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[74]

The real Jefferson Davis in private and public life. From N. O., La., Picayune, December 6, 1908.

Some facts never before printed concerning the Confederate President and his lineage, family and descendants.


Physical likeness to his great Antagonist Abraham Lincoln, they were born in adjoining Kentucky counties-both were of Welsh parentage; both fought in the Black Hawk War.


By T. C. DeLEON.

On the anniversary of the great Southern leader's death, at New Orleans, Dec. 6, 1889, and at the ending of the centennial year of his birth—it is fitting that the remnant of the people he wrought and struggled for should teach their children what manner of man he really was. And it is with regret that some of us see the year closing and the loving and practical suggestion of Mrs. Cornelia Branch Stone, U. D. C., unfulfilled and almost unheeded.

Engaged, at the opening centenary year of Jefferson Davis, upon a somewhat important work of Confederate chronicle, 1 was absolutely amazed at the dense and very generous ignorance of polite and well-bred people of the South regarding the most patent details of the Southern President's career.

In one of his piquante and meaty addresses Hon. Champ Clark, of Missouri, paralleled the manner in which noted Northerners and Southerners were treated in the histories, cyclopedias and biographical dictionaries of the last half century. He instanced among many that Robert Toombs—an important national factor on both sides of the supposititious ‘line’ of Mason and Dixon—received a quarter-column comment and William H. Seward three columns; that Abraham Lincoln in several books averaged five columns, while Jefferson Davis—soldier, Senator, Cabinet minister and leader of a new nation—has one column. [75]

In his premise the brilliant and well-equipped Missourian was exceptionally correct; but his deduction from it seems scarcely tenable: that the disproportion was the fault of the North. Mr. Clark left an important factor out of his calculation: that the histories and fact books have almost invariably been left to Northern men to write; that they, naturally and properly, write for the Northern schools, libraries and public. To all three of these the details of Southern prowess and of Southern progress were as antipathetic, where not absolutely terra incognito. These Northern writers merely gave the Northern readers what was most to their taste. No public caterer, knowing that the vast bulk of his patrons doted on pumpkin pies, would insist upon offering them imported plum pudding. But the South had her skilled cooks, and plums for their cooking galore.

Should not Congressman Clark lay the blame at our own proper door? We boast, and with good show of justice, that we have scholars, writers and teachers in the South unexcelled on the planet; that we have more universities in many States than can be profitably and effectively conducted, and that their alumni embrace great and world-acknowledged scholars.

Why do these men—who write theology, science, philosophy, fiction and poetry—not write history as well? Why do not the universities, colleges, schools and school boards which they control use books that bear false witness of any kind—against their neighbors? Why do they not sprinkle the Southern historical Sahara with at least a passing shower of historical facts? Doubtless Southern-built histories and geographies of Southern actions and biographies would sell rapidly and become universal Southern textbooks; and that would pay the writers ‘for revenue only’ far better and more lasting than the most interesting romance.

There is a certain servility in the Southern acceptance of Northern product, material, mental and moral; and that acceptance is not new, but harks back to the days when the South—vaunting that, while only the tail, she wagged the national dog—got all her books, periodicals, fashions and most of her bibulants from the North. That the then differing systems of the two halves of—the Union may have condoned, if not necessitated. [76] But, in this twentieth century, of wireless telegrams, inhuman phonographs and mental searchlights, the almost universal ignorance of the most fecund, and most unique, epoch in national history, is at least inexcusable!

It was cause for sorrow that the gentle, but determined head of the U. D. C. found need for her proclamation, urging the Chapters to promote the knowledge of Davis and Lee. It was cause for shame, that in a long centennial twelvemonth, the small molehill of vis inertiate was never surmounted by the foot of action; and that its closing days see the schoolboys and girls of the South, reading of the executive of Confederate laws, and of the leaders of Southern armies, from books bearing an imprint far from their own.

Lineage and birth.

The Davis family comes of Welsh descent; and it is singular to recall that the tough-fighting little State that so puzzled Edward Longshanks to conquer, lend forbears to so many notable factors in our Civil War. Another Davis family of Wales emigrated to South Carolina and intermarried with the Canty and other leading people of that State. Strangely, too, they went to Mississippi, and Robert, of the third generation, married the President's youngest sister, his ‘Little Polly.’

The most French of Confederate Generals, and one of the most famous—the Preux chevalier of Louisiana Creole fighters —was also Welsh. Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard came down in direct descent from Tider, the Young, a famous Welsh chief and last to yield ‘to proud England's power.’

Strangest of all; the Great President—who opposed, overthrew and would never have imprisoned Jefferson Davis—was also front Welsh stock; his progenitors, like the Confederate's, having come to America from Wales and sat down among the people of Penn.

In the earlier half of the eighteenth century three Welsh brothers, named Davis, sailed from Wales to settle in Pennsylvania. They were young men of the better farming class; not of the gentry, but said to be well-to-do and intent upon taking uplands. Singularly enough, their numerous descendants have no positive record of their advent, or even certainly of their names. Their most famous descendant in the third generation [77] was an aristocrat in instinct, and education; yet he had an utter contempt for what he called frippery (meaning genealogy) and never alluded to his progenitors. Even to his devoted and adored wife, he was wholly reticent upon this point; and she so states in her biography of him. That simply records that his grandfather and two brothers came from Wales and that the first was named Evan.

My eldest brother was Colonel Davis' comrade in the Mexican War and his friend later; and my second brother was his confidential ally in the Southern Press editorship at Washington; and later his personally appointed and instructed Commissioner to the Cabinets and press of France, England and Germany. I was at one time constructively his ward; and later acted as his secretary and was intrusted with confidential correspondence. Still, no one of us three ever heard him speak of his grandfather, or uncles; though he spoke of his father, and with deep and warm affection of his eldest brother, Joseph. And as those who know him will recall, Mr. Davis was not the kind of man to be curiously questioned upon matters he did not volunteer.

After long and careful tracing through records, correspondence and personal query, I have learned but few, though very interesting details of his immigrating forbears. The eldest of the three Welsh brothers, said to be named Samuel, was drowned from the ship that bore Joseph and Evan Davis to these shores. They settled in Philadelphia, taking up lands for farming; but the elder thought better of the South and went to Georgia and settled there, after stopping in Virginia a while.

It was this halt that made slender foundation for the claim that the President of the Confederacy was a Virginian, by descent.

After Mr. Davis' death, a Virginian gentleman of the same name wrote to his widow and urged that his grandfather had settled in Virginia, instead of Pennsylvania or Georgia; basing the claim on the fact of numerous land patents to an Evan Davis (doubtless the Welsh incomer); and to John and Thomas Davis (claimed to be his brothers), between the years 1650 and 1662. This is very flimsy basis for a claim; and it is disproved by the traditional fact that one of our three Davises was drowned at sea, and that the other did not come to Georgia with Evan. [78] Moreover, there is no John, or Thomas in all the Davis descent, as there would have been, had the brothers of Evan been so named.

After he settled in Georgia and took up lands there, Evan Davis married a widow named Williams, whose maiden name had been Emory. She was of a Carolina family, and had two sons of her first marriage. Her son by the Davis alliance his father named Samuel, presumably in memory of his lost elder brother.

In the Revolution, the two elder half-brothers of Samuel Davis went into the Continental Army; and later his mother sent that youth to their camp to carry clothing and home comforts to them. The fighting Welsh blood flamed into patriotism and Samuel ran away from home, after his return; joined the army and made a good soldier. When the effort was made to raise the siege of Savannah, he was in command of the company recruited by himself and made a good record. Thus the family of the Confederate President is triply American: continental, revolutionary and ‘rebel.’

Samuel Davis married Miss Jane Cooke; a Georgia girl of good North Carolina family and connected with—if not closely related to—the Hardins, who moved early to ‘the Dark and Bloody Ground’ and for whom a Kentucky County was named. The pair had eight children during their Georgia life and then Samuel Davis—seeing larger and quick returns for the planter in newer and less crowded territory—followed his wife's friends. He had no inheritance, as his widowed mother lost her all in the trying days that followed the Revolution; so he removed to Kentucky and began life anew on a tobacco plantation in Christian County. There Ellen Mary was born, two years later followed the subject of this sketch.

The Davis family Roster.

The eldest child of Samuel Davis and Jane Cook, was Joseph Emory Davis, born in Georgia but a lawyer and planter, residing at the ‘Hurricane’ Plantation, Warren County, Miss. He married Miss Eliza van Benthysen. He was a great stay and aid to his father and, after his death, became its head and parent, [79] rather than guardian, of the younger children. Little Jeff was devoted to him, and the later statesman never forgot to express his love and admiration of his elder. Joseph Davis rose to great influence and regard in his State and section; and acquired wealth.

The next brother was a doctor and planter: Dr. Benjamin Davis, of St. Francisville, La. He married Miss Aurelia Smith, of that parish, and died at an advanced age after a quiet, respected and useful life.

Samuel Davis, Jr., was the next in age. He was a planter and resided near Vicksburg, Miss. His wife was Miss Lucy Throckmorton and their only living child is Mrs. Helen Carey, of Rapides Parish, La. There were three sons: Benjamin, Samuel and Robert; the eldest of whom left six children in Idaho.

Isaac Davis, the fourth son, was also a planter and resided at Canton, Miss. He married Miss Susan Guerly, and left one son, General Joseph R. Davis, of the Confederate Army; and two granddaughters.

The fifth brother and youngest child was Jefferson Davis, the President.

Anna Davis, the eldest daughter, married Luther Smith, of West Feliciana, and had a family of six, two of whom were daughters; Joseph Luther, Gordon, Jedediah, Lucy and Amanda.

Amanda, her next sister, married Mr. Bradford, of Madison Parish, La. Her living children are Jeff Davis Bradford, an engineer now stationed at Fort Moultrie, in Charleston Harbor; Elizabeth Bradford White, widowed, and residing in New Orleans in winter and Kentucky in summer, and Mrs. Lucy Bradford Mitchell, widow of Dr. C. R. Mitchell, of Vicksburg, Miss.

Lucinda Davis, the next sister, married Mr. William Stamps, of Woodville, Miss. Her children are all dead and her grandchildren are Mrs. Edward Farrar and Mrs. Mary Bateson, of New York, and Mrs. William Anderson; Hugh, Richard and Isaac Alexander, and one great grandchild, Miss Josie Alexander.

Matilda, the fourth sister, died in childhood, and the youngest and next in age to the later President, was his boyhood's companion [80] and delight, ‘Little Polly.’ She was Mary Ellen Davis, who married—without changing her name—Robert Davis, of South Carolina, and left one daughter, who is still living, Mrs. Mary Ellen Davis Anderson, of Ocean Springs, Miss.

It is another coincidence in the parallels of the lives of the two great leaders in the Civil War, that the Christian County birthplace of Jefferson Davis was in the adjoining one to Hardin County, in which Abraham Lincoln first saw the light, a few miles only separating the spots and only eight months the arrival of those famous stars in the great dramas of politics and war. Strange is it, too, that the two young men caught their first glimpse of war in the Black Hawk War. Davis as Lieutenant in the United States Army, and Lincoln as the Captain of a company of volunteers he had raised and proffered, but which was never in actual conflict.

It might be an odd study for the psychologist to observe whether some innate characteristics of both men, acting upon circumstance—or acted upon by it—may not have led to similar aspirations, and whether they were not shadowed out in the strange, yet unmistakable, likeness in their faces. Looking at their portraits in manhood's prime, it needs no Lavater to read that similar early surroundings, softened the coarser lines of the one, hardened the more delicate tone of the other into absolute similiarity. And it is not less curious that the same causes drove the parents of one to the North and of the other to the South from similar points and at no long interval apart.

In 1811, when his youngest born was but 3 years old, Samuel Davis decided that Kentucky was not yielding him the returns hoped for when he left Georgia. He proposed to locate in Louisiana; but, finding the climate unhealthful for a young family, he decided upon Mississippi, and bought there his final family home. This was named ‘Poplar Grove’—from its splendid growth of those stately trees—was a picturesque and extensive site about a mile and a half from Woodville, in Wilkinson County, Miss. There most of the younger family were reared, the daughters were married and some of their children reared by their venerable grandmother, Mrs. Jane Cook Davis. Of these was Ellen Mary, who never changed her name, and her early orphaned child [81] and namesake, Mrs. Anderson, to-day recalls the delight of her life at the ‘Poplars.’

It was with this sister, ‘Polly,’ that the 5-year-old Jefferson first went to school, at a loghouse half a mile away. Two years later, when not 7 years old (in 1815) he was sent on a ride through virgin forests of nearly 900 miles, to attend the St. Thomas Academy at Washington County, Ky. In three years more he was at Jefferson College, Adams County, Miss., and in 1821, when but 13 years old, was sent to Transylvania College, Lexington, Ky. He was an earnest and intelligent pupil, but gave little promise of the brilliance, acumen and erudition that illustrated his later career.

After their father's death, his brother, Joseph Davis, became the real head of the family, and it was he who gave special attention to the rearing of the youngest boy, and who directed his education. And by that time, Joseph Emory Davis had become a power in the law and politics of his section. So in 1824, he obtained, through Congressman Rankin, a West Point cadetship for his 16-year old brother.

At the Academy the youth was esteemed as a careful, studious and dignified cadet, rather than an ambitious and dashing one; yet he missed no branch of useful acquirement, and came out a fine rider, swordsman and tactician, as well as a courteous and dignified officer. He graduated twenty-fifth in a class of thirty-three, going into the brevet lieutenancy in the Twenty-first Infantry, then, under Colonel Zachary Taylor, afterwards General and President.

This was in 1828, and before his majority. At the Point his intimates were Joseph E. Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Prof. Alex. Dallas Bache, Albert Sydney Johnston and others, with whom he held lifelong friendships, or—in rare cases—undying enmities.

Lieutenant Davis served with credit at Fort Crawford, in what is now Illinois; then at the lead mines near Galena, and at Fort Winnebago, in Wisconsin. He made his first campaign against the Indians in the closing of the Black Hawk war in 1831-33.

Then, when service needs created more cavalry, the First Dragoons was organized, and its Adjutant was Jefferson Davis, now [82] promoted to first lieutenant, in 1834. But he held the post only a few months, resigning in June of the next year.

For some reason, never explained, ‘Old Zach’ Taylor had taken a strong dislike to his subaltern; but the latter was deeply and seriously in love with the fair young daughter of his chief Miss Knox Taylor. To the surprise of everyone—and none more than her sire—Miss Taylor married the young soldier almost immediately on his resignation. Her father never forgave her, and he never saw her again. She went as a bride to the home of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Anna Davis, at West Feliciana, La. Three months later she was buried there, after a brief illness, and the shock broke down completely the health of the young husband, already undermined by hard frontier service.

On his recovery, Mr. Davis made a tour of the West Indies; thence paid a long visit to his old friends in Washington and made many new and useful ones, who were loyal to him until the end. Then he settled in Mississippi, by his brother's advice, becoming a planter in Warren County, Miss., but devoting really more attention to reading law and managing local politics. The latter proved the more congenial and successful. He was elected to the Legislature in 1842; was Elector for Polk and Dallas two years later, and gained high repute as a debater in a tilt with the famous Sergeant S. Prentiss. In February, 1845, he married Miss Varina Banks Howell, daughter of Colonel William Burr Howell, native of New Jersey, who had moved to Mississippi and wedded the daughter of the Virginia settler.

This marriage was a most congenial and helpful one to the already rising young statesman. No woman of her day proved a more potent factor in the semisocial and semipolitical government at Washington in the Davis' long sway at the Capitol. Today, in both sections of the Union and abroad their names have gone down the aisles of time linked in one.

In the autumn after his marriage Mr. Davis was elected to Congress by a handsome majority, promptly taking a prominent stand and gaining quick recognition for vigor and eloquence in championing the ultra pro-slavery and states rights wing of the Democracy. Hearing his maiden speech in the house, John C. Calhoun said: [83]

‘Keep a swatch on that young man; he will be heard from.’

In 1846 the Mexican War brought his resignation, to accept command of the regiment of Mississippi Rifles, soon attached to General Taylor's Army of the Rio Grande. There it gave such good account of itself and its commander as to warrant special mention in orders for Monterey, and Davis' splendid charge at Buena Vista—in which he was severely wounded—brought another flattering report to Washington, whether or not, his first father-in-law's personal feelings had changed.

In the session of 1847, Mr. Davis first took his seat as Senator of the United States, having been appointed by Governor Albert Gallatin Brown to succeed Hon. Jesse Speight, who died that year. The next session of the Legislature elected him to fill the unexpired term; but, in 1851, he resigned to accept the nomination for Governor of Mississippi, when he was defeated by that archmanipulator, Henry S. Foote, who ran on the Union ticket. But he remained a power in politics, and was especially active in the election of President Pierce, who made him Secretary of War in March, 1853. At the close of his term in the Cabinet he was again elected to the Senate, and again became the leader of the ultra Southern Party. It was at this time that he made his famous Faneuil Hall speech on the rights of the States and the powers of the Central Government. Then, in January, of 1861, Jefferson Davis made his farewell speech in the Senate, withdrew from that body and went to Mississippi to carry his home people into the incubating Confederacy.

At the birth of the new nation, he was popularly accepted as its chief. There were—as was inevitable in an infant coalition of the disjecta membra of an old one—cliques cabals and office greed. At Montgomery, other candidates were spoken of. Alexander H. Stephens was often mentioned; Toombs was talked of, and what was known as the “South Carolina clique” —in which were Louis T. Wigfall, Lawrence M. Keitt, William W. Boyce and others—advocated Howell Cobb, late of the Buchanan Cabinet. But Mr. Davis was unanimously chosen Provisional President and was inaugurated with wild acclaim, at the Capitol, on Feb. 18. 1861. When the permanent Government went into power, he was re-elected without opposition, and was inaugurated [84] at the Washington statue, in the Richmond Capitol grounds, on Feb. 22, 1862.

At this time, Mr. Davis was the idol of the people and almost equally of the army. This is no time and place—even did limits permit—to dissect the bickerings, jealousies and spites that fomented unjust judgment of this man and of his motive. Some of them are contentions that can never be settled; all of them had best be buried in his grave, to lie untouched forever by either prying, itching or loving hands. The bitterness of the past has lost its pungency; the respect and good will and love of second thought has replaced that. To-day, and I honestly believe, even through that North which once hated and longed to hang him—the verdict of the world is that here is a just man who has gone to sleep.

Neither is there space were there need to rehearse the long and bitter search of the unhorsed knight for another saddle. Released from prison, after durance too vile and needless not to raise a national blush at its memory, he went abroad, returned and was made President of an unsuccessful insurance company, the debts of which he assumed and struggled for years to pay, by hard, if congenial, labor at his Beauvoir home. The result of this was his autobiographic history. ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ in 1881. Of this, the financial result was not flattering; probably because of lack of money among those most interested, and from the richer North having grown somewhat weary of war views at short range. Then, on the 6th of December, 1889, the worn and weary man of many sorrows and hopes and disappointments died in New Orleans, while visiting an old and proved friend. He was laid to rest in the State he had battled for so long and well in two centuries. Shortly after, his body was claimed by the State which had volunteered him home and castle, eighteen years before; and many people recall the triumphal progress of that draped catafalque through the States of his late Confederacy. And, at last, a noble monument has been reared in the city of his burial; mainly by the efforts of that helpful and loyal band, the Daughters of the Confederacy.

[85]

His immediate family.

Jefferson and Varina Banks Howell Davis had six children; the eldest, Samuel Emory Davis, dying in Washington in 1854, when not 3 years old. The second was Margaret Howell Davis —named for her grandmother, and now Mrs. Joel A. Hayes, of Colorado Springs. She is the only living one of the six and has had five children of whom four are living, and two grandchildren.

The second son, Jefferson Davis, Jr., had almost reached his majority when he died in Memphis in the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.

Joseph Evan Davis was born in 1859, and was killed by a fall over the balusters of the White House, in Richmond, when 3 years old.

William Howell Davis was born in the White House, Richmond, in 1862. He died, almost as suddenly as Joe had done, from diphtheria, in Natchez, Miss., in October, 1874, when nearer to manhood than any of the sons save ‘Little Jeff.’ But the other birth in the White House was that of the famous and widely-loved ‘Daughter of the Confederacy,’ Varina Anne Davis, petnamed ‘Winnie.’ She was her mother's companion in their northern home shared her literary tastes and died in the full promise of noble womanhood on Sept. 18, 1898.

The lonely and constant mother lingered to complete her work of love and life, the embalming of her husband's memory, until the autumn of 1906. Then she took her burthen and bore it to the Throne's foot.

T. C. Deleon, Mobile, Alabama, December 1, 1908.

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