Our next article based on the Smithwick Businessman’s Roundtable of 1907 is on Judge Francis Beauregard Carter.
Judge Carter’s an interesting subject; I believe he’s worthy of his own biography — I’ll tell you why at the end of this essay.
The two best sources of information on Carter are 1) the archival files at the University of West Florida, specifically, the Beggs & Lane Collection, and 2) The Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts, 1821-1917, published by the University Press of Florida.
Carter was born on August 12, 1861, and educated in Marianna’s public schools. According to Manley, et al., Carter began his professional life doing something other than law; he was a printer. It stands to reason that Carter likely worked at one of the two newspapers in Marianna during that time: The Marianna Patriot, or The Marianna Courier, (the paper later became the Marianna Times-Courier).
Carter got his start in law in the early 1880s when Benjamin Sullivan Liddon, an up-and-coming Marianna attorney, needed help getting his new law practice off the ground. Carter was known locally as a smart, diligent, hardworking young man, and Liddon recognized Carter as a diamond-in-the-rough. Liddon invited Carter to read law with him; as a result, the professional relationship flourished, and Carter was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1882. Soon after, Liddon and Carter formed a law partnership in Marianna.
Carter married Margaret Dickson in 1885; they had eight children.
Carter served as Mayor of Marianna, and was active in the Democratic party political scene; a presidential elector in 1896 (cast his ballot for “The Great Commoner,” William Jennings Bryan). Emmett’s brother, Cephas L. Wilson, who was Mayor of Marianna in 1897, encouraged Carter’s nomination to Governor William D. Bloxham to the Florida Supreme Court.
Carter served as a Florida Supreme Court Justice from 1897 to 1905. He was widely respected, and had a reputation as the most studious man on the court. Manley writes that Carter considered running for governor but his wife was not fond of Tallahassee; instead, he accepted the judgeship of the First Circuit Court in Pensacola.
This is where our story picks up from the Smithwick luncheon: Carter has been in Pensacola for almost two years and has established his practice and reconnected with his old law partner, Benjamin Liddon, now also living in Pensacola.
What’s interesting is that everyone at this luncheon has been living in Pensacola for less than two years. Emmett and the Crawford brothers are less than three years out of law school — they’re the kids at the adult table. Carter likely knew Emmett since he was a boy, living and working with big brother Cephas as his junior partner in Marianna.
I don’t have a transcript or notes about what was discussed at this luncheon, but three of the folks at the table eventually run for — and serve as — U.S. Congressman for the Third District of Florida. The decision to run for office, at least what I know of Emmett Wilson, was not something done on the fly.
Everyone at this table had political aspirations in 1907 — I just wonder what groundwork for the future campaigns was probably laid in between the salads and the main course at this ‘delightfully informal luncheon’?
Judge Carter eventually stepped down to return to private practice. He became a partner in the firm Blount, Blount & Carter as a partner, he remained active in Democratic politics for the rest of his life. (Manley, et al., 337). Judge Carter died January 9, 1937, and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Marianna.
When I mentioned at the start that I think he’s worthy of his own biography, it is because of something I found in one of the archival boxes when I was at the University of West Florida over a year ago; namely, an essay titled, “The Legend of the Blue Spring.”
Unfortunately, I did not think to read it or copy it (as I was in search of Emmett Wilson-specific items when I was on campus). But when I find examples of creative writing in what is otherwise a stuffy-appearing box of legal records and letters, it makes me wonder what kind of guy Carter really was underneath the surface. It makes me want to know more about the person, and what else we can learn from his story.
Was Carter a closet poet? A novelist? Maybe he used a pen name?
Like I said — Carter is worthy of his own biography.
Manley, W.W., et al. and Florida Supreme Court Historical Society, The Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts, 1821-1917, University Press of Florida, 1997
Categories: Florida History
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