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Jefferson Davis descendant offers history lesson to local Rotarians

March 7, 2014


On Feb. 18, 1861, Jefferson Davis stood on the steps of the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery, Ala., and took an oath to serve as president of the confederate states.
It’s a story with which most have at least some familiarity. However, according to Bertram Hayes-Davis, Jefferson Davis’ great-great-grandson and executive director of Beauvoir and the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library in Biloxi, there is so much more of Jefferson Davis’ story to be told.
And he’s doing his best to do it. Hayes-Davis spoke to West Point Rotarians Thursday at the First United Methodist Church in West Point to offer a brief background of his ancestor’s legacy, as well as efforts to bolster the presidential library and partnerships with others around the nation.
“Most have this perception of Davis,” Hayes-Davis said. “Everyone knows he went to Montgomery and formed the confederate states … but it’s like he never lived beyond that day in February 1861. … Most people don’t really know who he was.”
Hayes-Davis was one of those people. When the Davis Family Association selected him — a then graduate student in geology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. — to serve as the director of Beauvoir and the presidential library, he said it was largely due to his name and family connection. Since then, Hayes-Davis has made it a point to learn all he can about his great-great-grandfather and travel to many of the places Jefferson Davis had been and seen. He’s been working to educate citizens about his ancestor ever since.
Of Jefferson Davis’ more notable achievements, he said, was his service as U.S. Secretary of War, which he said came with monumental responsibility. During his time in the position, Hayes-Davis said his ancestor was responsible for a number of things including the design and engineering of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Though construction was completed by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis set the ball rolling, according to Hayes-Davis.
“When you look at the top, you see the 43-foot statue of ‘Freedom,’” Hayes-Davis said. “ … Davis designed and commissioned that … there’s a plaque there (dedicated) to Davis. … Yet, people walk by that every day and never even know.”
Jefferson Davis also had his hands in the design and commission of the Transatlantic Railroad, according to Hayes-Davis, as well as rallying support for initial development of the Smithsonian. However, many of the nuances of his personal life, Hayes-Davis said, worked to solidify policy in the U.S.

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