay the recognizances.
While in Manatee County court, John L. burned his bridges with his religious neighbors when on May 7, 1869 he filed an affidavit in which he alleged: "...that on or about the third day of April 1869 one Wm. P. McEwen did create a disturbance at a place of worship in the vicinity of Fort Ogden -- by loud and abusive language addressed to the deponent, and by threatening and drawing a weapon upon him..." Wm. P. McEwen was the Rev. William Penn McEwen, a beloved circuit-riding Methodist minister. No further legal action could be found on the allegation.
On March 7, 1870, Frank Griffin gave a deposition before John Bartholf, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Manatee, in which he charged that on February 7 in the vicinity of Fort Ogden he was "set upon without cause, pretext or provocation by one F. C. M. Boggess, John L. Whidden, Joseph Brooker and David Whidden, and assaulted and pursued with deadly weapons...with threats to kill him..." A cowhunter employed by Simeon Hollingsworth, Griffin is believed to have been an ex-slave.
Whidden next added manslaughter to his crimes. Francis A. Ivey, who'd served with John in Company A, Second Florida, USA Cavalry, lived in Fort Ogden township with his wife, Barbary, and two daughters, Mary Frances and Caroline. The nickname of "Long John" was first applied in print to Whidden in the Florida, USA Peninsular of June 29, 1870:
"Man Killed--Francis A. Ivey was killed by John Whidden (Long John) near Fort Myers, Monroe, not long since, under the following circumstances as we have heard them: The parties were minding a drove of beef cattle, and fell out as to which had control of them.-- High words ensued; Ivey advanced upon Whidden, threw sticks and trash in Whidden's face, whereupon Whidden, after repeatedly warning Ivey to stand off, drew his knife and stabbed him in the abdomen. Ivey lived about a week after he was stabbed. Whidden had not been arrested up to latest dates." Ivey died on June 11, 1870. Long John fled and was never apparently arrested.
Long John Whidden was soon heard of again when the Florida, USA Peninsular of October 5, 1870 chronicled a further altercation in Manatee County: "We learn that a difficulty occurred between a young man named Parish and a man called Long John, in which the long gentleman was stabbed. The wounds inflicted upon Long John are supposed to be mortal, and Parish has left the county." Described "as almost a giant in size and in appearance as strong as Hercules," Long John arose from his "death-bed" and fled the (for him) hostile environment for Sumter County.
Trouble and Long John were synonymous. On August 7, 1878 in Manatee, Jackson Prine was killed with John being the suspect. Frances Prine, the widow, testified: "The said Prine was killed on the 7th of Aug. 1878 at about dark in Manatee, Fla. There was no one present except Prine, Myself and Baby and my son. John Whidden was lying on the bed, sick. Prine and me were out in the shed. I heard the report of a gun, and Prine fell at my feet, on his face, he died immediately and if he ever spoke any thing I never heard it and at the time the gun fired he was whipping me with a strop of leather. I heard John get off the bed, and then he caught me by my right arm and asked me what was the matter."
The Whiddens were enumerated in the 1880 census of Sumter County. Listed in the household, besides John, age 44, and his wife Mary, 21, were seven children, Wm. F., 18 [?]; James, 18; Ellen E. 16; Artimien, 12; John M., 9; Mary H., 4; Jessie F. (son), 2.
Long John and his son, Irvin, in May 1882, provoked a fight that led to murder of Thomas W. "Tom" Jones, which placed them beyond the pale of the law to become outlaws with a bounty on Long John.
The Florida, USA Daily Times of Sunday, May 21, 1882 reported:
"Tampa, May 16- "The news reached Tampa Monday of the murder of Mr. Tom Jones, formerly a citizen here, in Webster, Sumter, last week. The circumstances appear to be about as follows: "Two rowdies came to the mill Mr. Jones was employed at, and started the machinery of the mill when the workmen were at their dinner. Jones immediately stopped the moving machinery, and ordered the men to desist and leave. The rowdies then knocked Tom down and left. Tom, being a small man, of course, could not defend himself against two giant, drunken bullies. "At the close of the day's labor, Jones returned to his boarding house, and there he encountered the men who so cowardily assaulted him at the mill. However, being of a peaceful turn of mind, he overlooked the occurrence of the morning and let the matter drop. At the supper table the two rowdies commenced again to renew the quarrel and threw a plate at Jones and cut him up pretty badly. Even then Jones would not fight, and went down to the store of the mill-owner. He did this in order to keep out of their way. He was fearful the men might follow him still, so he took his gun and loaded it. "To protect his life he loaded his gun with buckshot. Soon his tormentors followed him, this time on trouble bent. Jones called to them to leave, but they still advanced, threatening him. He fired a load at one, and then another load at the other. The loads were well aimed, but a lack of powder made them ineffective. The ruffians advance and shot him down. He was killed at the first fire. This was not enough. The murderers advanced and emptied their six shooters in the dead body of their victim and then coolly walked off."
Declaring they would not be taken alive, Long John, now called "Black John," and Irvin eluded capture by a sheriff's posse to flee to the Ten Thousand Islands. There they were joined by others of the family and secreted themselves on Ramrod Key, opposite Torch Key. An enticing $1,000 reward was offered for Black John.
In 1888, H. H. Herndon, deputy sheriff of Sumter, having learned of Whidden's hideout, journeyed to Key West. Posing as desirous of purchasing land somewhere on the coast to engage in the breeding of sheep, goats, and poultry for the Key West market, Herndon engineered a sting, maneuvering Long John to come to Torch Key to discuss selling his improvement on Ramrod Key and with the assistance of a Mr. Johnson and Garry Nile captured the fugitive, but only after a desperate struggle with Whidden and the seizure of Long John's trusty rifle from his twelve-year-old son who was in the act of firing when Johnson snatched the rifle.
Then Herndon went to Ramrod Key and arrested Irvin, who offered no resistance. Thus, after three or four weeks, the lawman had finally snared his prey. On March 31, 1888, he arrived at Key West with his prisoners and from there they were sent via mail boat to Tampa and then to the Sumterville jail. Left behind at Ramrod Key were Long John's wife and three children.
Sumter County Sheriff Chapman subsequently carried Long John to Gainesville in April where he was imprisoned awaiting the next session of the circuit court. Irvin, deemed less dangerous, was left confined in the Sumterville jail.
The Lakeland Cracker, reprinted in the Weekly News-Herald of April 5, 1888, noted that beside the Jones murder, John L. had also eluded the law in another murder case, that of Frank Ivy [sic], "Ivy had killed a brother of Whidden, and was in turn was killed by Whidden."
On March 15, 1889, John Whidden for the murder of Tom Jones was sentenced to life imprisonment. The 24-year-old Irvin also received a life sentence. John L. "Long John" Whidden died in prison on November 11, 1891. Irvin, due to his youth when the murder occurred, drew sympathy from a number of prominent citizens in Sumterville, including the jury who convicted him, and a petition was circulated for his pardon. On March 15, 1897, Irvin was released. Thus did mercy season justice.
Florida, USA Peninsular, June 29, 1870, p. 2, col. 3
Florida, USA Daily Times, May 21, 1882, p. 1
Florida, USA Times-Union, June 9, 1890, p. 1, col. 4
References: Canter Brown, Jr. provided copies of most of the research data cited. See also Brown, Florida, USA's Peace River Frontier, pp 205, 408 (Frank Griffin), 1991; "Hillsborough County: Old Guardianship," South Florida, USA Pioneers 17/18 (July/Oct. 1978); L. G. Lesley to G. W. Hazzard, November 25, 1857, Ft. Meade, Roll # 8, M-1084, National Archives; Indian war pension application of John Whidden (1839-1926); Hillsborough, County Judge, General Index to Marriage Licenses, Males, 1846-1935, Book A, p. 45, Florida, USA Archives.
This profile is adapted from The Herald-Advocate, January 9, 1992 and The Sunland Tribune November 1992 (18), pp. 80-81.
February 09, 2001& links = October 16, 2001& May 5, 2002 = "Flash Lad," midi by Lesley Nelson-Burns; images, June 5, 2004