Many Black History Month stories are written about women but how many are written about the children? This story, which has been lost to history, is about both.
American women love, worry and protect their children. They also care about the children who live in poverty and those who are abused. America has always led in efforts to help save the children.
In 1989, a magazine article caught my eye, which I had to read from beginning to end. This was not an ordinary story but about a black child, a Confederate President’s First Lady and the Southern Presidential Family. The story was written by Gulfport, Mississippi freelance writer Mrs. Peggy Robbins and is entitled, "Jim Limber Davis."
This is a summary, in my own words, of Mrs. Robbins heartfelt story that I re-write in tribute to "Black History Month."
The story begins on a cool, but sunny, morning on February 15, 1864. Varina Davis, wife of Southern President Jefferson Davis, was concluding her errands and was driving her carriage down the streets of Richmond, Virginia on her way home. She heard screams from a distance and quickly went to the scene to see what was happening.
Varina witnessed a young black child being abused by an older man. She immediately demanded that he stop striking the child and when this failed she shocked the man by forcibly taking the child away. She took the child to her carriage and with her to the Confederate White House.
Arriving home Mrs. Davis and maid "Ellen" gave the young boy a bath, attended to his cuts and bruises and feed him. He told them that his name was Jim Limber. He seemed to be happy to be rescued and was given some clothes of the Davis’ son Joe who was about the same size and age.
Joe was tragically killed in an accidental fall later that year.
The Jefferson Davis family were visited the following evening by a friend of Varina’s, noted Southern Diarist-Mary Boykin Chesnut, who saw Jim Limber and later wrote that she had seen the boy and that he was eager to show me his cuts and bruises. She also said, "The child is an orphan rescued yesterday from a brutal Negro Guardian." and "There are some things in life that are too sickening, and such cruelty is one of them."
Some children addressed Jim as Jim Limber Davis for fun. This was fine with Jim because he felt he was indeed a member of the family. The Davis letters to friends are indication of his acceptance where they wrote that he was a member of their gang of children.
The Christmas of 1864, would be memorable for the Davis family and probably the best Christmas Jim Limber would ever have. A Christmas tree was set up in Saint Paul’s Church, decorated and gifts placed beneath it. On Christmas evening orphans were brought to the church and were delighted with the presents they received. Jim was thrilled that he helped decorate the tree.
Mrs. Robbins wrote, in her story, that Mrs. Jefferson Davis was a good story teller and thrilled the children with her sounds of different animals. Jim caught on fast and became a equally good story teller.
The end of the War Between the States was coming and Richmond, Virginia was being evacuated. Varina and her children left ahead of Jefferson Davis. President Davis and his staff left just hours before the occupation of Union troops.
Varina and the children were by the side of Jefferson Davis at his capture at Irwinville, Georgia and again the family was separated. Jefferson Davis was taken to Virginia where he spent two years in prison.
Mrs. Davis and her children were taken to Macon, Georgia and later to Port Royal outside of Savannah. At Port Royal their Union escort, Captain Charles T. Hudson, made good on his earlier threats to take Jim Limber away.
As Union soldiers came to forcibly take young Jim, he put up a great struggle and tried to hold onto his family and they to him. Jim and his family cried uncontrollably as the child was taken. His family would never see him or know what happened to him. The Davis’ tried to locate Jim but were unsuccessful. They prayed that he grew to manhood and did well in life.
The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia is home to a portrait of Jim Limber Davis in the Eleanor S. Brookenbrough Library. I thank Mrs. Peggy Robbins who wrote the Jim Limber Davis story in 1989 and the Southern Partisan Magazine for publishing her story in the second quarter Issue-Volume IX of 1989.
For "Diversity" sake let our schools teach all American history!
For additional information about Jefferson Davis please check out: www.beauvoir.org about his last home on the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast. Efforts are underway to restore this home that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.