Tag Archives: Mary Ann Lumpkin

Jefferson Davis’s Wife and Children Flee Richmond

March 27, 1865/2015
Volume 6, Issue 13 (233 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Jefferson Davis’s Wife and Children Flee Richmond

March 30, 1865. “In March 1865, the day she dreaded but expected arrived and Varina [Davis] said her goodbye to her husband. Though ailing and feeble, Jeff was going to the field; Varina and the children were going to seek refuge in Carolina. ‘I have every confidence in your capacity to take care of our babies,’ Varina recalled her husband saying, ‘and understand your

Jefferson and Varina, courtesy New York Public Library

Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis

desire to assist and comfort me, but you can do this in but one way, and that is by going yourself and taking our children to a place of safety.’  . . . ‘If I live,’ he said, ‘you can come to me when the struggle is ended, but I do not expect to survive the destruction of constitutional liberty.’ “Varina had made her own preparations for flight . . . She had purchased four barrels of flour to exchange for food or lodging along the way south. . . . but . . . Jeff would not allow [it]. The families remaining in Richmond needed these supplies more than his, he insisted. Yet he did give Varina a small amount of gold—and, on the day before she left, a pistol. He showed her how to load it, aim, and fire. It was a desperate measure that reflected the chaos that was spreading in the hours of defeat. There were roving bands of troops, both Yankee and Confederate, in the countryside. Should she be attacked, Jeff told Varina, ‘you can at least, if reduced to the last extremity, force your assailants to kill you.'”


Carol Berkin, Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant, (2009), p. 172.

Davis, Confederate Congress Abandon Richmond

On Sunday, April 2, 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was at church in Richmond when an orderly brought him a dispatch from General Robert E. Lee. “‘I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight,” Lee wrote from Petersburg.

Davis then knew that it was all over. Richmond would soon be taken, and he must flee. That evening he headed to Danville, where his wife had gone several days earlier. The Confederate Congress and the Virginia Legislature also fled the city.

Federal troops entered Richmond the next day.

Lee led his forces west in the hope of joining forces with General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina and continuing their fight. But that was not to be; before their forces could link up, Lee surrendered a week later, on April 9, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Richmond Slave-Dealer Out of Business, Marries a Black Woman He Had Purchased Ten Years Earlier; She Leases Former Slave Market Prison as School for Black Ministers

“On the night of April 2, 1865, Confederate troops abandoned Richmond. The sudden decision caught Robert Lumpkin, the well-known dealer in slaves, with a recently acquired shipment which he had not yet managed to sell. Desperately, he tried to remove them by the same train that would carry Jefferson Davis out of the Confederate capital. When Lumpkin reached the railway station, however, he found a panic-stricken crowd held back by a line of Confederate soldiers with drawn bayonets. Upon learning that he could not remove his blacks, the dealer marched them back to Lumpkin’s Jail, a two-story brick house with barred windows, located in the heart of Richmond’s famous slave market — an area known to local blacks as ‘the Devil’s Half Acre.’ After their return, the slaves settled down in their cells for still another night, apparently unaware that this would be their last night of bondage. For Lumpkin, the night would mark the loss of a considerable investment and the end of a profession. Not long after the collapse of the Confederacy, however, he took as his legal wife the black woman he had purchased a decade before and who had already borne him two children. . . .

“. . . Less than two years after the fall of Richmond, a Massachusetts clergyman arrived in the city with the intention of establishing a school to train black ministers. But when he sought a building for his school, he encountered considerable resistance, until he met Mary Ann Lumpkin, the black wife of the former slave dealer. She offered to lease him Lumpkin’s Jail. With unconcealed enthusiasm, black workers knocked down the cells, removed the iron bars from the windows, and refashioned the old jail as a school for ministers and freedmen alike. Before long, children and adults entered the doors of the new school, some of them recalling that this was not their first visit to the familiar brick building.”


America’s War, Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries, Edward L. Ayers, ed., pp. 262, 269-69.


“Digging up the Past at a Richmond Jail,” Smithsonian Magazine

– All entries were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert

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