In planning the programming for the bicentennial, the Museum decided to focus on 12 themes, one per month. Local artist Alfonso Perez Acosta is creating a series of original pieces of art to go with the year-long series. Some faces might be familiar, but others will be totally new. Learn more about these behind-the-scenes faces here. Copies of all of prints are available in the Museum store.
Lewis Dabney Crenshaw
Lewis Dabney Crenshaw, the fourth pre-war owner of the house at 1201 East Clay Street, became one of the wealthiest men in Richmond. Born in Lynchburg on November 26, 1817, his father, Spottswood Crenshaw, brought the family to Richmond in 1820.
Lewis began his career working in the offices of Richmond merchant Charles M. Mitchell. After Mitchell died, Crenshaw formed a partnership with Mitchell’s son and son-in- law John M. Harvey in order to carry on the business, but the business came to an end in 1840.
Involving himself in a few other short lived businesses, Crenshaw eventually became partners
with Bolling Haxall in the Haxall Flour Mills. This partnership made Mr. Crenshaw a Richmond
business giant. As a part of this effort, Crenshaw and his brothers purchased ships to expand the
flour trade with South America. Crenshaw then arranged for his ships to bring back to Richmond, a load of South American coffee for each load of flour that shipped to South America. Before long, Richmond, Virginia was one of the leading coffee sellers in the U.S.
Next Crenshaw opened the Crenshaw Woolen Mills in the converted building of the closed Crenshaw Flour Mills. During the Civil War, the mill provided material to the Confederate Government for uniforms until a fire put it out of operation in 1863. Crenshaw’s flour mills were damaged in the Richmond evacuation fire. After the war, Crenshaw played a role in the rebuilding of the city until his death on December 27, 1875. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
While we often think of the home on the corner of 12th and Clay as the White House of the Confederacy, it didn't start as such. Learn more about the early owners at our January program.
An Evolving Structure
Built in 1818 as a mansion for Dr. John Brockenbrough, the house is approaching its 200th anniversary. Over the years, it has served many roles, most famously that of Confederate Executive Mansion of Jefferson Davis and his family from 1861-1865. While those four years cemented the house's importance in history, it also was a private residence (1818-1861), a headquarters of Union occupying forces during Reconstruction (1865-1870), the Richmond Central School (1871- 1894), home to The Confederate Museum (1896- 1976), and the fully restored White House of the Confederacy (1988-present). It was one of the first places designated as a National Historic Landmark.
From the artist: "My idea was to incorporate 4 different angles of the house (as for different points of view on it) and highlight one of them to show the main features of the building."
Interested in the architectural history of the home? Join us for our February program - an in-depth tour of the House with an eye towards architecture and design.
Hetty Cary hailed from Baltimore, Maryland, but with the coming of war, she and her siblings made their way to Richmond to be part of the Confederate war effort. Hetty, her sister Jennie, and their cousin Constance were soon tasked by General P.G.T Beauregard to sew the first Confederate battle flags. Today the flags made by Hetty and Constance are part of the Museum’s collection.
Hetty was often praised for her beauty. Bradley T. Johnston wrote that “she was the most beautiful woman of her day and perhaps the most beautiful woman Maryland ever produced” while another admirer wrote, “It is worth a king's ransom, a lifetime of trouble, to look at one such woman.” It is no wonder that Hetty Cary caught the eye of dashing Lt. Colonel John Pegram, a native of Richmond, Virginia, who would eventually achieve the rank of brigadier general.
The couple was married on January 19, 1865 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Just three weeks later, John Pegram was dead, having been killed in fighting outside Petersburg. In 1879, Hetty married a second time to Dr. Henry Newell Martin, an Irish biologist who was twelve years her junior. Even at 43, Hetty still must have been quite a looker.
Hetty passed away on September 27, 1892 and was buried in Baltimore County at St. Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery. The inscription on her tomb reads: "Beautiful Brilliant Brave, of pure and noble heart, true and generous soul in the battle of life heroic, in death triumphant." For more on Hetty Cary read her cousin Constance Cary Harrison’s memoir Recollections Grave and Gay.
In the April of 1862, the Davis’s coachman William Jackson “decamped” to the North. Jackson, who was about 30 years of age had been born in Hanover County but had lived in Richmond for 15 years. According to the New York Tribune, he was “of mixed African descent, sprightly, and intelligent.” The paper also reported that he was literate. Jackson had a wife and three children and had been a driver, a waiter, and a caretaker at city hall as well as a messenger for the courts.
The Davises hired him from a man named George Jones for $20 a month. According to one report, Jackson had been working for the Davises about 8 months, when he seized his freedom and made his way to Union lines. Reporting to general Irvin McDowell, Jackson described the low morale in Richmond as General McClellan moved his army up the Virginia peninsula toward the capital. He spoke of how the black people and Unionists in Richmond were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Union army and noted that the Davises had their “books, clothing, and pictures ready to move off” and provided information on conversations between Jefferson Davis and General Joseph Johnston. Jackson enjoyed some celebrity in the North and eventually made his way to England.
Burton Norvell Harrison
Burton Harrison was born in New Orleans in 1838 but was educated at Yale. He returned to the South to teach at the University of Mississippi. When war broke out, he considered enlisting in the prestigious Washington Artillery, but fate intervened when a friend, L.Q. C Lamar, arranged for him to become Jefferson Davis’s secretary. Harrison become very close to the Davis family because not only did he work in the house, he also lived in it. The war years were not all work and no play for him. Harrison spent time attending social functions and courting Constance Cary, cousin of the beautiful Hetty Cary.
Just before the evacuation of Richmond, Jefferson Davis sent his wife Varina south to Raleigh with their children. He assigned Harrison to be their escort. Harrison then returned to accompany Jefferson Davis on his flight and was captured alongside him. Burton Harrison was imprisoned at Fort Delaware for almost nine months but made good use of his time and studied law. Upon his release, he passed the bar, established a law practice in New York, and married Constance Cary. You can read more about Constance Cary and Burton Harrison in her book Recollections Grave and Gay.
Ellen Barnes McGinnis
Born in Richmond around 1839, Ellen was a biracial woman and possibly free. She went to work for the Davises in early 1864, serving as a maid to Varina and a nurse to Varina Anne or Winnie, the Davis’s youngest child.
Ellen Barnes accompanied Varina Davis on her flight from Richmond. After the war, Ellen and her husband Charles moved to Elizabeth City County (now Hampton, Virginia). Charles was last mentioned in September 1865 and probably died shortly after that. Ellen remained in contact with Varina and in 1867 married Frederick McGinnis, a 33 year-old freedman whom Varina had hired while in Savanna during Davis’s first year of imprisonment.
Interestingly, McGinnis had been an enslaved body servant of General Beauregard’s.
With Jefferson Davis’s release from Ft. Monroe in 1867, the family moved to Montreal, Canada, accompanied by Ellen and Frederick. At some point, the McGinnis’s returned to the states. Ellen died at the age of 48 in Baltimore on December 11, 1890. Her husband Frederick lived to be 60 and was killed when he was run over by the tender of a locomotive while crossing some railroad tracks on October 13, 1896. The couple had a daughter named Emma, who at the time of her father’s death was a schoolteacher in Washington D.C.
About the Artist
Alfonso Perez Acosta was born in Colombia in 1980. He studied Fine Arts in Bogotá from 2001 to 2006. In 2007, Acosta started teaching at Los Nogales school in Bogotá, as a drawing and sculpture instructor. From 2007 to 2012, his artistic work focused on drawing and creative communication practices. From 2009 to 2011, he studied Education for a Masters Degree. In 2013, he moved to Medellin to work as an Integrated Arts Teacher for an international school. In 2015, Alfonso and his family moved to the United States and settled in Virginia. Alfonso currently works at the Sacred Heart Center and on different art projects about history and community building through portraits with the American Civil War Museum, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and the Valentine Museum in Richmond.