Governor William D. Bloxham Portrait
Backstory and Context
William D. Bloxham was born in Tallahassee in 1835. His father, William Bloxham, moved from Virginia to Tallahassee roughly ten years earlier to become a planter. He owned a plantation south of the city. The younger William grew up and attended William and Mary College earning a degree in law. He never practiced law due to poor health. Bloxham returned to Tallahassee and managed some of his father’s plantation operations. By the time he finished college and returned home, Bloxham’s father had acquired more land to the southwest of Tallahassee for plantation acreage. Using the 1850 and 1860 tax rolls as a basis, William Bloxham increased his land from 680 acres to 1,400 acres and increased his slave holdings from 41 to 52.
The year 1856 was significant for Bloxham. He and his mother and father moved into a temporary residence in Tallahassee after his mother fell ill. They wanted her to be able to receive consistent medical care by a physician that was not possible out on the plantation. His mother passed away from what was called consumption now called tuberculosis. The same year, Bloxham entered politics for the first time as a Leon County delegate to the State Democratic Convention and helped nominate Madison S. Perry for governor. Perry won the governorship. Also in 1856, Bloxham married Mary C. Davis. He purchase a portion of land from his father for his and Mary’s own home and plantation. Their land adjoined the plantation of Catharine Murat (likely Bellevue Plantation) southwest of town.
When the Civil War began, Bloxham enlisted as a private in the First Regiment Florida Infantry. He did not take the field of battle though. He was discharged due to a chronic issue with his lungs. Since he did not march off to war, Bloxham took a seat in the Florida Legislature as a representative from Leon County. He was elected unopposed for the vacancy. Bloxham played an important part in the Legislature during his time. He gave up his seat, though, in early 1862 when he joined the Trapier Guards of the Florida Infantry and was elected captain. His time in service was cut short a little over a year later when he left after the death of his father in March 1863. He declined to return to politics even after having been offered the chance to become a candidate. Bloxham returned to the Confederate Army in a noncombat role as a captain in the Quartermaster Corps. In February 1864, he was assigned to the Fifth Battalion of the Florida Fifth Cavalry based in Madison, FL. He only served for about six months due to problematic political issues. His appointment had not been confirmed by the Senate so he had to return to civilian life. By the time Bloxham left the Confederate Army, he had acquired additional lands near Tallahassee through purchase and inheritance. The value of his lands was quite significant at the time.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Bloxham attempted to reconcile himself to an economy without slave labor. He was one of the first farmers in Leon County to suggest moving away from a cotton-based farming system to other crops and livestock. By the end of the 1870s, Bloxham no longer planted cotton, but instead raised livestock. During this time, Bloxham returned to politics running for Lieutenant Governor in 1870. At first, he appeared to have won the election. The Republican Party challenged the returns from several majority Democrat districts as irregular and had the majority of the votes tossed out giving the Republican, Samuel Day, the victory. Bloxham launched a legal challenge that lasted until mid-1872. Eventually, Bloxham was declared the victor by the Florida Supreme Court. At that time, however, Bloxham’s term was effectively over and he did not conduct any of the duties necessary except preside over a few meetings of the State Senate.
In 1880, Bloxham was nominated to run for governor by the Democratic Party of Florida and won. His first order of business was to deal with the one million dollars in debt the state had when he took office. Bloxham was able to work out a deal to sell Philadelphia business man, Hamilton Disston, four million acres of land in the Everglades for one million dollars to clear the debt. This transaction paved the way for some of the first major development in Florida. Bloxham was not nominated for a second term due to controversies and criticisms surrounding the deal with Disston and the upcoming Constitutional Convention for Florida.
Bloxham was out of public service for only a little while. He was appointed United States Surveyor General of Florida in 1885 and served in that capacity until 1889. In May 1890, he was appointed to the vacant State Comptroller position and won statewide election to the position later that year. Bloxham received the Democratic nomination for governor again in 1896 and won a second term twelve years after his first term ended. Though he was considered to be a conservative, the policies of his second term proved to be much more progressive. He re-established the State Railroad Commission, attempted to eliminate or restrict monopolies, initiated new statewide fire regulations, and women first served as public notaries. William Bloxham continued to reside in Tallahassee after his political career ended. He died on March 15, 1911.
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7.Smith, Julia Floyd. Slavery and Plantation Growth in Antebellum Florida: 1821-1860. Gainesville, FL: Library Press@UF, 2007.