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About Beauvoir

Beauvoir was the last home of Jefferson Davis and it was the site of his retirement. 

Beauvoir

The house was built by James Brown, a wealthy plantation owner from Madison County, Mississippi.  The house was started in late 1848 and was completed in 1852.  The house was built as a summer home for his wife and his (eventually 13) children. It was then called Orange Grove, due to the Satsuma Oranges being grown on the property. Mr. Brown died in 1866 and his widow continued to own the property until 1873 when she was forced to sell the property at public auction to pay and satisfy the taxes due on her husband's estate.  Frank Johnson, a land speculator purchased the house for taxes and then sold the house and property three months later.

Sarah Dorsey was the next owner of the property and when she first looked out over the Mississippi Sound from the front porch of the house, she said "Oh my, what a beautiful view - that's what I am going to call this property: Beauvoir!" (Which is French for beautiful view or beautiful to look at).  From that point on - the property was known as Beauvoir. 

In 1877, Jefferson Davis was looking for a quiet retreat to write his books and papers.  While inspecting property on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he paid a courtesy call on Mrs. Dorsey (a family friend).  He told her of his plans to try to find a place to write his books and papers.  She encouraged him to stay at Beauvoir in one of the two pavilions in front of Beauvoir House to write his books.  He agreed to do so only if he paid $50.00 a month for room and board.  After two years, he fell in love with the property and he wanted to buy it.  She in turn wanted to sell it to him, so they agreed upon a selling price of $5,500.00 dollars to be paid in three payments.  He made the first payment and six months later, Mrs. Dorsey died.  At that time he found out he was her sole heir and he eventually inherited the house along with other property.

Jefferson Davis died in 1889.  His daughter, Winnie, then inherited the property and when she died in 1898, Varina, Jefferson Davis' widow inherited the property.  Mrs. Davis sold the property to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans with two stipulations.  The first was that the property be used for a Confederate Veterans Home for the veterans and or their widows at no charge to them and that was done from 1903 until 1957 when the last three widows were transferred to a private nursing home in Greenwood, Mississippi, when it was no longer practical to keep them at the site.  The second stipulation for the sale of the property was that it be used as a memorial to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Soldier; and that has been done from 1903 until the present time.

POINTS OF INTEREST

 1. Entrance to Presidential Library and Museum

 2. Gift Shop & Admissions

 3. Jefferson Davis Statue. This statue survived Hurricane Katrina in the original Jefferson Davis Presidential Library. 

 4. Jefferson Davis & Sons Statue. The life-size bronze statue depicts Jefferson Davis, his son Joseph Davis, and the Davis's adopted black child Jim Limber. The statue was created by Gary Casteel, a world renowned sculptor from Virginia, who was honored in 2000 by the National Civil War Memorial Commission. The statue was commissioned by the national office of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and donated to Beauvoir in 2009.

 5. Library Pavilion (reproduction—original destroyed by Hurricane Katrina). James Brown used this cottage as a schoolroom for his children. Jefferson Davis rented it for $50 a month from Sarah Dorsey from 1877 to 1878. Davis enclosed the eastern porch for additional living space and lined the original room with bookcases. Here Davis, with the help of his wife Varina, wrote the Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

 6. Hayes Pavilion (reproduction—original destroyed by Hurricane Katrina). James Brown built this cottage as a haven for itinerant Methodist circuit riders.  The building derives its name from its later use by the family of Margaret Davis Hayes, the elder daughter of Jefferson and Varina.

 7. Beauvoir House. James Brown, using slave labor and hired craftsmen, built this Louisiana Raised Cottage from 1848 to 1852.  The single story home was constructed of cypress and heart pine, with a roof of English slate.  The raised design, along with the porches, tall windows, high ceilings, and the arrangement of the rear wings, promoted ventilation.  The house was elevated on 62 eight-foot-tall brick piers to provide antebellum air conditioning—not to avoid high water. But, elevating the house saved it from the storm surge of Camille and Katrina.  The heavy slate roof is sealed around the edges and so constructed that high winds blow the slate roof down on the house rather than up and away.  The structure has withstood eighteen hurricanes since it was built.

 8. Cistern (reproduction—original destroyed by Hurricane Katrina).

The 500-gallon wood and brick cistern collected rainwater from the roof as a source of fresh water for the home.

 9. Kitchen (reproduction). The kitchen was a four-room wooden structure separated from the house because of the heat and the potential fire hazard associated with cooking.  Food prepared in the kitchen was taken through the door by the cistern, up the adjacent small staircase, and into the butlers pantry, where final preparations were made for serving.

 10. Varinas Rose Garden (reconstructed from a hand-drawn chart made by Varina Davis). The garden covers an area in excess of an acre.  It is named for the variety of roses that it contains, but it also contains many other types of flowers as well as a kitchen vegetable garden. Flanking the garden are orchards of Satsuma oranges and fig trees.  (The original name of Beauvoir in the period it was owned by James Brown was “Orange Grove.”)

 11. Jefferson Davis Oak. Jefferson Davis often read his Bible and other books under this dual-trunk live oak. The southern trunk of this tree, believed to be several hundred years old, collapsed without warning in April 1991 and was removed.

 12. Oyster Bayou Waterfalls. This feature was created in the 1950s with a beautification effort and establishment of a concrete bridge. It provides a restful spot to enjoy the scenery of Oyster Bayou, named for the oyster beds found at its mouth.

 13. Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. This tomb contains the remains of an unknown Southern soldier killed in battle. Dedicated in 1981, the marble tomb bears an inscription by Abram Ryan, poet-priest of the Confederacy,and symbolizes all unknown Southern dead from 1861 to 1865.

 14. Jefferson Davis Soldiers’ Home Cemetery. Established in 1903 as part of the Jefferson Davis Soldiers’ Home.  Approximately 780 Confederate veterans, wives, and widows, some members of the Davis Family and other civilians are buried in this historic cemetery. 

 

Jefferson Davis Facts

On June 3, 1808, Jefferson Finis Davis, the tenth and final child of Samuel Emory Davis and Jane Cook Davis was born in Christian County, Kentucky, and named after his fathers hero, Thomas Jefferson.

 In 1812 the Davis family moved to their final home, Rosemont Plantation, near Woodville, Wilkinson County, Mississippi Territory. 

  In 1815 Samuel Davis sent his son to St. Thomas Aquinas School in Washington County, Kentucky.

 In 1818 Jefferson Davis entered Jefferson College at Washington, Adams County, Mississippi.

On October 21, 1821, he entered Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky.

On July 4, 1824, his father died, and his older brother, Joseph, became a strong figure in his life. In Jeffersons words, Joseph became my mentor and greatest benefactor.

On September 24, 1824, the 16-year-old Davis entered the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, as a cadet.

On July 1, 1828, Davis graduated 23rd in a class of 33 and was appointed as brevet second lieutenant in the US Infantry and assigned to Fort Crawford, Wisconsin. His colonel was Zachary Taylor.

In 1832 Davis served in the Black Hawk War, and so did his later nemesis, Abraham Lincoln. 

In March 1835, Jefferson, having fallen in love with Sarah Knox Taylor (his commanding officer’s daughter), faced a dilemma-Zachary Taylor did not wish his daughter to be an army wife.  Jefferson took a furlough to talk to his brother, Joseph, at Davis Bend on the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg.  Joseph advised him to resign from the army, marry Knox (as Jefferson called her), and become a cotton planter.  Jefferson followed his brother’s advice.

On June 17, 1835, Jefferson Davis and Sarah Knox Taylor were married.

In July 1835 Joseph divided his 4,000 acre plantation at Davis Bend in half. He retained the southern half as Hurricane Plantation, while Jefferson and Knox took the northern half as Brierfield Plantation. 

In August 1835 both Jefferson and Knox were stricken with malaria.  In hopes of escaping the worst effects of the disease, the couple journeyed to Jefferson’s sister’s plantation (Locust Grove) near St. Francisville, Louisiana.

On September 15, 1835, Knox died only three months after her wedding and was buried in Locust Grove Cemetery.

In late 1835 Davis, heartbroken, withdrew from public life and spent most of the following decade as a planter at Brierfield.

On February 26, 1845, Jefferson Davis, in a match engineered by his brother Joseph, married Varina Banks Howell at The Briars in Natchez.

On November 4, 1845, he was elected to the US House of Representatives.

On December 8, 1845, Davis took his seat in the US House of Representatives in Washington, D. C.

In June 1846 he resigned his seat to lead troops in the recently declared Mexican War.

On February 22, 1847, as colonel of the volunteer regiment called the Mississippi Rifles, Davis heroically led his men in the Battle of Buena Vista and was shot in the foot.

On July 12, 1847, Davis mustered out of the US Army.

On August 10, 1847, Davis was appointed to the US Senate seat of the late Jesse Speight. 

On December 6, 1847, he took his seat in the US Senate.

On December 30, 1847, he was appointed as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution.

In February 1850, Davis was elected to a full six year term as a US Senator.

On September 23, 1851, Davis resigned from the US Senate to run for governor of Mississippi.  He lost the election to Henry S. Foote.

On March 7, 1853, Davis took the oath of office as Secretary of War under newly elected President Franklin Pierce.  In this position Davis reorganized and improved the US Army. He is regarded as one of the best US Secretaries of War.

On December 30, 1853, Davis was instrumental in the approval of the Gadsden Purchase which secured the best route through the Southwest for a transcontinental railway. Although the railroad was not built when he was in office, Davis not only devised the best route, but he also reviewed and approved all mapping. 

In May 1856, Davis engineered the importation of 33 camels for use by the US Army in the desert southwest.  He was convinced that the camels were superior to horses in desert conditions, and the camels’ performance proved him correct.  However, the later building of the transcontinental railroad rendered the camels obsolete.

On March 4, 1857, Davis, having been elected again to the US Senate, tendered his resignation as Secretary of War to outgoing President Franklin Pierce who had lost the presidential election to James Buchanan. Davis immediately went to the Capitol where he was sworn in as a Senator.  

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to secede from the Union.

On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede from the Union. Davis, who opposed secession in practice but supported it in principle, resigned from the US Senate and returned home to support his state.

On February 18, 1861, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederate States of America on the veranda of the Confederate Capitol in the Confederate capital city of Montgomery, Alabama.

On April 12, 1861, the War Between the States began when Confederate forces fired on US Army occupied Fort Sumter located on an island in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.  With the beginning of hostilities, four states of the upper South, including Virginia, seceded.

On May 8, 1861, Richmond was named capital of the Confederacy due to Virginia’s demands for this honor.  The Davis family moved to the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond 21 days later.

On April 3, 1865, the Davis family evacuated the Confederate capital as Union forces approached Richmond. 

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General U. S. Grant at Appomattox County Courthouse, Virginia. In Lee’s words, he yielded “to overwhelming numbers and resources.”

On May 10, 1865, Jefferson Davis, Varina, and three of their children were captured by Union forces near Irwinville, Georgia.

On May 19, 1865, Davis was incarcerated at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and kept in irons in the early days of his imprisonment.  He spent two years in prison on charges of treason.  Despite his demands for a trial, he was never tried.

In May 1867, he was released on bail, funded by notable northerners, including Horace Greely and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

In 1868, Davis traveled to Canada and Europe. 

On December 25, 1868, the US government dropped all charges of treason against Davis because of the fear that secession might be declared Constitutional in a trial.

November 20, 1869, Davis became president of the Carolina Insurance Company based in Memphis, Tennessee.

August 15, 1873, Davis resigned his position at the Carolina Insurance Company.

January 1, 1876, Davis’ daughter, Margaret, married Memphis banker, Joel Addison Hayes.  (Since Margaret was the only one of Davis’ six children to marry, she and her husband first gave their children the name “Davis-Hayes.”  The name was later termed “Hayes-Davis” in order to preserve the Davis surname.)

In February 1877 Davis visited Sarah Ellis Dorsey at her home, Beauvoir, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and rented a small cottage on the grounds of Beauvoir.  Varina joined him there later to aid him in writing his memoirs.

On February 19, 1879, Davis purchased the Beauvoir property from Sarah Dorsey for $5,500, and Dorsey moved to New Orleans.

On July 4, 1879, Sarah Dorsey died in New Orleans and was buried in Natchez.   

In 1881 Davis, with Varina’s help, completed his two-volume Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

In March 1889, Davis made what was to be his last speech to a group of young men at the Harrison County Courthouse in Mississippi City, six miles west of Beauvoir.  He started by saying, “Friends and fellow citizens.”  Then he paused and told them that he was no longer a US citizen.  He was not a citizen because he refused to apply for a pardon after the war feeling that he had done nothing wrong.  In fact, he had stated that if he had it to do over, he would do exactly what he had done again.  He did, however, tell the young men to “lay aside all rancor” and to be good citizens of a “reunited country.”

On December 9, 1889, Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was buried in Metairie Cemetery

On May 31, 1893, his body was reinterred in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery in what then became the Davis Family Plot.

On October 17, 1978, though Davis died a man without a country, his citizenship was restored by Act of Congress signed by President Jimmy Carter and deemed retroactive to December 25, 1868—the date he had been denied a treason trial.

 

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