Who Is Jim Limber?
Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy and a slaver in Mississippi, saw Jim being abused in town. So, she took him home; her home happened to be the White House of the Confederacy! She didn’t take him to be a servant or house boy. She took him in to raise in the nursery with her children. Jefferson Davis filed guardianship papers, which was the closest thing to adoption in 1864. They intended to raise Jim until he was eighteen and had a trade of his own.
That didn’t happen, because fourteen months later the Confederacy collapsed and the Davis family was fleeing for their lives. When they left Richmond, Jim was with them. He was with them when they were arrested in Georgia. He was still with them in Port Royal, SC, when they were put on the prison boat to go back to Washington. This is where they parted company.
Varina Howell Davis was a wonderful writer. She kept journals, diaries, and she wrote letters to her husband every day. These are in the archives of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, which was the White House where the Davises resided. This is where I researched the story. Personal letters reveal a lot about the author of the letter. I learned a lot about the Davis family from Varina. I told this story from Jim’s point of view, but it came from Varina’s personal documents.
Last November, I blogged about attending the African Cultural Heritage Festival in Port Royal, St. Helena Island, SC. The venue is known as The Penn Center. That building was one of the original buildings of the Port Royal Experiment. Jim went to school here following his separation from the Davises. That was a heart-wrenching scene and difficult to write, looking through my tears, and feeling the mother’s anguish. But, being there completed the story for me, to walk where Jim walked.
The mystery of Jim Limber, is where did he come from and where did he go? Because history is confounded by Jim’s vanishing, I wrote the book as a “choose your own ending” for young readers. Then the strong suggestion that, now that you know who Jim is, what do you think happened to him? Write your own ending. Send it to me and I’ll publish it on my website.
The story of Jim Limber and the Jefferson Davis family shows us how incomplete our history lessons are. I visit Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Museum & Library in Biloxi, MS, twice a year and they carry the book in their gift shop. There’s a statue of Jim Limber in the side yard with Jefferson Davis and one of the other Davis boys. So, of course, visitors are interested to know about him. I’ve learned a different side of Jefferson Davis and his wife. It’s the humanity that’s missing in history. This is why I write historical stories for young readers. History is more than names, dates and battle casualties. It’s about real flesh and blood people who laugh and cry, and whose interesting lives are vastly different.