Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

By Felicity Allen | Go to book overview
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Victory in Defeat

The long Congressional session finally ended September 30, 1850, and the Davises set out for Mississippi. Varina's heart must have been heavy, not only with grief, but with knowing her parents were no longer at the Briars. She had told Jeff, “I have been thinking constantly of Pa.” “Kiss dear Father for me, she had written Ma, speaking of a “love I feel too deeply to write.” She was to describe a man “so like my dear Father in his faith in men and his habitually soft and kind manner.” 1 William Burr Howell, tall and blonde, fond of shooting and hunting, a favorite with everyone, could somehow never manage success. Sprague and Howell, the “large speculative concern” dealing in merchandizing and investments, went out of business when Sprague died in 1838. After failing to get the postmastership in Natchez, despite the efforts of Davis and others, Howell became a federal timber agent. Now he and Ma and five children (son Joe was off on a trading expedition to Oregon) had gone to Tunisberg, a suburb of New Orleans, where they started a dairy farm “optimistically called 'Betterdays.'” 2

There was more woe waiting for the Davises at Brierfield. James Pemberton had died of pneumonia and was buried in the little cemetery southeast of the house. In the absence of this firm hand over the property, they met “the usual fate of absentees, says Varina. The housekeeper “told me, with friendly sympathy, 'Missis, 'taint't no use to talk; what isn't broke is crack, and what isn't crack is broke.'” Varina set about ordering the plantation as best she could while Jeff went off to stump for the state rights cause. 3

They had stopped a week in Jackson, to prepare for his speaking tour. His distaste for politics expressed to Ma gave way to his sense of duty to the Democratic Party. There was considerable faction in it over the compromise measures, and Davis wanted his electors, the legislature, 184


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