Jim Limber (also known as Jim Limber Davis, possibly born James Henry Brooks) was an orphaned boy of mixed white and black descent who lived with the family of Confederate president Jefferson Davis from February 1864 until the family was captured by Union forces in May 1865.
On February 14, 1864, Davis's wife, Varina Davis, was returning home in Richmond, Virginia, when she saw the boy being beaten by a black woman. Outraged, she immediately put an end to the beating and had the boy come with her in her carriage. He was cared for by Mrs. Davis and her staff. They gave him clothes belonging to the Davis's son, Joe, since the boys were of similar age. When asked his name, he just said, "Jim Limber."
Although Jim's legal status was unknown at the time the Davis family took him in, he was likely the orphaned child of free parents, and Davis officially registered the child as "free." It is unknown if Davis actually adopted him. There was no adoption law in Virginia at that time, so any adoption would be an "extralegal" matter.
Jim was with the Davises when they were forced to abandon Richmond before the Union Army captured the city in April 1865. When the Davises were captured by Union forces in Irwinville, Georgia, on May 15, Jim was separated from them. Some recounts of the story say this was due to a swift kidnapping of Limber by the Union Army, while other accounts say that the Davises recognized a Union general they knew well, Rufus Saxton. The Davis family never saw Jim again.
Jim briefly lived with Saxton in Charleston, South Carolina, but was eventually sent north for education until he was old enough to support himself. Though it is mentioned in some of the more sympathetic biographies of Jefferson Davis that he never stopped searching for Jim Limber, this search seems to be recorded only in oral history as it is not mentioned in his voluminous surviving correspondence for the last two decades of his life in which mention at all of Jim Limber is fleeting.
In 2008, the Sons of Confederate Veterans offered a $100,000 statue of Jefferson Davis to the American Civil War Center in Richmond, which consisted of a life-sized depiction of Davis holding hands with his son, Joseph Evan Davis, and Jim Limber. The statue was completed in fall 2008 and while it was initially accepted by the center, the deal quickly fell through and is now on permanent display at the Beauvoir estate, Davis's last home in Biloxi, Mississippi.
The story of Jim's time with the Davis family is told in Charles Frazier's novel Varina.