of Florida and the Caribbean"
David Levy Yulee
On a steamy summer day in 1845, David Levy Yulee, and forty-seven other Democratic delegates, arrived at the Madison Courthouse in Tallahassee. Most of them had come on horseback or by horse and buggy, some had traveled most of the way by boat. All were perspiring in the July heat. None were too surprised when all the votes had been cast and David Levy Yulee won the election. It had been a bitter contest of personalities. Opponents had claimed Yulee was the beneficiary of a corrupt bargain to ensure his position. Mud slinging included accusations that Levy profited from speculating in Indian war claims. Nevertheless he won by a vote of 41-16, proudly taking his seat as the first Senator from the new State of Florida, and the first Jew in United States history ever to hold that office.
David Levy was born on the island of St. Thomas, West Indies, on June 12, 1810. His father, Moses Levy was a Sephardic Jew from Morocco whose dream was to establish a refugee colony for Jews in Floridas north central interior. He arrived in 1818 with his small son and a deed to 60,000 acres of land. He named his plantation New Pilgrimage and operated it as a communal organization, remarkably like the future 20th century Kibbutz. During those years the family must have felt the alienation and estrangement of many uprooted Florida pioneers. At mid-century Florida had a population of 66,500 yet was home to fewer than 100 Jews. New Pilgrimage eventually failed, but Moses continued to direct his energies to humanitarian projects including the defense of Judaism and the abolition of slavery.
Growing up on a plantation in Floridas interior had an interesting effect on David Levy Yulee. Against his fathers wishes he became an attorney and businessman. In both of these capacities his energies were always focused on facilitating the growth and development of the interior. He studied law in St. Augustine and was admitted to the bar in 1836. Attracted to politics, he was instrumental in securing Floridas entry into the Union as the twenty-seventh state in 1845. His economic strategy to finance Floridas statehood would have a tremendous impact on the central Florida wilderness.
David Yulee proposed that as a state, Florida would be eligible to acquire 500,000 acres of public land to be transferred from federal to state ownership. Using this land the state could build an Atlantic to Gulf railroad. The existing railway lines ran only twenty-three miles, from Tallahassee to St. Marks. Yulee knew from personal experience that Floridas interior planters desperately needed to transport supplies and water. On both Atlantic and Gulf coasts, passengers, mail and freight arriving on oceangoing vessels faced a wearisome and often dangerous journey on horseback. New railway lines would accelerate development of both interior and coastal areas and result in unimaginable profits for all Floridians. Additionally, the profits of operating state owned railways would pay the costs of the new state government.
Yulee, already the wealthy owner of a plantation and sugar mill, was enthusiastically calculating the extraordinary return of this new investment opportunity for Floridians. He envisioned an extensive railway system financed by stockholders who could purchase an interest by paying only ten percent down. In 1851 the General Assembly created the Internal Improvement Board which recommended that state lands be used to assist private corporations in constructing coast to coast railway systems. There were two railroad presidents serving on the Board; Dr. Abel Seymour Baldwin, of the Florida Atlantic and Gulf Coast Railroad, and David Levy Yulee of the Florida Railroad.
The Jacksonville-Lake City line opened in June 1860. In 1861 the first Florida Railroad train departed from Fernandina on the Atlantic and arrived at Cedar Key on the Gulf. Yulee extended telegraph services along the line and opened the first mail route from Cedar Key to Havana, Cuba. These events marked the beginning of a new chapter in Florida history. David Levy Yulees dream served as a catalyst in the vision of future industrialists and developers such as Henry M. Flagler and Henry Plant, who would take Yulees 400 miles of track and within a generation turned it into nearly 4,000 miles.
Moses and David Levy Yulee are both typical and unique Floridians. As Jewish settlers they shared the dreams of other immigrants; to call Florida home, to live in freedom and obtain financial success. In part as a result of Moses efforts at organizing the first Jewish community, the first synagogue, Temple Beth-El was established in Pensacola in 1874. The community has continued to expand ever since. David Yulee labored for a future that Floridians can now happily take for granted. He focused on accelerating the economic growth of the new state. He lobbied to develop an internal infrastructure that continues to profit Floridians today.
Florida has always been a refuge for people seeking freedom and opportunity. In all probability the cultural legacies of Moses and David Levy Yulee will continue to influence the next generation of Floridians, helping to comprise the foundations from which they in turn will make their dreams realities.
Florida paid homage to Moses and David Levy Yulee by naming the town of Yulee and the county of Levy in their honor. The remains of David Yulees sugar mill and plantation in Homosassa Florida are designated as an historic site.
http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=Y000061 A short biography from the U.S. Congress website