Quarter-plate tintypes attributed to Jesse H. Whitehurst of Washington, D.C. John O’Brien collection.
In Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 1861, Jefferson Davis stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and bid farewell to his colleagues. Two weeks earlier, his homeland of Mississippi had dissolved its ties with the Union, a move that effectively ended his senatorial career.
The day proved the saddest of his life. Worn down by attempts to find a compromise to avert the current crisis and weighted down with stress and anxiety, Davis would soon leave the capital bound for an uncertain fate. His wife, Varina, would accompany him, equally distraught to leave their much-loved Washington.
Physical characteristics indicate the portraits were made at the same time. The brass mats and frames are similar, as is the texture of the back of the iron plates. Though the Davises may have visited Whitehurst’s gallery together, their different poses suggests the portraits were not thought of as a pair—Jefferson stares straight ahead and Varina in profile.
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