THIS MR. DAVIS
MISS HOWELL DISEMBARKED at Diamond Place plantation,
about twelve miles from Joseph Davis's residence,
and the next day George Winchester returned to Natchez,
leaving Varina in the care of Joseph's daughter Florida Davis McCaleb.
The house was small with modest white pillars, but the plantation,
with land as flat as a pancake, was immensely fertile; thus the name.
The fields were at rest between cotton seasons, and the landscape was
bursting with life, raw, abundant, and menacing. Only a generation
removed from the wilderness, much of the place was still forested.
Hunters scared up huge flocks of geese from the woods, the marshes
of iridescent water were constantly in flux, and alligators swam in
the ditches. The family topography was just as complex. For miles
around, the land belonged to the Davises, or, more properly, to Joseph Davis. As Varina Howell would discover, this was his domain.1
The Davis clan, like the Howells, had traveled vast distances in
their quest for the good life, but their origins are as obscure as the
Howells' are crisply delineated. About his ancestors Jefferson Davis
observed that none of them had been hanged, and he was so uninterested in genealogy that he sometimes confused his great-grandfather
Evan Davis, who emigrated from Wales to Philadelphia in the eighteenth century, with his grandfather of the same name. About his
grandfather, little is known, other than the fact he lived in Georgia,
but we know that Jefferson's father, Samuel, joined the Revolutionary