The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993 Page: 301
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fested itself in his need to attach himself stubbornly and inflexibly to certain
people and ideas. Because father Samuel had been "remarkably undemon-
strative and self-contained" (p. 692), and died in 1824, when Jefferson was
still a teenager, the future Confederate president hardly knew his father and
grew up starved for paternal affection. Jefferson was the youngest of ten chil-
dren, twenty-three years younger than the eldest, Joseph. Given the maternal
risks of childbearing in the early nineteenth century, it is understandable
that mother Jane give the last of her ten children the middle name of "Finis,"
After the death of Samuel Davis, Joseph, by then a prospering attorney and
landowner in the Delta region of Mississippi, took up the role of surrogate
father to Jefferson. In evaluating this complex relationship and its impact on
Jefferson's personal development, William C. Davis draws on Hermann's Pur-
suzt of a Dream, and would also have found her Joseph Davis of value had it been
available to him. Although the two brothers were genuinely devoted to each
other, Joseph's tendency to make major decisions for his young sibling encour-
aged in Jefferson a decided streak of irresolution, an inability to make the big
decision. Joseph, it appears, persuaded him to leave Kentucky's Transylvania
College and attend the military academy at West Point. Later, Joseph strongly
encouraged him to resign his commission as an army lieutenant in 1836 and
take up the life of a cotton planter on hundreds of acres of cotton land pro-
vided by Joseph-land that eventually became Brierfield plantation, adjacent
to Joseph's Hurricane. Even though this gift of land seems to have represented
Jefferson's share of his father's estate, Joseph never gave his brother formal
title to the estate; and this created substantial though surmountable legal
problems for the ex-Confederate president when he determined in the 1870s,
after Joseph's death, to reclaim Brierfield from the family of ex-slave Ben
In short, Joseph Davis exerted a powerful influence on both the character
and career of his more famous brother. This influence was also evident in
Jefferson's outlook on the South's peculiar institution. Joseph served Jefferson
as the exemplar of a benevolent and lenient master, a paternalist, some might
say, though the word was unknown before the Civil War. The older brother
based his system of plantation management on the principle that "people
worked best when treated well and given incentives rather than when driven
by fear of punishment" (Joseph Davis, p. 54), and presided over a system of self-
government among his slaves that was not at all well received by his planter
neighbors. William C. Davis suggests that when Jefferson the politician pro-
pounded proslavery paeans to "tranquil and happy plantation life," he was
painting a picture that accurately reflected life at Davis Bend, "however much
it may have been a dream world elsewhere" (pp. 188-189). Yet Jefferson
proved less successful at proximating plantation utopia at Brierfield than did
Joseph at Hurricane, in part because the younger brother's political ascent in-
volved prolonged absences from Davis Bend during the 184os and 1850s. Jef-
ferson's management problems probably stemmed as well from his lower opin-
ion of African Americans as human beings, even though Joseph's relationship
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993, periodical, 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/m1/345/: accessed January 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.