When Varina met Jefferson, he was a 35 year old widower and she was 17. She had accepted an invitation to spend the Christmas season at Hurricane, Joseph Davis’s plantation near Vicksburg. During her stay, she met her host’s younger brother Jefferson, who had a reputation as a recluse since the death of his first wife, Sarah Knox “Knoxie” Taylor.
In addition to the age problem (18 years), he was a Democrat, and she was a Whig. In spite of these differences, Varina was almost instantly attracted to this older man, writing her mother: “I do not know whether this Mr. Jefferson Davis is young or old. He looks both at times, but I believe he is old, for from what I hear he is only two years younger than you are”. (the rumor was correct).
In her memoirs, Varina said her mother’s greatest concerns were Davis’s excessive devotion to his living relatives, especially his brother Joseph, who had largely raised him after their father’s death and upon whom he was financially dependent; and to Jefferson’s near worship of the memory of his deceased first wife (concerns that in private correspondence, Varina would later concede were entirely correct).
Nevertheless, the Howells ultimately consented to the courtship, and the couple did marry! More about that tomorrow….