What happened to Jefferson Davis wife?

What happened to Jefferson Davis wife?

Jefferson Davis’s first wife died 3 months after their marriage. Davis of course re-married 8 years later to Varina Anne Banks Howell. She was a very interesting woman, with her own ideas about a lot of things, much of which her husband did not agree with.

She was born in Natchez, Mississippi. Her father came from a distinguished family in New Jersey; his father had been Governor of that state. He came south when cotton plantations were expanding and married into a wealthy planter family in Virginia. His father-in-law gave him 2000 acres and 60 slaves. He never really made a success of it and it was ultimately foreclosed. Varina was born with olive colored skin perhaps related to her Welsh background. She was sent to Philadelphia for school where she came to know her grandparents well.

She was later tutored in Natchez by a judge, and was thought to be highly intelligent, receiving a substantial education. This led to problems with her southern peers, for whom education was not an expectation. At age 17 she received an invitation to the Hurricane Plantation for Christmas, where she met the 35 year old widower Mr. Davis. This age discrepancy was remarkable: her mother was just 37. There were also significant family differences, including that the Howells were Whigs.

On arrival in DC, with her husband as US Senator, she made a number of  “unorthodox” statements. She said that “slaves were human beings with their frailties” and that “everyone was a ‘half breed’ of one kind or another.”

Moreover, this is while her husband was comparing slaves to animals!

She called herself a “half-breed” because of her mixed north-south roots. Her complexion frequently gave rise to rumors of a hidden black or Native American heritage

Her view about the prospect of her husband becoming president and his political skills might surprise you.

She was both pro-union and pro-slavery. She reportedly said that if her husband was the leader of seceded states, the “whole thing is bound to be a failure.” Years later she said that her husband was not suited for political office and did not have the ability to compromise.

In June 1861, she confided to her mother that the South did not have the resources to win the war, but she had to do her duty; when it was all over, she said, she would “run with the rest.”

In Richmond, her cordial remarks about her Northern friends and relatives made her unpopular, as did the rumor that she corresponded with those friends and relatives—a charge that was, in fact, true.

There were rumors that after the war, Jefferson Davis fell in love with Virginia Clay, wife of a former Confederate official. He wrote passionate letters to her for three years, and in 1871 after he was discovered on a train with an unidentified woman (possibly Clay), the story appeared in newspapers all over the United States.

After his death, she moved to New York City.

She supported herself by writing articles for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, while her daughter Winnie published several successful novels. Mother and daughter led a middle-class lifestyle, residing in apartment-hotels in Manhattan, receiving Northern relatives, going to the theater and making new friends of every social background. When conservative white southerners criticized her behavior, she explained to the press that she felt uncomfortable at Beauvoir, and because her husband had left her little property, she was forced to work for a living. She did not mention another key reason: she enjoyed living in NYC.

Two Women with Independent Views Forge a Friendship

She became very good friends with Julia Dent, Grant’s widow, which was widely reported but ignored in the South.

Julia Dent Grant famously was born into a family that owned slaves. Her father enslaved about 30 and would not free them until compelled by law. She was reportedly the owner of 4 enslaved people but it is doubted that she did, and that her father held title. However, one woman named Jule (or Julia)  remained with her throughout the war and left for St Louis, where she was married. In the White House, she encouraged the black domestic staff to buy homes in DC while it was still inexpensive.

She was a very vocal and staunch supporter of women. No jokes at women’s expense were allowed in her presence. She famously grilled Brigham Young about polygamy. She became a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage.

What happened to Jefferson Davis wife?