Jefferson Davis and his Dog Traveler
Confederate President Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) acquired his dog, Traveler, during his retirement years.
Immediately after the war, Jefferson Davis was on the run from Union soldiers. He was captured and imprisoned for about two years and then freed. At that point, Davis wanted to leave the country, so he and his family traveled in Europe for a time. When they decided to return to the United States, they needed a place to live.
Southerner Brings Home Traveler
Sarah Ellis Dorsey (1829-1879) was from a wealthy family in Natchez, Mississippi. After marrying another well-to-do Southerner, Samuel Dorsey (1811-1875). Sarah wanted to occupy herself and became a well-known Southern author.
This still gave the couple time to travel the world. When they were in the Swiss Alps, they fell in love with a young puppy. The dog’s father was described as a Russian bulldog (more likely, what we would call a Russian pit bull). The Dorseys took the puppy along with them as they traveled, and there are several stories about how Traveler protected Mrs. Dorsey who liked to wear expensive jewelry.
When the Dorseys returned to the United States, Sarah went house-hunting.. In 1873 she bought a plantation in Biloxi, Mississippi, along the Gulf of Mexico. She named it Beauvoir for its beautiful water views.
Her husband Samuel died in 1875. In 1877 when Sarah heard that the Jefferson Davis and his wife had returned from Europe and were looking for a place to live, she offered them one of the cottages at Beauvoir.
Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina, took Sarah up on her offer. This was where Davis’s relationship with Sarah’s dog, Traveler, developed.
Jefferson Davis: Retirement Years
In his retirement, Jefferson Davis wanted to present the war from the Confederate viewpoint. The book that resulted was The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881). He also worked on his autobiography.
Jefferson Davis remained a well-liked man among all who fought for the Confederacy. As a result, many stopped to visit him at Beauvoir, and Traveler took on guard-dog responsibilities. If Jefferson Davis was glad to see a visitor, Davis put one hand on the person’s shoulder and the other hand on Traveler’s head, saying, “Traveler, this is my friend.”
With this introduction the arriving party could come and go freely with Traveler’s approval, according to an article from the Confederate Veteran, Volume XVII, No. 4, April, 1909.
Before Sarah Dorsey died in 1879, she made arrangements for Jefferson Davis to be able to buy Beauvoir at a price he could afford. Traveler was part of the package.
Traveler Great with Children
Despite his guard dog instincts, Traveler was lovable with children. A neighbor family with young children often stopped at Beauvoir, and Traveler happily played with the visitors. It was said that at the end of the afternoon, Traveler walked the children down the beach and back to their house to be sure they arrived safely.
During these years, Traveler’s primary affection was for Jefferson Davis. The pair loved to walk along the beach. Traveler occupied himself by looking for fiddler crabs along the water’s edge. He was always successful at herding those he found back into the water.
Traveler also took it upon himself to keep Jefferson Davis from getting his feet wet when he was lost in thought. When Traveler saw that the tide was coming in and Davis was wandering out, Traveler bounded between Davis and the water, or he took hold of his master’s pant leg to pull him back to the dry sand.
Davis loved animals of all types, and once he took ownership of Beauvoir, he introduced peafowls (peacocks) to the property. Each morning, Davis gathered toast crusts and any other scraps left over for breakfast, and he and Traveler went to feed the peafowls.
Traveler Falls Ill
When Traveler became ill, Jefferson Davis was beside himself with worry. He called his physician to see what could be done to save the dog. Unfortunately, Traveler died within a day or two despite medical measures.
Davis was said to have uttered, “I have indeed lost a friend.”
Davis buried Traveler in a carefully marked grave in the front yard of Beauvoir. Unfortunately, the marker disappeared over time.
Varina Davis outlived her husband. In 1902 she sold the property to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, stipulating that it be used as a home for Confederate veterans and their widows.
In 1998 the Sons of Confederate Veterans built a new building on the plantation to serve as the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library.
Beauvoir suffered great damage during Hurricane Katrina (2005). During the repairs, no further information about Traveler’s burial location was discovered.
To read about other dogs during the Civil War, click here.