Francis W. Eppes
|Francis W. Eppes|
|Born||September 20, 1801|
|Died||May 10, 1881(aged 79)|
|Relatives||Thomas Jefferson, grandfather|
Francis Wayles Eppes VII (September 20, 1801 – May 10, 1881) was the grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. After moving from Virginia with his family to near Tallahassee, Florida in 1829, he established a cotton plantation. In 1856 Eppes donated land and money to gain the location in Tallahassee of one of the first two state-supported seminaries, the Florida State University. He served as president of its board of trustees for eight years.
Francis Eppes was born in 1801 to Maria (née Jefferson) and John Wayles Eppes at Monticello, his maternal grandfather's plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia. After his mother died when he was three, Francis spent much time at Monticello with his maternal aunt Martha Randolph and his grandfather, the widower Thomas Jefferson. He was cared for as a child for years at his father's plantation by the slave Betsy Hemmings, later called "Mam Bess". Jefferson gave her to his 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. His first nurse was Critta Hemings Bowles, an aunt of Betsy Hemmings.
Eppes studied law, but never completed his legal studies.
Marriage and family
After Francis married Mary Elizabeth Cleland Randolph, they moved to Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest plantation in Bedford County, Virginia. Jefferson had originally planned Poplar Forest for his daughter Maria, who died in 1804 at age 25. He designated it as 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 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 Eppes lived at Poplar Forest until 1828, when they decided to move to Florida. Believing Poplar Forest too isolated, Eppes was ready to try his fortunes elsewhere. 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 descendants of Betsy Hemmings whom Francis' father had given to him.
He established the Francis Eppes Plantation in Florida, raising cotton as a commodity crop by the use of extensive slave labor.
Eppes had spent his formative years at Monticello, where he learned about his grandfather's view that a liberally educated citizenry is of critical importance in a democracy. He took an active interest in educational issues in Florida. In Tallahassee, he began 35 years of distinguished service to his community. In 1833, Eppes was appointed one of fourteen justices of the peace in Leon County.
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 in territorial Florida, which had recently culminated in the murder of Florida Militia Brigadier General Leigh Read by Willis Alston. One of Eppes' achievements was the appointment of six officers, which was 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, with a $2,000 per year stipend and a new building. The legislature accepted the proposal, and that year the Florida Institute in Tallahassee became 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 became the Florida State University.
Eppes died on May 10, 1881 and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Orange County, Florida. Three of his children had died earlier in Virginia and were buried at the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello. Also buried there were Francis' Jefferson grandparents and mother. Later at least three of his grandchildren were also buried there. Today the cemetery is owned and operated by the Monticello Association, a private lineage society of descendants of Jefferson. (This is separate from the Monticello plantation, owned and operated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.)
- Napton, WB, Phillips, C & Pendleton, JL 2005, The Union on trial: the political journals of Judge William Barclay Napton, 1829-1883, University of Missouri Press
- "Critta Hemings Bowles", Plantation and Slavery, Monticello, accessed 21 March 2011
- "Betsy Hemmings: Loved by a Family, but What of Her Own?", Plantation & Slavery/Life after Monticello, Monticello, 14 February 2011
- Eppes, Susan Bradford (as Mrs. Nicholas Ware Eppes) (October 1926). "Francis Eppes (1801-1881), Pioneer of Florida". Florida Historical Society Quarterly 5 (2): 94–102.
- Julianne Hare (2002). Tallahassee: A Capital City History. Arcadia Publishing. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7385-2371-2.