Tag Archives: Railroads

Jews of the Week: Moses Levy and David Levy Yulee

The Abolition of Slavery and the First Jewish Senator 

David Levy Yulee

David Levy Yulee

Moshe Eliyahu Levy Yulee (1782-1854) was born in Morocco to a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family. His father was a prominent figure in the Ottoman Empire, and an adviser to the Sultan. Moshe went off on his own across the Atlantic, settling in the US Virgin Islands, and dropping the family name of “Yulee”, now going by Moses Elias Levy. He made his own fortune in the lumber and merchant trades, then moved the whole family to Florida. There, he purchased 100,000 acres of land and established it as a refuge for persecuted European Jews. He also planned for a 50,000 acre “New Jerusalem” in Florida. Levy has been described as a “proto-Zionist”, as he sought to re-establish a Jewish homeland in Israel long before the official Zionist movement began. Though he originally owned slaves, Levy soon joined the anti-slavery movement, and in 1828 published the popular treatise A Plan For the Abolition of Slavery. Levy’s work was instrumental in abolishing slavery in both the United States and across the British Empire. In 1835, Levy’s fortunes soured with the outbreak of the Second Seminole War, which devastated his land in Florida, destroyed the refuge, and strained his finances. In poor health, Levy retired to St. Augustine, Florida, where he slowly rebuilt his wealth.

His son, David Levy Yulee (1810-1886) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1841. When Florida became a state in 1845, he became the first Jew in the US Senate. The following year, he married into a prominent Kentucky family, and to do so, had to convert to Christianity. Though he only did this in name at the request of his wife, the move drove a wedge between David and his father, and the two became permanently estranged. After failing to win re-election in 1850, David turned to business, first opening a sugar plantation, and then spearheading the construction of railroads across Florida. Yulee returned to the Senate in 1855, after his father’s death. When the Civil War began, he joined the Confederates, for which he was imprisoned following the war. After being released, Yulee continued his railroad ventures, and went on to be nicknamed the “Father of Florida Railroads”. The town of Yulee and Yulee County in Florida are named after him, and he was selected as one of the “Greatest Floridians” in 2000.

Words of the Week

You are not as great as you think, and the world is not as bad as it seems.
– Rabbi Wolf of Strikov

Jew of the Week: Joseph Seligman

America’s Financier

Seligman

Joseph Seligman

Born in Baiersdorf, Germany, Joseph Seligman (1819-1880) showed a creative entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. As a youth he would earn money by exchanging foreign coins for travellers while working at his family’s goods shop. At 17, Seligman decided to go out on his own, boarding a steamer for America. In Pennsylvania he worked as a cashier for a salary of $400 a year. From his earnings, Seligman started a small business delivering goods to rural farmers, saving them from having to travel to the city. His first $500 in savings was used to ferry over two of his brothers from Germany. After building a successful clothing business, the brothers went into banking, opening branches across Europe and America. Their wealth continued to skyrocket, so much so that during the Civil War Joseph Seligman disposed $200 million in bond loans to allow the war effort to continue. Historians have called this “scarcely less important than the Battle of Gettysburg”. Seligman was later offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury, but turned it down. He would go on to invest heavily in the development of the United States (as well as Russia and Peru), pumping money into railroads, bridges, shipbuilding, steel, oil and mining, even bicycles and communication lines. Together with the Vanderbilt family, Seligman financed much of New York’s public utilities. In one of the country’s most controversial events of the time, Seligman’s family was denied residence at the Grand Union Hotel by Henry Hilton, on the grounds that Jews were not welcome. Of this H.W. Beecher wrote “When I heard of the unnecessary offense that has been cast upon Mr. Seligman, I felt no other person could have been singled out that would have brought home to me the injustice more sensibly than he.”

Words of the Week

Time must be guarded… Every bit of time, every day that passes, is not just a day but a life’s concern.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hayom Yom, Cheshvan 17)