Recovering the Past: 1847 Mississippi Rifle
In 2017, the Art Crimes Division of the FBI executed a search warrant for the residence of a gentleman in Newark, Delaware and recovered 50 artifacts that turned out to have been stolen from 16 separate museums throughout the decades, some dating back to the 1970's. Media outlets across the Mississippi Gulf Coast have reached out to the Staff at Beauvoir in regards to this rifle, as it was reported to have been returned to Beauvoir on Monday, March 13.
Special Programs Manager, Callie Bunter, and Museum Curator, Alex Cunningham, took it upon themselves to start fielding phone calls to find out more about the artifact recovered and to see what connection it has with Beauvoir. Both Callie and Alex reached out to FBI field offices in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and Delaware as well as law enforcement in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Callie caught a break in the search when she spoke with Detective Andrew Rathfon of Upper Merion Township in Pennsylvania, after seeing his name in a news article from USA Today that credited him as one of the detectives that assisted the FBI and Assistant U.S. Attorney's Office with the investigation that led to the recovery of these priceless artifacts.
After speaking with Detective Rathfon and his partner, it turns out that the rifle had been on loan to Beauvoir at the time that it was stolen and it ultimately belongs to the Mississippi Department of Archive and History. Beauvoir had been unaware of the recovery of the artifact due to the ownership of the item. On March 13, 2023, a ceremony was held in Pennsylvania to repatriate the 50 historical artifacts back to their museums. The FBI and AUSA have been in detailed contact with MDAH regarding the return of the rifle back to their collection. This artifact is still in possession of the Art Crimes Division of the FBI.
Callie arranged a short press release to send to the Sun Herald in order to correct the original article that had been written and scheduled interviews with WXXV and WLOX in order to give history lovers across South Mississippi an update on this story.
We are extremely thrilled that this artifact had been rediscovered and will soon be back in the hands of the State of Mississippi. When it was taken from Beauvoir, the museum was located underneath the Mansion, as our first Presidential Library was not dedicated until the 1990's and destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. We have come a long way since our first museum and have many safeguards in place now to assure that our artifacts remain where they belong.
Displaying artifacts like the 1847 Mississippi Rifle allow us to teach an important part of Mississippi History, as this rifle was tied to the First Mississippi Regiment during the Mexican-American War. This Regiment was known as the "Mississippi Rifles" and was under the command of then Colonel Jefferson Davis, which is likely why the rifle was on loan to Beauvoir in the first place. In our Pre-Katrina museums, Beauvoir had an extensive exhibit that covered the military career of Jefferson Davis, as his leadership was a turning point in both the War with Mexico and in military history. Following his time with the First Mississippi, he served as a Mississippi Senator and as Secretary of War. He was said to have been the most active Secretary of War during his time and he was instrumental in increasing the size of the United States Army, improved military training and established the Medical Corps.
This recovery also gives the Staff at Beauvoir hope that people who buy or sell historical artifacts will do their best to make sure that they are ethically handling these priceless pieces. Unfortunately, there are many sellers of historical artifacts that have come across these items in illegal ways and cases like this teach us that there is hope that museums across the world will be able to recover their heritage and allow us to teach the public about the truths of history to keep it from repeating itself.
We hope that you will come to Beauvoir and visit our museum to learn more about the historical weaponry that we have on display as well as allowing us to teach you the history of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Soldier.
If you are interested in reading more about the artifacts that were recovered and the work done to make sure that they were returned to their museums, below are some media links: