The Davis Family History: The Immigrants and Colonists (1500-1847)

Davis Family History Pages

Copyright © 1997,1999 Mark K. Davis

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The Five Davis Brothers of Stafford, CT

The Five Davis Brothers of Somers/Stafford, CT in 1869; from left: Alden, David, Daniel, Noah, Spencer

The year was 1869. Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in as President on March 4th. On April 13th, George Westinghouse was granted a patent on the air-brake. On May 10th, the east coast and the west coast were tied together by a golden spike in a railroad tie at Promontory, Utah. And sometime that summer, Daniel Davis, Jr. and his four brothers took a horse-drawn wagon down the mountain from Somers, Connecticut to Springfield, Massachusetts. There, they posed patiently as you see them here while they waited for a photographer to have this portrait made. Who were these guys, anyway? And how come you're seeing them on the World Wide Web? Read on...

If you'd prefer, you can jump directly to the genealogical data section, but you'll be missing a heck of a story!

The English Roots

The Davis Lineage traces its roots back to Acton-Turville, Gloucestershire, England. The family members are believed to descend from a man with the surname Davys, living in Acton-Turville in the late 15th century. The Military Survey of Gloucestershire, 1522 lists two men with this surname in Acton-Turville: John Davys and Thomas Davys alias Smyth, one of whom was most likely the man in question. He would have been born about 1500 and had at least five children, James, Edmund, John, and Robert, and a daughter whose name is unknown.

James Davys, born about 1535, lived in feudal England and was likely a farmer. He married a woman named Agnes and had three sons: John, Robert, Thomas, and three daughters: Deenes, Dorothee, and Margaret. They maintained the family heritage and were all farmers (or farmers wives!) probably ecking out a meager existence on family lands in Gloucestershire.

John Davis, born about 1560, carried on the tradition as well. Sometime in his life, he probably moved from Acton-Turville to Marlborough, west of London. He married Agnes Chandler and had six children: James, John, Thomas, Samuel, Ephraim, and Alice, not necessarily in that order. These children lived in an exciting time! A New World had been discovered and much of it had been claimed for England. James, John, and Thomas decided to make it their home.

The Puritan Planters of Haverhill, Newbury, and Rowley, Massachusetts Bay Colony

Thomas Davis (1603-1683) was born in England. As a young man, he looked for opportunities beyond his farming community in Marlborough. He acquired a trade, becoming a sawyer according to one history, or a mason, as stated in a deed of 1664. Thomas left his home and made the dangerous journey to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 aboard the ship James. Old Sailing Vessel He arrived in Boston on June 3rd and was made a freeman in 1641. In 1642, he removed to Haverhill, where he became a prominent citizen. He was one of the first selectmen of the town in 1646, and was again selectman in 1648. Thomas signed the deed from the Passaconaway indians to purchase the village of Pentuckett, which was "Entered and recorded in ye Counu Records for Norfolk ye 29th day of April 1671 as attested, Tho Bradbury Recorder." In 1648, Thomas and two others were appointed to try "small causes under forty shillings." In 1655, repairs to the meeting house were needed and Thomas, given his masonic prowess, was granted "ground-pins and dawb" providing stones and clay for the underpinning. In 1655, he was also appointed Constable. Thomas remained active in town affairs until his death in 1683 at the age of 80 years. Before leaving England, he married Christian Coffer, and had three children: John, Joseph, and Joanna. They came with him to the New World.

John Davis (1623-1675) was born in England, but was the first Davis to be raised in the colonies. He was probably Thomas' second son. He grew up in Newbury or Haverhill, the entire area being known as Salem at that time in history. Salem records show that he married Mary, possibly of the family Milford, and had seven children. Of this brood, the sixth child, Cornelius, was a man who was called to fight for England and his King, and the fact that he did so had a profound effect on where subsequent generations of the Davis Family would live.

Cornelius Davis (1653-1730) lived in Haverhill and married Sarah Elizabeth Hilton in 1688. He was called to fight in the Narragansett Wars and for that service, he received from the General Court a grant of a tract of land located in what is now known as West Stafford, Connecticut. Migration Map Its northern boundary was what is now the Massachusetts state line and its western boundary was that part of Enfield which later became known as Somers, Connecticut. Although Cornelius never removed to his granted lands, he deeded them to his son Cornelius, the second of his three sons. In his later years, he lived in Rowley, Massachusetts, and died there in 1730.

The Connecticut Land Grant Families

Cornelius Davis, 2nd (1693-1779) was the second son of Cornelius and Sarah Davis. He grew up in Rowley and married Mehitable Bartlett of Newbury in 1720. The previous year, he had moved to the lands granted to him in Stafford, Connecticut by his father. Here, he raised a large family of seven sons and four daughters. Cornelius was by reason of the land grant one of the most prominent men in Stafford. He was one of the most influential members of the Congregational Church. In 1761, he and a group of West Stafford residents traveled to Hartford to petition the General Assembly for the creation of a new parish in West Stafford, close to the Davis lands. In May 1765, West Stafford became a separate parish, and Cornelius was one of the most prominent members of the Second Ecclesiastical Society.

2nd Congregational Church of Stafford

The 2nd Congregational Church of Stafford

Davis Family Lands

The Davis Family Lands
Photo by Big Al

The Davis Family lands in Stafford, CT are much today as they were in 1719. Tucked away on top of what locals refer to as "Somers Mountain," the area is really a rough-hewn plateau situated between Rattlesnake Hill and Bald Mountain, just a mile or so south of the Massachusetts line. Its rocky fields, apple and peach orchards, and 200 year old homes still give passers-by a glimpse into New England's bucolic past.

Lieutenant Noah Davis (1741-1828) was the tenth of Cornelius' children. In 1767, he married Sarah Alden, daughter of Deacon Daniel Alden (1720-1790) who was the great-great grandson of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, two of the original Mayflower settlers of the Plymouth Colony. Sarah died in 1776 after bearing him three children: Daniel, Sarah, and Asenath. Noah was truly the first American Davis; he fought with the Continental Army in the American Revolution. When the call to arms was first given at the Hyde Tavern in Stafford, Noah joined in as sergeant in Capt. William Draper's 2nd Roxbury Company under the command of Col. William Heath. Noah and his company marched on the Lexington alarm on April 1, 1775. He received a commission as second lieutenant in May 1776 and served in Thomas May's 5th Company under the command of Col. Eliaza Wells of the 1st Sussex Company. Noah's military service continued until May 3, 1776. He also did a militia stint closer to home as a corporal under Capt. Paul Blodgett's company in Stafford in December 1776. After serving his newly forming country early in the Revolution, Noah returned to civilian life and was remarried to Anna Ladd, by whom he had five additional children. One of these children, Noah Davis, Jr., had a son Judge Noah Davis, who became a prominent attorney, judge, and U.S. Congressman from New York in 1869-1870.

As had been his father, Lieut. Noah Davis was a driving force in the local Congregational Church. He was deeply involved in the drive to oust Rev. Isaac Foster as pastor of the church due to financial and theological problems. In spite of the fact that nearly 75% of the congregation supported Foster, the opposition brought by Noah and his group tore the parish apart, culminating in the dismissal and excommunication of Rev. Foster in 1779.

Noah was among the first businessmen in Stafford, owing to his plentiful apple orchards. Noah's apples were reputed to make great pies, but he found other more profitable uses for them. In 1801, he was granted a license for the Davis Distillery, located near the Somers town line. A nearby spring provided the necessary cooling water which was piped to the site. Noah's still had a capacity of 66 gallons and the apple brandy he produced soon became well known locally.

Deacon Daniel Davis

Deacon Daniel Davis
by Chuck Freed

Deacon Daniel Davis (1768-1847) was the only son of Noah and Sarah Davis. Like his father, he, too, was a farmer.
Deacon Samuel Chapin

Deacon Samuel Chapin

Although he had no formal education beyond grade school, Daniel was self-taught and quite learned. He took pride in the extensive library he acquired, the centerpiece of which was his Great Bible for which he paid $3.00, a goodly sum in those days. Some of the other holdings of his library included Oriental Customs (for which he paid $1.75), Butler's History, several grammar and arithmetic books, a number of histories of Europe and America, books on philosophy and politics, and many theological works. Around the turn of the 18th century, Daniel and others built the first school in West Stafford, a one-room structure, where he oversaw affairs as schoolmaster, putting his knowledge to work for the community. However, business and church demands on his time forced Daniel to give up teaching in the early 1800's. Daniel, more than any previous Davis, was deeply involved with the Stafford 2nd Congregational Church, serving as deacon for many years. He was a prominent political figure in the area as well, holding a variety of local positions and representing Stafford in the state legislature in Hartford. In 1798, Daniel married Margaret Chapin, the 3rd great granddaughter of Deacon Samuel Chapin, one of the founding fathers of Springfield, Massachusetts. The well known 19th century American sculpter Augustus St.-Gaudens memorialized Deacon Chapin in his work "The Puritan" which stands proudly at the Quadrangle at the corner of State and Maple Streets in Springfield.

In the early 1800's Daniel was also a prominent businessman in the growing community. His extensive apple orchards produced a considerable amount of cider. Daniel took over the operation of his father's distillery, where the cider was turned into fine apple brandy. Daniel also produced sizeable quantities of wines; records show that he supplied all of the communion wine for the local church. The Davis Distillery was only one of Daniel's businesses. He and his sons operated a sawmill, a quarry (near Culver's Pond), and a general store. Daniel also invented an apple slicing machine and an apple paring machine that were sold throughout the region. By the 1820's, Daniel was one of the wealthiest men in Stafford.

A deeply religious man, Daniel wrestled with his conscience over the moral value of supplying liquor to the area. He wrote a number of essays wherein it was clear that his business and his religious beliefs were in conflict. His misgivings may well have begun with the tragedy that befell his eldest son, Daniel Jr., on March 23, 1818. Daniel Jr., 15 years of age, was given the job of tending the still that day. Apparently, Daniel Jr. spent more time sampling the product than minding the still, and he fell into the still, severely burning his left leg. His father wrote about the incident in his business ledger: "Daniel Davis Jr. scalt his leg to the nee by steping into the still and all the skin came off of his leg with his stocking. Mar. 25, He was taken vomiting, the pain left his leg and caused a violent fever. Apr. 3rd, Pain in his limbs and swelled like rheumatism and the second skin was taken off, whole weight 3 oz." Daniel's leg never healed, and it was later amputated above the knee. Deacon Daniel was reportedly enraged that this accident had occurred and vowed that if his sons could not responsibly mind the still he would tear it down. The last straw may have been when an inebriated man was killed in an accident at a house raising in the Davis District; the still was dismantled and apple brandy was no longer produced by the Davis family.

Daniel had eight children in all, two of whom died as infants. His only daughter, Sophia, died at the age of 27. It is to his five sons that we now turn, the five men pictured in their later years at the top of this page.

Next: The Five Davis Brothers: Somers Mountain in its Heydey