Today’s post is a reprint from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” from Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VII (1903).
The property in Harrison county, lying along the Gulf coast about half way between Biloxi and Mississippi City, now known as “Beauvoir,” purchased in 1849 by Mr. James Brown, a planter, of Madison county, was in its primeval state, a beautiful grove of live oaks, magnolias, pine, cedar and other trees indigenous to the coast; vines of great variety and luxuriance twined in and out among the branches forming many a leafy hammock. Here the sweet songsters of the sunny clime poured forth their melodies from the first pink flush of dawn till the twilight shadows fell over the sylvan scene. A clearing was made on an elevation close to the sea, and a small cottage erected as a summer home for the family of a Mr. Brown. Oranges, figs, pomegranates and other fruits were planted; and the family came to the new home where they continued to reside for a number of years, enjoying the products of the sea and the fruits of their orchards and groves, gathering health and strength from the salt sea air and the resinous breezes that blew over the forest of pine and cedar. The place was then known as “Orange Grove.”
In 1855, Mr. Brown having obtained, by a decision of court, an indisputable title to the property, built the present resident of native timers of the most enduring quality, all whipsawed, for there were no sawmills, and all hand-dressed. In those days men built for art and not for greed, and they lavished skill in lieu of gold; they worked to leave some record of their toil, heedless how their names might be forgot. The new home stood where the sylvan glory was untouched by the Vandal of Progress and the Goth of Stea that are so swiftly sapping the forests of our State. It is a large and commodious home, with a frontage of sixty feet and a depth of seventy feet. It stands in the center of an enclosure five hundred by seven hundred feet. It fronts the south and the sea, where the placid waters roll lazily over the white sands or the great waves chased by the storm king break over the beach with the sound of distant thunder. Twenty-five broad steps lead up to the wide verandas which extend along three sides of the house. The veranda roof is supported by huge fluted columns. The whole structure is upheld by tall brick pillars. The entrance is made through folding doors with wide glass panels. A hall sixteen feet wide extends through the house from south to north. On the left of the entrance are the parlors, dining-room, and the family sitting-room; on the right are the bedrooms and nursery; this was the arrangement when it was the home of Mr. Brown and family. The rooms are all large, and high-celied, with two long wide windows in each. Generous fire-places attest that even beside the summer sea a fire is sometimes necessary. This home was ever the seat of the most lavish hospitality. Scores of pleasure seekers were entertained, and many others who sought restoration to health n the salubrious atmosphere. In the fall of 1868, Mr. Brown moved his family to Madison county that he might be nearer his large planting interests. Since that time none of the family have resided at Orange Grove. The casualties of war compelled them to remain on the plantation. Mr. Brown died soon after the war, leaving his widow with eleven children to rear and educate; that she was successful in this great work is attested by the act that when the venerable mother laid down the burden of earthly cares, in September, 1903, all of her children were living and filled positions of honor and respect. Mrs. Brown did not feel justified in keeping a home for occasional use, and sold Orange Grove to Mr. Frank Johnson. A few years later he sold it to Mrs. Sarah Anne Dorsey, who changed the name to “Beauvoir,” because of the exceeding beauty of the place. After death of her husband in 1873, Mrs. Dorsey went to live at Beauvoir. Here she entertained most generously. Especially were ex-Confederate officers and soldiers ever welcome guests. She was a talented and cultured woman and devoted much time to literary work.
In 1877 Mr. Davis went to the coast in search of a home. Mrs. Dorsey offered Beauvoir as a gift; this Mr. Davis declined. She then agreed to sell the property; he accepted the offer and took up his residence there. Mrs. Dorsey remained at Beauvoir and, acting as amanuensis, was of great assistance to Mr. Davis in his literary labors, especially in the preparation of The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy. At her death, which occurred in New Orleans in 1879, she left Beauvoir by will to Mr. Davis and his daughter, Winnie.
It may be interesting to note something of the home life of the last occupants of Beauvoir. On the right of the entrance, the first room was Miss Winnie’s special room; here she reigned queen; her artistic taste and dainty fingers had arranged every article of furniture and adornment, from the neatly arranged personal belongings to the lovely decoration of the wooden mantelpiece which surmounted the fireplace. The next room was that of Mrs. Hays; the next was the dining room, with its furnishing of massive mahogany table, sideboard and china cabinets. On the left of the hall, the first room was the parlor; opening into the parlor by folding doors was the library, where still stand the bookcases, empty now, but whose shelves were once filled with one of the finest selections of books in the State. Handsome marble mantles surmount the fireplaces in these rooms. Just north of the library was the bed room of Mr. Davis; next to this was Mrs. Davis’ room. The home bore the imprint of the exquisite taste and deft fingers of the loyal chatelaine, who made this an ideal home for the word-weary man, who after many years of wandering had come back to his own to rest, to write, to die.
To the east of the residence stands a little one-story cottage, of one large and two small rooms, with a wide porch. The front room was the study of Mr. Davis. Here he did the most of his writing, including The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, a brilliant vindication of a great cause, a monument to the gallant achievements, sacrifices and patriotism of its soldiery, and an imperishable tribute in its dedication to the peerless womanhood of the South. In this quiet, beautiful home, beside the sounding sea, bearing on its shining expanse of blue countless vessels, from the tiny sail boat to the large ship whose great white sails glitter in the sunlight as she slowly ploughs her way to the ocean, the gentler, nobler side of a well-rounded character was exhibited, and his words were jewels, treasured by his devoted wife and daughter as sweet memories to brighten the coming years.
Few places are so rich in inspiration as Beauvoir; and the memories, historical and personal, that cling around it, render it almost sacred, and will live when bronze and marble shall have crumbled to dust. The place is instinct with the dignity and chivalry of the leader of the Confederate cause. He remained aloof from the influences of the times, and thus showed to the world there is such a thing as victory in defeat. With the death of Mr. Davis in 1889, Beauvoir ceased to be a home; and, as turn by turn the wheel of time goes on, the old home is slowly sinking into the sere and yellow leaf. Let us hope the sons and daughters of those who followed the mandates of the Southern chieftain will restore it to its pristine beauty; and let it be done quickly. It has become necessary to provide a home for the homeless veterans, and it is especially fitting that the last home of the President of the Confederacy should shelter those of his followers against whom the gales of adversity are now blowing inhospitably. Beauvoir is a magnificent estate and will make an ideal home for those on the shady side of life who are unable to provide for themselves. These old veterans will find every thing to woo them to peace and happiness; listening to the murmuring waves, the soughing of the pines and the songs of the birds, the can forget the misfortunes which have forced them in old age to appeal for assistance to the State they fought to save from disgrace. Treading these stately halls, they will no longer think of bleak and barren walls, empty cupboards, and depleted purses, though time is speeding and its waves are rapidly bearing them onward and outward to the shores of eternity.
Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VII (1903), pp. 325-328.
This post is part of a series taken from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” published in 1903. Want to read others in the series?
- Eagle’s Nest
- Mount Salus
- Shirley House (Wexford Lodge)
- Jacob Thompson House
- Blue Mountain