The Papers of Jefferson Davis
The Papers of Jefferson Davis

Davis relaxing in Scotland, 1869 Mississippi Department of Archives and History



Sarah Knox Taylor Davis


Sarah Knox Taylor, the daughter of future president Zachary Taylor and Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor, was born at Fort Knox in Vincennes, Indiana, in either 1813 or 1814 (probably the latter), and was named for her paternal grandmother and for the fort where she was born. Often called Knox or Knoxie, she was educated in Kentucky and Ohio and met Davis in 1832, when both he and her father were stationed at Fort Crawford in what is now Wisconsin. Her father opposed the relationship, both because of the hardships of army life and because there was some friction between Davis and himself. Davis was transferred to St. Louis in 1833, but he remained in correspondence with the woman he hoped would become his wife:

"[Your] kind, dear letter [in which she apparently consented to marriage], I have kissed it often and it has driven many mad notions from my brain. Sarah whatever I may be hereafter I will ascribe to you. Neglected by you I should be worse than nothing and if the few good qualities I possess shall under your smiles yield a fruit it will be your's as the grain is the husbandman's. . . . Shall we not soon meet Sarah to part no more? oh! how I long to lay my head upon that breast which beats in unison with my own, to turn from the sickening sights of worldly duplicity and look in those eyes so eloquent of purity and love" (December 16, 1834, in Davis Papers, 1:346).

The details of their courtship were lost to history in the summer of 1863 when Union troops carried off a packet of correspondence between Sarah Taylor and Davis. It is unknown whether they even saw each other from the time Davis left Fort Crawford until they met to be married. Rumors of an elopement circulated for decades, but there was a formal ceremony, and the couple apparently had the blessing of Zachary Taylor, perhaps because Davis had decided to resign his commission. Sarah's parents were not present at the wedding, however, which took place on June 17, 1835, at Beechland, near Louisville, Kentucky, the home of Sarah's widowed aunt Elizabeth Taylor.

The newlyweds took a steamboat to Vicksburg, traveling to visit Joseph E. Davis on Davis Bend. There Davis began the planning for Brierfield. Later that summer the couple went to see Davis' oldest sister Anna Smith at "Locust Grove" in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. Either on the journey or soon after their arrival, both Davis and Sarah contracted either malarial or yellow fever. On September 15, two days short of their three-month anniversary, Sarah Taylor Davis died. She was buried at "Locust Grove," which is now a state historical site that is open to the public.

For more information, see Volume 1 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis.


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