Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.
February Is Black History Month February 20, 2010
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 Robbin's and is entitled, "Jim Limber Davis."
While Black History Month mostly focuses on black
adults in history, this story is about a black child. This is a summary, in my
own words, of Mrs. Robbin's splendid story.
On the morning of February 15, 1864, Mrs. Varina
Davis, wife of Southern President Jefferson Davis, had concluded 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
Varina saw a young black child being abused by an
older man. She 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. The only
thing he would tell them is that his name was Jim Limber. He was happy to be
rescued and was given some clothes of the Davis ' son Joe who was the same size
Joe was tragically killed in an accidental fall
later that year.
The Davis family were visited the following
evening by a friend of Varina's, noted Southern Diarist-Mary Boykin Chesnut, who
saw Jim Limber and wrote later 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 things in life that are
too sickening, and such cruelty is one of them."
There were some children who addressed Jim as Jim
Limber Davis for fun. This was fine with him because he felt he was indeed a
member of the family. The Davis letters to friends are indication of his
acceptance and they said 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 got. Jim was happy that he helped decorate the
Mrs. Robbin's wrote, in her story, that Mrs.
Jefferson Davis was a very good story teller who was able to make sounds of
different animals in the stories about the critters. Jim was always eager to
The end of the War Between the States was coming
and Richmond was being evacuated. Varina and the children left ahead of
Jefferson Davis. The president 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 near Irwinville, Georgia, and again the family
was separated. Jefferson Davis was taken to Virginia to spend two years in
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 at his earlier threats to take Jim
As the Union soldiers came to forcibly take young
Jim, he put up a great struggle and tried to hold onto his family as they to
him. Jim and his family cried uncontrollably as the child was taken. His family
would never again see him or know what happened to him. The Davis ' tried in
later years 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 Robbin's 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.
information about Jefferson Davis go to:
Beauvoir.org, the website about the last home of Jefferson Davis where the
Jefferson Davis Presidential Library is also located.