David Levy Yulee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
David Levy Yulee
David Levy Yulee - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Florida
In office
March 4, 1855 – January 21, 1861
Preceded by Jackson Morton
Succeeded by Thomas W. Osborn (1868)
In office
July 1, 1845 – March 3, 1851
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Stephen Mallory
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1845
Preceded by Charles Downing
Succeeded by Edward Cabell (Representative)
Personal details
Born David Levy
(1810-06-12)June 12, 1810
Charlotte Amalie, Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands)
Died October 10, 1886(1886-10-10) (aged 76)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Nancy Wickliffe

David Levy Yulee (born David Levy; June 12, 1810 – October 10, 1886) was an American politician and attorney of Moroccan-Jewish origins. A resident of Florida, he served as its territorial delegate to Congress, and was the first person of Jewish heritage to serve as a United States Senator. He founded the Florida Railroad Company and served as president of several other companies, earning the nickname of "Father of Florida Railroads."[1] In 2000 he was recognized as that year's "Great Floridian" by the state.

Levy added Yulee, the name of one of his Moroccan ancestors to his own name soon after his 1846 marriage to the daughter of ex-Governor Charles A. Wickliffe of Kentucky. Though Yulee became Christian[2] and raised his children as Christians,[3] he was subject to antisemitism throughout his career.[4] Yulee supported slavery and secession; presumed to have given support to the Confederacy, he was imprisoned at Fort Pulaski for nine months after the war as a prisoner of state before being pardoned. He then returned to his railroad interests and other business ventures.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Born David Levy in Charlotte Amalie, on the island of St. Thomas, his father Moses Elias Levy was a Moroccan Sephardi Jew who made a fortune in lumber.[6][7] His mother was also Sephardi; her ancestors had gone from Spain to the Netherlands and England. Some had later gone to the Caribbean as English colonists during the British occupation of the Danish West Indies, now the United States Virgin Islands. His father Moses Levy was a first cousin and business partner of Phillip Benjamin, the father of future Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin.[8]

After the family immigrated to the United States, Moses Levy bought 50,000 acres (200 km2) of land near present-day Jacksonville, Florida Territory. He wanted to establish a "New Jerusalem" for Jewish settlers. The parents sent their son to a boy's academy and college in Norfolk, Virginia. David Levy studied law with Robert R. Reid in St. Augustine, was admitted to the bar in 1832 and practiced in St. Augustine.[1][9][10]

David L. Yulee, photograph by Mathew Brady

Early political career[edit]

Yulee served in the territorial militia, including the Second Seminole War, and in 1834 was present at a conference with Seminole chiefs, including Osceola.

In 1836 he was elected to the Florida Territory's Legislative Council, and he served from 1837 to 1839. He was delegate to the territory's constitutional convention in 1838, and served as clerk of the legislature in 1841.

Florida businessman[edit]

In 1851 Yulee founded a 5,000-acre (20 km2) sugar cane plantation, built and maintained by slaves,[11] along the Homosassa River. The remains of his plantation, which was destroyed during the Civil War, are now the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins State Historic Site. Yulee was also business partners with John William Pearson at Orange Springs, Florida but he abandoned his idea of building a railroad in the area due to the upcoming Civil War.[12]

While living in Fernandina, Yulee began to develop a railroad across Florida. He had planned since 1837 to build a state-owned system. He became the first Southerner to use state grants under the Florida Internal Improvement Act of 1855, passed to encourage the development of infrastructure. He made extensive use of the act to secure federal and state land grants "as a basis of credit" to acquire land and build railroad networks, on the back of slave labor[11] through the Florida wilderness.[10]

Issuing public stock, Yulee chartered the Florida Railroad in 1853. He planned its eastern and western terminals at deep-water ports, Fernandina (Port of Fernandina) on Amelia Island on the Atlantic side, and Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico, to provide for connection to ocean-going shipping. His company began construction in 1855. On March 1, 1861, the first train arrived from the east in Cedar Key, just weeks before the beginning of the Civil War.

Later political career[edit]

Yulee was elected in 1841 as the delegate from the Florida Territory to the US House of Representatives and served four years.[a] He worked to gain statehood for the territory and to protect the expansion of slavery in new states.

In 1845, after Florida was admitted as a state, the legislature elected him as a Democrat to the United States Senate, the first Jew to win a seat in the Senate, and he served until 1851.[13] In 1855 he was again elected to the Senate, and he served until withdrawing in 1861 in order to support the Confederacy at the start of the American Civil War.

Yulee's inflammatory pro-slavery rhetoric in the Senate earned him the nickname "Florida Fire Eater".[14] During his Senate career he served as chairman of the Committee on Private Land Claims (1845-1849) and the Committee on Naval Affairs (1849-1851).

Civil War[edit]

During the Civil War Yulee did not seek any elective or appointive office, though some sources erroneously state that he served in the Confederate Congress.[9][15] After the war, Yulee was imprisoned in Fort Pulaski for nine months because of his presumed support for the Confederacy.[1]


After receiving a pardon and being released from confinement, Yulee rebuilt the Yulee Railroad, which had been destroyed by warfare. He served as president of the Florida Railroad Company from 1853 to 1866, as well as president of the Peninsular Railroad Company, Tropical Florida Railway Company, and Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad Company. His development of the railroads was his most important achievement and contribution to the state of Florida.[10] He was called the "Father of Florida Railroads".[1] His leadership helped bring increased economic development to the state, including the late nineteenth-century tourist trade.[1] In 1870 Yulee hosted President Ulysses S. Grant in Fernandina.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1846, Levy officially changed his name to David Levy Yulee (adding his father's Sephardic surname).[10] That year he married Nancy Christian Wickliffe, the daughter of Charles A. Wickliffe, the former governor of Kentucky and Postmaster General under President John Tyler. His wife was Christian, and they raised their children in her faith.[1]

Death and legacy[edit]

Selling the Florida Railroad, Yulee retired with his wife to Washington, D.C. in 1880, where she had family.[10] He died six years later while visiting in New York.[16][17] Yulee was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[1]

Yulee gravesite
Memorial inscription
  • Both the town of Yulee, Florida[18] and Levy County, Florida[19] are named for him.
  • In 2000, the Florida Department of State designated him as a Great Floridian in the Great Floridians 2000 Program. Award plaques in his honor were installed at both the Fernandina Chamber of Commerce and the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins State Historic Site.[13]


  1. ^ It is not clear whether or when Levy was actually permitted to take his seat as a Delegate. This footnote appears as note 47, page 8, in Congressional Research Service document "Delegates to the U.S. Congress: History and Current Status" by Betsy Palmer: "U.S. Congress, House Committee on Elections, David Levy, 27th Cong., 1st sess., September 3, 1841, H.Rept. 10, p. 5. This case concerned whether David Levy, from the territory of Florida, was a citizen of the United States. The committee held that Mr. Levy was not a citizen, and, as such, could not serve as a Delegate."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Jewish Virtual Library: David Levy Yulee". Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  2. ^ Garraty, John Arthur; Carnes, Mark Christopher (1999). American National Biography. 24. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 201. 
  3. ^ Edenfield, Gray (June 17, 2014). "David Yulee's History". From the Jailhouse. Fernandina Beach, FL: Amelia Island Museum of History. 
  4. ^ McIver, Stuart B. (2008). Touched by the Sun. 3. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-1-56164-206-9. 
  5. ^ David Levy Yulee Jewish Virtual Library
  6. ^ Kurt F. Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members, 2010, page 4
  7. ^ Roger Moore, Ron Kurtz, Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, 2001, page 1873
  8. ^ Mosaic: Jewish Life in Florida (Coral Gables, FL: MOSAIC, Inc., 1991): 9
  9. ^ a b Retrieved from the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum of Florida
  10. ^ a b c d e John R. Nemmers, "A Guide to the David Levy Yulee Papers", University of Florida Smathers Libraries, Special and Area Studies Collections, March 2005, accessed 24 July 2011
  11. ^ a b Wiseman, Maury. "David Levy Yulee: Conflict and Continuity in Social Memory". Jacksonville University. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  12. ^ Cook, David (December 6, 1987). "Orange Springs Once Thriving Resort". Ocala Star-Banner. Retrieved May 2, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "Great Floridians 2000 Program: Judah Philip Benjamin". Florida Department of State, Florida Heritage. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. 
  14. ^ Republican Jews Alarmed at the Prospect of a Void in the House and Senate, by Jason Horowitz, in the New York Times; published July 12, 2014; retrieved July 13, 2014
  15. ^ Davis, Robt. W. (June 1, 1902). "Florida in Congress". Florida Magazine. Jacksonville, FL: G. D. Ackerly: 362.  Note: All of Florida's Confederate Congress Senators and Representatives are listed here, and Yulee's name is not among them.
  16. ^ Thomas William Herringshaw, Herringshaw's National Library of American Biography, 1914, page 524
  17. ^ John R. Nemmers, George A. Smathers Library, University of Florida, A Guide to the David Levy Yulee Papers: Biographical Note, March 2005
  18. ^ Hunn, Max (Aug 19, 1956). "Driving through Florida history". Ocala Star-Banner. p. 29. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Publications of the Florida Historical Society. Florida Historical Society. 1908. p. 32. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles Downing
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida Territory's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Edward Cabell
as U.S. Representative
United States Senate
New seat United States Senator (Class 1) from Florida
Served alongside: James Westcott, Jackson Morton
Succeeded by
Stephen Mallory
Preceded by
Jackson Morton
United States Senator (Class 3) from Florida
Served alongside: Stephen Mallory
Title next held by
Thomas W. Osborn(1)
Notes and references
1. Because of Florida's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for seven years.