History Page Four
Benjamin F. Priest, a Marion County native who had served as a captain in the Civil War, was elected Sheriff after the war, serving until 1868. After the war, the people of Marion County were suffering from personal sacrifice and financial ruin. One of the richest counties in the state before the war, Marion now saw many people in financial distress. The reconstruction regime made all county officials except constables appointees of the Governor. In 1868, Marion County had its first black Sheriff when M. A. Clouts was appointed Sheriff, serving from 1868 to 1870. Crime was prevalent in Florida during the years following the Civil War. Marion County was not as bad as north and west Florida, but still had its share of trouble. One example was the murder of Neil Ferguson, county tax collector. On December 2, 1871, Ferguson was robbed and murdered on a lonely road near Flemington. The culprits were caught, tried, and convicted, and hanged in the rear of the jail yard.
In 1871, John O. Matthews took office, serving until 1873. William G. McGrath became the eleventh Sheriff of Marion County, and served between 1873 and 1877. For some reason another Sheriff came into office in 1877, Francis D. Carver, but no further records can be found.
During this time, the county was still feeling the financial pinch of the war. Things were so bad that lawsuits forced the sale of public property. On September 6, 1875, the courthouse and county jail, and the property on which they stood, were auctioned off. They were sold to the highest bidder, for $101.00. A well-known Ocala attorney, John F. Dunn, bought the property as a public spirited citizen. Dunn held the property until conditions improved and he deeded it back to the county. Also during the financially troubled times, the county commissioners’ pay was reduced to $25 per year, and most expenses except those required by law were discontinued.
By 1876, Florida and Marion County were recovering. The Federal Occupation troops were withdrawn, and the state legislature was almost back to normal. Orange groves were becoming a major source of income. Tourists, many of them well-known business and political leaders, began to discover Silver Springs and spread the word of its great beauty.
Francis Pooser was elected Sheriff and served from 1877 to 1881. By that time, Florida was back to elected rather than appointed Sheriffs, and Anson B. Crutchfield was elected in 1880. Crutchfield served two terms until 1889.
The town of Ocala had many beautiful buildings housing businesses around the town square. All were wood frame, but well built. On Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1883, a fire started in one of the businesses. Before it was over, most of the downtown buildings had burned to the ground. Much of Ocala’s and Marion County’s recorded history was lost in the fire.