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Name Davis, Varina Banks Howell [Mrs. Jefferson]
Born 5/7/1826
Birthplace Natchez, Mississippi
Places of residence Natchez, Mississippi
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Washington, D.C.
Richmond, Virginia
New Orleans, Louisiana
Memphis, Tennessee
New York, New York
Father William Burr Howell
Mother Margaret L. Kempe
Nationality United States of AMerica
Education Madame Greenland's School, Philadelphia
Notes 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.
Occupation Politics
Journalism
Publications Jefferson Davis; A memoir by His Wife
Newspaper Publications
Role Spouse
Spouse Jefferson Davis
Children Samuel Emory Davis
Margaret Howell Davis
Jefferson Davis Jr.
Joseph Evan Davis
Varina Anne Davis

Associated Records

Image of Agreement - FIC2017.03001

Agreement - FIC2017.03001

Agreement: Slave hiring agreement for Fannie, by Varina Davis for Jefferson Davis, with Thomas Binford, January 1, 1865 "$400 / On th 1st Jany. next, we bind ourselves / our heirs, to pay Thomas Binford, his heirs / or assigns four hundred dollars for the hire / of a negro woman Fannie / payable quarterly, for the present year. / Said negro woman to be returned at Christmas / next Will clothes and blanket. Witness our / hands and seals this 1st day of Jany 1865 / V Davis for / Jeffn Davis / Seal / Seal" On reverse: "March 1st 1865 Recd / the 1st quarter of the / within / Thos Binford"

Image of GAVEL

GAVEL -

This pine gavel has a handle fitted into a barrel. The barrel has three central incised rings with bulbous ends. The inscription "First White House Confederacy" has been burned into the wood on the barrel. There is a silver band attached to the gavel that is barely legible, reads "Secession Chapter UDC Montgomery Ala" The gavel is tied with a 1.75" red and white satin ribbon.

Image of HANDKERCHIEF

HANDKERCHIEF -

Handkerchief of white linen with a border of embroidered leaves and cotton lace.

Image of QUILT - Davis Applique Quilt

QUILT - Davis Applique Quilt

Top: Crazy appliqué quilt (nine-square; patchwork). Embroidery; butterfly, flowers, First National and ANV flags, CS shield. Materials are silk and wool. Inscription above shield: "Pro Aris et Focis" ["For god and country", or literally "For our altars and our hearths"). Interlining: Believed cotton. Backing: Silk. Binding: Red silk. Stitching: Hand and machine.

Image of Caddy, Tea

Caddy, Tea -

The Chinese porcelain tea caddy consists of three pieces: top (.17), inner (.17a), and body (.17b). The white base has a gilded dragon in relief on the sides, and the dragon emerges through the top. The body has floral decorations in blue-gray, red, and gilt. Chinese charactors are on the bottom in red. The jar is bell-shaped with a narrowed neck and base.

Image of SWORD

SWORD -

Regulation C.S. Navy Officer's Sword: slightly curved single-edged blade etched with Confederate Second National pattern flag, crossed cannon, and fouled anchor; gilded brass hilt cast with cotton and tobacco plant sprays, fouled anchor and crossed cannons, engraved, "J.M. Morgan" inside knuckle bow.; dolphin head pommel and scaled backstrap, shagreen grip wrapped with twisted brass wire. Leather scabbard (.74b) with brass mounts. A brass disk attached to hilt inscribed, "When Richmond fell this Confederate Naval sword was worn by Midshipman Morgan who accompanied Mrs. Jefferson Davis to the South. The sword was also worn on the cruise of the CSS Georgia and in the "Naval Batteries" on the

Image of Scabbard, Sword

Scabbard, Sword -

Scabbard: leather scabbard with brass mounts. For Regulation C.S. Navy Officer's Sword (.74a).

Image of Mask, Sleep

Mask, Sleep -

This eye mask is made from a black felt cloth with white twill and black taffeta ties. There are three small pieces of ribbon terminating in silk tied french knots on the forehead. The nose warmer section is stitched separately.

Image of Case, Scissors

Case, Scissors -

The scissors case consists of a folded, sewn triangle of purple velvet and red thread.

Image of Box, Needlework

Box, Needlework -

This is a small wooden sewing chest (.50). The outside is stained to look like an exotic inlay and has six floral engraved hinges, four corners and a double latch. A large bottom drawer spans the length and depth of the case. The doors open to reveal six smaller drawers and these are inlaid with exotic woods in the same geometric pattern as worked on the outer portion. The contents include a calling card (.50a) of Jefferson Davis, and 26 buttons (.50b-aa).

Image of Card, Calling

Card, Calling -

Calling card (.50a) of Jefferson Davis. Found inside sewing box (0985.7.50).

Image of Buttons

Buttons -

24 small brass buttons (.50b-y), each with four holes. One small brass button (.50z) with two holes. One small whitish button (.50aa), possibly mother-of-pearl, with four holes. Found inside sewing box (0985.7.50).

Image of Bodice

Bodice -

Adult bodice, which is part of half-mourning dress consists of three separate pieces: bodice (.51), second bodice (.51a), and skirt (.51b). The material is purple printed cotton with small black decorations. The skirt waist is gathered onto a band. The other bodice has long sleeves with a button front. This bodice (.51a) has a small turned collar, long sleeves, a button front, and long cotton fringe. The buttons are two-piece metal covered in white fabric. Behind the buttons are a row of hand-worked eyelets for shank buttons (not present).

Image of Bodice

Bodice -

Adult bodice, part of half-mourning dress consists of three separate pieces: bodice (.51), second bodice (.51a), and skirt (.51b). The material is purple printed cotton with small black decoration. The skirt waist is gathered onto a band. The first bodice (.51) has long sleeves with a button front, long cotton fringe, and a small turned collar. This bodice has long sleeves, a button front, white tape decoration, and a small standing collar. The buttons are two-piece metal covered in white fabric. Behind the buttons are a row of hand-worked eyelets for shank buttons (not present).

Image of Skirt

Skirt -

Skirt, part of half-mourning dress consists of three separate pieces: bodice (.51), second bodice [previously identified as jacket] (.51a), and skirt (.51b). The material is purple printed cotton with small black decoration. The skirt waist is gathered onto a band. The first bodice (.51) has long sleeves, a button front, a small turned collar, and long cotton fringe. The second bodice (.51a) has long sleeves, a button front, white tape decoration, and a small standing collar.

Image of BRACELET

BRACELET -

Oval gold bracelet with chased floral pattern.

Image of Needle, Sewing

Needle, Sewing -

The sewing needle is made of steel and has a large eye. It is inside a red, tear-drop shaped case (.53b).

Image of Case, Needle

Case, Needle -

The needle case consists of a red paper-based material in a tear drop shape. The case has a tufted satin liner to which a handwritten description of the item's importance is pinned. Case has a single hinge and a single hook type closure. This case may have been originally designed for a watch or locket. The original paper label remains inside of the improvised red case, with the penciled inscription, "Needle given to me by Federal soldier to close my tent when a prisoner". Inside the case is a small steel, large eye sewing needle (.53a).

Image of BRACELET

BRACELET -

Woven egg-shaped hair beads in a double row attached to a center row of beaded brass diamond-shaped pieces.

Image of Ring, Finger

Ring, Finger -

Wooden band with yellow metal inlay letters. The inlay reads: "1864 Varina USA SIS BEATA" [translated from Latin: "1864 Varina USA Be Happy"]. Scratched on the interior is "Ft Del Pris..."