| Francis Eppes Statue
by Andrew Waber
Florida Memory Project
In the 1999 State of the University Address, FSU
President Sandy D’Alemberte wanted Florida State University
to recognize its unique history and those who made it possible. In a
continuation of the overall campus improvement project begun in 1989,
a unique form of commemoration in the erection of statues honoring
contributors to the first 150 years of Florida State University. The
these statues was the Francis Eppes Monument
in front of the Westcott Building, honoring the
man declared “Founder of Florida State University.” (1)
2001 was a banner year for FSU, marking the 150th
anniversary of its founding and the University ended it in style with
official unveiling of the Eppes statue on the 24th of January, 2002.
The sculptor was Edward Jonas, a 1972 graduate of FSU and a prominent
portraiture artist. Several other Jonas statues adorn the Florida State
campus, including the “Sportsmanship” and Landis Green Legacy Fountain
|Jonas uses an
element of symbolism in the layout of the Eppes
statue: Eppes is seated on a bench gazing toward the historic city
Tallahassee, reflecting the criticisms he faced that the original
location was too far west of town. Such arguments seem preposterous
light of Tallahassee’s
expansion after the 19th century. Given the fact only two known
portraits of Eppes exist, one made when he was only five years old,
was cut out for him.
Jonas, the most difficult aspect of modeling
the statue was trying to attain Eppes’ likeness and give his eyes a
appearance. The finished product was the result of many painstaking
into researching 1850's style clothing and evaluating photographs of
descendants. They laid a plaque detailing Eppes’ contributions to FSU
ground east of the statue(2).
The rationale behind Eppes’ consideration as the
“founder” of what became FSU often confuses the public about what role
played in its founding. The truth is the founding of the Seminary was a
effort. When legislation passed in 1851 calling for the establishment
state-sponsored seminaries, Eppes held no official position. By the
became mayor again in 1856, the construction of the seminary buildings
one year earlier. City officials of Tallahassee
took it upon itself to build the Seminary in hope that in due time the
would officially recognize it as the Seminary West of the Suwannee.
Eppes’ biggest contribution to the founding of the Seminary lied in his
securing state recognition for the school. Eppes did not take the
proactive approach like his grandfather Thomas Jefferson did with the
of the University of Virginia (3). When D’Alemberte took the office of
1993, he wanted to reshape the FSU campus to reflect the ideals of
Jefferson: “Jefferson’s ideals of a university
is to give people a sense of democracy.”(4) There is also an Eppes
an Eppes Chair and an Eppes Trophy all named for Francis Eppes during
presidency of D’Alemberte. Given D’Alemberte’s fascination with
Eppes’ family connections to Jefferson played
a role in the decision to erect the statue.
Francis Wayles Eppes was born into one of the
most influential families in America.
His maternal grandfather was Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the
Independence and third president of the United States. Jefferson
took a personal interest in his grandson, especially in Francis’
Under his grandfather’s tutelage, Eppes enjoyed a first rate education.
summers spent at Monticello
would result in a life long love of books. Eppes shared his
interests in learning and religion, but not in politics. Eppes came to
Florida in 1827 and in 1835, following the death of his
first wife, moved to nearby Tallahassee. (5)
Francis Eppes never preferred political office.
Although opportunities arose, he shied away from political office. His
contributions to Tallahassee
were outside the political sphere. Eppes was instrumental in the
of the first Episcopal church in Tallahassee, St. John’s Episcopal
Church, in 1838. He also became a leading proponent for the
public schools in the area. He also led a campaign to crack down on
following the death of a close friend of his named John K. Campbell
duel. Eppes felt the need to take action after the death of General
at the hands of Willis Alston. Alston retaliated for Read killing
brother in a duel. In 1841 Eppes became intendant mayor of Tallahassee,
the first of three tenures
spreading out from 1841-45, 1856-57 and 1866. During his first tenure,
instituted a system of night watches in the town and abolished the
track. Both measures had an immediate effect in eradicating the
mentality of the city. A yellow fever epidemic took place in 1841 and
broke out in the business district in 1843. Eppes received praise for
handling of the crises and gained much popularity among the people of
Tallahassee. He stepped
down in 1845 but would become mayor again in 1856, when his most
contribution to the city would occur (6)
to the need for state-sponsored institutions of higher learning, the
Florida state legislature
passed the Legislative Act of 24 Jan 1851. This act called for the
establishment of two colleges with one located to the east and the
located to the west of the Suwannee. Ocala received the East Florida
Seminary, which would
later relocate to Gainesville and become the University of Florida.
Tallahassee beat out the cities of Quincy and
Marianna to receive the West Florida Seminary. Eppes served as
president of the
Board of Education for WFS from 1860 to after the Civil War in 1868.
War years turned out to be the most difficult for the fledgling school.
Conscription of teachers and male students hampered the boys school and
inflation of the Confederate dollar made it impossible to pay bills.
would help keep the school open throughout the war by personally
the Confederate government both in Tallahassee
for help. Cadets from the school fought in the Battle of Natural Bridge
helped keep the Union forces out of Tallahassee
until the end of the war. When Union forces eventually entered
Tallahassee, Eppes personally surrendered the
city. He served one last term as governor in 1866. In 1868, he and the
Board of Education resigned because of the financial difficulties
Reconstruction placed on the school. The school closed in 1869, by
Eppes left for Orange County, FL where he died in 1881 (7)
Sandy, “State of the University Address- 1999: Florida
Embracing the Challenge of Change,” http://president.fsu.edu/99state/pages,
date accessed 14 Sep 2006; Francis Eppes Monument
plaque reads: “Francis Wayles Eppes 1801-1881; Grandson of President
Jefferson; Founder of Florida State University.”.
Ensley, “FSU Celebrates Its Heritage,” Tallahassee
Democrat, 25 Jan 2002; “Jonas,” http://www.edwardjonas.com,
date accessed 17 Sep 2006.
Sellers, The Jefferson Connection
(unpublished paper, 1996), p. 9-12.
FSU Can Have ‘Jefferson Ideals,’” Florida
Flambeau, Nov 1993.
Bradford Eppes, “Francis Eppes (1801-1881), Pioneer of Florida,” Florida Historical Quarterly, vol.
issue 2 (Oct 1926), p. 94-102; Malcolm B. Johnson, Red, White and Bluebloods in Frontier
Florida (Tallahassee, FL: Rotary Clubs
of Tallahassee, 1976); Sellers, p. 1-6.
(6) Eppes, p.
99-100; David Nolan, Fifty Feet in
Paradise: The Booming of Florida
(San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), p. 52-53.
Dodd, West Florida Seminary 1857-1901:
Florida State College
1901-1905 (Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University
Press, 1952), p. 1-52, 109-111; Sellers, p. 10-15
photographs by Andrew Waber