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David Levy Yulee Papers

Identifier: MS 119

Scope and Content

The Yulee Papers document the life of a key political figure and leading entrepreneur of Florida in the 19th century, and are an invaluable resource for information related to Yulee's personal and business affairs, the politics of the time, Florida railroads, and industrial capitalism in general. The collection includes correspondence, business and legal papers, copybooks, letterbooks, maps and surveys, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, land abstracts, and photographs. Although the collection spans from 1800 to 1954, the bulk of the materials are dated between 1840 and 1886. In addition, the majority of the correspondence and business papers created following David L. Yulee's death in 1886 are those of his son, C. Wickliffe Yulee.

The majority of the collection is comprised of the voluminous business, personal, and family correspondence created or received by Yulee from the 1840s to 1886. Prominent correspondents include Stephen R. Mallory, John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Joseph Finegan, and Stephen A. Douglas. Numerous files, primarily dated from the 1850s to the 1880s, pertain to the development and management of the Florida Railroad. The collection's subject matter also includes land grants, Spanish Florida, plantation ownership, the development of Fernandina, secession and the Confederate States, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the development land companies of the 1900s. There also are several files pertaining to Yulee's father, Moses E. Levy, including correspondence between father and son.


  • Creation: 1800-1954
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1840-1886



The microfilm copy of the collection is open for research, but the original papers are closed. Patrons may not use original materials in the collection without the permission of the curator.

Biographical/Historical Note

Born David Levy on June 2, 1810, he spent the first few years of his life as a British subject on St. Thomas in the West Indies. His father, Moses Elias Levy, came to Spanish Florida after the War of 1812 and became a pioneer in its settlement. David was educated primarily in Virginia, and at age seventeen he moved to live on his father's plantation outside Micanopy, Florida. While there he made numerous trips to St. Augustine and cultivated the acquaintance of many Spanish and East Florida families, including some officials of the federal government. Through these contacts he met and studied law with Robert Raymond Reid, who was later governor of the state and a federal judge. After being admitted to the bar in 1832, he was successful at practicing law in St. Augustine. He began his public career by becoming a delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1838 and clerk to the Territorial Legislature in 1841.

In 1841 Levy was elected democratic territorial delegate to the national House of Representatives and served in this capacity for four years. While in office he upheld the causes of the southern states, including slavery, and he fought for Florida's admittance to the Union. In 1845 Yulee was elected as Florida's first U.S. Senator, at the same time becoming the first Jew to serve in the Senate. He officially changed his name to David Levy Yulee in 1846, resuming the use of his family's original surname. He served two non-consecutive terms in the Senate, losing the 1850 election to Stephen Mallory but defeating Whig candidate, Thomas Brown, in 1854 to win a second term. While in the Senate he took strong stands to promote the building of iron ships and to improve the postal service, especially in his home state. Yulee also fought for the expansion of the number of slave states and territories in the Union, believing that without expansion the southern states would become static and lose political clout.

The establishment of the Florida railroad system is widely thought of as Yulee's greatest constructive achievement. He firmly believed that further economic development in the south would lead to white immigration, thus nullifying southern fears of that time of "Africanization" (a majority Black population). Florida owes Yulee, more than any other single politician, for his efforts under the Internal Improvement Act of 1855, which made it possible for Florida's railroads to receive vital land grants. While Florida was still relatively unsettled, he utilized federal land grants as a basis for credit to build an extensive system of railroads through the wilderness. The railroad program favored by Yulee included a line from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico. This railroad was incorporated in 1853 as the Florida Railroad, with construction beginning in 1856 at Fernandina and reaching Cedar Key by 1861. Eventually mail and other delivery contracts were obtained, but the start of the Civil War put a stop to further productive plans. He was president of the Florida Railroad Company from 1853 to 1866, and president of the Peninsular Railroad Company, the Tropical Florida Railway Company, and the Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad Company. His work earned him the title of "father of Florida's railroads."

Leading up to the Civil War, Yulee exercised his considerable political connections on behalf of the South and the secessionist cause. When hostilities broke out, Yulee left the Senate and returned to Florida. The Florida Railroad, in which he had a large private stake, became a unit of the Confederate government. Railroad offices were located in Gainesville and Yulee traveled between Fernandina, his home, and these offices until union troops forced the evacuation of Fernandina in 1862. Early in his Senate career, in 1846, Yulee had begun constructing a family estate and large sugar plantation near Homosassa on the Gulf coast. When the family was forced to abandon Fernandina, Yulee moved to the Homosassa plantation and he spent most of the next two years there or in Gainesville managing the railroad. In 1864, while in Gainesville, Yulee received news that the plantation and family home had been destroyed by Union troops and his family had been forced to flee. He and his family lived with friends until Yulee was able to build a new home and plantation, Cottonwood, in Archer. At the end of the war, Yulee was captured because of his support of the Confederacy and interred for several months at Fort Pulaski near Savannah.

The last two decades of his life were devoted to restoring the vitality of the Florida railroad system and expanding his real estate ventures. At the end of his career, Yulee sold the Florida Railroad to outside investors and retired to Washington, D.C., where his wife Nancy Wickliffe Yulee had family. David Levy Yulee died in October 1886 in New York State. In eulogizing him, the Washington Post summarized his importance to the development of Florida by stating, "as Senator from Florida, he was better known than the state he represented."


17 Linear feet (42 Boxes)

Language of Materials



Correspondence and business papers relating to activities of David Levy Yulee, territorial delegate to Congress, U.S. Senator from Florida, and founder of the Florida Railroad Company.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The David Levy Yulee Papers were acquired in 1948 from Yulee's daughter, Florida Yulee Neff.

Alternative Form of Material

Selected documents from the Yulee Papers have been reproduced digitally, and are available as part of the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

This collection has been microfilmed and is available on reels 149-A to 149-S in the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History. Patrons may not use original materials in the collection without the permission of the curator.

  1. Reel 149-A Box 1-3
  2. Reel 149-B Box 4-6
  3. Reel 149-C Box 7-9
  4. Reel 149-D Box 10-12
  5. Reel 149-E Box 13-15
  6. Reel 149-F Box 15
  7. Reel 149-G Box 16
  8. Reel 149-H Box 17
  9. Reel 149-I Box 18-19, 22
  10. Reel 149-J Box 23-24
  11. Reel 149-K Box 25-27
  12. Reel 149-L Box 28-29
  13. Reel 149-M Box 30-31
  14. Reel 149-N Box 32-33
  15. Reel 149-O Box 34-35
  16. Reel 149-P Box 36-37
  17. Reel 149-Q Box 38-39
  18. Reel 149-R Box 40-41
  19. Reel 149-S Box 42

Related Material

The Samuel Ashe Swann Papers at the University of Florida include additional material pertaining to Yulee, the Florida Railroad, and real estate development in Florida.

A Guide to the David Levy Yulee Papers
Finding aid prepared by John R. Nemmers
March 2005
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America