david levy yulee florida

Facts About David Levy Yulee: The First Senator In The State Of Florida

Levy County may be a small area in the state of Florida, but its historical significance is great. The county is named after David Levy Yulee, a humble farmer and lawyers who became a federal politician and also known as the “Great Floridian”, the “Father of Florida Railroads”, and the “Architect of Florida Statehood”. And it may not come as a surprise that the beloved county got its name from one of its famous and influential residents.

Still, there’s a little background as to why Levy County was named after a US senator.

So take time to read this entry as we are going to share some facts about David Levy Yulee and get to know the man behind the name of the county and his contributions to the state of Florida.


Early Life

David Levy Yulee was born on June 12, 1810, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas Island. He hailed from a family of Moroccan-Jewish descent and his father (Moses Elias Levy) had a lumber business. Both his mother and father were Moroccan Shepardi Jews whose ancestors immigrated to Spain, England, the Netherlands, Caribbean, Danish West Indies, and the US Virgin Islands.

As his family settled in the US, his father bought 50,000 acres of land near Jacksonville (present-day) for the purpose of establishing a “New Jerusalem” for all Jewish people who wanted to reside in the Florida territory. He was then sent to a boy’s academy in Norfolk, Virginia, where he also spent his college life.

Later on, he studied law and became an attorney in St. Augustine in 1832.


Early Political Career

David Levy Yulee served in the military and participated in the 2nd Seminole War. He was also present at a conference in 1834, along with Osceola, a Seminole warrior tribal chief.

Four years later, Yulee was nominated to the legislative council of the territory of Florida and served from 1837 to 1839. He was also a delegate to the Florida territory’s constitutional convention, which was held in 1838, and became a legislative clerk 2 years after.


State Representative Career

david lee yulee photo
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most noteworthy facts about David Levy Yulee is his political life. In fact, he is not your average citizen because he was often involved in politics and was elected as a United States senator.

Yulee was elected as a senatorial delegate for the territory of Florida first, and then later on, to the United States House of Representatives. He served 2 terms in the United States Senate and was instrumental for campaigning Florida territory to achieve statehood.

In 1845, Florida was officially recognized as a US state. And he was also elected as a Democrat and became the first Jewish senator. Yulee served his first senatorial term until 1851 and was re-elected in 1855 for his second term until his withdrawal in 1861 to serve the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.

He earned the nickname “Florida Fire Eater” due to his inflammatory pro-slavery speeches in the senate. And aside from that, he was an opinionated man who was never afraid to fight for his beliefs and did not shy away from tackling controversial topics in the senate.

Also during his senate career, he became the chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs and the Committee on Private Land Claims from 1845 to 1851.


Florida Railroad Company

florida railroad company

Next on the list of facts about David Levy Yulee is his career in the Florida Railroad Company.

The invention of the steam locomotive paved the way for establishing the United States as one of the most powerful (if not, the most powerful) country on earth. The steam-powered engine allowed the people to go from one coast to another in a short amount of time as compared to horseback traveling.

Likewise, it also enabled commerce to be done effortlessly as more and more railroads are being fixed so that retailers from one place can do business in another place without delay. And the driving force behind the network of railroads was Yulee when he made the Florida Railroad charter to build a 5 feet gauge railroad line from Fernandina to Tampa in 1853. He also served as the Florida Railroad Company’s president from that period until 1866.


Formal Recognition Of Florida As A US State

Before Florida became a state in 1845, it was only known as ‘Florida Territory’, and there was no assurance that it would even become one. But David Levy Yulee, along with his colleagues, was very determined to push the statehood of Florida. So they relentlessly exerted efforts until Florida was recognized as a full state in 1845, which also include all the rights that are entitled to other US Federal States. He then elevated his status as a US senator 6 years after this accomplishment, which is the first time for a Floridian to earn a seat in the US senate.



And of course, this list of facts about David Levy Yulee won’t be complete without tackling some of the controversies about him.

Like most influential people in the nineteenth century, Yulee also had his fair share of controversial dealings. And one reason why he was considered as a controversial person is because of his livelihood as a plantation owner, where the practice of slavery in the southern plantations was very common.

A popular controversy that is often linked to Yulee was his decision to take part in the Civil War efforts because he was supposedly a pro-slavery statesman and he wanted to continue the practice of slavery in the south by supporting the Confederacy. And as we all know, the north won the war after most Confederate Armies surrendered at Bennett Place and Appomattox Court House. And it abolished the practice of slavery forever.

As a result, Levy was arrested and imprisoned for 9 months in Fort Pulaski. But later on, he received a full pardon and was released from confinement. He then resumed to developing railroads in the state of Florida, where he eventually earned one of his other monikers of being the “Father of Florida Railroads”.

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