David Levy Yulee

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David Levy Yulee
David Levy Yulee - Brady-Handy.jpg
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
Died October 10, 1886(1886-10-10) (aged 76)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Nannie C. Wickliffe Yulee
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Judaism, conversion to Christianity

David Levy Yulee, born David Levy (born June 12, 1810 in Charlotte Amalie, United States Virgin Islandscitation needed – October 10, 1886) was an American politician and attorney from Florida, a territorial delegate to Congress, the first Jewish 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".1 In 2000 he was recognized as that year's "Great Floridian" by the state.


Early life and education

He was born David Levy in Charlotte Amalie, on the island of St. Thomas. His father Moses Elias Levy was a Moroccan Sephardi Jew who made his 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.2

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.13

David L. Yulee, photograph by Mathew Brady

Political career

David Levy studied and practiced law in St. Augustine. He was elected in 1841 as the delegate from the Florida Territory to the US House of Representatives and served four years. 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.4

Marriage and family

In 1846, Levy officially changed his name to David Levy Yulee (adding his father's Sephardic surname).3 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.1 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,5 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.

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 labor5 through the Florida wilderness.3

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. In 1865 after the war, Yulee was imprisoned in Fort Pulaski for nine months due to his participation in the Confederate government.1


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.3 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.

Death and legacy

Selling the Florida Railroad, Yulee retired with his wife to Washington, D.C. in 1880, where she had family.3 He died six years later while visiting in New York. Yulee was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.1

  • Both the town of Yulee, Florida and Levy County, Florida 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.4


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Jewish Virtual Library: David Levy Yulee". Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  2. ^ Mosaic: Jewish Life in Florida (Coral Gables, FL: MOSAIC, Inc., 1991): 9
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ a b "Great Floridians 2000 Program: Judah Philip Benjamin". Florida Department of State, Florida Heritage. 
  5. ^ a b Wiseman, Maury. "David Levy Yulee: Conflict and Continuity in Social Memory". Jacksonville University. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 

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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