Glimpse: Beauvoir, Gulf breezes and contemplation
One of the exhibits at Beauvoir, in Biloxi, Mississippi, the last home of Jefferson Davis, calls him “America’s son.” This is more than a little jarring to a Yankee because Davis was president of the Confederacy, leading the South’s effort to secede from the union and, after his defeat, was imprisoned as a traitor.
But here, where some refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression, and where there is a lot of defensive explanation that it was about states rights, not slavery, Davis is a hero.
Beauvoir, which means beautiful view in French, was completed in 1852 and was later purchased by Sarah Dorsey. Dorsey heard that Davis was looking for a place to write his memoirs and offered him a cottage on the grounds. Later, after being diagnosed with cancer, she sold the property to Davis, forgiving two-thirds of the debt in her will.
There is a photo of Davis sitting under his favorite live oak tree on the grounds, staring out to the Gulf of Mexico, regal and contemplative, his hair and beard white with age. The photo makes him seem grandfatherly and benevolent. Although criticized in the South for his poor leadership during the war, the two-volume memoir he wrote here, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” did much to rehabilitate his image, as did his calls for unity in his many post-war speeches.
The property was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, some of the outbuildings were destroyed, pianos thrown into the trees and priceless artifacts crushed and blown away. It took several years to repair.
Davis lived at Beauvoir until his death at 81, in 1889. His heirs sold the property to the Mississippi Division of Sons of the Confederate Veterans with the provision that it be used as a retirement home for Confederate veterans, wives and widows, then to honor Davis.
Today, you can tour the main house and cottage, sit on a rocking chair on the porch where Davis wrote Rise and Fall, gaze out to the Gulf of Mexico and let the breeze of earned wisdom wash over you.