April 2015 Artifact of the Month


Sewing chest

This small wooden sewing chest, stained to look like exotic inlay. It is on display in Varina Davis’s dressing room in the White House of the Confederacy.  The box was given by Varina to Mrs. Clyde, the wife of the owner of the steamship Clyde, in thanks for kind treatment during one of the most difficult periods in Varina’s life.

On March 30, 1865, with Union forces close, Varina Davis fled Richmond with a small party of people including her four children, Margaret (10), Jefferson Jr. (8), William (4) and Varina Ann (1).  Her husband, Confederate President Jefferson Davis left Richmond on April 2 with members of the Confederate Government, determined to carry on the business of government. 

For six weeks Varina, fled south. She had few sure allies, and was once nearly robbed by Confederate veterans hoping to steal any valuables she carried.  On May 10, outside Irwinville, Georgia, Varina with her  children and husband, who had recently joined his family, were surrounded by two Federal cavalry units.  The Davises were now prisoners of the Union Army.  Unsure of their destination or fate, Varina endured taunting and humiliation from her captors as she sought to protect her husband, ill with neuralgia, and children.  The family was taken from Savannah on board the steamship Clyde to Fortress Monroe.  The owner of the Clyde, William Clyde ordered his crew to treat the Davises with courtesy as they traveled. After weeks of fear and anxiety, Clyde’s compassion must have been a welcomed relief. Years later, remembering the kindness extended by the Clydes, Varina gave this sewing box to Mrs. Clyde in thanks.


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