Processed by: staff; machine-readable finding aid created by:Bonnie Cox
Jefferson Davis Papers
1824-1906 (bulk 1850-1900)
Transylvania University Special CollectionsLexington, Kentucky 40508 USA
Open to researchers.
[Identification of item], Jefferson Davis Papers, 1824-1906 (bulk 1850-1900, MSC 11,Special Collections, Transylvania University, Lexington.
ca. .3 cubic ft.
Jefferson Davis, a native of what is now Todd County, Kentucky, spent most of his childhood in Mississippi. He attended Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky from 1821 to 1824 when he was appointed to West Point. He graduated from West Point in 1828, and served in the United States Army in Wisconsin and Illinois for seven years. In 1835 he resigned his commission and spent the next ten years farming on his plantation in Mississippi. In 1845 he married Varina Howell of Natchez and was also elected to the United States Congress. At the outbreak of the Mexican War, Davis returned to the United States Army where he served with some distinction at the Battle of Buena Vista. He then returned to Washington as a senator (1847, 1857-1861) and served as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). Throughout the 1850s, Davis served as a spokesman for the southern cause, and a defender of slavery. When the Confederacy was organized, Davis was elected its president. Following the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War, Davis was imprisoned for two years at Fort Monroe, Virginia and charged with various crimes including the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was ultimately released without trial. Davis spent a good portion of the next ten years in foreign travel and thereafter resided in Mississippi and Louisiana. He returned to Kentucky on two occasions during this period (1875, 1886). He died in New Orleans in 1889 and is buried in Richmond, Virginia.
This collection is comprised of correspondence and papers of Jefferson Davis, his wife, Varina Howell Davis, and other members of his family. Included are approximately four hundred letters received by Jefferson Davis which are comprised chiefly of letters written during the 1850s. Most relate to his early political career and service in Washington as a senator and Secretary of War. Included are numerous requests for political appointments or favors; letters relating to specific issues such as the administration of West Point, and construction of a transcontinental railroad; and letters asking Davis to defend positions on secession, slavery, and states rights. Also present are letters to Davis from his brother, Joseph E. Davis, a prominent Mississippi plantation owner. The bulk of these were written between 1862 and 1865, and concern the condition of both men's plantations during the war and the health and status of their slaves. Of the letters written by Davis, most are to his wife and other family members. These include letters written during his imprisonment at Fort Monroe following the war which detail his health, treatment by the press, the state of the South's economy, conditions of freed blacks there, and various personal matters. Other family correspondence includes letters to and from Davis's daughters, Varina Anne Davis and Margaret Davis Hayes; and son-in-law, J. Addison Hayes, Jr. Contents list. Variant title: Jefferson Davis papers. Portions abstracted in: Davis, Jefferson. JEFFERSON DAVIS: PRIVATE LETTERS 1823-1889. Selected and edited by Hudson Strode. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966. Portions transcribed in: Davis, Jefferson. THE PAPERS OF JEFFERSON DAVIS. Edited by Haskell M. Monroe, Jr. and James T. McIntosh. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971- .
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