Friday, February 7, 2020

Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library

By Michelle Shocklee

A few weeks ago, hubby and I drove down to Biloxi, Mississippi for a long weekend with our two grown sons, who drove in from Texas. We weren't able to see them for Christmas, so I was truly looking forward to some quality time with my kiddos. Before we left town, however, people kept asking, "Are you going to Biloxi to gamble at the casinos?" What?! Quite honestly, we didn't know there were casinos down there, nor did we have any interest in losing our hard-earned money. We simply wanted a beach getaway weekend with our boys. It was wonderful!

But casinos weren't the only unexpected site awaiting us. As history geeks, we enjoy visiting old houses, museums, and such, so you can imagine our 'geek radar' going off as we drove past an old white house, gleaming in the Mississippi sunshine. I read the sign out front --- Beauvoir --- and quickly Googled it. Was I ever shocked to discover who had once lived there!


Now, before I get into the history of Beauvoir, I have to clarify something. My great-grandfather fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. I'm immensely proud of that fact. As an author of historical fiction that deals with the evils of slavery, you can be assured this post is not meant to honor anyone associated with the Confederacy. It's simply to share about an historic and interesting place we visited while on vacation.
Hubby and eldest son at Beauvoir

Beauvoir, which means "beautiful view," was built in the mid-1800s by James Brown, a prosperous planter from Madison County, Mississippi, who wanted a summer home for his family. Because of its location on the beach facing the Gulf of Mexico, the house was built as a raised cottage, meaning its foundation is placed on massive pillars, not flat on the ground, allowing flood waters to flow through the ground level. With wide porches all around, high ceilings, and big windows, Beauvoir was designed to welcome cooling breezes from the gulf in the days before air-conditioning. With only eight rooms, Beauvoir has a simple floor plan, with some of the bedrooms being accessed from porches instead of hallways. In addition to the main house, Brown constructed two smaller cottages in what is now the front yard and some service buildings in the back, such as a fine brick kitchen. The Brown family owned Beauvoir for about twenty-five years.

Sarah Ellis Dorsey
In 1873, Sarah Ellis Dorsey, a famous and wealthy author from Natchez, Mississippi, bought the house and christened it Beauvoir. After her husband's death in 1875, the widow invited former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was ill and nearly bankrupt, to visit the plantation. She offered him a cottage called the Pavilion near the main house, where he could live and work on his autobiography, "Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government." He ended up living at Beauvoir the rest of his life. In 1878, Sarah, ill with cancer, remade her will, bequeathing her entire estate, including Beauvoir, to Jefferson Davis, making his youngest daughter, Varina Anne Davis, known as "Winnie," the heir after her father died. Sarah died in July 1879. Some records indicate Jefferson Davis offered to buy Beauvoir for $5,500, making at least one payment before Sarah passed.

Jefferson Davis' political and military life prior to the Civil War was varied. He was a graduate of West Point, a hero in the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican-American War, and a senator from Mississippi. When Davis served in Washington, he helped get the Smithsonian Institution up and running after the founder, James Smithson, died. In his private life, he was a married father of several children. In 1860, he owned 113 slaves who worked at his plantation, Brierfield. In the months before the Civil War, Davis resigned from the Senate and was selected as president of the Confederacy. When the war ended, he was charged with treason and, although he was never tried or convicted, he lost the right to run for public office.

Following the death of Jefferson Davis, the home passed to his daughter, Winnie. Winnie, however, wasn't interested in caring for a large house in Mississippi, and instead moved to New York. When Winnie passed away at the age of 34, Davis' widow, Varina Howell Davis, inherited. In her will, she expressed her wish that Beauvoir be turned into a retirement home for Confederate soldiers. Her wishes were granted, and hundreds of veterans and some Confederate widows moved in, living in barracks constructed for them. A hospital, dining room, and chapel were also added. In 1953, the home became a museum.

In 1998, the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library opened. Inside is an auditorium showing a film about Davis, a large museum that highlights his long and eventful life, and a library for research. Some of his own books are available for viewing.

Jefferson Davis Presidential Library and Museum

All in all, our visit to Beauvoir was interesting. We may not agree with the choices Jefferson Davis made before, during, or after the Civil War, but he will always be a historical figure in American history. 

Your turn: Have you ever visited Beauvoir? What are you thoughts on it?


Michelle Shocklee is the award-winning author of The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill, historical sagas set on a Texas cotton plantation before and after the Civil War. Her time-slip novel set in Nashville will release in September 2020 from Tyndale House Publishers. Michelle and her husband of 32 years make their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at www.MichelleShocklee.com.





THE WIDOW OF ROSE HILL

Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When
Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B078CN65FH/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0





9 comments:

  1. Very interesting! I've not had a chance to visit Beauvior, so thanks for sharing about it.

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  2. Informative post, Michelle. Don't feel it's necessary to justify writing about Jefferson Davis or his home. As you said, he is a significant historical figure of this nation. History is history whether it's good, bad or indifferent. All our country's history should be told and examined in truth...period Acknowledging or writing about a place or person does not mean you support their views or the function. It was a good post and the Beauvior is a beautiful looking place.

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    1. Thank you, Marlene. You're right about history being history. Can't change it, but can definitely learn from it!

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  3. I’ve been to Biloxi a couple of times, but haven’t had a chance to go to Beauvoir

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  5. Thanks for posting! I love the travels I take with all of you.

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