I could also call this blog, “What Color Are We, Really? Race In Early Colonial America”. But I won’t, as the information below must be shared to appreciate the context. And this is why the Davis geneological journey is so very fascinating.
Davis is one of the most studied genealogical names in the United States. Why? Because it is so interesting (I will get into that with our kin in this article and many articles here after. I promise it will make you want to sit down). It is also complex. The naming conventions of the Davis clan are quite intriguing (which I will get into in another blog) as the Scots-Irish had a unique way of doing naming by honoring the young with the names of the elders. As great as this is, you get ALOT of people with the same name. But once you get the hang of it, there is actually a science to the naming. I will get into why my husband’s great grandfather had the same name as his father and no one knew it (Robert Housten, his GGPa and Robert Houston, his Dad). This happens all the time in Scots- Irish naming and can make the search for Davis ancestors very confusing. Did I mention that John is one of the most used Davis names and a family will have both a John and a Jonathan as children’s names. Of course, my husband is a Jon. At least we know now why his name is spelled Jon, versus John. It ties all the way back to his early ancestor, Jonathan. Oh, and to make things more confusing, when a child is given a name in tribute to an ancestor, and then that child dies, the name is used again with the next child, so the honor is bestowed to the elder with a living child.
Another reason why determining Davis lineage back in early Colonial America is so hard is because of three things: 1) early census records were destroyed when the capital was burned in the War of 1812, 2) during the early frontier days Indians destroyed whole towns by burning them down. This also happened during the Civil War, when court houses were taken over by either union or confederate soldiers, or sometimes both. All records were destroyed, oftentimes. And, 3) shocking to contemporary Americans, not all people had birth certificates. Not all people were papered. It never occurred to me before we started this quest that some of our ancestors may well be either slaves or indentured servants and may be counted as “chattel”. Think about that? When you are viewed as property do you get counted as people or do you get counted as assets? What paperwork ties to a human classified as property? These are interesting questions and intriguing are the answers in early Colonial America. Of course slavery is bad, but I am not sure I was taught that whites were slaves too, just by another name “indentured servant.”
In early frontier days, there were six men to every one woman. The sophisticated folk were not the early adopters of the Wild West at the time, the western edge of the Virginia Territory. No, they were first the traders, then the trappers, then the explores. Long after, did the “people” come and I am talking women. So, while we choose to ignore this part of American history, in early 1700s America, the frontier was very much a mixing of races and offspring that was more rainbow than white, black or brown. And the “groups” were not white versus black, but rather, elites versus white, black and brown. History doesn’t record that properly.
And, unbeknownst to this journalist, as I must have really skipped this part in history class, when the plantations did begin to form when tobacco was the rage, the plantations BRED their way to labor counts necessary to do the work. In the 1700s intermixing and offspring was encouraged. And while there were slaves, there were tons of “indentured servants”, primarily the Scots-Irish, who were promised great lives in this new land with their travel being paid for if they signed a contract to serve a master for free for a period of five to nine years. During this period of time they were slave to the master, as well. And, all these folks were encouraged to breed more labor but were not allowed to marry. Any woman who became pregnant would therefore produce a “bastard” child and it would take the woman’s surname and status. Thus, the worker class of early Colonial America was a great deal more mixed colors and mixed races than I was taught in high school. This bastard class of children/adults were not baptized so there were no baptismal records, generally had no record of them in court records, no record of their father’s name, no record of the gender of the child born to the mother and generally no record of what happened to them.
With that being shared for context, the Davis lineage we are part of has distinct clarity back to Jonathan Davis, born 1750ish, who lived at one time in Pittsylvania County, VA then migrated to Roane County, TN. This means there is a paper trail. However, is it possible to determine our ancestors further back than Jonathan when the waters get murky and documentation is thin? I think it is possible and I am going to show you the path we took to determine our extended kin.
This is a rather complex blog to write but the content is important to understand when addressing our Davis lineage as we go back pre-1750 in our genealogical journey into early colonial America. I want to first share the conclusion we have reached in determining who our kin are, even though often records have been destroyed and may be non-existant, as noted above. The definition of kin is “a person’s relatives collectively. A group of persons descended from a common ancestor or constituting a people, clan, tribe, or family.” Therefore, when we use kin from now on, it includes brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.
At the documentation drop off of Jonathan’s birth data, we have a huge loss of paper trail tracking of his father and his specific birth date and location of his birth. However, what we DO have is equally insightful and we believe it tells who his brothers, sisters and father are. In a worst case, we believe these kin are at the furthest, cousins. With this early lineage of siblings/cousins, we can go all the way back into the 1600s with our Davis line.
This is why Pittsylvania County, Virginia matters so much and is the entire backbone of all Davis geneology going forward. The reason is because from 1767 tithable list (the first year Pittsylvania County came into existence) we learn about a Davis clan and fellow families, that I believe are all brothers and sisters. In this “Wild West” the more sophisticated Davis clan of Boston I doubt would dare gaunt this far southwest in the midst of warring Indians and massacred first settlers. No, the small group of Davis’s that existed in Pittsylvania in 1767, who along with fellow early frontiersman/women that the Davis family married, will travel across the United States, in union for nearly 300 years. Yes, I just wrote that. What the tithable list shows us, is that the clan of Davis’s that lived next to each other in Pittsylvania VA in 1767, and were there earlier, travelled together and intermarried fellow Pittsylvania, VA families over the course of (1730-1950) 220 years, or 289 years if you count to present. Quickly, so you know, under the British Crown, colonists had to pay taxes. They paid taxes on their land and they paid taxes on their property. Thus, they listed tithables, which were taxable assets including men, and slaves, both white and black. We can therefore see who lived where and when though census records were destroyed. We can also see from land deeds who purchased land.
So folks know, there are some very clear patterns to our Davis clan (this is not uncommon in Early Colonial America across all “families”): The Davis clan seem to always travel together, they bring their spouses families as well, the are very true to the Scots-Irish naming conventions, they appear somewhat well to do in that they tend to buy land early in the initial land claims bought directly from the surveyor, they are first in to almost every new territory and are well connected to the financiers/surveyors, are great frontiersmen serving as rangers, scouts, guides and soldiers, they tend to stand up new churches and also tend to be reverends/preachers but do not generally appear to move “up” the ladder in a region but rather continue to push “forward” into new country so we don’t see them much in politics and status related posts, they have anywhere from 10-22 kids apiece, they often have two to three wives as the wives die young probably from childbirth, they always push further west and they seem to not carry all their history with them as one can tell that mid 1800s some were not passed down the knowledge of their lineage, and last, there seems to be a strong streak of Native American and potentially some African American ancestry in the Davis line.
Bottom Line: We posit that there are numerous brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and at the furthest distance, cousins, that were all living near to each other in Pittsylvania County, VA that are direct or very close kin. We will be blogging about each of these kin for the course of our genealogical quest from now moving forward. Here are the relations:
Margaret Davis Crockett/Ramsey – This line we believe is aunt to our direct line Jonathan Davis Sr. and to all other names listed below excluding Robert who is the patriarch, her brother. Margaret married Robert Watkins Crockett and is related to the famed Davy Crockett. We will therefore call this the Davis/Crockett line.
Jonathan Davis Sr. – This is our direct line we believe as a Jonathan lived in Pittsylvania County in 1767 and it would fit the naming convention of our Jonathan Jr. We will call this the Roane County TN line. Note that this line went on to Kansas then finally settled in Ione, Pend Oreille County WA.
Nathaniel Davis – This line we believe is brother to our Jno. Sr., and is father to Aaron Davis/Rachel Davis of Davis Creek Primitive Baptist Church. We will call this the Greenbrier WV / Powell Valley TN line. Nathaniel Davis was massacred by the Shawnee along with many other Davis kin and little history is left of their memory as the Muddy Creek Massacre destroyed the Greenbrier in its entirety in 1763. Note that this family went from Powell Valley to be the first pioneers to cross the Oregon Trail and the second family to settle Eugene Oregon. They went on from Oregon to Whittman WA and Pend Oreille County WA.
John Wyatt Davis –This line we believe is brother to the above two and is married to Jemima “Jane” Collins Jefferson, of President Thomas Jefferson fame. We will call this the Kentucky line because many went to Kentucky after Powell Valley TN and NC.
Sarah Davis VanBebber – This line we believe is sister to brothers above. She was in Greenbrier then moved to Powell Valley. Her son was raised by Daniel Boone and his offspring are all Daniel Boone descendants. We will call this the Missouri line, as half of this group stayed in Powell Valley but the Daniel Boone Davis group all moved to Missouri.
James Davis – This line we believe is brother to the brothers and sister above. James was well educated and well to do and is the owner/land buyer of Davies Fancy which you will learn much more about later. We will call this the Davies Fancy VA line.
William Davis – This line we believe is brother to the brothers and sister above. William stayed in Pittsylvania at the Cherrystone Plantation his whole life while his kin moved on. We will call this the Pittsylvania VA line.
THE PATRIARCH – Robert Davis / Anne (Pickens) Davis – This line we believe is the father to all the children above, other than Margaret, his sister. Robert grew weary of the Wild West of the Virginia frontier and established the Waxhaw Settlement in the Carolinas. We will therefore call this the Waxhaw SC line. This is where President Andrew Jackson grew up.
I would like to note here that there may well be a brother to Robert Davis that we are NOT aware of. This could make some of the above children cousins versus sibling. If this theory were true, we would speculate that this brother/sister was massacred at the Muddy Creek Massacre in 1763, Greenbrier, WV. The example we refer to is Aaron Davis. While we think he may be the son of Nathaniel who was murdered by the Shawnee, Aaron could have been the son Nathaniel’s brother whom we don’t know due to the Greenbrier settlement being completely destroyed. Some oral history speaks of 100s taken/kidnapped by Indians and family after family murdered. Thus, we assume siblings or cousins, as kinship for our clan. When a huge swath of your people are murdered without a trace, there are big holes to try and fill in.
There are several other children, Moses, Robert, George, Catherine and Israel, that I won’t cover now as we have yet to do a deep dive into these kin and their lineages. But, we will add as we see fit should their ancestry be interesting and worthy of study.
What we see with these kin is the significant intermarrying with Cunninghams, Cox, Vanbebber, Boone, Pickens, Wallen, Jefferson, and more…all citizens of the very small group of citizens who comprised Pittsylvania in 1767. These families from this time continued to move as kin across the US and settle in new frontiers. We know that Sarah Davis VanBebber’s son Isaac while being raised by Daniel Boone after his father died at the Battle of Point Pleasant and Sarah remarried, was well educated with his education being paid for by his uncle James (which explains that link). We know that James was the big land buyer who was one of the first settlers in Old Augusta in the first “Beverely Manor” tract of land. We also know he was friends with Holston who the Holston River was named after, an explorer, and friends with cartographers and financiers. We know that Aaron Davis was in the Greenbrier W.V. and previously was executor of a will that involved John Wyatt. Thus, Aaron is tied directly to Sarah (Greenbrier location and also to John Wyatt). We know that John Wyatt managed the slaves for George Jefferson in Pittsylvania which puts John Wyatt in close proximity to Jemima Jefferson, his future wife, relation to President Thomas Jefferson. We know that John Wyatt’s daughter Jemima Davis married Daniel Hensley and there is a street name and farm named Davis Hensley right next to Davis Creek Baptist Church (the original Davis land in Powell Valley right next to the church Aaron and Rachel Davis started). We know that our Jonathan, who lived next to all these Davis kin in Pittsylvania, moved down the Clinch River further south than the Aaron and Sarah Davis lines that were further up the Clinch River but in the same region. Last, we know that my husband’s grandfather Frank B. (Benjamin Franklin) of the Jonathan Davis line, is buried in the same cemetery in the tiny town of Ione, WA next to John Harding Davis, of the Aaron Davis line, 200 years later on the opposite side of the country. Ione WA has a very small population. My husband says peak population was probably 750 people. So, to have these two Davis lines buried right next to each other……is where we reach the conclusion that these fully interwoven Davis lines are all kin. They all connect from Pittsylvania, Virginia, through to North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, through Missouri and Kansas, across the Oregon Trail, to Oregon and then on to Washington.
While our direct line back in time is interesting in its own right, the other descendants fed by brothers and sisters and those they married, creates a much larger tapestry of intrigue and fascination, in total.
So, this is your introduction into who we believe are seven children of the many children of Robert and Anne (Pickens) Davis whom we chose to focus on for research and blogging purposes. This of course is fitting since our line is Jonathan and my husband’s name is Jon (1947 – living). And the patriarch is Robert Davis (1700-1770), and my husband’s dad and his great great father are also Robert Davis. This is all completely fitting in Scots-Irish naming conventions and a logical span of elders and offspring through which we can view the lens of history and the adaption and resilience of our Davis clan.