First Lady of the Confederate States of America
On February 26, 1845, Jefferson Davis married for his second wife, Varina Banks Howell, daughter of William Howell of New Jersey, and his wife Margaret Kempe Howell of Natchez Mississippi.
William Burr Howell was a son of Governor Richard Howell of New Jersey and his wife Keziah Burr Howell. Margaret Louisa Kempe’s father was Colonel James Kempe, an Irish gentleman who came to America after the Emmett Rebellion.
Varina Banks Howell was born May 7, 1826 at the Marengo Plantation, Concordia Parish, Louisiana, on May 7, 1826. She was named in honor of her mother’s friend, Mrs. George Banks (Varina Staunton Banks), of Natchez, Mississippi. Varina Howell graduated from Elizabeth Female Academy, Washington, Mississippi, in 1840. Varina was educated first by a private tutor, Judge George Winchester, a Harvard graduate and family friend for 12 years. Afterwards Varina attended Madame Greenland’s School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1843, at age 17, while home for the Christmas holidays, she met Jefferson Davis. He was then a widower, 36 years of age, and just at the beginning of his political career. At first, her mother strongly disapproved of the courtship because Jefferson was 18 years her senior and was a Democrat while the Howells were strong supporters of the Whig Party. Varina grew sick of fever and during one of Jefferson’s visits to her in February, 1845, it was decided that they should be married. They were married on February 26, 1845, at The Briars, the home of her parents, at Natchez approximately 14 months after they first met.
Varina became the First Lady of the Confederate States of America, when her husband became the 1st, and only, President of the states that chose to form the Confederate States. In May 1861, she and her husband moved to Richmond, Virginia, the new capital of the Confederate States of America, and lived in the Presidential Mansion there, during the War (1861-1865). While first lady, she rescued a young mulatto boy named Jim Limber from a beating, and took him in to live at the White House of the Confederacy.When the war ended with the defeat of the CSA, her husband was imprisoned at Fort Monroe in Phoebus, Virginia, for two years. Although he was eventually released on bail, and never tried, Jefferson Davis temporarily lost his home in Mississippi (Brierfield), most of his wealth, and his U.S. citizenship (his U.S. citizenship was posthumously restored in the 20th century).
In 1879, Jefferson Davis purchased Beauvoir on the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Sarah Dorsey.Varina remained there until her husband’s death in 1889. She began writing a biography of her husband, Jefferson Davis, A Memoir (ISBN 1-877853-06-2) in 1890. However, the book sold few copies due to problems with the publisher. With little income, poor health, and the inability to properly care for Beauvoir, she moved to New York City to pursue a literary career, writing for Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World in 1891. In October 1902, she sold Beauvoir to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for $10,000 to be used as a Confederate veterans’ home.
Varina Howell Davis died at age 80 of double pneumonia in her room at the Hotel Majestic in New York, on October 16, 1906, survived by only one of her six children. The former “First Lady of the Confederacy” is interred at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, adjacent to the tomb of her famous husband.There is a portrait of Mrs. Davis (known as the “Widow of the Confederacy”) by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862-1947) painted in 1895 at the museum at Beauvoir, and a profile portrait by Müller-Ury of her daughter, Winnie Davis, painted in 1897-’98, which the artist donated in 1918 to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.  She married Jefferson Davis, February 28, 1845, at the Briers, which was her family home after Kempeton burnt to the ground in the early 1830’s. The couple had six children: Samuel Emory (1852-1854), Margaret Howell (1855-1909), Jefferson, Jr. (1857-1878), Joseph Evan (1859-1864), William Howell (d. 1872), and Varina Anne (1864-1898). 
Letters from Jefferson Davis
A letter from Jefferson Davis to his wife Varina.
Jefferson Davis to Varina Howell Davis
Richmond, May 30, 1862
. . . I packed some valuable books and the sword I wore for many years, together with the pistols used at Monterey and Buena Vista, and my old dressing-case. These articles will have a value to the boys in after-time, and to you now. . . . They will probably go forward to-day.
Thank you for congratulations on success of Jackson. Had the movement been made when I first proposed it, the effect would have been more important.
In that night’s long conference it was regarded impossible. We have not made any balloon discoveries. The only case in which much is to be expected from such means will be when large masses of troops are in motion.
Yesterday morning I thought we would engage the enemy, reported to be in large force on the Upper Chickahominy. The report was incorrect, as I verified in the afternoon by a long ride in that locality.
I saw nothing more than occasional cavalry videttes, and some pickets with field artillery.
General Lee rises to the occasion . . . and seems to be equal to the conception. I hope others will develop capacity in execution. . . . If we fight and are victorious, we can all soon meet again. If the enemy retreat to protect Washington, of which there are vague reports, I can probably visit you [Varina and the children had been sent to Raleigh earlier in the month].
You will have seen a notice of the destruction of our home. If our cause succeeds we shall not mourn over any personal deprivation; if it should not, why, “the deluge.” I hope I shall be able to provide for the comfort of the old negroes.
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 8, pp. 203-4. Transcribed from Varina Davis, Memoir, Volume 2, pp. 267, 279-80. Ellipses are in the printed version. No manuscript has been found. Although Varina dates the letter May 31, internal evidence suggests that it was written on the 30th.
To Varina Howell Davis
Charlotte, N.C 23 April 65
MY DEAR WINNIE
I have been detained here longer than was expected when the last telegram was sent to you. I am uncertain where you are and deeply felt the necessity of being with you if even for a brief time, under our altered circumstances. Gov. Vance and Genl. Hampton propose to meet me here and Genl. Johnston sent me a request to remain at some point where he could readily communicate with me. Under these circumstances I have asked Mr. Harrison to go in search of you and to render you such assistance as he may. Your Brother William telegraphed in reply to my inquiry that you were at Abbeville and that he would go to see you. My last despatch was sent to that place and to the care of Mr. Burt. Your own feelings will convey to you an idea of my solicitude for you and our family and I will not distress by describing it.
The dispersion of Lee’s army and the surrender of the remnant which remained with him destroyed the hopes I entertained when we parted. Had that army held together I am now confident we could have successfully executed the plan which I sketched to you and would have been to-day on the high road to independence. Even after that disaster if the men who “straggled” say thirty or forty thousand in number, had come back with their arms and with a disposition to fight we might have repaired the damage; but all was sadly the reverse of that. They threw away theirs and were uncontrollably resolved to go home. The small guards along the road have sometimes been unable to prevent the pillage of trains and depots.
Panic has seized the country. J. E. Johnston and Beauregard were hopeless as to recruiting their forces from the dispersed men of Lee’s army and equally so as to their ability to check Sherman with the forces they had. Their only idea was to retreat of the power to do so they were doubtful and subsequent desertions from their troops have materially diminished their strength and I learn still more weakend their confidence.The loss of arms has been so great that should the spirit of the people rise to the occasion it would not be at this time possible adequately to supply them with the weapons of War.
Genl. Johnston had several interviews with Sherman and agreed on a suspension of hostilities, and the reference of terms of pacification. They are secret and may be rejected by the Yankee govt.- to us they are hard enough, though freed from wanton humiliation and expressly recognizing the state governments, and the rights of person and property as secured by the Constitutions of the U. S. and the several states. Genl. Breckenridge was a party to the last consultation and to the agreement. Judge Reagan went with him and approved the agreement though not present at the conference.
Each member of the Cabinet is to give his opinion in writing to day, 1st upon the acceptance of the terms, 2d upon the mode of proceeding if accepted. The issue is one which it is very painful for me to meet. On one hand is the long night of oppression which will follow the return of our people to the ‘Union”; on the other the suffering of the women and children, and courage among the few brave patriots who would still oppose the invader, and /who/ unless the people would rise en masse to sustain them, would struggle but to die in vain.
I think my judgement is undisturbed by any pride of opinion or of place, I have prayed to our heavenly Father to give me wisdom and fortitude equal to the demands of the position in which Providence has placed me. I have sacrificed so much for the cause of the Confederacy that I can measure my ability to make any further sacrifice required, and am assured there is but one to which I am not equal, my Wife and my Children. How are they to be saved from degradation or want is now my care. During the suspension of hostilities you may have the best opportunity to go to Missi. and thence either to sail from Mobile for a foreign port or to cross the river and proceed to Texas, as the one or the other may be more practicable. The little sterling you have will be a very scanty store and under other circumstances would not be counted, but if our land can be sold that will secure you from absolute want. For myself it may be that our Enemy will prefer to banish me, it may be that a devoted band of Cavalry will cling to me and that I can force my way across the Missi. and if nothing can be done there which it will be proper to do, then I can go to Mexico and have the world from which to choose a location. Dear Wife this is not the fate to which I invited when the future was rose-colored to us both; but I know you will bear it even better than myself and that /of us two/ I alone will ever look back reproachfully on my past career.
I have thus entered on the questions involved in the future to guard against contingencies, my stay will not be prolonged a day beyond the prospect of useful labor here and there is every reason to suppose that I will be with you a few days after Mr. Harrison arrives
Mrs Omelia behaved very strangely about putting the things you directed — Robt says she would not permit to pack, that she even took groceries out of the mess chest when he had put a small quantity there. Little Maggie’s saddle was concealed and I learned after we left Richmond was not with the saddles and bridles which I directed to be all put together. At the same time I was informed that your saddle had been sent to the Saddlers and left there. Every body seemed afraid of connexion with our property and your carriage was sent to the Depot to be brought with me. a plea was made that it could not go on the cars of that train but should follow in the next, specific charge and promise was given but the carriage was left. The notice to leave was given on Sunday, but few hours were allowed and my public duties compelled to rely on others, count on nothing as saved which you valued except the bust and that had to be left behind.
Mrs. Omelia said she was charged in the event of our having to leave, to place the valuables with the Sisters and that she would distribute every thing. I told her to sell what she could, and after feeling distrust asked Mrs. Grant to observe her; and after that became convinced that she too proba-bly under the influences of her husband was afraid to be known as having close relations with us Kiss Maggie and the children many times for me. The only yearning heart in the final hour was poor old Sara wishing for “Pie cake”, and thus I left our late home. No bad preparation for a search of another. Dear children I can say nothing to them, but for you and them my heart is full my prayers constant and my hopes are the trust I feel in the mercy of God.
Farewell my Dear; there may be better things in store for us than are now in view, but my love is all I have to offer and that has the value of a thing long possessed and sure not to be lost. Once more, and with God’s favor for a short time only, farewell —
Fortress Monore Va 21 Aug.”65
My Dear Wife,
I am now permitted to write to you, under two conditions viz: that I confine myself to family matters, and that my letter shall be examined by the U. S. Atty. Genl. before it is sent to you.This will sufficiently explain to you the omission of subjects on which you would desire me to write. I presume it is however permissible for me to relieve your disappointment in regard to my silence on the subject of future action towards me, by stating that of the purpose of the authorities I know nothing.
To morrow I will be three months since we were suddenly and unexpectedly separated, and many causes prominent among which has been my anxiety for you and our children have made that quarter in seeming duration long, very long. I sought permission to write to you that I might make some suggestions as to your movements and as to domestic arrangements.
The first and most important point has in the mean time been so far decided by the journey of the older children that until a key is furnished to open what is now to me unintelligible I can only speak in very general terms, in regard to your future movements. It is to be inferred that you have decided and I think wisely not to return to our old home, at least in the present disturbed condition of society. Thus you have the world before you but not where to choose, as the loss of our property will require the selection to be, with a view to subsistence. Should I regain my liberty before our “people” have become vagrant there are many of them whose labor I could direct so as to make it not wholly unprofitable. Their good faith under many trials, and the mutual affection between them and myself make /me/ always solicitous for their welfare and probably keep them expectant of my coming. Should my fate be not to return to that country you can best be advised by Brother Jos: as to what and how /it should be attempted, if any thing may be done./ Always understand however that I do not mean that you should attempt in person to do any thing in the matter. I often think of “old Uncle Bob” and always with painful anxiety. If Sam. has rejoined him he will do all in his power for the old man’s comfort and safety.
The Smith land had better be returned to the heirs. No deed was made and the payments were for moveable property /effects/ and for interest; their right to the property /land which alone remains/ is therefore clearly and /revives/ since I am now unable/to make the payment which is I believe due, and shall be unable/ to fulfil the engagements hereafter to mature; therefore the sooner the case is disposed of the better. Please write to my Brother for me in such terms as you can well understand I would use if allowed to write to him myself.In like manner please write to my sisters.
I asked Jeff: V. when he & I parted, to join you as soon as he could and to remain with you; he could render you much assistance as well by his intelligence as his discretion. Have you heard from him? The servant reported by the Newspapers to be with the children in New York, is I suppose Robert, indeed so hope.
Ellen came ashore, and it must have embarassed you greatly under the circumstances to lose her before you could get another. Jim. reported here that he knew where we had buried a large sum of gold at or near Macon. This I heard after he had gone and in such manner as created the impression that he /had/gone on the same ship with you. The ready conclusion was that he had returned with assurances of zeal and fidelity /to you and expecting/ to find an opportunity to to rob your trunks. and This greatly disturbed me until I found that he had gone by way of Raleigh. Then remembering his complaint that he was not /to be/ furnished with transportation from here; another explanation of his fiction was afforded more creditable at least to his cunning. I have the prayer book you sent, but the memorandum placed in it was witheld. The suit of dark grey clothes has also been received. It was like you in moments of such discomfort and annoyance as those to which you were subjected, to be careful about my contingent and future wants. Some day I hope to be able to tell you how in the long, weary hours of my confinement, busy memory has brought many tributes to your tender and ardent affection. The confidence in the shield of Innocence with which I tried to quiet your apprehensions and to dry your tears at our parting, sustains me still. If your fears have proved more prophetic than my hopes, yet do not despond—“Tarry thou the Lord’s leisure; be strong, and He will comfort thy heart.”
Every day twice or oftener I repeat the prayer of St. Chrysostom and assemble you all, each separately noted, on the right is Winnie, then Polly, Big-boy, Billie, then L-P. held by Aunty and sometimes, as affection numbers the line, “the Little-man” is found between his Brothers. x x x x x – – – – –
I daily repeat the hymn I last heard you sing, “Guide me” &c. It is doubly dear to me for that association. The one which follows it in our Book of Common prayer is also often present to me. It is a most beautiful lesson of humility & benevolence.
I have had here fresh occasion to realize the kindness of my fellow man. To the Surgeon and the Regtal. Chaplain I am under many obligations. The officers of the Guard and of the Day have shown me increased consideration, such as their orders would permit. The unjust accusations which have been made against me in the newspapers of the day might well have created prejudices against me. I have had no opportunity to refute /them by proof/ nor have I sought to do so by such statements of chronological and other easily to be verified facts which I might perhaps have been induced to make under other circumstances; & can therefore only attribute the perceptible change to those good influences which are always at work to confound evil designs. Be not alarmed by speculative reports concerning my condition. You can rely on my fortitude, and God has given me much of resignation to His blessed will. If it be His pleasure to reunite us, you will I trust find that His Fatherly correction has been sanctified to me, and that even in exile and obscurity I should be content to live /unknown, quietly to/ labor for the support of my family; and thus to convince those who have misjudged me, that self seeking and ill regulated ambition are not elements of my character.
Men are apt to be verbose when they speak of themselves and suffering has a rare power to develop selfishness; so I have wandered from the subject on which I proposed to write and have dwelt upon a person whose company I have for some time past kept so exclusively that it must be strange if he has not become tiresome.
Under the necessity before stated, and during our separation, you will have /temporarily/ to select a place of abode where you will not be wounded by unkind allusions to myself, where you will have proper schools for the children and such social tone, moral and intellectual, as will best conduce to their culture. As well for yourself as for them you should endeavor to find a healthy location. To you a cold climate has been most beneficial, such also will best serve to strengthen the constitution of the children; and though the mind may hold mastery over the body, yet a strong frame is a great advantage to a student, and still more to him who in the busy world is called upon to apply his knowledge. If the news gatherer has the rightly concluded that the children were on their way to Canada, I suppose it must have been under some [temporary?] /intermediate/ arrangement. You will sufficiently understand the necessity for your presence with them and you must not allow your affectionate solicitude for me to interfere with your care for them.
It has been reported in the newspapers that you had applied for permission to visit me in my confinement; if you had been allowed to do so the visit would have caused you disappointment at the time, and bitter memories afterwards. You would not have been allowed to hold private conversation with me and if we are permitted to correspond freely in relation to personal matters, not connected with public affairs, it would be a great consolation, and with it I recommend you to be content.
Your stay in Savannah has been prolonged much beyond my expectation and I fear beyond your comfort. I do not know whether you are still there, but hope your whereabouts may be known at Washington and will ask that this letter may there receive the proper address.
Have the articles belonging to you personally and which were seized at the time of our capture been restored? You are aware that I have had no opportunity to present the case, and therefore you have had the unusual task of attending to it yourself. Money derived from the sale of your jewelry and the horses presented to you by Gentlemen of Richmond could hardly be put on the same footing with my private property, and as little could they be regarded as public property, the proper subject of capture in war. The Heads of Executive Departments accustomed to consider questions of law and of fact, would I supposed take a different view of the transaction from subaltern officers of the Army.
You will realize the necessity of extreme caution in regard to our correspondence. The quid nuncs if they hear you have received a letter from me will no doubt seek to extract something for their pursuit, and your experience has taught you how little material serves to spin their web.
Have you been sick? On the 21st of July little Maggie appeared to me in a most vivid dream, warning me not to wake you &c. &c. You know how little I have been accustomed to regard like things. Here such visions have been frequent, nor have they always been without comfort.
I am reluctant to close this first letter to you after so long an interval; but am warned that I may be abusing a privilege, as what I write is to be read by those to whom the labor will not be relieved by the interest which will support you.If my dear Margaret is with you give to her my tenderest love, she always appears to me associated with little Winnie. Kiss the Baby for me, may her sunny face never be clouded, though dark the morning of her life has been.
My dear Wife, equally the centre of my love and confidence, remember how good the Lord has always been to me, how often he has wonderfully preserved me, and put thy trust in Him.Farewell, may He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, whose most glorious attribute is mercy, guide and protect and provide for my distressed family; and give to them and to me that grace which shall lead us all to final rest in the mansions where there is peace that passeth understanding. Once more farewell, Ever affectionately your Husband
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 12, pp 13-17. Transcribed from the original, Transylvania University, Davis Collection.
Jefferson Davis to Varina Howell Davis
Memphis, Tenn., 24th Aug. 1873
My dear Wife,
Your very welcome letter of the 1st Inst. was forwarded and received while I was in Richmond Va. I went thence to see the children in Lexington. Maggie appeared to be in better health than when she left us and quite happy with the Johnstons. She however expressed a wish to join and was disappointed to learn that my destination was Memphis, not Canada.
Jeff was very well and looked improved by his military dress and training. I took them and Miss Mary Johnston as far on my road as the Natural Bridge where we spent the night. In the morning I took the stage and they returned in our hack to Lexington. At the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs many of your friends inquired for you. Genl. Hardee who was there very ill, supposed to be hopelessly so, charged me specially to give you his affectionate remembrance.
I was sent by our Board to make arrangements in Richmond or elsewhere for the relief of the Carolina. The seed sown when I was in New York had germinated and there was assurance that I could soon get $150.000 of new stock taken on the condition of taking out a charter in Md. and removing the parent office from Memphis to Balto. Thus the debts of the Carolina would have been paid at once, the old stock would have been absorbed in the new company and we should gone on with our present organization and a capital of $350 or 400 thousand as a basis for future work.
But the day after I left here under the influence of panic negociations were opened with the Southern Life of Memphis and I was arrested in my negociations by a telegram announcing that the Ca. had been transferred to the “Southern Life”. I find since my return that the matter was most loosely and unwisely conducted; that the managers of the So. Life have got every advantage and the debts of the Ca. are only to be paid as its means shall furnish the money. Boyle alone resisted, and his appeal for delay until my return was unheeded. I am distressed on account of outstanding claims of our Co. and embarassed by the necessity of paying the notes which stood against my stock, viz. $5.650.00. The company owes me a part of that amount, the rest I must raise on some Fire & mining Stocks which I have.
Notwithstanding the frequent and explicit declarations that there was no purpose to thwart but only a desire to serve me, it is hard to avoid being offended at so serious an injury.
The only thing which is pereptible of indirection is the evident desire to keep the business in Memphis, for local advantage. The rest I believe was due to panic, ignorance and want of due caution. Here I am alone in this big house, with furniture to fine to sell among Memphians and too valuable to sacrifice. No definite object is in view from which to derive the income we require and the little we have will be little indeed if it all be saved for you and the children. But a truce to gloomy forebodings, and let us hope that in this little family world of our’s as in the great world of which we are a part, the darkest hour is that which next precedes the dawn.
Mrs. McMahon Mrs. Semmes and Mrs. Tucker of our neighbors are here and well as usual. The last mentioned is full of a pleasing theme, the good qualities and brightness of Winnie. She has employed as her assistant a Mrs. Bobo of Missi. I have not seen her, but knew the family of her late husband. They were respectable people.
Harriet behaves very well so far as I know and seems anxious to serve me. Jackson usually sleeps here, but goes away before I get up. Harriet says he only makes his living.
It is probable that either by closing up or quitting the connection, I will be free to leave here in a week from this time, and if there is nothing to prevent it then join you in Canada, and go wherever there is a prospect of getting something to do. It would not be prudent for you and Winnie to return here before frost the weather is now hot and the city by no means healthy. If I find it necessary to be here as far off as a fortnight I think of going out to see Judge Clayton and perhaps make with him a visit to the iron mine in Ala. where we9 have an investment, large on his part, small on mine. Hoping to hear soon from you I will postpone further recitals of disagreeable incidents & reflections until you have recovered from this infliction. Kiss my dear baby for her Father, remember me kindly to Mary, and take immeasurable love for his Waafe from her Husband
Little Gussy Semmes brought me a bouquet with a request that I would send it to Winnie, a leaf is enclosed.
ALS (AU, Davis Coll.). Written on Carolina Life Insurance Company stationery, with various marks made in another hand.
Jefferson Davis to Varina Howell Davis
Memphis Sunday 7th Sept. 1873
Your’s of the 4th Inst. has just arrived. I have anxiously looked for a letter in reply to those written to you before and after our telegrams.
I propose to leave to-morrow for Louisville and to send you by the most speedy method practicable two hundred dollars, that you may pay off your bills, make the small purchases you desire and join me at the Galt House. We will then confer as to what shall be done next.
The tide of my fortune is at lowest ebb. Every thing is adverse. This morning Judge Clayton informs me by letter that the coal & iron Co. in which on his recommendation I had taken stock, is under a cloud and that his ill health had induced him to resign the Presidency of it and sell out his interest at a heavy loss.
Boyle has the money he loaned for us in such a condition that he cannot now draw it in, though he had several months notice that I required marketable collaterals so as to enable me at any time to get the money. He is confident of it’s security and that the whole will be paid by February. He seems earnest and cordial, I believe is both, but for so shrewd and cautious a man has not managed the affair well. Bowmar after getting permission to draw largely on the funds in hand for Lize, wrote to me that he was in want of money and wanted authority to pay himself $1.000 on his second years salary. I replied that I wanted money also, and as I was the only Executor not paid in full for the first year’s commissions I thought my case had priority, and further stated that the interest due on the legacy to my children was the only consideration given for my property, which went to make up the revenue of the Estate. &c. &c. He has not answered.
I have no proposition for any business engagement as yet; though Maj. Goodman who has just returned, called yesterday and mentioned that when in New York he heard several persons speak with friendly concern about my future.
It is not possible to look complacently on the treatment I have received from the Directors, yet generally I believe they did not wish to injure me, but were too selfish to view the case properly, some of them I am sure are friendly.
If your letter proposing to come home with Mrs. Moody had reached me I would have proposed that you should come as far as Louisville. It may be that being there something will be discovered for future occupation, a few days will suffice for observation. I will go for Maggie or take you to Va. if you prefer to go.
Do not despond, though seriously injured as a business man by my connection with the Carolina, I think there will be opportunities to earn the worth of my labor and that we shall not suffer. If any sensible disposition had been made of the business and property of the Ca. I should have got nearly all the value of my stock; & if any care is exercised there will be, say, three fourths of it paid after a while. In the mean time we can dispose of a portion of our furniture here, and raise some money in that way.
Luke Wright wants the House, and Mrs. Semmes thinks will want a large part of the furniture. She said he would take it whenever we pleased. I told /her/ you had left the house intending to return, and that some of the furniture would be retained by you, I could therefore do nothing until after your return.
Many persons express regret at the prospect of losing us from Memphis. None more earnestly than Mrss McMahon, Titus, and Boyle. Browne went to Athens Ga. with the remains of his Wife & has not returned. Geo. Phelan, Wife & Mother in law are at home. I have only seen Geo., who is as good as ever, and indignant at events in the Carolina. He asked affectionately about you, and wanted /me/ to go out with him; but I have been suffering for a week from acute neuralgia of the face, eyes and ear, so that I had to decline because of the exposure.
You surely did not understand me as complaining of your want of economy, I intended to show you only the danger of having bills, which are sprung upon us after our money has been used for current demands. Jno. Randolph once startled the Ho. of Reps. by announcing he had “found the Philosopher’s Stone”, and explained “it is to pay as you go.”
Kiss my dear baby for me, and tell her to kiss you for me in return. I am very anxious to see you both, and most concerned to have you out of the cold nights on account of the disease which still lingers about you. In a former letter I suggested the Springs.
I have got along here passably well with Harriet & Susie, but have no confidence in either. If I can send money by telegraph you will have time to prepare for your departure while this is on the road, if it be otherwise the delay will be diminished by telegraphic notice that the money is coming. May God bless and preserve you, and soon reunite us, is the fervent and loving wish of
ALS (AU, Davis Coll.). Envelope addressed to “Mrs. J. Davis, Victoria House, Drummond’sville, Canada.”
Jefferson Davis to Varina Howell Davis
26th Feb. 1874
On this day my heart untravelled turns most longingly to you. Many years and very many sorrows lie between this day and that which /made/ you mine in law, but did not make you more mine or me more yours, than before the ceremony was performed of exchanging before witnesses the vows we had exchanged before God, and which were registered where neither destroying elements or thieving Yankees could obliterate or remove the record. What would I not give for one kind embrace from my beloved Wife?
I will not now enter on recitals which may wait for to-morrow. On Saturday I hope the steamer will be in and bring me a letter from you. None has arrived since you left New Orleans, and you need not be told that my anxiety is great to know how you are.
27th Feb. Mrs. Van Arnim, gave a dinner yesterday which was specially intended for me, but I was not well enough to go. Maggie and Mr. Stoess went and I had the luxury of being alone with my love and living over the happiest of our married days. They came back about midnight and were surprised to find me up. The time had flowed with rapid current bearing along reminiscences of what had been, thoughts of what might have been, and speculations of what is to be, so that it did not appear to me late, and the comfortable sofa on which I lay before the fire saved me from weariness of body. The dinner was reported unusually good, and my absence to have been much regretted. Now before you become uneasy of the mention of my not being well enough to go out I will explain, that for some days I have had chilliness in the afternoon succeded by some fever. Maggie who had been alarmed by some newspaper statement to the effect that I had dropsy of the heart asked her Doctor to visit me. He, Dr. Long a man of high repute here, said that my suffering was the result of malarial poison in the system and prescribed Quinine. He examined the heart said there was no positive disease but very feeble action, and for the pain in that region advised the application of mustard.
My belief is that the weak action of the heart, otherwise the imperfect circulation and the damp cold weather cause the symptoms described. In our warmer & brighter climate the feeling of chilliness was limited to the extremities but here it pervades the whole body. So be not disturbed with unwarranted apprehensions, but the rather continue to hope for my return in restored health. I will not send this off until the next mail comes in and therefore postpone business recital for a more convenient season.
28th Feb. no letter from my dearest and now I must wait until Tuesday’s steamer, which being of the line having the U.S. mail contract may have the letters which might have been sent by the faster Cunard vessel and have been received three days sooner. This is the last day of our month, and here I am still in Liverpool. Maggie is very attentive and most unwilling to hear me speak of leaving her while any care is to be taken in matters salutory. If nothing intervenes my purpose is to go to London early in the next week.
Now for the postponed recital. I addressed to Thos. Byrne a note reminding him of his indebtedness and his promises He answered at much length, to the effect that Genl. J. R. Davis had opened an account for you with the house of Byrne, Vance & Co. and that the assets of the house had been turned over to a committee of it’s creditors, that he had been disappointed as to collections from his debtors and therefore no dividend had been made to his creditors, and instead of being himself left with a large amount for future operations he was entirely bankrupt. I replied that it was not expected that he would the care of money handed to him for investment on the footing of a general credit with the house of Bryne, Vance & Co. reminded of the statement made in regard to the delay in the matter of your draft, and the evidence it furnished that the transaction was with him individually, and further stated that Genl. Davis certainly did not understand that the money was to be deposited with the house of B. V. & Co. at the rate of interest which my friend and long time factor Mr. Payne would have allowed. He rejoined by reasserting that the account was opened with the house of B.V. & Co. and stating that he had always regarded the case as exceptional and if ever able he would pay it, but that if I thought he had any thing I was mistaken. Maj. Walker believes he is impecunious. His son has married a rich woman, his daughter has married a rich man, but it may be that they do not wish to pay his debts, or that he does not wish to curtail supplies by asking any thing for such a purpose.
Now for the “Royal Insurance Co.” Walker said he had written to me that upon inquiry he was assured that the reason for the inconsistency in the correspondence with me was, that the agent of the Co. in New York had the superintendence of the Southern branches and that the Directors doubted the wisdom of establishing a separate and distinct agency for the South. I called on the “Manager” who said the agent of the Co. in New York who was Englishman had been asked if my appointment to control the business of the South would affect their operations at the North and he had replied that the animosity at the North was so great against me individually that my appointment would injuriously affect their business at the North. He said they had independent agents at the South, and that he had learned that my appointment would greatly benefit their Co and was only deterred from making me an offer by the assertion that I would entertain it, when Mr. Stoess proposed to him my appointment, and that he was disappointed by the subsequent information &c. &c. Lying is not confined to Yankees, which having found I have made a note of it, a la Capt. Cuttle.
That report of the Committee is yet wanting, and it is hard that having been undermined & swindled by the “Carolina”, I cannot get the evidence which was adopted by the Board of Directors, to show that the failure of the Co. was not my fault. How far dread of the Yankees may render it impossible for me to get any thing in the country is doubtful. I cannot run round begging for employment, less still can I promise to conciliate the meanest basest, but not the wisest of mankind. I could hunt or fish or chop and hoe, but could not in that way make enough to support our wants. God guards the sparrow, and will I pray keep watch over my dear Wife and Children. The world keeps pace with with fiction and so the liars rule. Browne ought to have finished the history of Andersonville and had it published at least twelve months since, the delay leaves me to suffer from falsehood in that connection. Three years ago I asked the former Atty. Genl. of Missi. who had all the facts to write the history of the Union Bank bonds, and their so called repudiation, he has not done it mine is the greatest loss therefrom. For want of space the grumbling ceaseth.
3rd March. I thought surely a letter would come from home and waited to close this until that happy event should occur. But now I will let this go and take a a new sheet for another occasion. Kiss my dear children and take mountains of love from
your devoted Husband.
AL (AU, Davis Coll.). The manuscript contains errant marks in another hand, including underlining in the third paragraph and bracket marks in the margins, perhaps to indicate text printed in Davis, Private Letters, 388-89.
Jefferson Davis to Varina Howell Davis
Missi. City, Harrison Co. Missi.
26th Feb. 1877
My dear, Dearest, Wife, Winnie,
On this day long ago, we exchanged vows and became one in the eye of the world and the law; as we had been in our hearts and hopes, our joys and sorrows. Of the last we have drained the goblet to it’s dregs, but the first has been my solace, and remains my comfort.
Parted though we be, and I earnestly trust for your physical good; separated, in whatever belongs to our higher or tenderer nature we can never be. The world goes wrong to me, men prove false, business affairs tend in other courses than would subserve my interest, the South my loved country is misrepresented, cheated & the fetters of oppression riveted upon her. Yet from all these clouds the shadows of which are worse than the falling dews from the Upas, I turn, and am cheered by the memory of the day when a beautiful, gifted, accomplished girl, gave me her soft hand, and virgin heart, taking me for better or worse; and continues yet to say she has not regretted the compact then made. house for one on the coast are still pending. Joe. Davis got quite well on a milk diet, but when he last came to see me he looked redder and winked more than I liked to see. Jeff. handed to me your last letter to him, when I returned it to him, he asked if it was not a “fine letter”, my answer was a “very sad one”. In pain which you can understand but which he could not I went to my room in order to be alone, with my sympathy in your wounded love and mortified pride. My dear, we do not understand the boy, and I fear I never shall. Let us however hold fast to all which is good in him, and there is much, hoping that experience may make him more like what we would have our Son to be. He stays here, seems contented and has quit chewing tobacco. Miss Mary Ellis a very bright and well educated girl occupies much of his time and does not appear to get tired of him. Her cultivation and habit of reading may be good for him, it is at least a better association than the slangy girls of Memphis, and not so apt to be embarassing, in possible sequences.
AL (AU, Davis Coll.). The manuscript is incomplete and has errant markings, including underlined text and the word “Important” (not in Davis’ hand) written in the left margin opposite the place and date line. The marks may indicate text published in Davis, Private Letters, 450.
Andrew Alan Howell to Varina Howell Davis’
Wheeling West Virginia
25th May 1889
My Dear Cousin,
Your interesting letter duly reached me, also the box of ointment today, Please accept my wormest thanks for your kindness, and I will try this remedy, the next attack I suffer from.at present, it is quiet, and I always prefer letting well enough alone.
How sad I felt in reading your letter, to learn of so many deaths, in your family! all your brothers one sister, but as we near the life’s end ourselves, we think more and more of our loved ones departed, and have hope that we will see them soon again in another world.
Yes, I remember Mrs. Sprague & Mrs. Rowley very vividly- Please remember me to Mrs. Sprague, she was always very kind to me, when I visited her home in the country- In some future letter let me know if Kemp is living & his pretty sister (I think they called her “Missy”) also about your Uncle Mr. Thos. Kemp. I remember thinking that Kemp Sprague, resembled the picture, I had seen of Sir Walter Scott.
Since my last letter I have been quite ill, but am now better. I have not yet sent the photographs, but hope to in a few days. My picture, is the second one I ever had taken, it is thought a good likening by the family.
Sometime since I wrote Judge Agnew and asked him to come down to Wheeling and pay me a visit, he has promised to do so soon. I anticipate much pleasure from his visit. This judge is a man who stands deservedly, very high in his native state. He writes me he is very lonely, death having been busy in his family and surroundings.
In a letter read from Suzzie yesterday, she tells me John is not so well, and has again been ordered to Carlsbad his liver and stomach are in bad condition. My daughter Sallie has been with us for three months – She returns to her home in Cleveland next week and Mrs. Howell and I will be left alone. Our little granddaughter is so necessary to our happiness, that I expect we will soon be up to C(leveland) to be near Sallie & child. In our old age Mrs. Howell and I travel around considerably, we get tired of being alone & we leave the house in Charge of the servants, and trip it over to Philadelphia to spend a few weeks with our boys there, and then go to Cleveland, & from C(leveland). to Sandusky, to see our preacher boy, in that may we manage to get through the year.
Remember me to Mr. Davis and your family & Mrs. Howell and request me to send their love.
Affectionately your Cousin,
Please excuse writing on a pad, but all my business letters are written on pads, & I rarely write any other type of letter.
Varina Davis Collection transcribed by Berry Henderson from the original. Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library at the Museum of the Confederacy: 1201 E. Clay St., Richmond, Virginia.
PDF Link to this letter with sources
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Encyclopedia of Virginia, Varina Howell Davis
- ↑ Rice University, The Papers of Jefferson Davis.
- Wikipedia – Varina Howell
1850 Warren Co., MS, U.S. Federal Census, Sep. 6, sht. 425, p. 213 A, line 12, Mrs. Davis b. MS.
1860 Warren Co., MS, U.S. Federal Census, Post Office: Vicksburg, Sep. 4, sht. 175, line 20, Varina Davis b. MS.
1880 Harrison Co., MS, U.S. Federal Census, Biloxi, June 24, E.D. 24, sht. 29, p. 349 A, line 26, Varina Davis b. LA , fa. b. NJ, mo. b. VA.
New York Times, Oct. 17, 1906, “MRS. JEFFERSON DAVIS DEAD AT THE MAJESTIC; Pneumonia Fatal to Widow of Confederate President. HAD BEEN ILL FOR A WEEK Had Seven Attacks of Pneumonia In the Last Few Months and Was Eighty Years Old,” p. 1.
New York Times, Oct. 18, 1906, “ALL THE SOUTH CALLED TO HONOR MRS. DAVIS; Every Living General of the Confederacy Summoned. FUNERAL TO BE MILITARY. Elaborate Preparations for the Exercises at Richmond—Services to be Held Here Today,” p. 9.
Varina Davis Collection Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library at the Museum of the Confederacy: 1201 E. Clay St., Richmond, Virginia.
Cashin, Joan. First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis’s Civil War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006.
Last update February 28, 2015
Governor Richard Howell by William Henderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.