David Levy Yulee
(1810 - 1886)
David Levy Yulee was a Jewish American politician and the first person of Jewish heritage elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Yulee was born in St.
Thomas on June 12, 1810. He was the son of Moses Elias Levy, a Moroccan
Jew who made his fortune in timber in the Caribbean, then bought 50,000
acres of land near Jacksonville, Florida, hoping to create a New Jerusalem for
Jewish settlers. Levy County and the city of Yulee are named after this
family. Yulee went to school in Norfolk, Virginia and studied law in
He served in the Florida legislature and was a leader in the campaign
for statehood, serving as a delegate to the Florida constitutional convention in 1838. From 1841 to 1845, Yulee was the Florida territory's delegate to Congress. When Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845, he became
one of the new state's senators and, at the same time, became the first
Jew elected to the United States Senate. Yulee, a Democrat, was first elected
in 1845 and served until 1851 and then served another term from 1855
to 1861, when he resigned his seat.
Yulee had been known only as David Levy to this point, but legally assumed the
name of Yulee after one of his ancestors, soon after his marriage in 1846 to the daughter
of ex-Governor Wickliffe of Kentucky. Yulee subsquently adopted a Christian lifestyle by raising his children as Christians; nevertheless, he was an object of anti-Semitic attacks throughout his career.
Yulee was a vigorous supporter of slavery and secession, and joined
the Confederate Congress during the Civil War. After the war, he was
imprisoned for nine months as a prisoner of state at Fort Pulaski until
he was pardoned. He then returned to the pursuit of building the Florida
railroad and served as president of the Florida Railroad Company from 1853 to 1866 as well as
president of Peninsular Railroad Company, Tropical Florida Railway Company,
and Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad Company. Called the “Father
of Florida’s railroads,” Yulee moved to Washington, D.C.,
He died in New York City, October 10, 1886, and was buried in Oak
Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Sources: L. Sandy Maisel and Ira Forman, Eds. Jews
in American Politics. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001),
p. 439; Virtualology.com; Biographical
Directory of the United States Congress; Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd Edition, "Yulee, David Levy." Photo: U.S. Senate Historical