Joseph Evan Davis was born in Washington while his father was serving in the Senate. Davis proclaimed his new son "a very fine one" and named the boy for his eldest brother and his grandfather. Varina protested, for she deeply resented Joseph Emory Davis, but to no avail. She confided to her mother, however, that the boy did bear a resemblance to his namesake uncle, which she hoped he would outgrow.
Little Joe was described as exceptionally bright, and he was apparently the best behaved of all of the Davis children, but his life ended tragically with a fall from a White House porch on April 30, 1864. Rumors persist that he was pushed by older brother Jeff Jr., but there is no evidence to support this story.
According to contemporary accounts, the accident took place at some point between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. while neither parent was at home. A servant discovered Joe lying by the pavement onto which he had fallen from a height of about fifteen feet. Maggie Davis ran to the neighbors for help, and Jeff Jr. enlisted the aid of two people passing by on the street. One of these men, a Confederate officer, wrote that Joe's "head was contused, and I think his chest much injured internally."
The child apparently died about the time his parents reached the house. His father refused to see visitors and could be heard pacing all night.
Funeral services were held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on May 1, and Joe was buried at Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery, where the rest of his immediate family would eventually be interred.
There are no known likenesses of Joseph Evan Davis, in large part due to the scarcity of photographic materials during the war. For more information on him, see Volumes 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis. The latter volume contains more details about his death. The best account of the accident, written by the officer whom Jeff Jr. found on the street, was published in the Richmond Sentinal on May 31, 1864.