Confederate States First Lady. The first marriage of Jefferson Davis to Sarah Taylor, daughter of General and future US president Zachary Taylor was of short duration as she passed away three months later from malaria. Ten years later while a planter at his plantation called "Brierfield" in Mississippi, he would marry Varina Howell. The marriage would endure and be lasting resulting in a family of six. She was born into privilege at the family plantation called the "Briers" located near Natchez, Mississippi to William B. and Margaret Lousia Howell. Her education was mainly social consistent with that accorded to prominent family daughters in the old South. First home tutored, Varina then attended Madame Greenland's finishing school in Philadelphia. She was but seventeen when she met Jefferson Davis, eighteen years her senior, while visiting the plantation of his brother adjacent to his own. Two months later they were engaged and after objections from her family were overcome, Varina married at eighteen. The couple planned on a life at "Brierfield," however, Jeff Davis was nominated for a seat in the US House of Representatives and Varina became a politicians wife. Her husband rose in political stature becoming a Senator. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Davis resigned his seat and the couple returned to "Brierfield" only to be elected President of the Confederate States of America. They moved first to Montgomery, Alabama the temporary capital and then to Richmond, Virginia, the permanent capital. Initially, her days as First Lady were pleasant. However, as the war continued, living condition in the south deteriorated and goods became scare. She became the vocal point of criticism mirroring the despair created by the mounting death toll and the faltering war effort. Varina did not waver in her duties as first lady and kept helping the troops. She knitted countless articles of clothing for soldiers, donated rugs for blankets and made shoes of the scraps. She spent hours visiting soldiers in the hospitals. A son was killed in 1864 at the executive mansion after playing on a banister and then falling to his death to the brick pavement below. With peace signed at Appomattox, Jefferson Davis rather then surrendering to Union forces, chose to flee. Varina was with him when arrested and sent to confinement at Fortress Monroe and locked in a artillery compartment located on a rampart, with her and the children placed in Savannah under house arrest. The children and her mother were constantly harassed and fearing for their safety, arranged passage for them to Canada. Now all her efforts were directed to getting her husband released. After two years, influential friends arranged and paid bail allowing for Davis to be released. Fearing constitutional problems, the charges were simply allowed to disappear. Although free, the couple were now impoverish relegated to living in Mississippi at the Beauvoir estate in a small cottage at the behest of the owner. Davis wrote his two-volume memoir, "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government" which lifted him from poverty. Their fortunes would improve further as the owner of the property willed the estate to them upon her death. This would be their home until the death of the Confederate president. Mrs Davis would relocate to New York where her life became more enjoyable. She would never remarry. Her days were filled with trips to the opera, theaters and concerts. All would end after contracting pneumonia. With the last surviving member of the Davis family, a daughter at her bedside, she passed away. Years before, she had made arrangements for moving her husbands body from New Orleans to Richmond. The couple would now be reunited in death. Her remains were conveyed to Richmond and after a military funeral was interred near her husband. The legacy of Varina Davis is obscure...Today she is virtually unknown to Americans. Even her burial place is some distance away from the tomb of her husband. In contrast, the South remembers her husband Jefferson Davis with an over abundance of memorials, statues, parks, schools, streets, avenues and highways located all across Dixie. After the death of President Davis, Varina wrote "Jefferson Davis, A Memoir" published in 1890 while still living at "Beauvoir," then promptly relocated to New York City while giving the property to the state of Mississippi which was used as a Confederate veterans home with the establishment of a large cemetery as the men passed away. Eventually "Beauvoir" was preserved, restored and became the Presidential Library of Jefferson Davis housing his papers and memorabilia. Even the small community of Varina, Virgina long thought named in her honor in reality originated years earlier from the Varina Farms tobacco plantation. "Brierfield" the Jeff Davis plantation was located about twenty miles down the Mississippi River from Vicksburg, Warren County was confiscated after the civil war and then destroyed by fire in 1931. The land currently serves as a private hunting reserve. The "Briers" the plantation house where Varina Howell was born then married to Jefferson Davis is located a mile from Natchez. During the shelling of city by Union forces the structure was damaged but today it is a beautiful restore structure with heritage status. In 1973, the book "First Lady of the South: The Life of Mrs Jefferson Davis" by Ross Ishbel was published by the Greenwood Publishing Group.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield
Jefferson Finis Davis
1808–1889 (m. 1845)
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