Davis House. [from the Richmond Dispatch, March 8, 1891.]
Reminiscences connected with its Ante—Bellum History—The Brocken
—— broughs, Morsons, Seddons
and Crenshaws—Sculptured mantels and luxurious Furnishings.
You have favored your readers with some passages from the Memoir of President Davis
by his accomplished wife.
In her description of the Confederate
’ she writes with admiration about its beautiful carara marble mantels, &c., and adds:
The tastes and to some extent the occupation and habits of the master of a house, if he, as in this case, assisted the architect in his design, are built in the brick and mortar, and, like the maiden's blood in the great bell, they proclaim aloud sympathy or war with those whom it shelters.
One felt here the pleasant sense of being in the home of a cultivated, liberal, fine gentleman, and that he had dwelt there in peaceful interchange of kind offices with his neighbors.
The garden, planted in cherry, apple, and pear trees, sloped in steep terraces down the hill to join the plain below.
To this garden or pleasance came always in my mind's eye a lovely woman, seen only by the eye of faith as she walked there in “maiden meditation.”
‘Every old Virginia
gentleman of good social position who came to see us looked pensively out on the grounds and said with a tone of tender regret something like this: “This house was perfect when lovely Mary Brockenbrough
used to walk there, singing among the flowers;” and then came a description of her high step, her dignified mien, her sweet voice, and the other graces which take hold of our hearts with a gentle touch and hold them with a grip of steel.’
She does not seem to know a part of the history of the house, and as there may be others in the same position it may not be uninteresting to give you a few items on that subject.
Dr. John Brockenbrough
, so long president of the Bank of Virginia, in this city, who had the mansion planned and erected, married Mrs. Gabriella Randolph
, widow of Thomas Mann Randolph
,’ and they had no offspring.
The lovely Mary Brockenbrough
referred to must have been her daughter, the celebrated and fascinating Mary Randolph
, who became the wife of Mr. John Chapman
, of Philadelphia
, and who died quite early—prior, I think, to the year 1840.
I remember meeting Mr. Chapman
society when he was a widower, and was paying his devoirs to another of our leading belles.
He did not win her, however; she afterwards accepted a more distinguished Virginia
A fine equestrienne.
There was a second daughter, Margaret Harriet Randolph
, who became Mrs. Francis A. Dickins
, of ‘Ossian Hall’ and Washington city
She also possessed many attractions, and, like her sister Mary, was a very fine equestrienne.
My father told me of a race he once
had with her. She challenged him in such a way that he, despite his greater age, could not back out. During the contest she lost her riding hat and the fastenings of her hair, so that her long tresses fell down and were streaming in the wind.
This only incited her the more.
She urged on her steed, and crying out, ‘Come on, Doctor
, here goes Pocahontas
,’ dashed ahead of him and won the race.
She died March 7, 1891, in Alexandria, Va.
; aged, seventy-eight years.
There was also a third daughter, who became Mrs. Albert White
She lived mostly in Washington
, but was married here, at her mother's, and I witnessed the ceremony.
was United States
Senator from the State of Indiana
So much for the maidens who enjoyed and adorned the old Brockenbrough
mansion and its environments.
Now for the mansion itself.
removed from Richmond
to the Warm Springs
and early in the year 1844 sold his residence here.
So that about eighteen years elapsed between that date and the time at which President Davis
and family were domiciled in it. During that period great changes were wrought in the building.
The purchaser of it for $20, 0000 was Mr. James M. Morson
, who was a gentleman of ambition and taste, and of very liberal views in regard to their indulgence and gratification.
He had the means and the disposition to have the house refitted and furnished in an exceptional style.
He added to it its third story and had it decorated entirely anew.
I am quite sure that he introduced those exquisite sculptured mantel-pieces.
I have some recollection of his taking me up to see them and his other improvements whilst they were going on, for we had been intimate friends from our schoolmate days.
After he took possession of the remodeled edifice he gave very handsome entertainments, besides dispensing a general refined hospitality.
Thus the compliment paid by Mrs. Davis
would apply to him as well as to the original owners and designers.
He also further embellished the grounds.
When Mr. Morson
removed to his country-seat, Dover
, in Goochland county
, he sold for twenty five thousand dollars his city residence, in 1845, to his sister-in-law, who became the wife of the Hon. James A. Seddon
, another gentleman of taste and culture, who was a member of Mr. Davis
's Cabinet as secretary of war. Mr. Morson
and Mr. Seddon
were cousins, and were once associated as partners in the practice of law.
also preferred a country residence, and removed to Goochland county
In 1857 he sold his city premises to Mr. Lewis D. Crenshaw
for twenty-five thousand dollars, and in June, 1861, Mr. Crenshaw
sold them to the city of Richmond
for thirty-five thousand dollars.