University Archives


Superb Jefferson Davis Signed Check from Life in Memphis

JEFFERSON DAVIS. Document Signed, Check to Speed, Taylor, Strange & Co., April 24, 1872, Memphis, Tennessee. 1 p., 7.75ʺ x 2.75ʺ. Excellent condition. Also includes an autographed carte-de-visite of Davis by photographers Vannerson & Jones of Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1864, 2.5ʺ x 3.875ʺ; a print of Davis with a printed signature and a vignette of slaves harvesting cotton, 4.25ʺ x 7.25ʺ; and an envelope with an image of Davis as a photographer “Taking” Washington, 5.5ʺ x 3.125ʺ.

Jefferson Davis signed this check for $43.11 from his account at the Savings Bank of Memphis to local dry goods firm Speed, Taylor, Strange & Company while he was president of the Carolina Life Insurance Company.

After his release from imprisonment in 1867 on bail of $100,000, Davis went to Quebec, where he lived until 1868. When President Andrew Johnson pardoned all former Confederates for the offense of treason on Christmas Day, 1868, and a federal circuit court dismissed the case against Davis in mid-February 1869, Davis moved to Memphis, Tennessee. There, he became president of the Carolina Life Insurance Company. He initially lived in the Peabody Hotel and recruited former Confederate officers as agents for the company. After the Panic of 1873 affected the company, Davis resigned when it merged with another firm over his objections. Davis continued to live in Memphis until 1877.

Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) was born in Kentucky and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1828. After service under Zachary Taylor in the Black Hawk War, Davis married the future president’s daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, in 1835, but she died three months after their wedding. Davis established a plantation in Mississippi and became a Democratic politician. In 1845, he married Varina Howell and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Davis soon resigned his seat in Congress and raised a volunteer regiment for the Mexican War. He returned to politics after the war and served as a U.S. Senator (1845-1852, 1857-1860), and as Secretary of War (1853-1857). A moderate, he initially opposed secession, but when Mississippi seceded in January 1861, Davis resigned from the Senate and returned to Mississippi to raise troops. A month later, the Montgomery Convention named him as provisional president of the Confederacy, until he was elected to a six-year term as president in November 1861. He was inaugurated on February 22, 1862. Davis took a direct role in the management of military affairs and worked with the Confederate Congress to expand the powers of the Confederate government, including conscription, impressment, and suspension of habeas corpus, which prompted some states’ rights opposition to his administration. After the fall of Richmond, Union troops captured a fleeing Davis in Georgia. He was imprisoned for two years at Fort Monroe, Virginia, charged with treason. He was never brought to trial and was eventually released. He published his two-volume memoir, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, in 1881.

Speed, Taylor, Strange & Company was a company formed by John H. Speed, John H. Taylor, and John P. Strange. They sold dry goods, boots, shoes, and clothing from their store on 312 Main Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

Vannerson & Jones was a photographic partnership of Julian Vannerson (1826-1879) and Charles E. Jones, formed in Richmond, Virginia, in 1861. They later expanded their operations to include a Norfolk gallery. During the Civil War, their studio did a profitable business photographing Confederate officers and soldiers. Vannerson’s 1864 photograph of Robert E. Lee has become the most famous of the Confederate general. Vannerson purchased Jones’s half of the studio in 1866, then sold the business in 1869.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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