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TheEducation of a Southern Gentleman

The Jefferson Davis Bicentennial
1808-2008

The Education of a Southern Gentleman chronicles the yearly years of Jefferson Davis, and his connections to Lexington.  This exhibit will run through September 15, 2008 and is the first of several rotating exhibits located inside the exhibit Lincoln and his Wife’s Hometown.
Davis is of Welsh ancestry, his great-grandfather Evan Davis having immigrated to Philadelphia. An illiterate, he eventually took up innkeeping. Evan and his wife Mary had six children. Among the youngest was Davis’ grandfather, also named Evan, who was born in the mid-1720s and died fifty years before Jefferson Davis was born. In his early twenties, the younger Evan Davis moved to South Carolina with his brother, where he married the widow Mary Emory Williams ― and moved again to Georgia. About 1756, Mary gave birth in an unknown place to Samuel Emory Davis, Jefferson’s father.
As a teenager, Samuel fought in the American Revolution, seeing action in Georgia and South Carolina. He raised his own militia and fought in defense of Savannah.
Samuel pulled up stakes and set out for Kentucky, with its rich soils and abundant virgin forests, both lacking in Georgia. They arrived shortly after 1792 when Kentucky was admitted the Union as the 15th state.
The Davis’ first settled in Mercer County, but quickly moved on to the western part of the state, settling in what became Christian County, then to adjacent Todd County where Samuel grew tobacco and developed a reputation for breeding fine horses.
Along the way, children were born: five in Georgia in less than 10 years (Joseph Emory, Benjamin, Samuel, Anna Eliza, and Isaac Williams), and five more in Kentucky (Lucinda Farrar, Amanda, Matilda, and Mary Ellen “Polly” ― the last being Jefferson Davis. With a touch of humor, his parents bestowed him with the middle name of Finis (Latin for “the end”). His first name was more serious, after then-president Thomas Jefferson.

When Davis was two or three, Samuel uprooted the family once again to migrate southward to the Louisiana Territory. But malaria (which would play a tragic role in Jefferson’s adult life) forced the family to move on to the Mississippi Territory. Settling near Woodville in Wilkinson County, Samuel finally put down roots and built his last home at Poplar Grove, later called Rosemont for the rose hedges Jane grew. “And there, my memories begin.”

One thing Samuel preached to his children was “knowledge is power.” Perhaps as the result in the break in his own education, Samuel stressed the importance of studies. When he was six or seven, Davis and his older sister Polly attended a one-room schoolhouse in a log cabin near Woodville.  In May or June 1816 “Little Jeff”, as his mother called him for his small size, was sent away by his father over the Natchez Trace to Saint Thomas College in Springfield, Kentucky. Davis attended St. Thomas, a Catholic school run by the Dominicans, from July 10, 1816, until May 1818 when his mother insisted on his return to Mississippi, now a state.

 

 

 


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Lexington History Museum, 215 West Main Street, Lexington, Ky 40507
Phone: 859.254.0530