Jefferson Davis Monument Cornerstone Box

The Jefferson Davis cornerstone box spent over a decade in Monroe Park and then almost 115 years buried on Monument Avenue, but its 1907 relocation doomed most of the contents.

By Christina K. Vida
Elisa H. Wright Curator of General Collections
Metal lid to a rectangular box visible in a pile of stone rubble with a measuring tape sitting in front of it.
The Jefferson Davis cornerstone box uncovered on Monument Avenue, February 16, 2022, Alexa Englund Welch, Richmond Times-Dispatch

In late 2021, when the City of Richmond ordered the removal of the pedestals of the city-owned Confederate monuments, historians and contractors considered the possibility of uncovering cornerstone boxes within the pedestal bases.

Along Monument Avenue, the Robert E. Lee Monument, Jefferson Davis Monument, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Monument and Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument had cornerstone ceremonies as they were erected. In 2021, contractors with Team Henry Enterprises uncovered not only the official 1887 cornerstone box for the Lee Monument, but also a second box placed by the builders in 1889. Although the Jackson and Maury boxes were not found during deconstruction, on February 16, 2022, Team Henry workers found the cornerstone box under the Jefferson Davis Monument pedestal.

The box itself predates the construction of the 1907 monument along Monument Avenue. In Monroe Park on July 2, 1896, after a parade, speeches and full Masonic rites, the Freemasons lowered the top half of the cornerstone, sealing the cornerstone box inside. Newspapers published the contents of the box along with an image of the proposed temple-like structure to honor Jefferson Davis that the Jefferson Davis Monument Association (JDMA) hoped to build. However, within three years, fundraising had stalled, and the JDMA turned the project over to the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).

Romanesque temple design in a park with “The Times, Richmond, VA, 1896” in the lower left and “The Proposed Jefferson Davis Monument” across the bottom.
Proposed Jefferson Davis Monument for Monroe Park, 1896, FIC.025533, The Valentine

The cornerstone and box remained in Monroe Park while UDC members raised funds from across the country. The plan for the monument was in flux until 1903 when the UDC and JDMA commissioned Richmond sculptor Edward Valentine (1838-1930) and Richmond architect William Noland (1865-1961) to design a monument along Monument Avenue at Cedar Street (now Davis Street).

Blue and white plans showing a pillar surrounded by a colonnade from the front and top.
Architectural drawings by William Noland for the Davis Monument, V.2023.03.10, The Valentine

On April 10, 1907, committee members unearthed the 1896 cornerstone box from Monroe Park. “Yesterday it was exhumed and this morning will be placed in its final position just under the great square of granite that will be the pedestal of the Davis figure at the Jefferson Davis Monument.” Although they did not host any formal Masonic ceremonies in 1907, the JDMA and UDC added some additional items to the box before placing it back in the ground. The box stayed in that spot for nearly 115 years.

Dark and light gray x-ray image showing the outlines of a slight domed box with the outlines of books and stacked papers inside.
Side view x-ray of the Davis cornerstone box, 2022, The Valentine

After Team Henry exhumed the box in 2022, conservators froze the box to prevent any additional deterioration. X-rays taken prior to the box’s opening alluded to some round metal items and bound materials. But an old hole in the top of the copper box caused concern that water had intruded the box while it was still underground. On August 10, 2022, conservators with the Department of Historic Resources as well as staff from the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, the Valentine Museum and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture assisted with the opening of the box.

Metal box with the top removed and front cut open revealing stacks of wet paper items
Interior of the Davis cornerstone box with the 1907 copper envelope removed, 2022, The Valentine

A DHR conservator cut away the top of the copper box, revealing a copper envelope sitting on top of a pile of soggy papers and books. Unlike the tidy boxes from the Lee Monument, the Davis cornerstone box had suffered the very typical fate of water intrusion, essentially destroying the majority of the paper items inside. One book, Carlton’s McCarthy’s Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865, survived intact, while the other newspapers, programs and books had melded together into waterlogged bundles.

Round bronze object with a nub handle reading “Old Dominion Building & Loan Association” and “Richmond Virginia” in the round.
Paperweight made from leftover bronze used to cast the 1894 Confederate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, around 1896, V.2023.03.04, The Valentine
Rectangular chip of white stone inscribed “A chip of Jeff Davis’ Mansion”
Marble chip removed from the stair of the White House of the Confederacy, around 1896, V.2023.03.08, The Valentine

Some relics survived. A chip of marble taken from the steps of Jefferson Davis’s home during the Civil War, today known as the White House of the Confederacy, was tucked inside as was a paperweight made from bronze left over from the casting of Richmond’s 1894 Confederate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

After emptying the 1896 box entirely, staff turned their attention back to the copper envelope. After slicing it open, inside were all the additions from 1907, perfectly preserved in their airtight, metal envelope. Designs for the monument, an updated history of the JDMA, programs from fundraising events, and even the first and last ten-cent pieces raised at the 1903 Confederate Bazaar in Richmond looked as if they were merely days – not over 115 years – old.

First and last ten-cent pieces raised at the 1903 Confederate Bazaar supporting the Jefferson Davis Monument fund with their envelopes from Berry & Co.
Items added to the Davis cornerstone box in 1907, V.2023.03, The Valentine
A 1900 program for the Confederated Southern Memorial Association with an image of Jefferson Davis on the backside of a button.
Items added to the Davis cornerstone box in 1907, V.2023.03, The Valentine

The Jefferson Davis cornerstone box and its contents are now owned by the Valentine Museum, which will continue to explore the painful legacy of Richmond’s Confederate monuments and help foster conversation about the impacts of the Lost Cause mythology and Jim Crow policies on the Richmond region.

Contents of the Jefferson Davis Monument Cornerstone Box

As published in The Times on July 3, 1896:

“The Grand-Treasurer read the inscription as followers: “Presented to the Davis monument by James E. Phillips, July 2, 1896.

Articles in the Box

  • Guide to Richmond, Va., and the Battle-fields,” and “Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865,” by Carlton McCarthy, from the J.W. Randolph Company.
  • Souvenir Richmond Fire Department, 1894
  • Paper weight, Old Dominion Building and Loan Association, made from bronze used in casting Confederate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument, on Libby Hill, Richmond, Va., from J. Taylor Ellyson, president Jefferson Davis Monument Association.
  • One-hundred-dollar Confederate note, dated February 17, 1864, from J.L. Acree, Albany, Ga.
  • Newspaper, ‘The Day-Books,’ Norfolk, Va., dated April 19, 1862.
  • Warrock’s Almanac, Virginia and North Carolina for the year 1864.
  • Four per cent, registered bond, Confederate States of American, $1,000
  • Six per cent, non-taxable certificate, Confederate States of America, $5,000.
  • Order of the Secretary of War G.W. Randolph for release of prison, dated 1862.
  • Autograph of D.B. Hill, major-general, 1865.
  • Two-thousand-dollar Confederate Government bond, 4 per cent.
  • Report of Commissioner Thompson Allen, August, 1864. Commissioner of Taxes for Confederate Government.
  • Masonic card, John F. Mayer, thirty-third degree, from John F. Mayer, agent Old Dominion Steamship Company.
  • One $50 and one $5 Confederate note, from Miss Cora Harrison.
  • Notice for meeting Executive and Advisory Committee for Entertainment of Veterans for the Sixth Annual Confederate Reunion.
  • Speech on Cuba, by Hon. Tazewell Ellet, in the House of Representatives, April 4, 1896.
  • Constitution and By-Laws of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society.
  • Thirteenth Annual Report of the Exchange for Woman’s Work.
  • Handbook Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.
  • Programme Twenty-second Annual Commencement of the Richmond High School.
  • Programme Third Annual Music Festival of the Wednesday Club, Richmond, Va.
  • Picture of Baptist Cot, the Retreat for the Sick, Richmond, Va.
  • Circular for Ladies of the Hollywood Memorial Association, in reference to Organizing the Confederate Museum in the old Davis Mansion.
  • Register of the Second Baptist church, Richmond, Va., all presented by Mrs. J. Taylor Ellyson.
  • A Sketch of the origin of Decoration Day, founded April 26, 1865, Jackson, Miss., from Sue Landon Vaughan, “The Olives,” Cuba.
  • Address of Hon. J.A.P. Campbell, on the Life and Character of Jefferson Davis, delivered before the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, January 22, 1890, from W.D. Holder, Jackson, Miss.
  • Photograph of Confederate Monument on Capitol Grounds, Jackson, Miss., from J.L. Power, Secretary of State, Miss.
  • Biographical Sketch of Jefferson Davis from Lour & McCardle’s History of Mississippi, from J.L. Power, Secretary of State, Miss.
  • Constitution of rules for the Government of the Old Dominion Press Club, Richmond, Va.
  • Report of the Democratic National Committee meeting, Washington, DC, January 16, 1896.
  • Richmond Masonic Directory for 1893.
  • A valuable and interesting collection of Confederate notes, sent by Daniel S. Levy, Memphis, Tenn.
  • “The Golden City,” a sermon by W.V. Tudor, D.D. from Alfred J. Gary.
  •  Constitution and By-Laws of the Methodist Laymen’s Union of Richmond, and Manchester, adopted May 20, 1890 from Alfred J. Gary.
  • An acrostic on Jefferson Davis, by Capers Dickson, Oxford, Ga.
  • Inside inscription, stamped in copper, “Presented to the Davis Monument by James E. Phillips, July 2, 1896.”
  • Reunion editions of Daily Dispatch, June 30, 1896; Richmond Times, State, Star, Richmond Progress, “The Jewish South.”
  • An official reunion badge, Sixth Annual Reunion United Confederate Veterans; laying corner-stone Jefferson Davis monument, June 30th, July 1st and 2d, 1896.
  • Masonic programs of ceremony of laying the corner-stone.
  • Mason programme of ceremony of laying the corner-stone [sic]
  • Badge of the R.T.W. Duke Camp, C. V. No. 1, from the Grand Senior Warden.
  • A $10 Confederate note, dated February 17, 1864, and a fifty-cent Confederate note of same date, from John F. Mayer.
  • Badge R.T.W. Duke Camp, No. 1, and badge of sixth annual reunion from Grand Senior Warden R.T.W. Duke, Jr.
  • Metal souvenir badge, Confederate army reunion.
  • Board proceedings of the 118th grand annual communication of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Virginia from Grand Master J.P. Fitzgerald.
  • A polished chip of marble from the front step of the Jefferson Davis mansion, Richmond, from J.L. Bannon.
  • Prayer at laying of corner-stone, by Rev. George H. Ray, D.D., Grand Chaplain.”
“To the original contents of the box, which were found to be in excellent order, considering their damp location, a history of the present Davis Monument Association, written by Mrs. George S. Holmes, of Charleston, SC, president of the association was added. There was also placed in the collection a report of the Confederate Association of New Orleans, and plans of the monument, drawn by Noland & Baskervill. Among other relics deposited were the first and last ten-cent pieces taken in at the bazaar given for the benefit of the monument fund in the Masonic Temple several years ago.”
—As published in The Times Dispatch on April 12, 1907


· The Times, July 3, 1896.

· Richmond Times (Richmond, VA), September 4, 1899.

· Richmond Times-Dispatch , April 11, 1907.

· The Times Dispatch, April 12, 1907.

· Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Virginia (Richmond: James Goode Printing Co., 1896), 9-23.

· Proceedings of the Virginia Grand Lodge (Richmond: Ware & Duke, 1916), 14.

· Proceedings of the Virginia Grand Lodge (Richmond: Everett Waddey Co, 1923), 32.

· Davis Monument folders, Edward Valentine Papers, The Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA.

· Eric Kolenich, “Workers find what appears to be a time capsule under Jefferson Davis monument,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 16, 2022,

Need to cite this?

Authors Christina K. Vida
Work Title Jefferson Davis Monument Cornerstone Box
Published November 16, 2023
Updated May 24, 2024
Copyright © 2024 The Valentine Museum