Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Varina Howell Davis 1826 ~ 1906

 


Varina Howell Daivs

It has been said of Mrs. Varina Howell Davis, who was born May 7, 1826, that she was the key of President Davis' career, and certain it is, that while the public life of this celebrated family was in many respects one long storm, their private life was full of peace and sunshine.

In the memoirs of her husband, a work of great merit which Mrs. Davis published early in the '90's, we find every evidence of her loving ministrations and their intellectual companionship, during the memorable years of his life, and her children bear testimony that she enabled him more completely to achieve that career which has made his name immortal. The war career of Mrs. Davis is historical, and a cherished memory of those who watched her unfaltering devotion in the dark days, and when overcome by misfortune met the inevitable like a true daughter of noble sires. She was indeed well descended coming from the famous Howell family, whose founder settled in New Jersey.

Her grandfather, Governor Richard Howell, was a Revolutionary officer, and her father, William Burr Howell, won distinction under McDonough on Lake Champlain.

Mrs. Davis maternal grandfather, James Kempt, was an Irish gentleman who came to Virginia after the Emmet Rebellion. He was a man of much wealth and moved to Natchez, Mississippi, when Mrs. Davis' mother was an infant. Colonel Kempt organized the Natchez troops and accompanied them during the Revolution. Mrs. Davis' uncle, Franklin Howell, was killed on the "President."

Her marriage to Jefferson Davis took place the 26th of February, 1845. When Jefferson Davis died there was ended a most remarkable chapter of national history and domestic devotion. His widow retired to live in absolute seclusion in their pleasant home in Beauvoir, Mississippi, having with her as close companion her daughter "Winny," affectionately known throughout the South as the "Daughter of the Confederacy."

Many anecdotes have come down to us bearing testimony to the mercy and kindness and loyal service of this "Highest Lady of the Southern Land." The following is typical: During the height of the war a minister passing through the streets of Augusta, Georgia, on his round of duty to the sick, called at the hospitals, and encountered a stranger who accosted him thus: "My friend, can you tell me if Mrs. Jeff Davis is in the city of Augusta?" "No, sir," replied the minister, "she is not." "Well, sir," replied the stranger, "you may be surprised at my asking such a question and more particularly so when I inform you that I am a discharged United States soldier, but," (and here he evinced great feeling) "that lady has performed acts of kindness to me which I can never forget. When serving in the Valley of Virginia, battling for the Union I received a severe and dangerous wound. At the same time I was taken prisoner and conveyed to Richmond, where I received such kindness and attention from Mrs. Davis that I can never forget her; and, now that I am discharged from, the army, I wish to call upon her and carry my expressions of gratitude to her and offer to share with her, should she unfortunately need it, the last cent I have in the world." Mrs. Davis died in 1906.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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