|Name||Davis, Varina Banks Howell [Mrs. Jefferson]|
|Places of residence||
New Orleans, Louisiana
New York, New York
|Father||William Burr Howell|
|Mother||Margaret L. Kempe|
|Nationality||United States of AMerica|
|Education||Madame Greenland's School, Philadelphia|
Varina Banks Howell Davis was born May 7, 1826 in Natchez, MS. She was one of 12 children of William Burr Howell and Margaret L. Kempe. Although plagued by creditors during her childhood, Varina's family was able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle at their home in Natchez, the Briars. She attended Madame Greenland's School in Philadelphia. Her father was from a distinguished New Jersey family, and her mother from a wealthy Mississippi planter family.
The Howells shared a close friendship with Joseph Davis, a lawyer from Kentucky who had settled near Natchez on a 5,000 acre plantation called the Hurricane. In 1843, 17-year-old Varina spent Christmas there, and was first introduced to Joseph's brother, Jefferson Davis, a widower, former Army officer and West Point graduate.
Although there was a considerable age difference between the two a courtship began, and on February 26, 1845 Varina and Jefferson were married at her family's home. The couple took up residence at Brierfield, a 1,000-acre plantation adjoining the Hurricane. Their marriage was strained by Jefferson's long absences as he went on the road "politicking" for election as a U.S. Representative from Mississippi. Once elected, the couple enjoyed a brief time of happiness in Washington before the outbreak of the Mexican War, when Jefferson took leave from his seat in the House to serve as an officer.
Jefferson Davis was appointed to fill a Senate seat upon his return from the war, and Varina eventually rejoined him in Washington. She gave birth to son Samuel Emory Davis in 1852 but the baby tragically died two years later. Jefferson was appointed Secretary of War by President Franklin Pierce, and he and Varina fulfilled many social obligations in behalf of the president and his wife. While in Washington Varina also gave birth to daughter Margaret Howell in 1855 and sons Jefferson Jr. and Joseph Evan in 1857 and 1859.
When Mississippi seceded from the Union Jefferson Davis resigned his senate seat. Shortly thereafter he was named President of the Confederate States of America, and in the summer of 1861 the family moved to Richmond, VA to take up residence in the Presidential Mansion at 1201 East Clay St. Varina gave birth to two more children, William Howell in 1861 and Varina Anne (Winnie) in 1864. A few weeks earlier son Joseph had died after falling off an elevated porch of the mansion.
At the end of the war Varina and Jefferson fled south, but he was captured and imprisoned at Fortress Monroe in Phoebus, VA. Varina remained in Georgia where Jefferson had been captured, and lived as an indigent for the better of two years. She sent the older children to Canada to be cared for by relatives and former servants, and she and Winnie were eventually allowed to join Jefferson to live in his prison cell at Fortress Monroe.
After his release, and with no farm in Mississippi, money or U.S. citizenship the family traveled constantly in Europe and Canada as Jefferson sought a way to rebuild his fortune. He eventually accepted a job as the president of an insurance agency in Memphis, TN. The company went bankrupt and he later accepted a job as an agent for an English cotton consortium. Their daughters were in school in England, and Varina, due to marital difficulties, also remained there, living with her sister who had moved to England.
Jefferson accepted an interest in the plantation of a family friend, Sarah Dorsey, in Biloxi, MS. In 1878 she agreed to sell Jefferson Beauvoir, and at her death the following year Mrs. Dorsey bequeathed the Davis's the remainder of her estate. The last of their sons had died, and Varina, living in Memphis at the time, eventually agreed to reunite with Jefferson at Beauvoir, seeking some security and stability.
Jefferson died in 1889, and Varina published his memoirs in 1890. The book did not sell well, and a cousin of Jefferson's, Kate Davis Pulitzer and her husband Joseph, intervened in Varina's desperate plight and convinced her to move to New York City with Winnie to become a newspaper columnist. In 1902 she sold Beauvoir to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
In 1898 Winnie died, leaving Varina with only one surviving daughter, Margaret. She continued an active social life in New York until her death on October 16, 1906. She is buried with her husband and children at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.
Jefferson Davis; A memoir by His Wife
Samuel Emory Davis
Margaret Howell Davis
Jefferson Davis Jr.
Joseph Evan Davis
Varina Anne Davis