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Robert Brown
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A Question of Loyalty


For many years, the lives of free and enslaved Black workers inside the executive mansion of the Confederacy were presented through the lens of the Lost Cause narrative. This heavily biased and inaccurate interpretation of the American Civil War deliberately downplays the evils of slavery and often promotes falsehoods in its depiction of the relationships between slave owners and the people they held in bondage. 


Within a Lost Cause telling of history, free and enslaved individuals– who remained with the Davis family through the end of the war or who remained in contact or in the employment of the Davis family after the fall of the Confederacy– are often held up as examples of good and loyal servants to the Southern cause. This recollection relies heavily on narratives promoted by the Davis family and of other White Southerners, favoring their words over the words and experiences of enslaved individuals themselves when telling their own stories.

Robert Brown


Robert Brown was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, sometime between 1811 and 1822. Robert Brown was sold South from Richmond, arriving in New Orleans in 1833. In 1861, Robert was purchased by Jefferson Davis just prior to his coming to Richmond, “before the first gun was fired.” Brown served as Jefferson Davis’ bodyman and was particularly close to the Davis children. Robert also claimed to take care of the Davises’ horses.


Following Jefferson Davis’ capture in Georgia, Robert accompanied Varina Davis and her children to Savannah and then to Canada. By the fall of 1865, Brown left the Davis family to travel to Europe and then to New Orleans where he lived for some time. By the 1870’s Robert Brown began working once again for the Davis family as an employee which he would do off and on for most of the remainder of his life. 


Robert Brown’s story– and the stories of those like him who remained in the employment of the Davis family after the war– highlight the necessary role that White patronage played for many of the formerly enslaved in the postwar South, as old entrenched systems of power reasserted control following the brief lived liberties of the Reconstruction era.

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