Was Varina Howell Davis, Wife of Jefferson Davis Créole?

Dedej

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#1
36bb6-varina_howell_davis_jefferson_davis.jpg

I am not sure if this has been discussed. I did a search - but didn't find anything that covered this topic.

I came across the picture the other day of Varina Howell Davis -- and the first person I thought of was my Great Grandmother. In each picture I found online of Mrs. Davis it was very clear to me she was Creole (Quadroon) and passing or "Mulatto." She was born in Natchez, Mississippi - which many Creoles are from and still live today.

I have always been fascinated how many Creoles of color - the women (and men) during that time - could actually pass as white. And not be found out. Varina was able to keep her background secret and be with one of the most powerful men of the Confederate party.

I wonder if other Creoles/Mulattos knew about Varina -- as one glance is enough to tell. I wonder if Jefferson Davis would have found out - would he stayed and loved her anyway? I'm just guessing that one drop = NO for him. But, I would hope not.

I am not the only person who noticed this. I found a few links and message board post inquiring about the same thing.

What do you think?

87bb35087c837d457c2ff3ec2a4c5925.jpg

Cane River Creoles
While the sophisticated Creole society of New Orleans has historically received much attention, the Cane River area developed its own strong Creole culture. The Cane River Creole community in the northern part of the state, along the Red River and Cane River, is made up of multi-racial descendants of French, Spanish, Africans, Native Americans, similar mixed Creole migrants from New Orleans, and various other ethnic groups who inhabited this region in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The community is located in and around Isle Brevelle in lower Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. There are many Creole communities within Natchitoches Parish, including Natchitoches, Cloutierville, Derry, Gorum, and Natchez. Many of their historic plantations still exist.[38] Some have been designated as National Historic Landmarks, and are noted within the Cane River National Heritage Area, as well as the Cane River Creole National Historical Park. Some plantations are sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail..


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From Saratogian News:

Former Wilton resident Jerrie Hinchman teamed up with Kent Boklan, a university professor and former government code breaker, to transcribe and decode the diary, written in 1863-64 by Confederate Army Lt. James Malbone, an officer in Company B, 6th Virginia Infantry.

In his diary, Malbone recorded information about soldiers in his unit, items he bought and sold, his African-American slaves, the faithlessness of other officers’ wives, Confederate deserters, women and military movements.

Malbone used a code of letters and symbols to keep some diary information private. This includes his own personal speculation about the race of Davis’ wife, Varina, whom he described as “dark complected” with “very very brown skin, dark eyes” and “high cheek bones (and) wide mouth.”

This was undoubtedly a reference to African-American features and possible ancestry. In the slave-owning Confederacy, these musings would have been explosive statements, said Boklan, a Queens College associate professor and National Security Agency-trained cryptographer.


View the diary here: http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/Malbone.htm

varina_davis_2.jpg

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From Ohio State University:

"Varina Howell Davis was born at her family plantation, the Briers, near Natchez, Mississippi in 1826. As a plantation owner’s daughter, Davis received her education from a private tutor and later attended finishing school. She was seventeen when she met Jefferson Davis while visiting the Hurricane, the plantation of his older brother, Joseph Emory Davis. “Uncle Joe” was an old family friend, but it was the first time she met any of his extended family. Davis was taken with her beauty and intelligence, and by the time her visit ended two months later she and Davis were unofficially engaged. Margaret Howell, her mother, objected to the engagement. She was not convinced that Davis, widowed and eighteen years older than her daughter, was a good match for Varina. She thought he was too brooding, and feared that Varina would be second fiddle to his former wife. Eventually, however, she gave in and they were married on February 26, 1845."
 
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#3

I am not sure if this has been discussed. I did a search - but didn't find anything that covered this topic.

I came across the picture the other day of Varina Howell Davis -- and the first person I thought of was my Great Grandmother. In each picture I found online of Mrs. Davis it was very clear to me she was Creole (Quadroon) and passing or "Mulatto." She was born in Natchez, Mississippi - which many Creoles are from and still live today.

I have always been fascinated how many Creoles of color - the women (and men) during that time - could actually pass as white. And not be found out. Varina was able to keep her background secret and be with one of the most powerful men of the Confederate party.

I wonder if other Creoles/Mulattos knew about Varina -- as one glance is enough to tell. I wonder if Jefferson Davis would have found out - would he stayed and loved her anyway? I'm just guessing that one drop = NO for him. But, I would hope not.

I am not the only person who though this - I found a few links and message board post inquiring about the same thing.

What do you think?







From Saratogian News:

Former Wilton resident Jerrie Hinchman teamed up with Kent Boklan, a university professor and former government code breaker, to transcribe and decode the diary, written in 1863-64 by Confederate Army Lt. James Malbone, an officer in Company B, 6th Virginia Infantry.

In his diary, Malbone recorded information about soldiers in his unit, items he bought and sold, his African-American slaves, the faithlessness of other officers’ wives, Confederate deserters, women and military movements.

Malbone used a code of letters and symbols to keep some diary information private. This includes his own personal speculation about the race of Davis’ wife, Varina, whom he described as “dark complected” with “very very brown skin, dark eyes” and “high cheek bones (and) wide mouth.”

This was undoubtedly a reference to African-American features and possible ancestry. In the slave-owning Confederacy, these musings would have been explosive statements, said Boklan, a Queens College associate professor and National Security Agency-trained cryptographer.


View the diary here: http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/Malbone.htm


From Ohio State University:

"Varina Howell Davis was born at her family plantation, the Briers, near Natchez, Mississippi in 1826. As a plantation owner’s daughter, Davis received her education from a private tutor and later attended finishing school. She was seventeen when she met Jefferson Davis while visiting the Hurricane, the plantation of his older brother, Joseph Emory Davis. “Uncle Joe” was an old family friend, but it was the first time she met any of his extended family. Davis was taken with her beauty and intelligence, and by the time her visit ended two months later she and Davis were unofficially engaged. Margaret Howell, her mother, objected to the engagement. She was not convinced that Davis, widowed and eighteen years older than her daughter, was a good match for Varina. She thought he was too brooding, and feared that Varina would be second fiddle to his former wife. Eventually, however, she gave in and they were married on February 26, 1845."
Only one way to know for sure and that is to try to find her descendants. Varina had if memory serves me right and @diane can confirm one daughter who produced had at least one grand daughter. There might of been another daughter as all of her sons died before giving birth. Ideally we could find a GGGgrand child and give a DNA test. Failing that a GGG nephew or niece. Of course said descendents have to agree to be tested. Actually from the above picture Varina had at least 3 grandchildren unknown if they had children of their own.
I wouldn't be surprised if she had some black in her. After all President Obama' s mother was white and supposedly a DNA test showed she was related to John Punch one of the first male slaves.
Leftyhunter
 
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#4
I have never seen anything in print that identifies Varina as Creole, but she certainly looks the part. Interestingly enough she was best of friends with Judah Benjamin. Judah served in two positions in the Davis cabinet before being named Secretary of State. Although he wasn't from Natchez, he migrated there and bought a plantation just outside of town and opened up a legal practice. He married Natalie St. Martin, a known Creole, and this may well have contributed to the close bond he developed with Varina. Varina Davis is a fascinating woman. I look forward to hearing from others on this topic.

Malbone used a code of letters and symbols to keep some diary information private. This includes his own personal speculation about the race of Davis’ wife, Varina, whom he described as “dark complected” with “very very brown skin, dark eyes” and “high cheek bones (and) wide mouth.”
When Varina was living in Richmond her critics (and they were numerous) described her as looking like a mulatto. It appears she and her family always attributed her olive complexion to her Welsh ancestry.
 
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#6
Only one way to know for sure and that is to try to find her descendants. Varina had if memory serves me right and @diane can confirm one daughter who produced had at least one grand daughter. There might of been another daughter as all of her sons died before giving birth. Ideally we could find a GGGgrand child and give a DNA test. Failing that a GGG nephew or niece. Of course said descendents have to agree to be tested. Actually from the above picture Varina had at least 3 grandchildren unknown if they had children of their own.
Margaret Howell Davis, born February 25, 1855, was the only Davis child to marry and raise a family. She died at the age of 54.
 
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#7
don't tell me you expected otherwise :bat:
You ought to look at mid 19th century America's infant mortality rates. They were very high and the Davis family's experience with accidents as well as disease is indicative of this. There was no amount of money, power or influence that could save a child in trouble, North or South.
 
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#8
... as all of her sons died before giving birth.
You ought to look at mid 19th century America's infant mortality rates. They were very high and the Davis family's experience with accidents as well as disease is indicative of this. There was no amount of money, power or influence that could save a child in trouble, North or South.
???

frankly, i expect every man to die before giving birth
 

diane

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#9
I've thought that, too. A lot of Southern aristocracy had black ancestors and Indian ones as well. Confederate general Randall Lee Gibson comes to mind, for example. He didn't show it at all but the rumor started up challenging his status as white - he did a little fast genealogy and stopped when he found his great-grandfather was a plantation owner. That was proof enough for him - blacks couldn't own property. They could before the Revolution and for a while after - great-grandpa was Gideon Gibson, a free man of color. Very definitely black! Curiously, this heritage might have accidentally made him the first African American to graduate from Yale...

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Allie

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#11
The question was raised during her lifetime, mainly in the form of nasty speculation, and I vaguely recall something in Mary Chesnut's diary talking about someone who said she looked mulatto. I'll have to look and see if I can find the reference.

At this genetic distance, there's no guarantee that her descendants would show measurable amounts of African blood, if she were one quarter or one eighth African.

Louisiana is sure its own place as far as racial composition. I have DNA cousin matches to several African Americans - some seem to have been descended from some of my slave owning ancestors, including one whose known ancestor appears in my ancestor's will, some have married into the family postbellum, and then there are a handful from Louisiana, who are "white" according to the census records all the way back to 1850, but when you look at the DNA it's got quite a large percentage of African. It was surprising the first time I encountered it - I couldn't figure out if I was looking at records of the correct family, or if there was a same named black family living in the same location - but after seeing white census records for people with African DNA in Louisiana several times, now I expect it.
 

Dedej

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#12
I can't believe I have never heard anyone mention this before. I have never seen anything in print that identifies Varina as Creole, but she certainly looks the part. Interestingly enough she was best of friends with Judah Benjamin. Judah served in two positions in the Davis cabinet before being named Secretary of State. Although he wasn't from Natchez, he migrated there and bought a plantation just outside of town and opened up a legal practice. He married Natalie St. Martin, a known Creole, and this may well have contributed to the close bond he developed with Varina. Varina Davis is a fascinating woman. I look forward to hearing from others on this topic.
I know! LOL :smile:

I was totally not expecting to see what I saw. I am going to do some searching. It's so interesting.

I showed my mom - who is Creole/AA via text - and she immediately asked me if she was Creole.

Another picture of Varina.

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and one of her daughters Winnie:
6662416_1074869181.jpg
 
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I know! LOL :smile:

I was totally not expecting to see what I saw. I am going to do some searching. It's so interesting.

I showed my mom - who Creole/AA via text - and she immediately asked me if she was Creole.

Another picture of Varina.

View attachment 136091

and one of her daughters Winnie:
More likely then not there is a bit of African DNA although back in the day they would of used different terminology . Winnie yeah you might have a point. Actually @Allie even though it was a long long time ago DNA tests confirmed that Thomas Jefferson was having children with Sally Hemmings. My sons Calif High School text book which I quoted a few years back was used as a source when this issue came up.
Leftyhunter
 

Bee

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#17
That's a bit cruel . Davis isn't my favorite historical figure but maybe his kids were much nicer. Maybe if I was raised in the Davis family I might of thought owning slaves was super cool.
leftyhunter
He was not intending to be vicious. He was poking a little humour at your remark that they died before "giving birth" -- implying that they as males could "give birth".
 

diane

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#18
I'll have to look this up but there was a rather contentious discussion, at the turn of the 20th century, in South Carolina about the definition of 'Negro', about the 'one drop' rule. One of the objections was that many people who considered themselves of a certain class and who were descended from Confederates would suddenly not be white but Negro!

Incidentally, Gideon Gibson is a right interesting fellow. He's worth a look!
 



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