Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jefferson Davis’ Prison Bible


Imprisoned and manacled in Fortress Monroe, ironically named for a President from the South, Jefferson Davis’s only consolation was the leather-bound Bible given him by wife Varina. His case for alleged treason was never called, though he repeatedly asked for an opportunity to prove his innocence, which if brought to trial, would have condemned the Northern government for treason against the States.

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute

Jefferson Davis’ Prison Bible:

“It is the Bible that gave great comfort to the soul of Jefferson Davis during his prison life at Fortress Monroe….From letters passed between the prison authorities and Mrs. Davis, we also learn that permission was given her to send her husband a Bible. With some other things for which he had asked after he had been confined for some time.

Dr. [Lt. John J.] Craven says: “His Bible and prayer book were his usual companions. There was no affection of devoutness in my patient, but every opportunity I had of seeing him convinced me more deeply of his sincere religious convictions. There were moments, while speaking on religious subjects, in which Mr. Davis impressed me more than any professor of Christianity I ever heard. There was a vital earnestness in his discourse, a clear, almost passionate grasp in his faith, and the thought would frequently recur that a belief capable of consoling such sorrow as his, possessed and thereby evidenced a reality which no sophistry of the infidel could discredit.”

It was to this little prayer book the prisoner turned again and again when racked by such mental and physical suffering as one of his temperament must have endured. It must have been on such occasion that he wrote upon a fly-leaf:

“In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them.” (Isa. 63.)

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4.)

“And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22.)

A little marker rests at the eleventh chapter of Job, and a page is turned down at the third chapter of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians.

The Davis children were in the charge of Mrs. Davis’s mother, Mrs. Howell, who had taken them to Toronto, Canada, where Mr. & Mrs. Davis joined them when he left Fortress Monroe. The noise of the village [of Lennoxville] irritated Mr. Davis in his nerve-wracked condition, and he, as well as Mrs. Davis, spent most of the time at [the nearby Cummings family home] “Rock Grove.”

The day they were at “Rock Grove” for the last time, Mr. Davis turned to his wife and said: “Varina, what is the most valuable thing I have left in the world?” She answered, “Why Jeff – your Bible.” He said, “Yes, my Bible.” And shortly after that he sent it to [Jennie Cummings] with this inscription on a fly-leaf:

“To Miss Cummings, as a token of sincere regard and esteem of her friend, Jeff’n Davis. Lennoxville, 17 July, 1868.”

After [the death of Jennie Cummings, it was passed] reverently to the Confederate Museum, as a precious relic of the good and great man….”

(Jefferson Davis in Canada, Virginia Frazer Boyle, Confederate Veteran, March 1929, pp. 89-92)

Jefferson Davis’ Prison Bible

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