Appointed by President James Monroe, on March 10, 1821, Andrew Jackson was Florida’s first military governor to organize the first territorial government. Jackson accepted the appointment on the condition he could resign as soon as a territorial government was organized. When Spain transferred Florida to the United States on July 17, 1821, keeping to his word, Jackson sent his resignation to President Monroe in November.
Florida’s first civilian Territorial Governor
Born in 1784 at Mount Comfort, Virginia, William Duval left his birth home at the age of 14 and settled in Bardstown, Kentucky, to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1804 at the age of 19. At twenty, he married Nancy Hynes, daughter of Colonel Andrew Hynes in Bardstown.
In 1812, with the outbreak of Indian hostilities, he was given the command of a company of mounted volunteers. He decided to run for the 13th Congress of the United States in 1812 and won due to his law experience and service during the hostilities. Duval was a representative of the Democratic-Republican Party in the new 10th Congressional District of Kentucky from 1812 until 1815. He chose not to seek re-election, but to return to Kentucky and practice law.
After Florida became a U. S. territory, Duval was named Judge for the East Florida district on May 18, 1821. Following that appointment, on April 17, 1822, President James Monroe appointed him the first non-military governor of the territory, relieving Andrew Jackson.
With both Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson reappointing Duval, he served for twelve years. During that time, he selected the small Indian village of Tallahassee. He chose the area for its north-central location and his peaceful dealings with Native Americans. His first act of legislation was dividing it into four sections and establishing the local court system.
After he left the governorship, he continued to live in Florida and practiced law. In 1905, his former mansion burned, and the site now houses the Carnegie Library at FAMU. He and his wife, with their eight children, moved to Texas in 1848.
Three of his sons went on to become distinguished Texans, Burr Harrison Duval, commander of the Kentucky Mustangs, Thomas Howard Duval, United States District Judge of the United States Court for the Western District of Texas, and John Crittenden Duval, a writer of Texas literature. Thomas’ daughter Florence Duval West was a 19th-century American poet.
Duval County in Florida, as well as many roads in Florida, are named after him, the most well-known is Duval Street in Key West, Florida.