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Florida Founder William P. DuVal: Frontier Bon Vivant

June 23, 2016 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Old St. Andrew's
317 A Philip Randolph Blvd
Jacksonville, FL 32202
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Jacksonville Historical Society

In Florida Founder William P. DuVal, James Denham provides the first full-length biography of the well-connected but nearly forgotten frontier politician of antebellum America. The scion of a well-to-do Richmond, Virginia, family, William Pope DuVal (1784–1854) migrated to the Kentucky frontier as a youth in 1800. Settling in Bardstown, DuVal read law, served in Congress, and fought in the War of 1812.

In 1822, largely because of the influence of DuVal’s lifelong friend John C. Calhoun, President James Monroe appointed him the first civil governor of the newly acquired Territory of Florida. Enjoying successive appointments from the John Adams and Andrew Jackson administrations, DuVal founded Tallahassee and presided over the territory’s first twelve territorial legislative sessions, years that witnessed Middle Florida’s development into one of the Old Southwest’s most prosperous slave-based economies. Beginning with his personal confrontation with Miccosukee chief Neamathla in 1824, DuVal worked closely with Washington officials and oversaw the initial negotiations with the Seminoles.
A perennial political appointee, DuVal was closely linked to national and territorial politics in antebellum America. Like other “Calhounites” who supported Andrew Jackson’s rise to the White House, DuVal became a casualty of the Peggy Eaton Affair and the Nullification Crisis. After leaving the governor’s chair, DuVal migrated to Kentucky, lent his efforts to the cause of Texas independence from Mexico, and eventually returned to practice law and local politics in Florida. Throughout his career DuVal cultivated the arts of oratory and story-telling—skills essential to success in the courtrooms and free-for-all politics of the American South. Part frontiersman and part sophisticate, DuVal was at home in Kentucky, Florida, Texas, and Washington, D.C. He delighted in telling tall tales, jests, and anecdotes that epitomized America’s expansive, democratic vistas. Among those captivated by DuVal’s life and yarns were Washington Irving, who used DuVal’s tall tales as inspiration for his “The Early Experiences of Ralph Ringwood,” and James Kirke Paulding, whose “Nimrod Wildfire” shared DuVal’s brashness and bon-homie.

About the Author

James M. Denham is a professor of history and director of the Lawton M. Chiles Jr. Center for Florida History at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. He is the author of A Rogue’s Paradise: Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Florida, 1821–1861, and coauthor of Florida Sheriffs: A History, 1821–1945, as well as two University of South Carolina Press books— Cracker Times and Pioneer Lives: The Florida Reminiscences of George Gillette Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams and Echoes from a Distant Frontier: The Brown Sisters’ Correspondence in Antebellum Florida.

This program and the 2016-17 JHS program series is generously sponsored by Retina Associates, P.A. Dr. Fred H. Lambrou, Jr.


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