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07.01.06 Davis, Jefferson, A Memoir, by Varina Howell Davis, published in 1890 by Belford Company, and reprinted several times.

Notes Concerning the Author:

Varina Howell Davis (1826-1906) was the second wife of Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.  The couple married in her parent’s home in Natchez, Mississippi in 1845.  She was 18 years old and he was 36.  He had first married Sarah Knox Taylor in 1835, but she had died of malaria shortly after the wedding and he had remained a bachelor for almost 10 years.  Sarah was the daughter of Zachary Taylor, one of the two major commanders over American forces in the War Against Mexico and afterward President of the United States.  Varina’s parents, although not wealthy, lived comfortably in Natchez.  She was well educated and engaging in political conversations, even at the young age of 19 years, when Jefferson first went to Washington to the House of Representatives.  He was later elected to the Federal Senate, taking a leadership position in that body until the secession of his State in early 1861.  Varina was often with him in Washington and associated with many Federal leaders and their wives when there.

Soon after the secession of Mississippi, husband Jefferson Davis was elected to be the Provisional President of the newly-formed Confederate States of America.  Varina was at his side during those 4 years, first in Montgomery and then in Richmond.

When the family was captured in Georgia by Federals and Jefferson was imprisoned in Fortress Monroe for 2 years, Varina was active in working for his release, and should be given considerable credit for success in that endeavour. 

In later years, she worked beside her husband as he wrote his histories of the Confederate Government.   After his death she compiled the two-volume biography of her husband, taking advantage of her wealth of personal experience with him over the years and her experience reviewing records as they both worked together on his histories.

Jefferson Davis died in 1889 at the age of 81 years.  Varina died in 1906 at the age of 80 years.  She was survived by her daughter Margaret Howell Hayes.  Although a large family was born to this couple, sadly, only one child survived them.


Normally, in the Society’s abstracts of items in its Recommended Reading List, several paragraphs are devoted to the Abstract.  But in the case of Varina Howell Davis and the Memoir of her husband, it seems that the essence of what you need to know is presented in the first section, “Notes Concerning the Author.”

The book was published in two volumes.  Volume 1, consisting of 699 pages, covers from his birth to his resignation for the Federal Senate in response to the secession of Mississippi.  Volume 2, consisting of 939 pages, completes the story of his life.

If you have read other biographies of Jefferson Davis, you might want to use Varina’s books as a reference, although they do not present an index for searching for names and events.  Or you might want to just pick up the Memoir and read away.  It is certainly a wonderful window into the life of the times, in Mississippi, in Washington, in Richmond and back again to Mississippi and the Gulf Coast beach house where the Jefferson spent the last years of his life and wrote his histories.

Availability of this Book

Jefferson Davis, a Memoir by his Wife, is available as a new reprint book or a used reprint book, but the prices look expensive.  So give it a good search.  There is no Kindle e-book, so let’s hope one gets published.  You can access a digital scan of the book.  Try Google.   This is a valuable resource for any study of Davis and the Confederate Government.