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Fine Autograph Letter Declining to Ask a Wealthy Southern Cotton Planter for a Contribution

Signed by Varina Davis

Item: 13087
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DAVIS, VARINA JEFFERSON. Wife of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States. ALS. (“V. Jefferson Davis”). 1½pp. 8vo. New York, June 19, 1892. On black-bordered mourning stationery. To Mrs. M.L. Oglesby in New Orleans.

“Yours of the 15th just was forwarded here from Beauvoir. My daughter has asked me to answer your note, as it was unpleasant to be obliged to refuse a request of yours. Mr. James S. Richardson is one of our oldest friends, and the acquaintance began when my daughter was a very small child and he just returned from college. She holds no nearer relations to him than this, and could not take the liberty of soliciting, or presenting the request of another, for a contribution of money from him for any purpose. We feel assured that no intervention on the part of any one could add to his desire to accede to a request preferred by you in your own personality. With the hope that you may meet with success in your effort and much regret that misfortunes in quick succession here prevented our offering our mites [a small coin of little value]. I am with my daughter’s kind regards…”

Born in Natchez, Mississippi, Varina Banks Howell was the granddaughter of New Jersey Governor Richard Howell; her mother came from a wealthy family of Virginia planters. Varina was educated in Philadelphia, an experience that further served to divide her loyalties between Northern and Southern family and friends. After returning to Mississippi, Varina met Jefferson Davis, a West Point graduate, owner of Brierfield Plantation, and a widower; his wife, Sarah Knox Taylor, the daughter of future president Zachary Taylor, had died three months after their wedding. Varina’s parents objected to Davis’ courtship of their daughter because of their differences in age and in politics, but they were married in 1845, when he was 37 and she 19.

Davis entered into a political career with his election to Congress and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. where Varina flourished. Davis went on to serve as President Franklin Pierce’s secretary of war from 1853 until 1857 when he was elected to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate. Davis spoke out on slavery and secession, issues that had become increasingly difficult following Lincoln’s election in November 1860. When Mississippi withdrew from the Union in January 1861, Davis resigned his seat and became the provisional (and later elected) president of the Confederate States of America. Varina attempted to fulfill the responsibilities of first lady and moved first to the Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama and, later in 1861, to the new capital of Richmond, Virginia, where the couple lived in the Presidential Mansion until 1865.

Jefferson and Varina Davis photograph

Jefferson and Varina Davis

The Davises had six children, the youngest of which, Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis (1864-1898) was born in Richmond and became known as “the Daughter of the Confederacy.” Following her education in Germany and Paris, she and her parents lived at Beauvoir House as the guest of novelist Sarah Anne Dorsey. Winnie alienated some of her Southern champions when she was briefly engaged to a New York attorney who was descended from an abolitionist, but the relationship fell apart after Jefferson Davis’ 1889 death, which also led to financial hardship for Varina and Winnie. After the failure of Varina’s 1890 book Jefferson Davis: A Memoir by His Wife, the mother and daughter were forced to move to New York City in 1892 where they lived in a residential hotel and made a living writing for magazines and newspapers, the misfortunes referred to in our letter.

Our letter likely regards wealthy Louisiana planter James S. Richardson (1849-1898), described in his obituary as “the largest individual cotton planter in the world,” of whom our letter’s recipient appears to be soliciting a donation, (Portsmouth Herald, November 17, 1898).

Folded and in fine condition. With original envelope from which the postage stamp has been excised.

Fine Autograph Letter Declining to Ask a Wealthy Southern Cotton Planter for a Contribution

Signed by Varina Davis

$750 • item #13087

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