Confederate leader’s ancestor a highlight at recent Cotillion

By Deborah Deggs Cariker

Updated: 01.28.10

APRIL SOUND – Tucked amid the swish of fancy hoop skirts and the tipping of gray kepis Jan. 16 was a history lesson from a Dallas banker whose ancestors didn’t just read history, they made it.

Bertram Hayes-Davis, 61, is the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis – West Pointer, military man, U.S. congressman and senator, wounded hero of the Mexican War, friend of Texas annexation, Secretary of War, cotton planter, author, and the lone president of the Confederate States of America. Davis menfolk, descended from Welsh colonists, were also noteworthy in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

At the 2010 Confederate Heroes’ Day Cotillion, Hayes-Davis discussed the many attributes of Jefferson Davis prior to his accepting the post he shunned, attributes largely ignored in contemporary history books.

“I have always been aware of the accomplishments of Jefferson Davis,” his great-great-grandson said. “My family has been engaged in the preservation of his legacy throughout our generations.”

Davis actually preferred the first role conferred upon him in early 1861, that of leading Mississippi’s state troops. Davis’ wife Varina wrote that she initially thought some family member had died when she saw her husband react to the telegram informing him of the presidency. It had been only days since he’d left his U.S. Senate seat to stand with his state after Mississippi adopted the ordinance of secession Jan. 9, 1861.

“I do think,” said Davis, bidding fellow Senators goodbye 149 years ago, “she has justifiable cause, and I approve of her act. I conferred with her people before that act was taken, counselled (sic) them that if the ‘state of things which they apprehended should exist when their convention met, they should take the action which they have now adopted.’

“I find in myself perhaps a type of the general feeling of my constituents toward yours. I am sure I feel no hostility toward you, Senators of the North,” continued Davis. “I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot say in the presence of my God, I wish you well, and such I am sure is the feeling of the people whom I represent toward those whom you represent. I carry with me no hostile remembrance. Whatever offense I have given which has not been redressed or for which satisfaction has not been demanded, I have, Senators, in this hour of our parting, to offer you my apology for any pain which in the heat of discussion I have inflicted. I go hence unincumbered by the remembrance of any injury received, and having discharged the duty of making the only reparation in my power for any injury offered, Mr. President and Senators, having made the announcement which the occasion seemed to me to require, it only remains for me to bid you a final adieu.”

After the war between the states, Union troops captured Davis and imprisoned him for two years, eventually denying him the trial he demanded and dropping the case against him in 1869. In 1875, he declined the job as president of what is now Texas A&M University, wrote his memoirs and died, likely of pneumonia, at his home at Beauvoir, near Biloxi, Miss., early on Dec. 6, 1889. He remained a man without a country until Oct. 17, 1978, when a congressional joint resolution restored his U.S. citizenship, backdating it to Dec. 25, 1868.

Some Americans might find it interesting to note that Davis was not a secessionist. Additionally, historians note he was baffled by how Northerners viewed slaveholders since he and his brother did not whip their slaves and left plantation management to the slaves, including a kind of court system where slaves were judge and jury for those who broke plantation rules. Another Davis family fact that is inconsistent with contemporary history textbooks is that Davis’ wife rescued an orphaned mulatto boy who had been beaten by his uncle, and Jefferson Davis adopted him. During the War, Jim Limber Davis was abducted by Union troops and sent North, never to be seen again. Hayes-Davis says Jim is always considered family.

Hayes-Davis is no stranger to traveling, as he trekked south to Montgomery County for the third annual cotillion event at the April Sound Country Club. He made 20 trips nationally to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his great-great-grandfather’s birth.

“That event was essentially ignored by everyone outside the South,” Hayes-Davis reported. Still, he is not thwarted in his efforts and continues his attempts at education, especially for people who automatically assume anyone connected with the Confederacy is racist.

“I counter with the facts,” the banker said. “It was an era of practices that were part of the structure of society in the 1800s throughout the country. (Slavery) was not created by the Confederacy, and the issue was not what the conflict was about. There was no question the entire country knew this was a wrongful institution and would be eliminated.”

Besides Hayes-Davis’ history lesson, cotillion goers learned dances of that era with Texas Victorian Dancers from League City, and tapped their boots to strains of mid-19th century songs performed by Celtaire String Band. Three area young ladies were honored as the 2010 Southern Belles: LaPorte, Texas-native Chelsey Marie Hernandez, Clear Creek high schooler Gabrielle Elizabeth Sesher, and Blinn College junior Patricia Jean Wonder.

The dinner-dance was organized by local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Order of Confederate Rose. Event coordinators say this commemorates the 37-year-old Texas state holiday created by Chapter 221 of Senate Bill 60 of the 63rd Texas legislature that honors Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other Confederate heroes, and was the last holiday in the state of Texas dedicated to Confederate veterans.

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