Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The First In The Senate

As U.S. citizens vote in the midterm elections, Jewish Treats introduces David Levy Yulee, the first Jewish man to be elected to the United States Senate.

Like his more famous contemporary, Judah P. Benjamin (who was the second Jewish senator), Yulee hailed from the south. Born on the Island of St. Thomas (in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands), Yulee was raised in Florida. His first Federal position was serving as the delegate to Congress for the Florida Territory. When Florida was granted statehood in 1845, Yulee was elected to the Senate. He lost his seat in 1850 and founded the Yulee Sugar Mill, the ruins of which are now a state historic site. He also began building the Yulee Railroad, which was the first railroad to cross the state of Florida.

Yulee was re-elected to the Senate in 1855, only to resign when Florida seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy. After the war, he spent nine months imprisoned in Fort Pulaski for his support for the Confederacy. Following his time in prison, Yulee continued his involvement with Florida railroads. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1880, and died in 1886.

Born David Levy, he legally adopted the name Yulee in honor of his Moroccan ancestors. Sadly, this seems to be the only part of his Jewish heritage that he honored. He married Nannie C. Wickliffe and raised his children as Christians.

This was in sharp contrast to his father, Moses Elias Levy, an observant Jew from Morocco who made a fortune in Caribbean timber. He then purchased a large parcel of land in Florida (near Jacksonville) and established Pilgrimage Plantation, a Jewish utopian settlement for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. The Plantation was destroyed during the Second Seminole War in 1835.

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