The Beauvoir-Jefferson Davis Home
Jefferson Davis’ expansive 51-acre estate at 2244 Beach Boulevard in Biloxi, Mississippi is much more than just a museum, nature trail, cemetery, monument, and gift shop. The wealth of history goes beyond the brick, mortar, and books of its antebellum pedigree. Like Davis himself, this property weathered physical and cultural storms of our country’s turbulent past and reinvigorated itself time and time again to achieve the prominent position it firmly holds today.
Beauvoir, much like its most famous owner, Jefferson Davis, represents a snapshot of the old American South. The house was constructed circa 1852 by James Brown, a wealthy planter from Madison County, Mississippi, as his vacation estate. In 1877, Davis was looking for a quiet sanctuary to write his memoirs. After renting the small Library Pavilion for $50 a month for two years, Davis decided to buy the historic house from family friend Sarah Dorsey, who had acquired the estate following the Civil War. After Davis made the first of three $5,500 payments, Mrs. Dorsey unexpectedly passed away, leaving the Beauvoir House and property to Jefferson Davis in her will. At Jefferson Davis’ death in 1889, the property was inherited by his daughter, Winnie, according to a stipulation in Sarah Dorsey’s will. After Winnie died in 1898, her mother, Varina, sold Beauvoir to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with the condition that it be maintained as a memorial to her husband and operated for the benefit of Confederate veterans and their widows. Therefore, the site served as a free Confederate Veterans home for soldiers and their widows from 1903 to 1957. Beauvoir has also operated as a distinguished monument to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Soldier since the beginning of the 20th century.
A Kentucky native, Jefferson Davis moved to Mississippi with his family about 1811. In 1818, when only 10 years old, he enrolled at Jefferson College in Adams County, Mississippi. Later attending Transylvania College in 1821 in Lexington, Kentucky, Davis eventually entrusted his studies and training to the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York at the age of 16. Davis then served under Colonel Zachary Taylor in the Black Hawk War in 1832. After falling in love with Taylor’s daughter, Sarah, Davis resigned from the US Army, decided to become a cotton planter, and married Sarah Knox Taylor. Davis and his wife were stricken by malaria in 1835, and “Knox” (as he called her) perished only three months after their nuptials. A heartbroken Jefferson Davis remained reclusive for 10 years until he married Varina Banks Howell in 1845. That same year Davis was elected to the US House of Representatives. Davis’ colorful life continued as he lead troops through The Mexican War of 1846, served 6 years as US Senator from Mississippi, 4 years as US Secretary of War, and lost a bid for governor of Mississippi in 1851. In November of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of The United States, and a month later South Carolina seceded from the Union. In January of 1861 Mississippi became the second state to secede. Although Davis believed it to be the Constitutional right of states to secede, he actually argued against secession. Despite that, he was “drafted” to lead the Confederacy, and on February 18th, 1861 Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederate States of America.
Trace Jefferson Davis’ life through his time in the Civil War, his capture and imprisonment in 1865, and every event leading up to his 1881 publishing of “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” written on the same ground you’ll visit at Beauvoir. Although never unwavering in his beliefs about the Constitutional rights of the states, less than a year before Jefferson Davis was laid to rest in 1889 he encouraged reconciliation and was quoted as saying young men should aspire to be “Good Citizens of a Reunited Country.”