- Biography of Jefferson Davis
- Collection Description
- MDAH Jefferson Davis manuscript search
Jefferson Davis was born on June 3, 1808. He was the tenth and last child of Samuel and Jane Cook Davis of Christian County (now Todd County), Kentucky. The family moved to the Bayou Teche area of the Louisiana Territory circa 1809/1810 and shortly thereafter to Wilkinson County, Mississippi Territory. Davis entered the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York in 1824 and graduated in 1828. From West Point, Davis went on to serve as a second lieutenant in the United States Army at Fort Crawford, Michigan Territory; Fort Winnebago, Michigan Territory; and Fort Gibson, Indian Territory (Oklahoma). During his time in Oklahoma he participated in the final phases of the Black Hawk War.
Davis married Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of future U.S. president Colonel Zachary Taylor, on June 17, 1835, and later that month Davis resigned from the army. The couple traveled to Hurricane, the Warren County, Mississippi, plantation of Joseph Davis, elder brother of Jefferson Davis, who gave the couple the use of Brierfield, an eight-hundred-acre plantation adjacent to Hurricane. Davis and his wife contracted malaria shortly after their arrival in Mississippi. Sarah Davis died on September 15, 1835, at Locust Grove Plantation near Bayou Sara, Louisiana, but Jefferson Davis recovered and became a cotton planter in Warren County.
On February 26, 1845, Jefferson Davis married Varina Howell at the Briars in Natchez, Mississippi, the home of Varina's parents. The couple had six children: Samuel Emory (1852-1854), Margaret Howell (1855-1909), Jefferson Davis, Jr. (1857-1878), Joseph Evan (1859-1864), William Howell (1861- 1872), and Varina Anne (1864-1898).
Davis was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1845, a position from which he resigned after less than a year following his decision to command the 1st Mississippi Regiment (Mississippi Rifles) in the Mexican War. He was wounded at Buena Vista, Mexico, in February 1847. Later that year, Davis was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the United States Senate. During his tenure in the Senate, Davis served as a regent of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1851, Davis resigned from the Senate to run for governor of Mississippi, but was defeated by U.S. Senator Henry S. Foote. The following year he campaigned for presidential candidate Franklin Pierce, and subsequently served as secretary of war in Pierce's cabinet. In 1856 the Mississippi Legislature elected Davis to the United States Senate for the term commencing on March 4, 1857. Four years later, on January 21, 1861, in a farewell speech to the senate, Davis announced the secession of Mississippi and his departure from that body. On February 9, 1861, Davis was elected president of the newly formed provisional government of the Confederate States of America, and on November 6 of that year was elected president under the permanent constitution of the Confederacy without opposition.
Following General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April of 1865, Davis fled with his family and advisors. He was captured on May 10, 1865 near Irwinville, Georgia, and imprisoned at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Davis was released from prison on bail in 1867, and in 1869 the United States government dropped all charges against him. In that same year, Davis became president of the Carolina Insurance Company in Memphis, Tennessee. The company failed four years later, forcing Davis to attempt to regain legal control of his plantation, Brierfield. Davis eventually succeeded, but was unable to profit substantially from the plantation.
In 1877, Davis moved to a small cottage at Beauvoir, the Mississippi Gulf Coast estate of Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, an admirer of Davis. Dorsey eventually sold Beauvoir to Davis and later willed her entire estate to him. While he lived at Beauvoir, Davis completed two books, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government in 1881 and A Short History of the Confederate States in 1890. Davis contracted bronchitis on a trip to Brierfield in 1889. He returned to New Orleans where he died on December 6, 1889. Davis was buried in Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, but his remains were reinterred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, four years later.
Harrison County Court Case # 463-A is the file for the settlement of the estate of Jefferson Davis. It includes documents filed between December 1889 and February 1893. In addition, an inquiry was made in February 1930, which concerned the settlement of his estate, and this letter with its reply from the Chancery Clerk is also included in the file. The online collection consists of the digitized estate papers that are described and made available within the MDAH Electronic Archives User Interface.
In August 1986 the original documents were temporarily transferred from the Harrison County Chancery Court to MDAH to conduct conservation work. Preservation measures included removal of adhesive tape, paper mending, deacidification and encapsulation. In February 2002, file # 463-A was microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. A copy of the resulting microfilm roll, which also includes Harrison County Land Records, was donated to MDAH and added to its County Microfilm Collection as roll # 37696. In June 2004, the original documents were transferred to MDAH for permanent retention by Harrison County Chancery Clerk John McAdams. Forty-eight pages of original records were scanned and described by MDAH in August-September 2004. Preservation TIFFs were produced and then converted to web-friendly PNGs for online access.