J.D.R. Hawkins

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Archive for the tag “Beauvoir”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 13)

Today is the final day of Confederate Heritage/History Month, as well as Women’s History Month. Likewise, this post is the last one in my series about Confederate Women. The last installation of this series is about the most famous Confederate woman of all, President Jefferson Davis’ wife.

Varina Davis

Varina Howell Davis 

     The namesake of my UDC chapter is one of the most famous women of the Confederacy. Yet, she didn’t wish to be. 

     Varina Banks Howell was born on May 7, 1826 at her family’s plantation, the Briars, near Natchez, Mississippi. She was one of eight surviving children. Her parents were a unique pair, in that her father was a Yankee from New Jersey, and her mother, a Southern Belle, was the daughter of a wealthy planter. Because of that, the First Lady of the Confederacy was an irony, referring to herself as a “half-breed.” Varina’s father managed to provide for his family, but prosperity was intermittent, as he squandered his wife’s inheritance and made poor investment decisions. 

     Varina was not considered attractive by nineteenth century standards: she was tall, thin, and had an olive complexion. She was very well educated, however, and learned to play the piano beautifully. She was able to attend Madame Greenland’s School in Philadelphia, but the money soon ran out, so she returned home to complete her education with a private tutor. She established the reputation of being highly intelligent but outspoken, which was frowned upon in Victorian society.  

     Seven years later, when Varina was seventeen, she was invited to spend the Christmas season with an old family friend, “Uncle Joe” Davis, at his plantation, the Hurricane. While there, she met his much younger brother, Jefferson. It was the first time she had met any of Joseph’s extended family, and although Jefferson was immediately smitten with her, Varina was reluctant. She wrote to her mother: 

He impresses me as a remarkable kind of man, but of uncertain temper, and has a way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him when he expresses an opinion, which offends me; yet he is most agreeable and has a peculiarly sweet voice and a winning manner of asserting himself. The fact is, he is the kind of person I should expect to rescue one from a mad dog at any risk, but to insist upon a stoical indifference to the fright afterward. 

     After Varina returned home, Jefferson asked her parents’ permission to court her, but Varina’s mother objected. She was concerned that Jefferson was far too old for her daughter (eighteen years her senior), that he was still in love with his deceased wife, Sarah Knox Taylor (daughter of President Zachary Taylor), that he was too devoted to his relatives (his older brother, Joseph, raised him after their father died and financially supported him), and that his political views were different (he was a member of the new Democratic Party, but Varina’s family were Whigs). She eventually gave in, and the two were engaged. An enormous wedding was scheduled to take place at the Hurricane, but just before the event happened, the wedding was cancelled. Varina fell ill, and out of concern, Jefferson frequented her home. The two managed to reconcile, and were wed on February 26, 1845 at the Briars with only a small group of the bride’s family in attendance. Their honeymoon was spent visiting Jefferson’s aged mother and the grave of his deceased wife. 

     The newlyweds set up housekeeping in a two-room cottage on the Brierfield plantation, which was adjacent to the Hurricane. Trouble soon appeared in the form of Jefferson’s widowed sister and her seven children, who moved in without Varina’s approval or consent. Her own family’s financial reliance on them was also an embarrassment to her. Addition problems arose when Jefferson left to campaign for Congress and serve in the Mexican War, leaving Varina to deal with domineering Joseph herself.  

Jefferson was elected to the Senate, so he and Varina moved to Washington, where she thrived. She adored the city and was intrigued by politics. As her husband rose in his political career, she rose in Washington elite society, becoming one of the city’s youngest and most popular hostesses. But when the Civil War broke out, Jefferson resigned his Senate seat, and the two returned to the South. It wasn’t long before Jefferson learned that he had been selected as the new president of the Confederacy. This dismayed Varina deeply, for she knew that her husband didn’t want the job, and that the South would most likely lose the war. However, she dutifully supported him. 

     During the first two years as First Lady, she held extravagant parties. Her friend, Mary Boykin Chesnut, enjoyed and admired her, but others weren’t so supportive. Varina received criticism for being over-extravagant, for not being extravagant enough, for playing favorites, for meddling in politics where she didn’t belong, and for influencing her husband’s decisions. Despite the reticule, she supported the troops by knitting clothing for them, donating rugs for blankets, making shoes from scraps, and visiting wounded Yankee and Confederate soldiers in the hospitals, but she resisted her husband’s insistence to become a volunteer nurse.  

     Jefferson and Varina lost one of their children in the spring of 1864 when he fell from a second-story window of the White House of the Confederacy. A few weeks later, Varina gave birth to a daughter, and nicknamed her Winnie, who later became known as the “Daughter of the Confederacy.” Varina also rescued a young slave boy named Jim Limber, and took him in as her own. In early 1865, Jefferson ordered her to flee Richmond with their children. She financed the trip by selling everything they owned, which came to $8,000 in gold. The family was reunited in Georgia, but Jefferson was soon captured and sent to Fort Monroe prison, where he remained for two years. In the meantime, Varina was prohibited from leaving Georgia. Jim Limber was taken from her, never to be heard of again. After a freed slave threatened one of her children with a gun, Varina sent them to Canada with her mother, and petitioned relentlessly for Jefferson’s release. Finally, he was freed, but he was sickly and frail. 

     The family traveled to Canada and Europe for several years. Jefferson was never convicted of war crimes, but was never able to make a go of any financial endeavors, either. High strung Varina suffered from a nervous breakdown in 1876. While she recovered in Europe and their children studied abroad, Jefferson returned home. He established an insurance company in Memphis, but the business went belly up. He sought the companionship of the wife of a fellow inmate, but the press leaked the news, and Varina, of course, was enraged. Somehow, the two managed to reconcile again, probably because they lost two of their sons (bringing the total to four lost sons). 

     An old friend, Sarah Dorsey, invited Jefferson to live with her at her beachfront home, Beauvoir, in Biloxi. He accepted, thinking that the sea air would do his ailments good, and Varina later joined him. Before Mrs. Dorsey died, she bequeathed Beauvoir to them. Jefferson proceeded to write his memoirs. He died in 1889 while visiting a friend in New Orleans. Varina sold his memoirs the following year, but the book was a failure. She remained at Beauvoir for another year before she sold it to the state of Mississippi for $10,000 to be used as a Confederate veterans’ home, stipulating that it be preserved as “a perpetual memorial sacred to the memory of Jefferson Davis” and the Confederate cause. 

     Once again, Varina received criticism when she moved to New York City to accept a job as a journalist for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York Herald, and took her daughter, Winnie, with her. She befriended Julia Dent Grant, the widow of President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Southerners were shocked and offended by her moving to New York and becoming friends with the wife of a dreaded enemy. Not only that, Varina attended a reception and socialized with Booker T. Washington, treating him, to the Southerner’s dismay, like he was an equal. She declined offers to return to the South, and even turned down a residence offered to her in Richmond. On many occasions, she attended both Union and Confederate veterans’ reunions. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 

     Varina’s heart was broken when Winnie passed away in 1898. Following a bout with double pneumonia, she too died on October 16, 1906 in her apartment overlooking Central Park. She was eighty years old, and was survived by only one of her six children (a daughter), and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Following a funeral procession through the streets of New York City, her body was returned to Richmond and laid to rest beside Jefferson and Winnie in Hollywood Cemetery. 

     One of Varina’s last remaining prized possessions, her diamond and emerald wedding ring, was housed in the museum at Beauvoir, but when Hurricane Katrina hit, the ring was lost. Amazingly, it was discovered on the grounds a few months later, and returned to its rightful place at Beauvoir. 

The Death of Jefferson Davis, December 6 1889

 

The Christmas Season of 1889, was a time of sadness in Dixie. Hundreds of thousands of people came to remember and pay their last respects to Jefferson Davis in the crescent city of New Orleans.

On December 6, 1889, Jefferson Davis died at the home of a friend. Do our young people who Davis was?

Jefferson Davis graduated from West Point Military Academy, served valiantly in the War with Mexico, was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, elected US Senator from Mississippi and was the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. Davis also wrote the book, “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” at his last home in Mississippi.

Jefferson Davis, and wife Varina, found great contentment and peace at “Beauvoir” their beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast Home. This is where he wished to die when his time came but it was not to be.

In November 1889, Varina attended to their home as Davis left for Brierfield Plantation to take care of family business. As he traveled through New Orleans Davis was exposed to a cold-rain that caused him a severe cold and bronchitis that was further complicated by Malaria.

Milo Copper, a former servant of the Davis family, upon hearing of Davis’ illness, made the long trip from Florida to New Orleans to be near Davis’ side. As Cooper entered Davis’ sick room, he burst into tears and fell on his knees and prayed that God would spare the life of Jefferson Davis and bless the family.

Jefferson Davis died between 12:30AM and 1:00AM on December 6, 1889. The news of his death hit the front page of many Southern newspapers. The

praises and tributes read similar to that of a New Orleans paper that read,

“Throughout the South are Lamentations and tears; in every country on the globe where there are lovers of liberty there is mourning; wherever there are men who love heroic patriotism, dauntless resolution, fortitude or intellectual power, there is an sincere sorrowing. The beloved of our land, the unfaltering upholder of constitutional liberty, the typical hero and sage, is no more; the fearless heart that beats with sympathy for all mankind is stilled forever, a great light is gone—- Jefferson Davis is dead!”

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The body of Jefferson Davis laid in state at the city hall of New Orleans, Louisiana from midnight, December 6, 1889, to December 11th. The United States and Confederate flags hung from above and in the city hall that was covered with many flowers.

The church bells toiled as over 80,000 people lined the streets of New Orleans to pay their respects to a Southern legend. All schools and businesses were closed that day.

Those men who comprised the honor Guard for the procession to Metairie Cemetery included: the Army of Northern Virginia Association, the Army of Tennessee and the Washington Artillery. Metairie Cemetery would be a temporary burial place for Davis as he was moved in 1893, by funeral train to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

The sad part of this story is that the United States War Department did not recognize Davis and the US flag was not flown at half-mast. The US flag was flown at half-mast in the South. Jefferson Davis was the only former Secretary of War that was not given the respect and honor by the United States Government.

Article written by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.

Source of information: The 1990, first quarter edition of the Southern Partisan Magazine. The magazine article, by freelance writer Mrs. Peggy Robbins, was entitled, “Jefferson Davis’ Death.”

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Volume 42, Issue No . 12, Dec. 2018 ed.)

Beauvoir asks New Orleans for Jefferson Davis statue

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Beauvoir, the last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, has renewed its appeal to the city of New Orleans to send Davis’ statue to Biloxi.

On April 12, the Board of Directors at Beauvoir sent a letter to a New Orleans task force charged with deciding what to do with confederate statues removed last year. Beauvoir is appealing to the city’s newly elected Mayor Latoya Cantrell.

New Orleans removed the Jefferson Davis statue amid national controversy surrounding Confederate symbols. Beauvoir wants the statue on it’s property and hopes the Crescent City agrees to let it be shipped to the Mississippi Coast.

The board says Beauvoir would be an appropriate place for the statue.

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Beauvoir is sending it’s 3rd letter to New Orleans to ask for the Jefferson Davis statue, which was removed from the Crescent City last year.

“I think we would all love for that to happen. This is where it should be. If the residents of the city of New Orleans don’t want it, in the city of New Orleans, then this is the logical place for it to be. That is our mission statement to educate people about the life and times of Jefferson Davis and the confederate soldier,” said Museum Director Jay Peterson.

The Davis statue and three others were taken down after New Orleans decided the confederate era monuments were offensive and divisive. This is the third letter Beauvoir has sent to New Orleans, the first since Mayor Cantrell appointed a committee to study what to do with the statues.

Beauvoir believes the statue is more than just a monument to the President of the Confederacy. “It’s a piece of artwork that was done during the early part of the 20th century. It needs to be preserved and it needs to be brought here so people can appreciate it,” Peterson said.

In the letter, the Beauvoir Board writes that the monument will be given a place of prominence on the 52 acre property and be well protected. Beauvoir plans to enlist the help of the state to pay the costs and accept responsibility for the transfer of the Davis statue.

“Once approved by the Board of Directors and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Beauvoir will assume all responsibility for the monument. This will include transportation of the monument from its current place of storage to our grounds,” according to Peterson.

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell says she will consider the Monument Task Force’s recommendations. Meanwhile, the group Take them Down NOLA is opposed to sending the Davis statue to Beauvoir.

http://www.wlox.com/story/38240756/beauvoir-asks-new-orleans-for-jefferson-davis-statue

(Courtesy of the Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452, Sons of Confederate Veterans, June 2018 ed. v. 42 issue #6, and WLOX, Biloxi, MS, David Elliott, News Anchor.)

The Birthday of a President

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Today is the birthday of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. He was born in Christian County, Kentucky, not far from where Abraham Lincoln was born one year later. The tenth youngest child of a plantation owner, Davis rose to become one of the most celebrated, and yet controversial, American statesmen.

His illustrious career began with the military, where he served as an officer. He was elected to the House of Representatives and later to Congress, married twice, and had six children, but only one survived to adulthood. He saw much pain and sadness in his lifetime, but still maintained his firm belief in the Confederate cause. Following the War Between the States, he became somewhat of a recluse, penning his memoirs at Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi. After his death at age 81, his wife, Varina, had his body moved to Richmond, where it remains today.

Bertram Hayes-Davis, who is the great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis, frequently tours the country speaking on behalf of his infamous ancestor. Sadly, he has encountered obstacles in regard to having Jefferson Davis receive the honor he so greatly deserves. In fact, there is talk about removing his statue from the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building. Instead of dismissing Jefferson Davis as being politically incorrect, we should honor him for the sacrifices he made for his country and what he believed to be right. Let us celebrate him as a true patriot and the American icon that he was.

Jefferson Davis and His Dog, Traveler

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Mr. Davis was very fond of animals and birds. He always gathered the scraps from the breakfast table to feed his peafowls, and his dressing gown pockets were heavy with grain for his beautiful pets. He had a large flock of peafowls, of which he was very proud and fond. Every morning Mr. Davis would take his exercise on a short pavement leading from the back steps at Beauvoir.

“It is just the length of my exercise path in prison,” he would tell his friends.

Up and down, up and down this pavement he would walk, at his heels and all around him his flock of peafowls. One old cock especially would spread his gorgeous tail, droop his wings, and strut after Mr. Davis in the most comical fashion. Evidently, the bond of friendship between the two was a close one.

Fond as Mr. Davis was of his peafowls, his especial pet was his dog, Traveler, the same name as Robert E. Lee’s famous horse. This dog had a very wonderful history. Mr. (Samuel W.) Dorsey, husband of Mrs. Sarah Dorsey, from whom Mr. Davis purchased Beauvoir, had traveled all over the world. On the Bernise Alps, Mr. and Mrs. Dorsey purchased the young puppy, whose father was a Russian bulldog. The puppy was named Traveler. They carried the young dog everywhere with them, and he was trained to be Mrs. Dorsey’s bodyguard.

Once, while camping on the Arabian Desert, Mr. Dorsey had one of his Arabian servants punished severely for theft. The next day, Mr. Dorsey and some of the Arabians went on a two days’ journey, leaving Mrs. Dorsey and the camp in the charge of an old Arab sheik. That night, while asleep under the tent, Mrs. Dorsey was awakened by a spring and growl from Traveler, then the shriek of a man. She sprang from her cot, quickly got a light, and found the Arab who had been beaten by Mr. Dorsey’s orders pinned down to the ground by Traveler, a huge knife lying beside him, where it had fallen from his hand. He had cut his way into the tent and crept in, evidently determined to wreak his vengeance upon her for the stripes he received.

Mrs. Dorsey had magnificent diamonds, which she wore at night to a reception at the Tulleries. On her return to the hotel, she went at once to her room, while her husband and some friends walked out to smoke. She quickly went to sleep, but was aroused by a sound of a desperate struggle on the floor, where Traveler had succeeded in throwing the thief who had followed her, attracted by the glitter of her diamonds. This man was one of the worst characters in Paris, and the gallows were cheated when he died of the wound in his throat torn by Traveler’s teeth.

After Mr. Dorsey died, Traveler was given to Mr. Davis and became his constant companion and guard. He allowed no one to come on the place whose good intent he had any reason to suspect. The entire place was under his care; not a window or door was locked or barred, for everything was safe while Traveler kept his sentry march on the wide porches that surrounded the house on every side.

If Mr. Davis wished to safeguard their coming and going of anyone and give him the freedom of the place, day or night, he would put one hand on the person’s shoulder and the other on the dog’s head and say: “Traveler, this is my friend.”

The dog would accept the introduction very gravely, would smell his clothes and hands, and “size him up” generally; but he never forgot, and, henceforth, Mr. Davis’ “friend” was safe to come and go unmolested.

As fierce as the dog was, and as bloody as was his record, he was as gentle as a lamb with little children. Mrs. Davis’ small niece, a child about two years old, make the dog her chosen playmate, and the baby and the dog would roll together on the grass in highest glee. She would pull his hair, pound on his head, or ride around the place on his back, the dog trotting as sedately as a Shetland pony. This child lived some distance down the beach; but she went home day after day in perfect safety, guarded and guided by Traveler.

Traveler would rush around in hot pursuit of fiddler crabs, which was a pet diversion of his, and would bark and throw up the sand with his paws in wild glee when he had succeeded in driving a number of the ungainly objects into the sea. But even fiddler crabs had no attraction for Traveler when he went to walk with Mr. Davis. He was then a bodyguard, pure and simple, and had all the dignity and watchfulness of a squad of soldiers detailed as escorts. Mr. Davis would become buried in thought, almost oblivious to surroundings. Traveler had his own ideas of what was right and proper; so if in absorption Mr. Davis would walk very close to the water Traveler would gently take his trousers leg in his teeth, or, by bounding between him and the sea, he would manage to call attention to the big waves coming in.

One day, Traveler seemed very droopy and in pain. As ordinary measures did not relieve him, Mr. Davis wrote a note to a friend who was the most celebrated physician in that part of the country. The doctor came, but nothing seemed to relieve the dog’s suffering. All night he moaned and cried, looking up into Mr. Davis’s face with big, pathetic eyes, as if begging for help from the hand that had never before failed him. All those long hours, Mrs. Dorsey, Mr. Davis, and the doctor kept their hopeless watch, for the work of the vile poisoner had been too well done for remedy. Just at daylight he died, his head on Mr. Davis’ knee and his master’s tears falling like rain upon the faithful beast.

As Mr. Davis gently laid the dead dog upon the rug, he said softly: “I have indeed lost a friend.”

Traveler was put in a coffin-like box, and all the family were present at the funeral. Mr. Davis softly patted the box with his hand, then turned away before it was lowered into the ground. The dog was buried in the front yard of Beauvoir, and a small stone, beautifully engraved, marked the place, (but at some time during the intervening years, that stone has unfortunately disappeared)
By: L. H. L.
Excerpted from the Confederate Veteran Vol. XVII, No. 4, April, 1909

Thanks to: Sunny South News, Lowry Rifles Camp #1740 – Rankin County, Mississippi – Bill Hinson, Editor

A Rose is a Rose

Spring is in the air, and daylight savings time starts this Sunday.(Yay!) At Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ retirement home, the rose garden that his wife, Varina Howell Davis, created has recently been reconstructed. (After Hurricane Katrina hit, it took out the original gardens.) The beautiful gardens are historically exact to the ones that Mrs. Davis planted back in the 1880’s. The story about these gardens is as follows. Thanks to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Samuel A. Hughey camp #1452 for this information.

Varina Davis Garden Complete

Soon after Jefferson Davis acquired Beauvoir in 1879, the Davis’ set about expanding the already beautifully developed grounds of the estate. Varina Howell Davis (Mrs. Jefferson Davis) was obviously very pleased with Beauvoir, but was particularly proud of the new garden she created. In a February 29, 1880 letter written to her daughter Winnie, who was in school in Europe,

Varina stated, “…I work very hard in my garden as it is new, and quite large. I think about 2 acres….”

In this and subsequent letters she wrote over the next few months, Mrs. Davis described in both words and sketches the lay-out of the garden and the great variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables she planted. Her kitchen garden produced items for her table such as strawberries, artichokes, radishes, peppers, eggplants, Irish potatoes, and asparagus. There were both common and exotic fruit-bearing trees, including oranges, citrons, figs, peaches, apples, pears, quince, pomegranate, and jujube.  Flowers and fragrant flowering shrubs abounded– gardenias, jasmine, anemones, gladiolus, Japan lilies, St. Joseph lilies, fire lilies, and mignonette. Roses, however, were the star attraction of her circular flower garden, and Varina collected and cultivated cuttings of many different varieties.

When Mrs. Davis left Beauvoir following her husband’s death in 1889, her lovely gardens slowly fell into neglect. The remnants of them were largely eradicated by Hurricane Katrina. Although over the years various efforts have been made to restore the gardens, until now no comprehensive restoration has been attempted. The present project to restore Varina’s renowned gardens at Beauvoir is the result of several years of exhaustive research and study and is funded by grants from the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History and the National Park Service. Reconstruction of visitor walkways and fences destroyed by Katrina are being funded by FEMA.

As the Beauvoir estate is a National Historic Landmark, designated by the Secretary of the Interior, it is very important to preserve both the main house and its historic landscape setting. Restoration of Varina’s garden will not only reestablish a significant historic feature of Beauvoir’s landscape, it will also provide an important attraction for the Gulf Coast’s heritage tourism industry. Just as the gardens brought much joy to the Davis’ and their guests in the late-19th-century, the restored garden will, no doubt, continue to bring beauty and enjoyment to future generations of Mississippi families and visitors to our state.

Kenneth H. P’Pool

Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, Mississippi Department of Archives and History

(The above information is taken from http://www.beauvoir.org/news/index.html.)

Hurricane Revisited

On the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, another hurricane, Isaac, is storming onto the gulf shore and zeroing in on New Orleans. What was predicted to be a 100-year occurrence happened way too soon. Fortunately, the storm isn’t playing out to be as severe as Katrina was.

Some relevant Civil War sites that could be in danger include Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi. When Katrina hit, the main house withstood the storm, but many outbuildings and gardens washed away.

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There are several significant sites in New Orleans, including the Beauregard-Keys house, located at 1113 Chartres Street in the French Quarter. Another important structure related to the War Between the States is located at 1134 First Street in the Garden District. It was once owned by Judge Charles Fenner, who was a friend of the only President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. On December 6, 1889, while visiting Judge Fenner, Davis passed away in his home.

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Regardless of the historical treasures that are threatened, many families who endured severe hardship seven years ago are faced with the same dilemma. Please pray for their safety and deliverance during this crucial weekend.

Cotton Boll Angels

Last Saturday, the ladies of Varina Howell Davis Chapter 2559 United Daughters of the Confederacy got together to create “cotton boll angels.” These cute little Christmas ornaments will be donated by our chapter to Beauvoir as a fundraiser.

Beauvoir is located on the gulf coast in Biloxi, Mississippi. The historic home was once the place where Confederate President Jefferson Davis spent his final years after the Civil War. He wrote his memoirs there, and was surely inspired by the “beautiful view,” which is what Beauvoir means in French. However, the property was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Since then, numerous organizations have contributed to rebuilding and restoring the premises.

The UDC ladies made cotton boll angels last year, and all of the ornaments donated were immediately sold. If you get a chance to visit historic Beauvoir, make sure to purchase an angel to benefit the Presidential Residence.

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