Jefferson Davis was born on June 3, 1808, in southwestern Kentucky. He was the youngest child in a large family. His father, Samuel Davis, was a tobacco farmer and horse breeder who moved the family to Louisiana when Jefferson was two years old. A short time later, the Davises bought a plantation (a large farming estate) near Woodville, Mississippi. They also purchased a number of slaves to work in their cotton fields.
Black people were taken from Africa and brought to North America to serve as slaves for white people beginning in the 1600s. The basic belief behind slavery was that black people were inferior to whites. Under slavery, white slaveholders treated black people as property, forced them to perform hard labor, and controlled every aspect of their lives. States in the Northern half of the United States began outlawing slavery in the late 1700s. But slavery continued to exist in the Southern half of the country because it played an important role in the South's economy and culture.
Growing up in Mississippi, Davis came to believe that slavery offered the best possible life for black people. He felt that blacks were incapable of living on their own, so they needed white people to give them food, clothing, shelter, and religion. He thought that black people in Africa lived as savages, while black slaves in the South were relatively civilized. Compared to many other slaveowners, the Davis family treated their slaves well. For example, they taught their slaves to read and write and allowed them to handle discipline among themselves, rather than resorting to whipping and other harsh punishments. Since his only experience was with his family's slaves, however, young Davis did not realize that many other people were cruel to their slaves.
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