Monday, July 13, 2009

A Clarification on Yulee

Until today, I understood that David Yulee – the guy that built the railway, served as Florida’s first senator and hosted General Grant at the Egmont Hotel in 1880 – was tossed into Fort Pulaski at the end of the Civil War because he had written a letter to the Florida legislature before the war advocating secession. The letter was reproduced in Harper’s magazine during the war, and is also reproduced in our Civil War room.

That explanation always seemed fishy to me. Some people have asserted that, whatever the ostensible reason, the real motivation was to get him to give up any interest in his railway to the rich New York financiers who had bought up his bonds. That makes sense, but they had to have something more on Yulee than just that letter to jail him for such an extended period. Yulee was still a rich, important guy with good connections north and south. He was not the kind of guy you could arbitrarily jail on specious grounds, and keep him there indefinitely.

But I have now run down multiple sources that say Yulee was tossed into the clink not because of that letter, but because of suspicions that he had aided that traitor Jefferson Davis and his cabinet after they fled Richmond just before its fall in April of 1865.

Davis was captured on May 6 in Irwinsville, Georgia, wearing a dress. Whether he was wearing it over his men’s suit or he was trying to pass as a woman is a matter of heated dispute. Obviously, whichever the case, he was not thinking of his image. He almost made it to Florida.

However, other cabinet members and the gold reserves of the Confederacy made it to and traveled furtively through Florida. At least one contingent and some gold stopped at Yulee’s plantation in Archer. He apparently wasn’t there, but his wife welcomed the fugitives and helped them on their way. A few made it to the Keys and thence to Cuba.

It was Grant who got Yulee out of Fort Pulaski, but that’s a story for another day. He probably was guilty of aiding Davis and his partying some way, but by 1866, no one cared.