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David Levy Yulee

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Title: David Levy Yulee  
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Subject: Stephen Mallory, Jackson Morton, James Westcott, Edward Gurney, United States congressional delegations from Florida
Collection: 1810 Births, 1886 Deaths, 19Th-Century American Railroad Executives, American People of Moroccan Descent, American People of Moroccan-Jewish Descent, American People of Spanish-Jewish Descent, American People of United States Virgin Islands Descent, American Presbyterians, American Sephardic Jews, Burials at Oak Hill Cemetery, Converts to Christianity from Judaism, Danish Emigrants to the United States, Delegates to the United States House of Representatives from Florida Territory, Democratic Party United States Senators, Florida Democrats, Florida Lawyers, Jewish Members of the United States House of Representatives, Jewish United States Senators, Members of the Florida Territorial Legislature, Moroccan Jews, United States Senators from Florida, United States Virgin Islands Jews
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David Levy Yulee

David Levy Yulee
United States Senator
from Florida
In office
July 1, 1845 – March 3, 1851
Preceded by Office instituted
Succeeded by Stephen Mallory
In office
March 4, 1855 – January 21, 1861
Preceded by Jackson Morton
Succeeded by Thomas W. Osborn
Personal details
Born David Levy
(1810-06-12)June 12, 1810
Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, Danish West Indies[1][2]
Died October 10, 1886(1886-10-10) (aged 76)
New York City, New York, United States[3][4]
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Nannie C. Wickliffe Yulee
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Judaism, conversion to Christianity

David Levy Yulee (born David Levy; June 12, 1810 – October 10, 1886) was an American politician and attorney of Jewish Moroccan origins from Florida, a territorial delegate to Congress, the first Jewish[5] member of the United States Senate and a member of the Confederate Congress during the American Civil War. He founded the Florida Railroad Company and served as president of several other companies, earning the nickname of "Father of Florida Railroads."[6] In 2000 he was recognized as that year's "Great Floridian" by the state.

Levy added Yulee to his name, the name of one of his Moroccan ancestors, soon after his 1846 marriage to the daughter of ex-Governor Charles A. Wickliffe of Kentucky. Though Yulee became Christian and raised his children as Christians, he was subject to antisemitism throughout his career. Yulee supported slavery and secession. He was imprisoned for nine months after the war as a prisoner of state at Fort Pulaski before being pardoned. He then returned to railroad building.[7]


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and education 1.1
    • Political career 1.2
  • Marriage and family 2
    • Florida businessman 2.1
    • Confederate Congress 2.2
    • Reconstruction 2.3
    • Death and legacy 2.4
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Early life and education

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. 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. Levy returned to Florida to study law in St. Augustine.[6][9]

David L. Yulee, photograph by Mathew Brady

Political career

David Levy studied and practiced law in St. Augustine. Levy was admitted to the bar in 1832 and entered politics.[10] He was elected in 1841 as the delegate from the Florida Territory to the US House of Representatives and served four years.[11]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. He was the first Jew elected to the Senate,[12] where his inflammatory rhetoric earned him the nickname "Florida Fire Eater".[13]

Marriage and family

In 1846, Levy officially changed his name to David Levy Yulee (adding his father's Sephardic surname).[9] That year he married Nannie C. 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.[6] After serving one term in the Senate, Yulee was defeated for re-election in 1850.

Florida businessman

The next year, Yulee founded a 5,000-acre (20 km2) sugar cane plantation, built and maintained by slaves,[14] along the Homosassa River. The remains of his plantation, which was destroyed during the Civil War, are found at 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.[15]

While living with his family 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[14] through the Florida wilderness.[9]

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.

Confederate Congress

Elected to the Senate again in 1855, Yulee served until January 21, 1861, when he withdrew from the Senate after Florida seceded. He joined the Congress of the Confederacy. As a secessionist, Yulee was one of a few Democrats who retained power throughout the Civil War years.[16] In 1865 after the war, Yulee was imprisoned in Fort Pulaski for nine months due to his participation in the Confederate government.[6]


After his release 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.[9] He was called the "Father of Florida Railroads".[6] His leadership helped bring increased economic development to the state, including the late nineteenth-century tourist trade.[6] In 1870 Yulee hosted President Ulysses S. Grant in Fernandina.

Death and legacy

Selling the Florida Railroad, Yulee retired with his wife to Washington, D.C. in 1880, where she had family.[9] He died six years later while visiting in New York. Yulee was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[6]

Yulee gravesite
Memorial inscription
  • Both the town of Yulee, Florida[17] and Levy County, Florida[18] 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.[12]


  1. ^ Kurt F. Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members, 2010, page 4
  2. ^ Roger Moore, Ron Kurtz, Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, 2001, page 1873
  3. ^ Thomas William Herringshaw, Herringshaw's National Library of American Biography, 1914, page 524
  4. ^ John R. Nemmers, George A. Smathers Library, University of Florida, A Guide to the David Levy Yulee Papers: Biographical Note, March 2005
  5. ^ It is not clear if Yulee converted before his marriage to Nancy Christian Wickliffe or on his deathbed. Nor is the documentary evidence clear if he was seated in the U.S. before or after his reported conversion to Christianity. The more accurate description of Yulee would be to note that he was the first U.S. Senator of Jewish heritage
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Jewish Virtual Library: David Levy Yulee". Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  7. ^ David Levy Yulee Jewish Virtual Library
  8. ^ Mosaic: Jewish Life in Florida (Coral Gables, FL: MOSAIC, Inc., 1991): 9
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Retrieved from the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum of Florida
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^ a b "Great Floridians 2000 Program: Judah Philip Benjamin". Florida Department of State, Florida Heritage. 
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ a b Wiseman, Maury. "David Levy Yulee: Conflict and Continuity in Social Memory". Jacksonville University. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  15. ^ Cook, David (December 6, 1987). "Orange Springs Once Thriving Resort". Ocala Star-Banner. Retrieved May 2, 2014. 
  16. ^ [2]Retrieved from the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum of Florida
  17. ^ Hunn, Max (Aug 19, 1956). "Driving through Florida history". Ocala Star-Banner. p. 29. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  18. ^ Publications of the Florida Historical Society. Florida Historical Society. 1908. p. 32. 

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles Downing
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida Territory

1841 – 1845
Succeeded by
None. Statehood granted.
United States Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Florida
July 1, 1845 – March 3, 1851
Served alongside: James D. Westcott, Jr. and Jackson Morton
Succeeded by
Stephen R. Mallory
Preceded by
Jackson Morton
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Florida
March 4, 1855 – January 21, 1861
Served alongside: Stephen Mallory
Succeeded by
Thomas W. Osborn(1)
Notes and references
1. Because of Florida's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for seven years before Osborn succeeded Yulee.
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