When one mentions the word “Orlando” what is the first thought to pop into your head?
Or maybe two words; “Disney World or Walt Disney?”
In all likelihood, the name Francis Wayles Eppes, is not one of the people you would associate central Florida with. You may even be asking, who is Francis Wayles Eppes.
Born on September 20, 1801, Francis was the only surviving child of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Maria and her husband, John Wayles Eppes. When his mother died in 1804, his grandfather, the third president of the United States at the time, took young Francis under his care and the child resided at Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia estate.
As young Francis grew, he spent time at Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s estate near Lynchburg, Virginia, which was bequeathed to him by his grandfather after the grandson married Mary Elizabeth Randolph in 1822. Francis, prior to marriage, studied law at both Georgetown College and South Carolina College.
With the death of his father and grandfather within three years of each other; 1823 and 1826 respectively, Francis and his wife joined the movement south, leaving Virginia for sunny Florida.
Initially settling outside Tallahassee and was instrumental in the formation of one of the first Episcopalian churches in the Florida territory, when he donated $500 to a construction of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He was a vestrymen, delegate to the Episcopalian convention in Florida, and also secretary of the local diocese for many years.
After a long public service record in Tallahassee, including serving as intendant or mayor of the capital for a few terms and being an early proponent of a school of higher learning–Jefferson-esque–which became the precursor to Florida State University, Eppes relocated to central Florida in 1869.
Even in his 60’s, Eppes stayed active, becoming a citrus farmer and was part of the group that founded the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando, the first Episcopal church in the growing town.
A historian, writing about Eppes’s contributions of that era summarized the Virginian in the following words; “Through the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s [1800s] there were few civic, religious, or educational affairs in which he did not have a prominent part.”
On May 30, 1881, Francis Wayles Eppes passed away at his home and would be buried in Greenwood Cemetery. He was 79 years old.