Brierfield Plantation

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Brierfield Plantation
Brierfield Plantation.jpg
1880's engraving of the main house.
Location Davis Bend, Mississippi
Coordinates 32°09′12″N 91°07′15″W / 32.15320°N 91.12094°W / 32.15320; -91.12094Coordinates: 32°09′12″N 91°07′15″W / 32.15320°N 91.12094°W / 32.15320; -91.12094
Built 1847
Built for Jefferson Davis
Demolished 1931 (burned)
Architectural style(s) Greek Revival
Governing body Private
Brierfield Plantation is located in Mississippi
Brierfield Plantation
Location of Brierfield Plantation in Mississippi

Brierfield Plantation was a cotton plantation located in Davis Bend, Mississippi, south of Vicksburg and the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The more than 1,000 acre plantation was given to Davis by his much older brother, Joseph E. Davis (1784-1870), and had previously been a part of Joseph Davis's much larger Hurricane plantation which it adjoined on a bend of the Mississippi River twenty miles from Vicksburg. With financial assistance and slaves given by his brother, Jefferson Davis became a successful planter on the acreage following his brief first marriage to Sarah Knox Taylor (who died of malaria a few months after their wedding); after his second marriage to Varina Banks Howell in 1845, who erected a large comfortable frame house on the property that was home to himself, his wife, their children, as well as Davis's widowed sister and other relatives.

Brierfield had very profitable years as well as years of disastrous flooding, but generally provided a very comfortable living to subsidize his relatively modest earnings from public office. Davis left the plantation for large periods of time including during his term in the House of Representatives, his service in the Mexican-American War, his terms in the Senate, and his four years as Secretary of War in the Franklin Pierce Administration, but he considered Brierfield his primary residence and it was the home to which he returned when not in office and to which he returned upon his resignation from the United States Senate following the Secession of Mississippi in 1861. His return to Brierfield was very brief as he was soon notified, while tending the flower gardens of the house with his wife he would recall, that he had been chosen as president of the newly formed Confederate States of America and was summoned to Montgomery, Alabama, the Confederacy's first capitol.

Davis did not visit Brierfield during his tenure as Confederate president. The plantation, along with Hurricane, began to be pilfered by Union troops and deserters soon after the fall of New Orleans in 1862, with many of the more than 200 slaves who lived on the plantation in 1860 fleeing from the advancing armies. Much of the family's personal property was crated and shipped from the house for safekeeping, though most was left behind and looted when Union forces officially seized and occupied the property during the undefended Vicksburg campaign.

Unlike the far larger and finer mansion of Joseph Davis at the adjoining Hurricane, which was burned to the ground, the house at Brierfield was spared the torch and used as, consecutively, field headquarters, a hospital, and a supply house for Union troops during the Mississippi campaigns. A photograph of the occupied house bearing the banner "The House Jeff Built" was widely circulated in newspapers.

When Jefferson Davis and his family visited the property after his release from prison in 1867 they found the fields neglected and the house unlivable. Joseph Davis, who had never given Jefferson Davis title to the property, negotiated its sale after the war on a mortgage to members of the Montgomery family, former Davis family slaves, bequeathing the income from the mortgage, but not the real estate, to Jefferson in his will. The Montgomery family defaulted on the mortgage after Joseph Davis's death and the property reverted to his estate. The heirs to Joseph Davis's Hurricane plantation (his grandchildren by an acknowledged illegitimate daughter) claimed ownership of the reverted Brierfield as well, a claim disputed by Jefferson Davis, resulting in a lengthy lawsuit that was ultimately decided in Jefferson Davis's favor in 1881, giving him undisputed title to the Brierfield property for the first time more than forty years after he first settled the plantation.[1]

Though his primary residence in the final decade of his life was at Beauvoir, (the house and farm he had inherited near Biloxi), Jefferson Davis spent much of the remaining years of his life attempting to make Brierfield profitable again, though fluctuating cotton prices and floods and the price of free versus enslaved labor combined to deprive him of the fortunes the land had once provided. He was in residence at Brierfield in autumn of 1889 seeing to harvest when a lingering cold developed into pneumonia and he had to be physically carried onto a riverboat bound for New Orleans to receive medical attention; he died a few weeks later.

After Jefferson Davis's death, his widow and surviving children left Mississippi and none of his descendants ever resided at Brierfield again. The house was destroyed by fire in 1931. A drainage canal converted what had been a peninsula into the Mississippi River into an island. Some of the family's belongings that were taken from the house by troops were returned to the Davis family over the following decades and may now be found at various museums associated with the Davis family and the Civil War.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ See Davis v. Bowmar, 55 Miss. 671, adhered to on reargument, 55 Miss. 751 (1878).
  2. ^ Lynda Lasswell Crist. "Jefferson Davis (1808-1889)". Mississippi History Now.