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The Jim Limber Davis Story
February is designated as Black History Month. That’s good, since we should remember and learn about great contributions made by the many African Americans in America’s history. They continue to do so. But, it’s not so good Americans pause only during one month of the year to reflect on the enormous sacrifices and roles they played in the forming of this country.
Every February, the regular list of great black Americans including the likes of George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglas is posted like clockwork. These were great Americans, however there are so many others that have simply been forgotten or buried in history books. Jim Limber is one of those.
Jim didn’t invent or do anything spectacular most people would consider important. Rather, he was important simply because of whom he was and what he represented. His is a true but sadly forgotten story that should be included during Black History Month. Jim’s story is about a black child and the Confederate President Jefferson Davis Family.
On the morning of February 15, 1864, the First Lady Mrs. Varina Davis, was driving her carriage down the streets of Richmond, VA, after doing some errands, when she heard a child screaming off in the distance. Concerned, she hurried to see what was happening. Arriving at the scene she saw a man beating a young black child.
Fuming with rage at the injustice she demanded he immediately stop. Her words fell on deaf ears as the man continued with his abuse. Apparently he was unaware of who this finely dressed interloper was. Varina Davis didn’t care if he did or not as she jumped down from her carriage and forcibly took the young lad from his clutches. She led the tearful child to her carriage and took him to the Confederate White House.
Varina and a maid cleaned him up, attended to his cuts and bruises and fed him. The only thing they could get out of the boy was his name, Jim Limber and he was five years old. Jim’s dirty ragged clothes were replaced by some belonging to their son Joe, who was about the same size and age. Sadly, Joe died from an accidental fall later that year.
The next day a close friend of the presidential family, noted Southern Diarist-Mary Boykin Chesnut, came to visit and was taken with little Jim’s wide eyed innocence and eagerness to show her his cuts and bruises. She wrote "The child is an orphan rescued yesterday from a brutal Negro Guardian." and "there are things in life that are too sickening, and such cruelty is one of them."
Eventually, some children began addressing him as Jim Limber Davis for fun. That set just fine with him because he had come to feel he was a member of the family. Letters from the Davis family to friends indicate they felt he was indeed part of the family.
The Christmas of 1864, was probably the best Christmas Jim Limber would ever have. He was happy he was allowed to help decorate the Christmas tree set up in Saint Paul’s Church. Jim was happiest when he was helping. On Christmas Eve orphans were brought to the church and given presents.
But little did Jim or the Davis family know their contented life was about to be torn asunder. The Civil War was coming to an end and Richmond was being evacuated. Varina and the children left ahead of the president. The president and his staff left shortly before Union troops arrived to occupy the city.
Jefferson Davis met up with his family right before his capture near Irwinville, Georgia and again the family was separated. The Confederate president was taken to Virginia where he spent two years in prison.
Mrs. Davis and her children were taken to Macon, Georgia and later to Port Royal outside of Savannah. There Union troops came and forcibly took young Jim who put up a useless, but valiant struggle. They would never see each other again despite the family’s attempts to locate him.
No one knows what became of Jim Limber. His story may be buried in the annals of history, but it’s a slice of Americana that should never be forgotten.