Josiah T. Walls

W University Avenue & NW 1st Street, Gainesville, FL

Born in 1842 to slave parents in Winchester, Va., little is known of Josiah T. Walls’ early life. After a short term of Confederate service, he enlisted in the Third Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops in 1863. Transferred to Picolata on the St. Johns River in 1864, he married Helen Ferguson of Newnansville and in 1865 moved to Alachua County after he was mustered out. After passage of the U.S. Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, Walls entered into Florida politics; as a delegate to the 1868 State constitutional convention, followed by election as a State representative and later senator from Alachua County. The 1870 nominee of the Republican Party for Florida’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Walls defeated Silas Niblack after a bitter contest, riddled with charges of fraud and intimidation. Josiah T. Walls thus became the State’s first black congressman. Although unseated by the House near the end of his term, Walls was re-elected in 1872. In another contested election in 1874, Walls defeated J.J. Finley, a former Confederate General, but, in 1876, was again removed from office. Walls was elected to the Florida Senate that year. After 1879, Josiah Walls concentrated on his farming activities. He had first acquired land near Newnansville in 1868 but in 1870 had moved to Gainesville. In 1871 Walls bought for their home the western half of the block now bounded by University Avenue on the south and N.W. 2nd Street on the west. In 1873 he purchased a 1175 acre plantation on the west edge of Paynes Prairie. In that year he acquired the weekly newspaper, THE NEW ERA, and was admitted to the Florida Bar. Remaining active in local politics, Walls served at various times as mayor of Gainesville, a member of the Board of Public Instruction, and County Commissioner. A highly successful and prosperous farmer through the 1880’s, he suffered financial ruin as a result of the severe freeze of the winter of 1894-95. Walls moved to Tallahassee to become the farm director at the school that is now Florida A. and M. University. He died in Tallahassee in 1905.

Josiah T. Walls is a Florida Historical Marker.

Sponsored by:
The Alachua County Historical Commissionin and the Florida Department of State

TAGS: All,19th Century