Francis W. Eppes
|Francis W. Eppes|
|Born||September 20, 1801|
|Died||May 10, 1881(aged 79)|
|Relatives||Thomas Jefferson, grandfather|
Francis Wayles Eppes (September 20, 1801 – May 10, 1881) was a planter from Virginia who became prominent near and in Tallahassee, Florida. His maternal grandparents were President Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha; his paternal grandparents were Francis Eppes VI, also a prominent planter in Virginia, and his wife Elizabeth Wayles, half-sister to Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson.
After marrying and moving in 1829 from Virginia with his family to near Tallahassee, Florida, Eppes established a cotton plantation. His first wife died and in 1837 he married a second time. With both wives, he had a total of 13 children.
Long interested in education, in 1856 Eppes donated land and money to designate a school in Tallahassee as one of the first two state-supported seminaries, now known as the Florida State University. He served as president of its board of trustees for eight years.
Francis Wayles Eppes was born in 1801, the second child of Maria (née Jefferson) and John Wayles Eppes. He was born at Monticello, his maternal grandfather's plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia. When he was born his parents resided at Mont Blanco plantation in Chesterfield. He was the only one of three Eppes children to survive childhood.
After his mother died in 1804 when he was three, soon after the birth of her third child, his father moved his household and slaves from Mont Blanco, to another of his plantations, Millbrook, in Buckingham, and Francis spent much time at nearby Monticello with his maternal aunt Martha Randolph and his grandfather, the widower Thomas Jefferson. At his father's plantation, he was cared for by the slave Betsy Hemmings, later called "Mam Bess." Jefferson had given her to Eppes' parents at their wedding. She was the daughter of Mary Hemings and the granddaughter of Betty Hemings, who was held by the Jeffersons at Monticello. Among his early nurses was Critta Hemings Bowles, an aunt of Betsy Hemmings.
Eppes studied law, but never completed his legal studies.
Marriage and family
At the age of 21, Francis married his first wife Mary Elizabeth Cleland Randolph (Jan. 16, 1801-Apr. 15, 1835), the daughter of Thomas Eston Randolph and his wife Jane Cary (Randolph) Randolph, on Nov. 18, 1822. They moved to Poplar Forest plantation in Bedford County, Virginia, which was built by his grandfather Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had originally planned this plantation for his daughter Maria, but she died in April 1804 at age 25. He designated it as his grandson Francis' inheritance. Poplar Forest was the only Jefferson property to pass to the intended heir. Jefferson's debts disrupted the rest of his bequests after his death in 1826.
In 1827 after Jefferson's death, Eppes purchased and freed the elder slave Critta Hemings Bowles, who had been his fourth nurse when he was an infant. She had long been married to Zachariah Bowles, a free man of color.
The Eppeses lived at Poplar Forest until 1828, when they decided to move to Florida. By that time they had buried three children at the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello. Both his father and Jefferson had died by then. Believing Poplar Forest to be too isolated, Eppes was ready to try his fortunes elsewhere, and Florida was being rapidly developed for cotton production. In 1829, they moved to Leon County, Florida and settled just east of Tallahassee.
Such moves broke up both planters' and slaves' families. The Eppes took numerous slaves with them, among them grown descendants of Betsy Hemmings given to Francis by his father as a wedding present.
After his first wife died in 1835 following the birth of her sixth child, two years later Eppes married Susan Margaret (Ware) Crouch (February 14, 1815-Sep. 1, 1887), the widowed daughter of US Senator Nicholas Ware and his wife of Georgia. They had seven children together. With his two wives, Eppes was father to a total of 13 children, but at least three died in childhood in Virginia.
He established the Francis Eppes Plantation in Florida, raising cotton as a commodity crop by the use of extensive slave labor. In the antebellum period, cotton prices were high and there was extensive trade with England.
Eppes took an active interest in educational issues in Florida. In Tallahassee, he began 35 years of distinguished service to his community. He was a founding member of the Episcopal Church there. In 1833, Eppes was appointed one of fourteen justices of the peace in Leon County. Eppes was elected to serve as a Deputy to the 1838 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held that year in Philadelphia. Among its actions, the Convention officially admitted the Diocese of Florida.
Eppes first served as intendant (mayor) of Tallahassee from 1841–1844 and then again from 1856-1857. His first election was largely due to a rise in sentiment against lawlessness, particularly duels among leading men in territorial Florida. Florida Militia Brigadier General Leigh Read had recently been killed by Willis Alston, in a case attracting much attention. Read had earlier killed his brother Augustus Alston in a duel. Eppes appointed six officers, who are considered the beginning of the Tallahassee police department.
In 1851, the Florida Legislature authorized two seminaries of higher learning in Florida. One seminary was to be located west of the Suwannee River and one to the east of the river. In 1854, Eppes tried to gain approval for the western seminary to be located in Tallahassee, but was rejected.
In 1856, Eppes initiated the proposal again, and offered to fund an initial endowment of $10,000, plus a $2,000 per year stipend and a new building. The legislature accepted the proposal. That year the existing Florida Institute in Tallahassee was designated as the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River. Classes began in 1857. Eppes served on the Seminary's Board of Trustees for eleven years; for the last eight of those years, he served as president of the Board. The Seminary later developed as the Florida State University.
Eppes died on May 10, 1881 and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Three of his children by his first wife had died earlier in Virginia. They were buried at the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello. Also buried there were Francis' Jefferson grandparents and mother Maria. Later at least three of his grandchildren were also buried there. Since the late 19th century, the cemetery has been owned and operated by the Monticello Association, a private lineage society of descendants of Jefferson and Martha Wayles. (This property is separate from the Monticello plantation, which is owned and operated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.)
Legacy and honors
- In 1995 Florida State University established the Jefferson-Eppes Trophy to honor Eppes and his grandfather Thomas Jefferson.
- A statue of Eppes was installed to commemorate him at Florida State University.
- In 2016 the statue was the subject of a removal referendum. This referendum was introduced by The Students for a Democratic Society because Francis Eppes was a slave owner. The referendum failed by a vote of 71% to 29%
- Napton, WB, Phillips, C & Pendleton, JL 2005, The Union on Trial: The Political Lournals of Judge William Barclay Napton, 1829-1883, University of Missouri Press
- "Critta Hemings Bowles", Plantation and Slavery, Monticello, accessed 21 March 2011
-  Shackelford, George Green, ed. Collected Papers to Commemorate Fifty Years of the Monticello Association of the Descendants of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville: Monticello Association, 1965. 2 vols.
- "Betsy Hemmings: Loved by a Family, but What of Her Own?", Plantation & Slavery/Life after Monticello, Monticello, 14 February 2011
- Nicholas Ware Eppes (October 1926). "Francis Eppes (1801-1881), Pioneer of Florida". Florida Historical Society Quarterly. 5 (2): 94–102. JSTOR 30149650.
- Julianne Hare (2002). Tallahassee: A Capital City History. Arcadia Publishing. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7385-2371-2.
- Pamela Chase Hain, Murder in the State Capitol: The Biography of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Augustus Alston (1832-1879), Mercer University Press, 2013, p. 12
- "George T. Ward Secession Broadside," Special Collection, Robert Manning Strozier Library, Florida State University
- Baptist, Edward E., Creating an Old South, University of North Carolina Press, 2002, p. 197
- Andrew Waber, "Eppes statue", Public History project: Exploring FSU's Past, Florida State University