Varina Davis (Howell), First Lady, CSA

Is your surname Davis?

Research the Davis family

Varina Davis (Howell), First Lady, CSA's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


Varina Anne Banks Davis (Howell), First Lady, CSA

Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, United States
Death: October 16, 1906 (80)
Manhattan, New York, New York County, New York, United States (pneumonia)
Place of Burial: Richmond, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Burr Howell and Margaret Louisa Howell
Wife of Jefferson Davis, President, CSA
Mother of Samuel Emory Davis; Margaret Howell Hayes; Jim Limber; Jefferson Davis, Jr.; Joseph Evan Davis and 2 others
Sister of Eliza Eanes; Joseph Davis Howell; George Winchester Howell; Capt. Beckett Kempe Howell; Capt. Jefferson Davis Howell and 3 others

Occupation: author
Managed by: David Plauché Cain
Last Updated:

About Varina Davis (Howell), First Lady, CSA

From Wikipedia 2007-09-28

Varina Howell Davis (May 7, 1826 – October 16, 1905) was an American author best known as the second wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the American Civil War.

She was born to William B. Howell and Margaret Kempe. In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census for Biloxi, Mississippi, Varina Howell's place of birth was listed as Louisiana; her father's place of birth was listed as New Jersey, and her mother's as Virginia. Her grandfather, Richard Howell, was Governor of New Jersey for numerous terms.

Varina attended Madame Greenland's school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1844, when she was 17 years old, Varina met 36-year-old Jefferson Davis. In 1845, the two married at the Briars, her parents' home in Natchez. Jefferson Davis served in both houses of the U.S. Congress as a Representative and a Senator and was the United States Secretary of War in the cabinet of President Franklin Pierce.

She became the First Lady of the Confederate States of America, when Jefferson Davis became the President of the Confederate States. In May 1861, they moved to Richmond, Virginia, and lived in the White House of the Confederacy, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

After the war, her husband was imprisoned at Fort Monroe in Phoebus, Virginia for two years. Although eventually released on bail, and never tried, Jefferson Davis lost his home in Mississippi and his U.S. citizenship as well (his U.S. citizenship was posthumously restored in the 20th century). In the early 1870s, with the help and aide of a friend, Sarah Doherty, Jefferson and Varina purchased Beauvoir, the beachfront Mississippi estate to which they had retired.

Following her husband's death in 1889, Varina published Jefferson Davis, A Memoir (ISBN 1-877853-06-2) in 1890. She then moved to New York City in 1891 to pursue a literary career, and gave Beauvoir to the state of Mississippi as a Confederate veterans' home.

Varina Howell Davis died in New York City on October 16, 1905, aged 79, survived by only one of her six children.

The former "First Lady of the Confederacy" is interred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia adjacent to the tomb of her famous husband.

There is a portrait of Mrs Davis (known as the 'Widow of the Confederacy') by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862-1947) painted in 1895 at the museum at Beauvoir, and a profile portrait by Müller-Ury of her daughter Winnie Davis, painted in 1897-8, which the artist donated in 1918 to the Confederate Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

On August 23, 2005, Beauvoir, which housed the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library, was nearly destroyed when it took the full brunt of wind and water damage from Hurricane Katrina. As recently as the fall of 2006, the house remained largely in disrepair.

Confederate States First Lady. The first marriage of Jefferson Davis to Sarah Taylor, daughter of General and future US president Zachary Taylor was of short duration as she passed away three months later from malaria. Ten years later while a planter at his plantation called "Brierfield" in Mississippi, he would marry Varina Howell. The marriage would endure and be lasting resulting in a family of six. She was born into privilege at the family plantation called the "Briers" located near Natchez, Mississippi to William B. and Margaret Lousia Howell. Her education was mainly social consistent with that accorded to prominent family daughters in the old South. First home tutored, Varina then attended Madame Greenland's finishing school in Philadelphia. She was but seventeen when she met Jefferson Davis, eighteen years her senior, while visiting the plantation of his brother adjacent to his own. Two months later they were engaged and after objections from her family were overcome, Varina married at eighteen. The couple planned on a life at "Brierfield," however, Jeff Davis was nominated for a seat in the US House of Representatives and Varina became a politicians wife. Her husband rose in political stature becoming a Senator. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Davis resigned his seat and the couple returned to "Brierfield" only to be elected President of the Confederate States of America. They moved first to Montgomery, Alabama the temporary capital and then to Richmond, Virginia, the permanent capital. Initially, her days as First Lady were pleasant. However, as the war continued, living condition in the south deteriorated and goods became scare. She became the vocal point of criticism mirroring the despair created by the mounting death toll and the faltering war effort. Varina did not waver in her duties as first lady and kept helping the troops. She knitted countless articles of clothing for soldiers, donated rugs for blankets and made shoes of the scraps. She spent hours visiting soldiers in the hospitals. A son was killed in 1864 at the executive mansion after playing on a banister and then falling to his death to the brick pavement below. With peace signed at Appomattox, Jefferson Davis rather then surrendering to Union forces, chose to flee. Varina was with him when arrested and sent to confinement at Fortress Monroe and locked in a artillery compartment located on a rampart, with her and the children placed in Savannah under house arrest. The children and her mother were constantly harassed and fearing for their safety, arranged passage for them to Canada. Now all her efforts were directed to getting her husband released. After two years, influential friends arranged and paid bail allowing for Davis to be released. Fearing constitutional problems, the charges were simply allowed to disappear. Although free, the couple were now impoverish relegated to living in Mississippi at the Beauvoir estate in a small cottage at the behest of the owner. Davis wrote his two-volume memoir, "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government" which lifted him from poverty. Their fortunes would improve further as the owner of the property willed the estate to them upon her death. This would be their home until the death of the Confederate president. Mrs Davis would relocate to New York where her life became more enjoyable. She would never remarry. Her days were filled with trips to the opera, theaters and concerts. All would end after contracting pneumonia. With the last surviving member of the Davis family, a daughter at her bedside, she passed away. Years before, she had made arrangements for moving her husbands body from New Orleans to Richmond. The couple would now be reunited in death. Her remains were conveyed to Richmond and after a military funeral was interred near her husband. The legacy of Varina Davis is obscure...Today she is virtually unknown to Americans. Even her burial place is some distance away from the tomb of her husband. In contrast, the South remembers her husband Jefferson Davis with an over abundance of memorials, statues, parks, schools, streets, avenues and highways located all across Dixie. After the death of President Davis, Varina wrote "Jefferson Davis, A Memoir" published in 1890 while still living at "Beauvoir," then promptly relocated to New York City while giving the property to the state of Mississippi which was used as a Confederate veterans home with the establishment of a large cemetery as the men passed away. Eventually "Beauvoir" was preserved, restored and became the Presidential Library of Jefferson Davis housing his papers and memorabilia. Even the small community of Varina, Virgina long thought named in her honor in reality originated years earlier from the Varina Farms tobacco plantation. "Brierfield" the Jeff Davis plantation was located about twenty miles down the Mississippi River from Vicksburg, Warren County was confiscated after the civil war and then destroyed by fire in 1931. The land currently serves as a private hunting reserve. The "Briers" the plantation house where Varina Howell was born then married to Jefferson Davis is located a mile from Natchez. During the shelling of city by Union forces the structure was damaged but today it is a beautiful restore structure with heritage status. In 1973, the book "First Lady of the South: The Life of Mrs Jefferson Davis" by Ross Ishbel was published by the Greenwood Publishing Group. (bio by: [fg.cgi?page=mr&MRid=46585747" target="_blank Donald Greyfield)] Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: Mar 28, 2001

Find A Grave Memorial# 20982

view all 11

Varina Davis (Howell), First Lady, CSA's Timeline

May 7, 1826
Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, United States
July 30, 1852
Age 26
Warren County, Mississippi, United States
February 25, 1855
Age 28
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Age 29
January 16, 1857
Age 30
Briarfield Plantation, Warren, Mississippi, United States
April 18, 1859
Age 32
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
December 6, 1861
Age 35
Richmond, Virginia, United States
June 27, 1864
Age 38
Richmond, Virginia, United States
October 16, 1906
Age 80
New York, New York County, New York, United States