Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, born February 16, 1829

Sarah Anne Ellis was born in 1829 to Mary Malvina Routh and Thomas George Percy Ellis, both from wealthy planter families, in Natchez, Mississpippi

Richmond Plantation House, 
birthplace of Sarah Anne Ellis
Her father Thomas, a successful planter, was a member of the famed southern Percy family.  She was was the niece of Catherine Anne Warfield and Eleanor Percy Lee, the “Two Sisters of the West,” who while young published two volumes of poetry together. 

Sarah Anne’s father died when she was nine. Her widowed mother Mary soon remarried to Charles Gustavus Dahlgren, of Swedish descent. Her stepfather, who saw great potential in Sarah, provided her with a first-rate education, engaging as her tutor Eliza Ann DuPuy, the same woman who had inspired and trained her aunts Catherine and Eleanor. At school, she met the older Varina Banks Howell, whom she would meet later in life again as the wife of Jefferson Davis.
Sarah Ellis Dorsey was 32 when the Civil War began.

In 1852, Sarah Ellis married Samuel Worthington Dorsey, an older man who was a member of a prominent Maryland family. His father, Thomas Dorsey, had accumulated large cotton plantations which Samuel inherited. Between the Dahlgren-Routh-Ellis plantations on Sarah's side and Samue Dorsey's plantations, the newlyweds were rich. They settled first in Maryland, but later moved to a Routh family plantation in Tenasa Parish, Louisiana.

Sarah Dorsey wrote articles for the New York Churchman in the 1850s. She published her first fictional work in 1863–1864 in the Southern Literary Messenger, which serialized her novel Agnes Graham, featuring a heroine modeled on herself. Other fictional works of Dorsey include Lucia Dare, with a heroine modeled on her own experiences in fleeing Louisiana for Texas during the Civil War. 

In 1866, Dorsey published a biography of the wartime Louisiana Governor Henry Watkins
Allen. They had first met in 1859, when both the Dorseys and Allen were traveling in the Rhine River Valley in Europe. 

In 1873, the Dorseys moved to Beuvoir, a plantation near Mississippi City, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  Soon after her husband died in 1875, Dorsey learned that Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy, was ill and bankrupt. She invited him to visit at the plantation in December 1876. The impoverished Davis family had been living with their eldest daughter and her family in Memphis, Tennessee.  Jefferson Davis moved into Beauvoir on a permanent basis, where Dorsey provided him with a cottage on the grounds for his use. There he began to write his memoir, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Dorsey was instrumental in his success: organizing his day, motivating him to work, taking dictation, transcribing notes, editing his manuscript and offering advice. Rumors quickly began to fly that the two were having an affair. Varina Davis refused for a long time to set foot on Dorsey’s property. Eventually she accepted Dorsey's invitation to live there. 
The Davis Family at Beauvoir
When the Davises' last surviving son Jefferson Davis, Jr. died in 1878, the loss devastated both his parents. Varina Davis warmed to Dorsey's hospitality. That summer, Sarah Dorsey nursed Varina through a long debilitating illness. 
Soon afterward, Sarah Dorsey learned that she had inoperable tumors in her breast. Recognizing that she was dying, Dorsey rewrote her will, bequeathing all her capital and Beauvoir to Jefferson Davis.
Dorsey died in the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans on July 4, 1879, at the age of fifty. The Percy family sued but failed to break the will. 
After Jefferson Davis' death in 1889, Beauvoir was adapted as a home for  Confederate veterans. Many were buried after their deaths in the cemetery behind the house. After the last veteran died, the property was adapted as a house museum.
Beauvoir Cottage

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