Prof. Denham Authors Books on DuVal, Court

May 29, 2014

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor

It’s a satisfying and thrilling experience for a scholar to have a book accepted for publication. Dr. James M. Denham, professor of history and director of the Lawton M. Chiles Center for Florida History at FSC, now has not just one but two books published this summer.

“Incredibly both were approved the same day, even though they were 23 years and four years respectively in the making,” Denham said recently.

The books are a biography of Florida territorial Governor William Pope DuVal, which will be published by the University of South Carolina Press, and a history of the U.S. Middle District Court of Florida, to be published by the University Press of Florida.

The biography of DuVal, tentatively titled Florida Founder William Pope DuVal: Frontier Bon Vivant, was the book that took the longer to research and write. Denham said the book traces DuVal (1784-1854) from his antecedents in Virginia to his life on the early Kentucky frontier, his governorship of the Florida territory (1822-1834), and his relationship with many political and literary figures such as Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, and Washington Irving.

“As a scholar of Florida history I became interested in DuVal. Very little was written about him,” Denham said. “I soon discovered after doing research that DuVal had a very interesting life before he came to Florida in 1822. He was connected to the Virginia Dynasty through his well-to-do father, a Revolutionary War officer and mayor of Richmond. The years of his governorship in Florida were not very well known. Through DuVal’s life America’s expansion in the Old Southwest can be understood.”

DuVal was also a larger-than-life character, who after leaving office became a raconteur and teller of tales. According to Denham, DuVal would travel often on stages, sloops, and steamboats between Kentucky, Washington, Florida, and Texas, where he delighted in telling stories, jokes, and personal anecdotes. Among those captivated by DuVal’s story-telling antics was author Washington Irving, who used DuVal’s tall tales as the basis for his collection “The Early Experiences of Ralph Ringwood.”

Denham was chosen to write the history of the U.S. Middle District Court of Florida after an interview four years ago. The book, Fifty Years of Justice: A History of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, was commissioned and funded by the U. S. Middle District Court of Florida’s Bench and Bar Fund. It is a narrative history of the operations of the U. S. Middle District Court of Florida from its founding in 1962 to the present.

With federal courthouses in five cities, the Middle District contains roughly half of Florida’s population and is one of the busiest in the nation, Denham said. Cases involving organized crime, civil rights, desegregation, redistricting, the First Amendment, employment discrimination, voting rights, the environment, the death penalty, abortion rights, the right to die, terrorism, espionage and a host of other types of cases have been litigated in its courtrooms. Names and subjects as diverse as Manuel Noreiga, Denny McLain, Wesley Snipes, Ted Bundy, Terri Schiavo, Sami Al Arian, hanging chads, and Baby Sabrina were among the important cases in the Middle District’s recent history.

“Over its fifty years Middle District judges made many important decisions that shaped the law and affected thousands of lives in fundamental ways,” he said.