Jefferson Davis – Our 3rd Cousin – The Untold Story Of Mixed Race In Early Colonial America

Above is a picture of my husband Mike Davis and his 3rd cousin Jefferson Davis. These two men could be brothers. (170 years apart)

So, let’s get into this Complex Mixture of DNA In OUR DAVIS FAMILY TREE

Ancient bloodlines of jewish descent (the blood lines of both the line of Ham (son of Noah) and of Aaron (the highest priests of Israel), marriages to Indian princesses, offspring of the mystical and still mostly mysterious “melungeon” (likely Portuguese/Moor) race, plantation owners of slaves, marriages to slaves, slaves and indentured servants themselves…..this is all our Davis family genealogical story and it was all written here in the hills of Appalachia and written directly into our DNA. It is a mish-mash of bloodlines that tells an interesting tale of our Davis progeny. And it surely highlights in its magnitude, the sheer lack of understanding of the genealogical phenomena that took place in the South from the 1500s to 1900s. Indeed, it is not only us, but also our 3rd cousin Jefferson Davis, where this story is true. Much deeper and more complex are his roots than the mere depiction of a confederate flag would imply.

The deeper we get into our history, the more we begin to realize that American history wasn’t taught all together accurately.

The South was never about the pitting of blacks against whites. It was rather a collection of individuals – some free, some indentured, some slaves and some native to the land pre- “others” – who all melted together into a cohesiveness not yet truly explored within our American roots. Together this made up what is now known of as our Davis clan; a broad and deep mixture of Melungeon (ancient Portuguese/Moor/Middle Eastern), Native American (Powhatan/Cherokee), and European (Welsh/Scots-Irish) that goes back 369 years, to 1650 in America.

So, let’s begin. Who was Jefferson Davis?

I want to work from older history forward to share Jefferson Davis’ and our ancestors in context.

Nathaniel Davis (b. 1650-1710) son of migrant Barnabas Davis, married Mary Elizabeth Hughes (b. 1654-1740). Nathaniel is our 7th great grandfather and is also Jefferson Davis’ (b. 1808-1889) Great Great Grandfather. Nathaniel migrated to the colonies early on with his father and became a “trader” between the Indians and the early Colonists. Elizabeth Hughes was born in Jamestown. Elizabeth Hughes was the daughter of Trapper John Hughes and Indian Princess Nicketti Powhatan. According to a story first published in 1895, Trader Hughes was the first permanent White settler in Amherst County, Virginia. He and his Indian wife Niketti established a trading post on the north side of the James River, west of the Tobacco Row Mountains, probably in the late 1600s. His wife is said to have been a niece to Pocahontas. 

So it is first interesting to note that those called “Native American” on early American census rolls were classified as native if there was Indian anywhere in their blood up to great grandparent. Jefferson Davis was one generation away from being classified as “Native American” in early America. Interesting. So, first note – he wasn’t entirely white. Hmmmmm…plot twist.

Some refute that Princess Nicketti was the wife of Trapper John Hughes, but in early records dating back to oral history recorded in 1895 family records share the following:

“From the Floyd family records, the only child of Trader Hughes and Niketti became the wife of Nathaniel Davis. Famous descendants are said to include Jefferson DavisJeb StuartGov. John Floyd, and Gov. John Letcher.”

In this 1895 recording it stated, “‘Opechancanough, the celebrated chief of the Powhatans, who was brutally murdered, while a prisoner, in 1644, left a lovely young daughter, the child of his old age, the Princess Nicketti whose name means ‘she sweeps the dew from the flowers.’ Some years after this graceful Indian maiden had reached the years of mature womanhood, a member [the name is not given] of one of the old Cavalier families of Virginia ‘ fell in love with her and she with him,’ and the result was a clandestine marriage, and a half-breed Indian girl who married about the year 1680 a Welshman (others say a native of Devonshire, England,) named Nathaniel Davis, an Indian trader, and, according to some accounts, a Quaker ; and from this alliance many notable people in the East and in the West have descended.”

One of their children, Abadiah (or Abigail) Davis, married William Floyd, the ancestor of the Floyds of Virginia and of the West.

The record goes on to state, “William Floyd left the eastern shore of Virginia, went up the country as far as the present Amherst County, which was then a very wild region, where he met with this family of Davis, who had traded with the Indians and had gotten much property in that way. [The Quakers were much given to friendly trading with the Indians.] 

“‘William Floyd and his wife’s brother, Robert Davis, Jr., with their families, emigrated to Kentucky with the first settlers, and finally located in the Bear-grass region, near Louisville, where the kinsmen (Floyds and Davises) had a fort, called ‘Floyd’s Station.’

“But it is not necessary to follow the Floyd narrative farther. It seems well to say, however, that I have seen a Davis pedigree which asserts that ‘the Indian blood first entered the family through the marriage of Abby Davis with William Floyd, a half breed Indian.’ Other Davis pedigrees and traditions do not deny the Indian blood, while every Floyd with whom I have corresponded has asserted positively that ‘it was through Abby Davis the Indian blood came.’

“The Princess Nicketti’s name (it may be because the marriage was clandestine) has not been popular among her traditional descendants. The first Governor, John Floyd of Virginia, named one of his daughters for her. I know of no other namesake ; but if the tradition is true, no more lovely women than some among her descendants ever ‘swept the dew from the flowers.'” (Brown, 1895: 42-44).

So, starting off, Jefferson Davis’s ancestors were traders and Indians of the Powhatan tribe. Chief Powhatan, also called Wahunsenacah or Wahunsenacawh, (died April 1618, Virginia), presided over the Powhatan empire at the time the English established the Jamestown Colony (1607). Powhatan had inherited rulership of an empire of six tribes from his father.

Our family descends from Robert (1702) and Jefferson Davis descends from Nathaniel Robert (1676-1772) who are brothers and sons of Nathaniel and Mary Elizabeth Hughes.

From there, Jefferson Davis’s tree looks like this.

Nathaniel Robert has a son Evan (b. 1702) who has son Samual (b. 1756) who has son Jefferson (b. 1808). Nathaniel Robert is always listed as the “black Davis” which I am not sure why. Is it due to his Indian blood? I am guessing so. Evan moved from Virginia to Georgia during his lifetime. And his son Samual was born in Georgia but died in Mississippi. Son Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky and died in New Orleans.

So, second plot twist with Jefferson Davis is his wife Varina Howell. What do you see when you see this picture?

Varina Howell (b. 1826-1906), from Natchez, Mississippi was 18 years younger than Jefferson Davis. She looks very much mulatto or melungeon. However, many viewers lean towards mulatto/quadroon. A quadroon is having two white parents but one black grandparent. Mulatto is one black parent. Back in those days this was not discussed/recorded as such inside families of wealthy plantation owners. Howell came from a very influential plantation family. This wasn’t so uncommon it appears, as our direct line that comes from son Robert did the same thing. Robert’s son John Wyatt Davis ran the plantation for George Jefferson. He married Jemima Jane Collins Jefferson. DNA confirms she is a Jefferson. DNA confirms her offspring are Davises but Monticello denies she’s of their bloodline. Though there is an entire family tree that comes from her. Her name is also Collins, the primary “Melungeon” name of which Davis is also one as well. So, was Jemima “Jane” Collins Davis a mixed race child of a slave fathered by one of the Jefferson’s? DNA says so. So, our direct line is Powhatan, Melungeon, and European. Jefferson Davis’s is Powhatan and his wife’s appears to be part negro or melungeon, as well. For those who dont know, Melungeon is the big genealogical “wow” of the moment, for which our family is one. Melungeon is a term traditionally applied to one of numerous “tri-racial isolate” groups of the Southeastern US and were associated with the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachia which includes portions of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Melungeons are a mysterious group/tribe that appear to have been here before the white explores came who also described themselves as the “lost tribe of Israel”. There is so much more we will be blogging about on that subject. DNA is leading us to find out, along with ancient written records, that this group descended from ancient Phoenicians (Moors) who, upon the overthrow of Carthage in the Northern tip of Africa by the Romans moved on to the Iberian Peninsula into Spain and Portugal. They later became slaves and were taken to the colonies, but previous to that “slave” period, De Soto released some of these slaves on Roanoke Island and left them there. They migrated into the mountains and formed their own society for hundreds of years with a BUNCH of Jewish customs by the way – along with customs that have been carried into numerous contemporary Native American tribes as well. This is why their DNA is that of Turkish, middle eastern, Portuguese people. So, were there mixed race children woven into the fabric of Plantation families? It appears so. In our direct family tree there are two example in one generation.

So back to Varina Howell. Obviously, as we can see with Jemima Jefferson Davis, things do get “whitewashed” if you will, so what of Varina. Well, a century and a half later a story broke by the Associated Press in 2014. Here it is. And with this I will end this blog and let you decide for yourself……is there more here than what we were taught in high school about race? Is white just white? Is black just black? Do we all hate each other?…………Or are we all a melting pot. Jefferson Davis’s children were part Indian, black, and or moor (black) Portuguese and European. We look white – but aren’t.

Is it really about color or is it about the journey? The learning? The coming together to build families, communities, and lives irrespective of color? Is the reality of conquest, domination and slave labor a travesty? Yes. Some of our ancestors, though white, were kidnapped as children in England and sent over on slave ships and sold into servitude. Over 100,000 white children were kidnapped in England in a several decade span in the mid 1700s for the indentured servitude jobs. Scots Irish have a huge story to tell on this front. Servitude wasn’t a black only story. What is beautiful about this all is that we all came together and made something – we fell in love with each other not seeing color, we raised beautiful children, our communities came together over time and we advanced. If the story about the Confederacy was just about color and race then why would the head of the Confederacy marry and speak so lovingly of his wife and children who are part of what he allegedly was against? Simply put, he wouldn’t engage either act or have the love he so clearly had for her and his children.

So maybe we can all look upon one another with love and look beyond color. That would be wonderful. We are so proud of our heritage and our genetics. We are such an amazing melting pot of genetics and experiences we can share with our kids to teach them about right and wrong and how to love through all kinds of struggles and differences.

Enjoy the interesting article below.

Was the wife of the former President of the Confederacy of mixed race?

Associated Press

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Oct 13, 2014, 1:32 PM ET
By CHRIS CAROLA Associated Press

A century and a half after Confederate officer James Malbone wrote his Civil War diary partly in code, a couple of Yankees have figured out why he took the precaution: He liked to gossip.

Sprinkled amid entries on camp recipes and casualties are encrypted passages in which Malbone dishes on such juicy topics as a fellow soldier who got caught in bed with another man’s wife.

Malbone also writes about meeting the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and describes her looks in an apparent echo of rumors at the time that she may have been of mixed race.

“That’s pretty shocking,” said Kent D. Boklan, the Queens College computer science professor and former National Security Agency cryptographer who deciphered Malbone’s code with little difficulty. “It’s a military diary and you expect military information, but you don’t expect the first lady of the Confederacy to make an appearance in this diary.”

According to Boklan, Malbone’s encrypted entry about Varina Howell Davis describes her as “dark complected” with “very very brown skin dark eyes” and “high cheek bones wide mouth.”

Davis’ wife was a well-educated woman for her time, and as a result, was the target of “all kind of gossipy innuendos from the ladies” in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, according to Sam Craghead of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

Malbone, a lieutenant with the 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment, was severely wounded in the arm at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Assigned to light duty behind the lines, he used a leather-bound pocket diary to jot down his thoughts and even a poem.

Many of the entries were in a code he devised himself, consisting of a variety of symbols, including punctuation marks and a dollar sign, that corresponded to letters of the alphabet.

Other entries — names of deserters, costs of supplies — were written in plain text because the diary would have been submitted to his superiors so they could copy the information for their official records, according to Jim Gandy, librarian at the New York State Military Museum.

Gandy said the journal probably came into the possession of a New York soldier at the end of the war and wound up in the state’s vast collection. It is the only Confederate diary in the museum. There is no record there of Malbone’s ultimate fate.

It wasn’t until 2012 that a museum volunteer discovered the diary was written partly in code. The museum contacted Boklan, who had broken Union and Confederate codes used in other documents, and he completed the deciphering after working on it for a week in January.

“Technically, this is not very hard to break,” Boklan said. “There were some odd things. With a little bit of work and patience everything worked out.”

Jefferson Davis, 1808-89, at the age of thirty-seven, with his bride, Varina Howell.

Image Details
Image Title: Jefferson Davis, 1808-89, at the age of thirty-seven, with his bride, Varina Howell.
Alternate Source Title: Builders of the Republic.
Item/Page/Plate: 8.644
Notes: From a daguerreotype in the possession of their granddaughter, Mrs. George B. Webb, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Source: “The Pageant of America” Collection / v.8 – Builders of the Republic / (Published photographs)
Source Description: Approx. 8,000 photographs
Location: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs
Digital ID: 97462
Record ID: 132558
Digital Item Published: 12-7-2004; updated 3-25-2011
Browse More
Sources, libraries, guides, online catalog
“The Pageant of America” Collection > v.8 – Builders of the Republic > (Published photographs)
Photography Collection
Collection Guide

2 thoughts on “Jefferson Davis – Our 3rd Cousin – The Untold Story Of Mixed Race In Early Colonial America

  1. Who is Elizabeth Carr born in West Nimbia, Liberia “West Africa” in 1610-1655 She had Children from Samuel Jefferson the III. Part of my line and some of my Ancestors are mentioned in this article as well.
    Was she actually African (a slave) or of European descent just born there? The trail leads to the heart of the slave trade and the royal’s of Africa Traded with Royals of other lands. Traded People. Slavery is a part of everyone’s story and it is time for it to be told. I’m considered white but all my ancestors are colonial mixed with several indigenous tribes and Africans. Ancestry has opened my eyes to the hidden truth of who we are. Still servants to the 1% who rules over us and to whom we serve. All lands pale in comparison to America but I wonder if we are not as free as we like to believe. Truth is stranger than fiction and the world becomes more brutal and deceptive the further I go in history.


  2. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my family history and I’m proud to bring it all together. My name is John Hughes Curry, a direct descendant of John Hughes and Nicketti. If all my calculations are correct, Jefferson Davis is a 1st cousin. I’ve known James John Floyd has been a great grandfather, 4 generations back, for quite some time, along with Robert Boggs. They both did some work with Daniel Boone back in the day. I have three very strong Native American connections in my blood line (Piscataway, Powhatan, and Cherokee). You already know the Powhatan. The Piscataway comes from Chief Kitamaquund, who made a peace with Leonard Calvert, the first governor of Maryland. Chief Kitamaquund, also known as Big Beaver, along with his daughter, who became known as Princess Mary of Baltimore, studied Catholicism. She later married Col. Giles Brent, one of the settlers who came from royal blood. He became an outcast because he married a Native and was cast out. He moved over to Virginia and purchased most of the land which later became more of another cousin’s property…Robert E. Lee.


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