December 5: Jefferson Finis Davis (1889)

Editor’s Note: The inclusion of Jefferson Davis in this listing is in no way an endorsement of his political and social views.  His insertion here simply documents the fact that he was a parishioner of the church prior to the Civil War and helps to illustrate more fully the divergent group of people and experiences that have made Epiphany what it is today.

Jefferson Davis was a soldier, farmer, U.S. Representative and Senator, U.S. Secretary of War, and the only president of the Confederate States of America. His birth took place in Kentucky, just 100 miles from and eight months earlier than President Abraham Lincoln’s. Davis was named for Thomas Jefferson, whom Davis’ father greatly admired. His middle name, Latin for “end,” indicated his parent’s intent to make him the last of their ten children. Born into a military family, Davis’s father and uncles were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. His older brothers fought in the War of 1812. Davis was an 1828 graduate of West Point. In 1845, Mississippi sent Davis to the U.S. House of Representatives. His Congressional term was short. He resigned in June 1846 to fight in the Mexican War where he led his troops valiantly at the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista. He was offered a promotion to brigadier general in 1847 but refused it when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1853, President Pierce appointed Davis U.S. Secretary of War where he served with distinction and was recognized as one of the most capable administrators to hold the office. In 1857, Davis returned to the Senate as a vocal proponent of states rights. He formally withdrew from the U.S. Senate on January 21, 1861 after Mississippi seceded from the Union. One month later, the Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Alabama selected Davis to become the President of the Confederacy.

Davis became associated with Epiphany when he first came to Washington to serve in Congress. Three of his children were baptized at the church – Margaret in 1855, Jefferson Jr. in 1857, and Joseph in 1860. Davis’ wife Varina was confirmed at the church in 1856. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis appointed Epiphany’s first rector, John French, to be chaplain and professor of ethics at West Point. Davis contributed toward the renovation and expansion of the church building in 1857. By a strange twist of fate, when Davis left Washington in 1861, his vacated pew at Epiphany was rented by Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.

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