Jefferson Davis Letter Possibly Older than Previously Thought

Since receiving the donation of the Jefferson Davis letter just a few weeks ago, I have been working to not only transcribe it, but to also research the contents and background surrounding the letter. 

This search led me to Rice University where The Papers of Jefferson Davis project is located.  The Papers of Jefferson Davis is a documentary editing project where they are producing a set of 15 published volumes containing documents covering Davis’ life from over 100,000 papers. To see more visit  

After learning about the letter, scholars with The Papers of Jefferson Davis were very excited.  They were unaware of this letters existence!  They know of one other letter from Davis to W. H. Worthington (newspaper editor in Columbus) from 1875, but not of this one.

With their help, I now have a more complete and accurate transcription of the letter (see below). 

They also now believe that the Davis letter at the Columbus Library is possibly older than previously thought! The date on the letter has been written over by another individual at some later point thus making the date on the letter suspect. 

Two factors point to the possibility that the letter was actually written in 1874.  One concerns the content of the letter.  Davis refers to L.Q.C. Lamar’s eulogy of Charles Sumner which took place in 1874.  Also, he comments on Lamar’s speech regarding a disputed Louisiana case which also occured in 1874.

Another clue is that the letter was written in Davis’ wife Varina’s handwriting. The letter is addressed from Memphis, Tennessee and there is documentation proving that Varina was in Memphis in 1874.  In 1877, however, she was in England.

Stay tuned for more updates on what else we discover about the letter!

Transcription of the Jefferson Davis letter:


98 Court Street
Memphis, Tenn.
14 July 1874

W. H. Worthington Esqr.

My Dear Sir,

Accept my thanks for your kind letter and for the copy of your monthly.  The latter I sent to London hoping that it would do some good in the disseminating useful information there.

If agreeable to you, I believe it would do good to our section if you would send your monthly regularly to the Missi [Mississippi] Valley Society, 445 the Strand Charing Cross, London West, England.

I am sorry [about] the agent of the Society, but it was with difficulty that I induced him to go to Vicksburg, from point he hastened to New Orleans where he had been before, and thence went by Mobile to St. Louis.  Like yourself I have hopes from the Grange Movement and if the Grange act in cointellegence with the Mississippi Valley Society, they made produce the great desideratum, the establishment of a line of large steamers to New Orleans, and numerous barges connecting that city with the towns in the Valley of the Mississippi so thereby to secure regular transit regular and cheap freights to Europe.  The consequence would be direct importation of European fabrics, and the large ships furnishing proper accomodations for steerage passengers, and the river boats supplying a cheap and comfortable transit to the Upper Valley, the tide of migration would be by N. O. [New Orleans] and up the river, instead of by New York and over railways.  The destruction of crops in the North West this year, a thing which the history of all arid climates prepared us to anticipate, exemplifies the advantage which our country possesses over that to which Immigrants are now pressing in such numbers.  We may therefore fairly expect that when Immigrants pass by the So. [Southern] Route that they will as time rolls on be more, and more impressed with the many advantages possessed by the healthy portions of the Southern States.

There are many advantages in spinning cotton from the seed, but our people are not mechanics, and it will I fear be some time before even so much machinery as is required by the Clements attachment can be safely introduced upon plantations.

I have an old affection for the Democrat [newspaper], always read it when I can, and am proud of the stern adherence to principle my friend its Editor has uniformly exhibited.  I have not seen Lamar’s [L.Q.C. Lamar] eulogy on Sumner [Charles Sumner][but] have read his speech on the La. [Louisiana] case, it is able and except for two paragraphs worthy of him, but oh those paragraphs are awful.  For the love I bear him, I wish they had never been uttered.  I have long wished to revisit Columbus and trust I may do so when the hot season is over.

With kind regards to your Sister,
I am ever cordially,

Your Friend,
Jefferson Davis

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 11:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

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