David Shelby Walker was born on May 2, 1815, in Logan County, Kentucky. Born into a prominent Kentucky family, he attended private schools in Kentucky and studied law in Tennessee. Politics was in his blood. His father, David Walker served in the US House of Representatives. His cousin and close business and political confidante was Florida’s territorial governor Richard K. Call. Wilkinson Call, another cousin was a Florida Senator as well as his law partner for several years.
When he entered politics, he was a member of the Whig party and was elected to the first session of the Florida State Senate in 1845 serving Wakulla and Leon Counties. Residents of Leon County then elected him to the Florida House of Representatives in 1848. From 1849 to 1854 he held the positions of Register of Public Lands and was ex officio State Superintendent of Public Instruction. From this position, he advocated and promoted interest in public schools and saw the creation of the public schools in Tallahassee. In the mid-1800s he established Tallahassee’s first library using his funds in a time when such funds were not being allocated for libraries outside of urban areas. Especially in a “rural” state.
In 1856, while serving as Tallahassee’s Mayor, he was the Know-Nothing gubernatorial candidate but lost to democrat Madison S. Perry by 2.6 points.
Walker was a Constitutional Unionist before the Civil War and had opposed the secession, but when Florida did secede from the Union in 1861, he supported the state. On November 29, 1865, he was elected governor unopposed. Inaugurated on December 20th, he took office on January 18, 1866.
While Florida transitioned from the federal oversight and military occupation of Reconstruction and readmission to the Union, he tried to minimize changes to the antebellum social, political, and economic system. Protesting the election of the 1868 Constitution Convention, convened to adopt a new government that the Republican U. S. Congress would approve, he ultimately supported it when blacks were less protected than originally anticipated.
Running as an Independent Republican in 1868, he lost to Republican Harrison Reed coming in third place with under 10% of the vote.
He left the governor’s office on July 4, 1868, and returned to his law practice. In 1878, he was appointed circuit court judge and held the position until his death on July 20, 1891. He is buried at St. John’s Episcopal Cemetery in Tallahassee.
The artist is unknown and is part of the Florida Museum Collection.