Beauvoir, French for “Beautiful View,” was home to Confederate president Jefferson Davis for the final twelve years of his life, from 1877 to 1889. James Brown, a planter from Madison County, constructed the Louisiana plantation–style mansion in 1852 on the Gulf Coast shoreline between Biloxi and Gulfport. The elevated, nine-room home faced the water and featured decor imported from Europe. Sarah A. Dorsey, who owned plantations in Mississippi and Arkansas and who gave the mansion its name, acquired the home in 1873. A school friend of Jefferson Davis’s wife, Varina Howell Davis, Dorsey invited Jefferson Davis to visit Beauvoir in 1877 when he was looking for a quiet place to write his memoirs. Davis rented a cottage on the grounds and two years later bought the home from Dorsey for fifty-five hundred dollars. While at Beauvoir, Davis wrote The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government and A Short History of the Confederate States of America.
When Davis died, the house passed to his daughter, Varina “Winnie” Davis; she died in 1898, and the mansion then passed to her mother, Varina Howell Davis. In failing health and with insufficient income to maintain the mansion, Varina Howell Davis nevertheless rejected a lucrative offer from a commercial developer and instead sold the property in 1903 to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for ten thousand dollars. The agreement called for the State of Mississippi to operate Beauvoir as a home for Confederate veterans, their wives, and their orphans as long as such a need existed. In 1924 the state constructed a hospital for veterans east of the main building. Housing more than two thousand veterans and their widows, Soldiers’ Home functioned from 1904 to 1957, when the state transferred the final two Confederate widows to another facility.
In 1940 state legislation authorized the conversion of Beauvoir into a Jefferson Davis shrine, and it was restored and opened to visitors the following year. A Davis family museum now occupies the mansion’s ground floor. The property also includes two cottages; the hospital, which houses a Confederate museum; a replica of one of the twelve barracks that housed veterans; a superintendent’s home; the gardens; and a Confederate cemetery containing the graves of 771 veterans and their wives and the Confederate Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated in 1981. While Jefferson Davis is buried in Richmond, Virginia, his father, Samuel, a Revolutionary War veteran, is interred at Beauvoir. In 1998 a presidential library and museum opened.
In 1969 Hurricane Camille destroyed many artifacts and severely damaged the house. Thirty-six years later, Hurricane Katrina wreaked further havoc, leaving paintings and artifacts in disarray. Beauvoir reopened in 2008 under the operation of the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
- Beauvoir website, www.beauvoir.org
- Richard R. Flowers, in Down South with the Dixie Press, ed. Charles L. Sullivan (2006)
- Michael Thomason, Gulf Coast Historical Review (1985)