Varina Banks Howell Davis

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JPK Huson 1863

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I simply do not personally know enough about Mrs. Davis to attempt to put together my own conclusions of attempt a synopsis of her. She was not the controversial, wildly tempetuous character of her Northern counterpart, Mary Lincoln, and I'm guessing may have detested a comparison given Mary's Southern roots. I've had to rely on web sites and conversation for a small look at this beleagured woman.

One thing has been clear from the reading, and that has been that her marraige was a love match in inception. I'm enjoying that part of the research. I think it's doing some of these women an injustice to try to stuff their lives into one post, not matter how long. No one reads long bios, for one thing and for another, boy- you miss a LOT.

I'd like to ask members who obviously know a LOT more about Mrs. Jefferson Davis to add anything at ALL they know of her to this thread, please, even if the ground has been covered. I was intending to start the same kind of thread on Mary Lincoln, and will- but kept bumping into Varina, became distracted, and gave up. Someone is telling me to please begin with the First Lady of the South!

Her early portrait is eye-catching. You have to admit, it had to be a love match because this is a young lady who could have walked off with any man in the country just be dropping a lace-edged handerchief.




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donna

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A woman I have always admired. She had her share of tragedies as Mary Todd Lincoln but seemed to be able to handle the situations with grace and dignity.

I do believe she was so in love with her husband, even though there were many trying times.

On Feb. 26, 1846, Varina Anne Banks Howell then eighteen years of age, and Jefferson Davis, then thirty-six years of age, were married at the home of her family, "The Briars", near Natchez, Mississippi. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. David Page, the pastor of the Episcopal Church of Natchez.
 
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In the picture of her sitting and Jeff Davis standing next to her, does anyone know what is that statuette on the table is?
Looks like piece of toast with an egg sunny side up. Which other item would you put in front of you when being photographed together with your wife?

Edit: oh sorry, you meant the other photo... interestingly on that photo they look the same age although she was 18 years younger than her husband.

But being earnest, JPK, wonderful photos and I will contribute later when I will have looked into my book about the marriages of the military commanders.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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I've been reading. There's a terribly unflattering portrayal of the couple and Varina especially in a book- which I disbelieve from beginning to end, bottom line. It portrays her as one of those modern era parents, screaming and hysterical, which you can easily see these females were not raised to be. Excess of emotion, no. Yes, Mary Lincoln did it, and paid for it for the rest of her life plus everyone knew of it. I'm all for filling in the gaps, with historical novels, when you can't find source material, but there's a massive responsibility to draw these people accurately. I can find not one source which shows Varina to have been erratic, selfish or a shrew. Far otherwise with her social set, they considered such behaviour as gauche, plus had no need to be frazzled and harrased as parents ( which this book implied she was ), because servant helped with the children.

I'll keep looking, when there's time. Like I said, would far rather have good information I have to wait to find than haul off and use something I'm unsure on. Wiki is ' ok ', of course have no idea what is accurate there either.
 
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I've been reading. There's a terribly unflattering portrayal of the couple and Varina especially in a book- which I disbelieve from beginning to end, bottom line. It portrays her as one of those modern era parents, screaming and hysterical, which you can easily see these females were not raised to be. Excess of emotion, no. Yes, Mary Lincoln did it, and paid for it for the rest of her life plus everyone knew of it. I'm all for filling in the gaps, with historical novels, when you can't find source material, but there's a massive responsibility to draw these people accurately. I can find not one source which shows Varina to have been erratic, selfish or a shrew. Far otherwise with her social set, they considered such behaviour as gauche, plus had no need to be frazzled and harrased as parents ( which this book implied she was ), because servant helped with the children.
Agreed! Varina Davis must have been an amazing woman. I have just double checked in my book what I remembered only vaguely this morning: Jefferson Davis was frequently ill during his presidency, the book says 50 out of his first 200 days and continuing. In these times of illness he was often confined to his bed and "speechless", whatever that means - probably some psychosomatic kind of illness as he suffered from several nervous symptoms. Anyway, somebody had to "keep the machine running" and according to Carol Bleser, the author, that was Judah P. Benjamin, Davis's attorney general and secretary of war as well as secretary of state - and Varina! She was so involved that one day she wrote: "If I could take one wing [of the army] and Lee the other I think we could between us wrest a victory from those people" !
Varina was able to mimick the handwriting of her husband so well that even Jeff Davis could not distinguish between their writings. Shortly before her death, Varina wrote: "I wrote at his dictation all his letters, signed all his papers etc, and no one knew the difference as I had practiced his calligraphy so even he did not recognize the difference between the two." Carol Bleser leaves it to the reader to decide whether all letters were originally dictated by Davis or maybe at least some came from Varinas own mind.

For those of you who are interested, I can offer to scan the Jeff-and Varina-Davis chapter from the book "Intimate strategies of the Civil War". It has 31 pages plus 8 pages bibliographic references and I will have to upload it somewhere and send you invitations for download, because the file will be too large to send by email. If you want me to provide you with it, please don't hesitate to contact me via "discussions" .
Edit: not discussions, what I meant was 'conversation'.
 
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7th Mississippi Infantry

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Very nice, thank you! I wonder where the house might have been? I suppose somewhere to the right? And how many people it needed to tend such a neatly planned garden. Our own is probably the size of the Asparagus bed but we have to fight to prevent it from becoming a wilderness :smile:
The House is directly below the diagram of the garden, facing the Gulf of Mexico. The brook at the top of the illustration
is actually a considerable distance away from the house. Mid way through the backyard so to speak.
 
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NFB22

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Varina's younger brother, Becket Kempe Howell (1840-1882), served with the Confederate States Marine Corps during the war. He served as the detachment commander for Marines on the CSS Sumter and was the only Marine aboard the Alabama when she was sunk by the USS Kearsarge. He was an overseer at Brierfield for a short time before his death.

She also had a nephew, through her marriage to Jefferson Davis, that served in the CSMC as well as a 1Lt.
 
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7th Mississippi Infantry

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The Briars . . . Varina’s original home, has one of the most spectacular views of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Memphis.


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http://www.thebriarsbb.com

I lived in Natchez during the 1990's and early 2000's.
During that time, The Briars was the one of the premier B & B's in the area.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Ha! Thanks for bumping this! She came up on another thread yesterday! Since this thread, been able to see Varina more clearly. No expert or claim to be, just feel Varina suffered through time from the same syndromes Mary Lincoln has where legend overtook fact in places.

Her husband's first marriage, for instance, overshadowing hers to the point here he never really got over his first wife? Silly. Varina was smart, capable and of course beautiful, could have picked anyone to marry- she picked this husband. You do not see her knowingly marrying a man who could not give her 100% of himself. I don't know. This is from reading alone but it looks to me like Southern women were pretty tough minded when it came to making their own way? Legally, no, but just haven't seen the fainting belle or the female who depended on the man to guide her through life. Funny. Anyway, that myth on Jefferson's heart being buried with his first wife seems to me a little crazy. Both sound pretty smitten, read any account you like.

All females with an edge to them have been described through history as cold, or worse, as witchy. Unless she, Varina or anyone sets out to charm and captivate others they're doomed. How many men are judged by this set of standards? It's very nice, meeting women possessed of those attributes, sure. I've bumped into several accounts where this poor woman has been described as ' cold ', in later years. Good grief. What does that even mean? Her husband could own that, Halleck, Stanton, a dozen other men yet a female has the word spelled out. Have a ' thing ' about women picking at each other, frequently happens even with those who lived in 150 years ago. Seems a little crazy, too.
 
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