1997-2003, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved

Memoirs of George Washington Davis

George Washington DavisThis memoir was provided by descendant Hugh Shelton (First Shot Photo & Carriage, Gonzales) who holds the original.  Mr. Shelton believes that Davis set down the information soon after he arrived in Gonzales when his family was still at Old Scotts. 

The thought has lately arose in my mind that someday, if not now, you would like to know something more than you do of my history and to hear an account of your ancestors and relations or from whence you or the origin of your family and with whom you are connected. If however, these details should prove uninteresting to you I will not lose my labor, the employment which the task gives me will be and is some amusement and occupation in my present cheerful loneliness. So, I shall not regret my labors. Since I have come to more mature years and indulged in more reflection I have often regretted that the thoughtfulness of youth had prevented me from making many inquires on the subjects of my parents when they were alive and when I was with them. If you have the same curiosity and inquiring spirit you will feel much more at a loss than I have and have more trouble, for my advantages and opportunities have been much greater than yours. You and I have had little conversation on these subjects. I was with my father a great deal, and we always conversed freely and easily together on almost all subjects. He had less reserve than I have; was more communicative than I can possibly be in a conversation and I listened to him with pleasure and attention and profited very much from his knowledge and information on many subjects.

So much for introduction and explanation; now to my story. The earliest information I have of my family is that my Great-Great Grandfather Davis whose first ancestors name I believe was William a native of Wales, as the name imparts, and immigrated from that country to New England, in the colony of Massachusetts, at an early day and finally settled on the Island of Nantucket; So famous for the whale fishery and nautical enterprise in which pursuits he was deeply engaged. Sometime before the revolutionary war he removed to New Jersey and settled near the sea coast at a place called Chestnut Neck on the Little Egg Harbor river and carried on an extensive trade to the West Indies in lumber which at that time abounded in that part of New Jersey and of the most valuable kind. There were then extensive and numerous swamps containing vast quantities of white cedar Juniper and the uplands were covered with yellow pine or pitch pine so valuable for building. Here he remained and died leaving four sons and two daughters whose numerous descendents are spread all over that country. When I was there last in 1816, though a great many had immigrated to the west and other parts of the United States yet they were still too numerous almost to count.

My Grandfather the third son was named Abraham. He married a Miss Smith of an English family in the neighborhood, whose father died in 1805 at the advanced age of 106 years, had several brothers some of whose sons removed in 1812 and settled on the Susquehanna in Northumberland county, Pennsylvania. My Grandfather remained at Chestnut Neck and its vicinity until his death, he in a sea faring life and like his father engaged in the lumber business and trading to the West Indies. These employment's were very profitable and he made a great deal of money at them but being of a reckless and extravagant turn he never became rich but scattered his gains with a profuse and prodigal hand. At the commencement or soon after the commencement of the revolutionary war our vessels were in a manner driven off the sea by the British Cruisers the lumber trade and the trade to the West Indies was destroyed. My Grandfather and his brother in law of the name of Stevens who married his sister conceived the project of retaliating on the British by fitting out private armed vessels and cruising against them. The British at that time occupied New York and very often the first land that their transports and merchantmen made was that part of the coast of New Jersey where they lived, hence our men thought a profitable business might be done in capturing them and without much danger from the British men of war. This scheme met but little encouragement from their friends who thought they saw difficulties and dangers that were insuperable and hence would not join them in the enterprise nor give them aid in the undertaking.

Both the two men were too sanguine of success to be stopped or discouraged and relying of their own limited resources, fitted out a kind of galley barge it was the best they could do and having mustered twenty five young reckless, daring and enterprising men like themselves, Stevens, the commander, and my Grandfather lieutenant, they put to sea. Their armament was one cannon mounted on madcap and muskets, cutlasses and pistols sufficient for the crew. After cursing two or three days on the coast and in the track, as they thought, of the British ships, they found themselves one very foggy morning in the midst of a fleet of British merchantmen convoyed by a frigate; as the fog thinned off, they discovered themselves close alongside and under the guns of the frigate an officer on board of the frigate saw them and supposing it was a launch or tender belonging to his fleet ordered them to drop astern to which they answered in sailor phrase, AY AY, Sir, and accordingly dropped astern and kept gradually dropping back until they came alongside of a dull sailing rig which was in the rear of all the rest of the fleet, they gently and gradually fell alongside her and she supposing also that it was a tender of the fleet had no alarm until they had grappled her and were on her deck with their cutlasses and pikes and without firing a gun they took her the men running down below. She proved to be a transport form Ireland, deeply laden with provisions, a valuable cargo. They ran her into Little Egg Harbor, Chestnut Neck sold the cargo at auction for a good price and divided the large share of prize money to each man. This success so complete, So unexpected, gave an instant impulse to the business and my Grandfather and Stevens had each of them a handsome privateer of fourteen guns immediately fitted out the merchants of Philadelphia and they given the command. They took a great many valuable prizes and the two commanders Davis and Stevens, each made handsome fortunes by the business. The British vessels continued to fall in close upon the coast and the privateers would often lay at anchor in the bay and watch for them. Would keep a man constantly on the look out with a spy glass and when they discovered a sail in the offing would put to sea and give chase and rarely failed of capturing them, and have in some instances taking them in sight of the British Fleet while they were laying behind Sandy Hook, the entrance into New York. Commander's Berry, Decatur, and Barney names since so distinguished in the Naval Service of the United States, commenced their career at this time in privateering, cruised on this coast and made Egg Harbor and Chestnut Neck their rendezvous. My Grandfather and these commanders were intimate associates. This was the Stephen Decatur, the father of the late Stephen Decatur, so well known as a great naval commander. The elder one was familiarly known among his associates and fellow captains as Black Steve, being of a dark complexion he commanded a privateer fitted out and belonging to Philadelphia. The British after suffering a great loss by the privateers for several years became very cautious and avoided this coast and their vessels came in large fleets protected by strong convoys which after a while prevented much chance of success to the privateers. They also sent a strong force by sea against Egg Harbor and the place having but small means of defense they took and destroyed what vessels were in the harbor, they being old prize vessels for which there was no use and no sale and they burned the little town of Chestnut Neck. The inhabitants mustered and organized themselves into a company for the defense of the settlement and by their bravery and activity prevented the British from penetrating into the country. There were no other troops in that part of the country to oppose them, after destroying all the property they could get at the British departed making but a short stay.

My grandfather after the destruction of the privateering business and the burning of Chestnut Neck quit the sea and joined the Continental army as a Captain in the New Jersey line of troops and continued in the army to the end of the revolutionary war. He was in the well-fought battle of Princeton, Monmouth and Redbank in New Jersey besides other battles in other parts. Serving with bravery and zeal all his aid in the great cause of liberty suffering cheerfully for his country and the cause all the privation, hardship and losses incidental to the patriot soldier of that time. And here I cannot omit remarking to you that your family are the lawful and rightful inheritors of that liberty which we all now enjoy. You are not interlopers or intruders on the rich inheritance; your share of these rights, were bought and nobly paid for by the blood and toils and suffering of more than one ancestor. Your Ancestors in the first place have been long on the soil contributing then to subduing the wilderness and the early settlement of the country bearing all the toils and hardship natural to such enterprises. And when the great war for liberty was commenced sacrificing every comfort and convenience and cheerfully taking up arms for the great cause, never ceased nor quit until the great work was accomplished and this country saved.

My Grandfather remained in New Jersey at the same place near Chestnut Neck and died there some 9 or ten years after the close of the revolutionary war leaving six sons and three daughters who were Thomas, the eldest, my father, John, George, Abraham, Smith and Daniel, the daughters were Rachel, Ruth and Mary. George died in the West Indies in 1796. John also followed the sea and died in Philadelphia in 1809. Smith died in Richmond Virginia in 1801. Abraham died in Philadelphia in 1813. John, Abraham and Smith died with consumption. Though John and Abraham were married for some years they never had any children. Daniel was alive when I left Pennsylvania in 1819 and was living in West Chester 25 miles from Philadelphia he had four or five children at that time, sons and daughters. Of the daughter my father's sister Rachel the oldest married a man named David Horman lived in New Jersey until 1814 when she died leaving one daughter and several sons. David Horman and family have since removed to the State of Ohio. Ruth married had no children and died young. Mary married had several children and was alive when I left Philadelphia she married a man by the name of Seely. My father married my mother in 1794, her name was Ruth Burk. She was the daughter of Patrick Burk an Irishman who commanded one of the floating battery's on the Delaware during the revolutionary war and was killed while contending against the British fleet when they forced there way up the Delaware to Philadelphia her mother died soon after and left her an orphan at an early age. At the time of his marriage my father had settled and lived in Philadelphia where he remained some years.

In the year 1795 my sister Eliza was born in Philadelphia. In the year 1797, I was born in sight of Philadelphia on the Jersey shore my fathers residence was in Philadelphia at the time but the yellow fever breaking out in the city at that time he left the city and took refuge in the country for a few weeks; when and where I was first born. With regards to my mother's family all I can tell you was that she had but one sister they were twins. She married a man of the name of Kirk and removed to Alexandria where she lived until she died sometime in 1815, she never had any children. In the time of my father living in Philadelphia he followed the sea for some years trading principally to the West Indies. In the year 1800 he moved to Richmond Virginia where he carried on shoemaking largely and kept a store. Here is the first of my own recollection, here I first recollect of getting drunk on cherries which I got out of a barrel that had cherry bounce in it. I fished the cherries out at the bung with a spoon. Here I first went to school to a woman on Shocks Hill and used to go past the capital everyday to school. While living in Richmond my mother had another son born his name was John and he died there at two years old, my mother had a daughter of Louisa a short time before she left Philadelphia she also died in Richmond. My father did well in Richmond and made a great deal of money there and had he remained there would have become independently rich in a short time. But Richmond was then considered very unhealthy especially for children. His family had a great deal of sickness there and being discouraged and affected by the loss of his children, he gave up his firm prospects and fine business and removed to Alexandria, District of Columbia. This was a beautiful flourishing town and here also he did well for sometime and made money, but after a while the embargo was laid, all trade was stopped ------ times in that place became very hard and very dull. Alexandra is a great flour market and almost all her trade depends upon shipping flour and hard bread to foreign parts, this the embargo entirely and suddenly stopped.

In Alexandra I spent some of my happiest boyish days. Here I got nearly all of my school education and I can say of this place that it is to me "by many a childish care and childish joy endeared." While living in Alexandra I became very intimate with a boy of Washington City about my own age who became a midshipman in the Navy. He belonged to the Chesapeake frigate which lay a considerable time opposite Alexandria, while there I was frequently on board of her and my old comrade did his best to get me to come on board with him and enter the service as a midshipman. The officers of the frigate wanted me to join them and offered me a midshipman's birth, if I would join them and tried their best to persuade my parents to let me go with them but they would not consent or at least my mother would not be brought to agree to upon no terms. I was very anxious to go, and had I entered the service then I should have been before this time a commander of one of the best ships in the United States Navy. I have often regretted my mother's refusal since and wished she had not been quite so fond and tender. My parents had several intimate friends in Washington city at that time. Among the number and whom we used often to visit there was Mr. Onsil and family he kept a boarding house for Congressmen, he had a daughter about my own age who I have frequently romped with. She afterwards married General Eaton of Tennessee who was Secretary of War under President Jackson. She was the cause of the breaking up of Jackson's Cabinet--there seems to have been some suspicion against her virtue--and the wives of the other members of the Cabinet resolved among themselves that they would not visit or associate with her. Jackson took the matter up exposed the cause of the condemned and rejected lady and told his cabinet that their wives should receive her or they should leave their offices or he would dismiss them; the most of them refused to obey and were dismissed. It was thought that Jackson was not entirely disinterested in this matter -- that the lady had granted him favors for which he was so very grateful.

In the year 1808 my father left Alexandria and removed back to Philadelphia---my mother and sister with our goods and furniture went round by sea and my father and myself by land through Washington City & Baltimore taking a packet at Baltimore to the head of the Chesapeake Bay at Frenchtown thence across the state of Delaware 16 miles by land to New Castle on the Delaware from thence we took packet and landed at Philadelphia where we remained some ten years. My father here again carried on shoemaking or shoe manufacturing he kept a good many hands employed and sold his work by the dozen or box never retailed them nor sold any by the single pair. He had customers at a distance---country merchants and others whom he supplied by order by the box or trunk this was a very good business. Here in his shop I learned to make shoes and I learned fast and soon got to be a good and fast workman. Whenever I wanted money to spend for my own amusement or pleasure my father would tell me to go to work make shoes and he would pay me journeyman wages for them which he always did. I worked almost consistently when I was not going to school and therefore had always plenty of money, my own earning and for my own use.

After we moved to Philadelphia I went to school about nine months---that is to an English School. I went besides a good deal to other schools to learn Latin writing and drawing and painting. In 1815 after the close of the war my father who was always fond of the sea bought vessel, a Schooner and engaged in the coasting trade which was the profitable leaving me alone to carry on his shoe manufacturing business which I did with success and entirely to his satisfaction. My business was to purchase materials cut out work for the men, pack up and send off work, collect money and pay off the journeyman and others. All this kept me very busy---and early trained me to the habits of business--- to dealing---buying and selling. It was determined by my father in the year 1816 that I should study some profession and that profession he decided should be medicine or that he would make a doctor of me. This was not my choice. I preferred the law, he would not consent--his was a voice potential and I had to submit. I thought maybe it was better and easier than cutting and hammering leather and I yielded. I was placed under the guidance and tuition of one Doctor Johnson, an able physician, planted in his library for some 8 or 9 months during which time I read diligently and studied hard. I then went into an apothecary's shop to get a knowledge of medicine and learn to weigh and mix them, make tinctures pills--etc. Here I stayed sold medicines mixed and prepared prescriptions for about 3 months. Then went into the University of Pennsylvania and attended a course of Medical lectured there diligently reading night and morning on the subject of each day's lecture in the several text books. I studied faithfully for the most of two years when I gradually relaxed my efforts. Some of the branches I was fond. Anatomy I was pleased and interested with and studied it well but chemistry I was delighted with. I bought chemical apparatus, electric machine and constructed a galvance battery, purchased a stock of acids, alklies, minerals and other chemical agents and preformed every experiment that my apparatus and means would admit---And while most of the other students were occupied in the more every day useful and matter of fact and commonplace branches of surgery and the practice, I was luxuriating in what to me was the more pleasing philosophical and scientific departments. I did not entirely neglect the other parts but I did not give them the ardor and devotion that I bestowed upon chemistry and even on anatomy.

I cannot avoid smiling even now when I refer to the recollections of that medical class and I have no doubt from my experience now that medical classes are generally if not always so. The cool calculating money making spirit that even the young men and a large majority of the class had---The lectures on surgery, on mid wifery and on the practice would be crowdedly attended while this to me delightfully interesting ones in Chemistry would be attended by very few---and they or the most of them listless and uninterested. I said I gradually relaxed my efforts in the study of medicine. This was caused by an insuperable and growing dislike to the profession---it was not my first love it had never been my choice and time, familiarity, and reflection had only increased my repugnance and I determined to quit the study which I did after two years' labor and devotion. Some would say here was much time and money wasted but I say not so for though I do not love nor ever did love the profession as a profession though I should not love to practice as a physician yet I do love and esteem the medical art and medical knowledge and I respect the practitioners of it when they are learned and able. No part of my time no money of mine has been better spent. Not only has it been of real actual use to me in treating my own ailments and prescribing and administering relief to others in affliction but it has been a constant source of satisfaction and pleasure and a safeguard from much evil. It has enabled me a readily to detect quacks and imposters in the art; to avoid and ridicule all charms supernatural, cures and remedies quack and patent medicines which this villainous world is full of and of which there are so many forms and contrivance to draw money out of the pockets of the ignorant and credulous and I can by its aid detect even the legitimate professor in the art when he steps into the region of humbug which also is often the case.

It has cleared my mind from those mists and clouds of superstition and credulity which obtains more or less with every one who has not made the art his study or taxed the clear waters of the fountain of knowledge. I do not say all this for a vainglorious boast of my knowledge and acquirements but to prove to you that even knowledge that is considered professional may yet without the profession be very valuable. And I would here warn you of the deep and pervading ignorance and credulity that prevails on this subject everywhere. In the month of September 1818 my father with his family, myself one of them left Philadelphia to seek a home somewhere in the west. We arrived at Pittsburgh about the latter part of the same month where we remained until the next May. Nothing worth recording here occurred while I lived in Pittsburgh. Time passed off well enough in an even tenor unmarked by any important event; early in the month of May my father joined with a Mr. Edward Powers, filled up a flat boat, embarked their families on board and left Pittsburgh for Cincinnati, Ohio, where we arrived after a very pleasant and interesting voyage of two weeks. I was well pleased with Cincinnati. It was even then in 1819 a very handsome town pleasant to live in---had an abundant and cheap market---had good theatre and afforded many amusements. I lived and spent my time there very agreeably.

Here it was that I first met and became acquainted with your mother. And here it was on the 8th of October 1820 we were married. This alone has endeared Cincinnati to me by the deepest and tenderest associations of feeling and affection. Immediately after I married I left that town to seek my fortune and apart from my relation and went to Louisville where I lived only six weeks. When through the representations of some of my wife's relation I removed to Green River county in Kentucky and stopped for a while near where they lived near Etna Furnace in Hart county. This I found too poor and wild a region for me. I was not fitted or suited for a country life at that time though now I greatly prefer it. A town then was the best place for me and I accordingly again removed to Greensburg on Green River in Green county. This was a stirring, flourishing town and did well there and I could have accumulated money there had I not been to fond of living well and enjoying the good things of this world---or been less extravagant. I carried on shoemaking here employed all the hands I could get---worked steady and hard myself scarcely ever lost a day from business. In short did a very considerable business for such a town. Your mother with her natural untiring industry did her part in making a living and spared no exertion to make money by enterprise and industry. Here also I commenced the study of law and devoted every hour I could spare from business to that kind of reading.

The law profession as I have before said was my favorite profession and I knew that the knowledge would be useful to me if I did not practice it as a profession and at the same time the study itself was highly interesting and pleasing. The confinement of my business now had injured my health very much I became feeble and dyspeptic. Through persuasions of my wife, and my gradually and constantly failing health. I determined to embark in the Tavern keeping business that I might have some more active employment and more exercise. Your mother was eminently qualified as you know for that business. As well from her agreeable and pleasant manners as from her excellent taste in house arrangements and skill in cookery. I accordingly removed to Summersville about six miles south of Greensbury there I rented a noted Tavern stand -- hired some servants -- laid in a good stock of provisions and horse feed and commenced business. Though there were a good many on that road and two others in the same little village engaged in the same business we did well had a fine run of customers and took in a great deal of money for such an establishment but the prices there are by long custom very low and the expenses and outgoings of a house where everything has to be bought and hired are very considerable so I could not lay up much. Here we remained in this place so employed more than two years and here it was Eugene was born which happened October 12,1828. I became now disheartened with this country. I saw that if I remained there poor as I was I must continually toil from day to day for a mere subsistence with but a small hope of accumulating anything for the future -- the gains if any must continue to be small and come in slow.

I had long heard of Texas -- its rich soil; fine climate its beautiful scenery and the advantage of getting large tracts of land there for almost nothing. I had pondered upon all these things for a long time -- but the distance was so great that country was so far off -- the heavy expense of going there the risk, hardship, privation, and dangers a family would be exposed to in making the voyage all conspired to detain me a long time from the undertaking, but now I had excited your mother's enthusiasm on the subject and her good sense led her to see the great advantage that would most probably result from the enterprise. And cheered on by her assistance and smiles of approval I determined to brave all hazards and make one strong daring effort to better a condition and secure a future competence for myself and family. Accordingly I immediately set about making preparation for the journey. Sold everything we had except some bed clothing a few household things and in the month of October 1830 hired a wagon which hauled all I had left and went to Louisville on the Ohio. When we got to Louisville we found the Ohio river unusually low. Our intention was to take passage in a steamboat to New Orleans from that place but there was no boat running. No boats would run. We remained there a month waiting for the river to rise but it did not. I then concluded to get on board of a flat boat as the season was advancing too fast to waste time winter was fast approaching. Mr. Schwing was sending off at this time some flat boats with flour. I was acquainted with him and bargained with him to work down on one of his boats as a hand for 30 dollars for the trip and my family and my goods to be taken or have their passage free. This I found soon to be a good arrangement for instead of taking money out of my pocket for passage, it put thirty dollars into it and money was indeed an object then. To bear the large expense I would have to get to the end of my journey I found would consume all my means. We were a long time on the way but the voyage was otherwise pleasant enough. We worked hard (that's we hands) but we lived well. The crew were well behaved decent men and jovial and agreeable fellows. For six weeks after we started we landed in New Orleans.

We remained in New Orleans about two weeks before we could get a passage. At last we got one on board of the Schooner Emblem for Matagorda Texas. We embarked on her about the last day of January 1831. Left the Mississippi and went to sea with the beginning of a norther which continued to increase and the next day became a violent gale. We ran before under the smallest quantity of sail all that day, when at night it had increased to such a violence that they had to lay the vessel too- as the sailors term it. Some time before daylight the vessel had headed in and worked so near the shore that she began to strike among or on the breakers. All hands were instantly on deck at the first alarm and by great exertion and activity got the vessel wore around- almost in an instant got her under way and saved her and all on board from destruction which in a few minutes more would have been inevitable. Before this time almost everybody on board had become sea sick and such a woebegone miserable looking set of wretches you never saw. Your mother and myself escaped this sickness but Eugene had a small share of it. The third day after leaving the Mississippi we entered Matagorda Bay at Pass Cavallo and had a tedious passage up the bay getting aground at last on the 12th day of February 1831 we landed at Cox's Point on the Lavaca Bay, about twenty miles from any house on the naked and lonesome bay shore. Our crowd of passengers for there was 80 or 90 of them on the vessel made it for a while a lively and populous place. Here we put up camps or tents and remained about two weeks before we could get a way.

The roads were so bad there that wagons could not travel them. We procured planks from the captain of the vessel, built a sort of flat boat. I got our passage in her for helping to build her and afterwards helping to work her up the Lavaca River. We ascended the Lavaca and Navidad in her as far as Old Scotts where we landed; Here I again had to build a camp. I did and a very snug one with poles and palmetto leaves. From the meager description of the country which I had only been able to obtain; and from the idea I had formed of it. I had when I started fixed upon the Guadalupe River as having the country on it that would please me best. The country on the bay, Lavaca and Navidad I did not like at all, nothing could have induced me to live there. The people there endeavored to persuade me to stop there. There was plenty of the best land the country afforded and open for location I could have got one of their first rate leagues, but I would not stay there. After we had landed I met a man who was going to Gonzales and wanted company and I anxious to hunt a home soon agreed to go with him to the Guadalupe River. Accordingly I shouldered my rifle and on foot with a half dollar in my pocket all the money I had in the world, a little wallet of provision with the best heart I could muster--- leaning on hope alone---set out. Here, now let me pause and look back upon that period of my life and may we draw from it an useful lesson. How little had I to build hope upon--how gloomy the prospect was in reality before me. Your mother while on the river to New Orleans became afflicted with Rheumatism and so severely, that when she landed and when I left her on the Navidad she could not walk without crutches. The rest of the family, except Sidna were entirely helpless. We had brought provisions with us to last us sometime or they would have suffered. And then I what had I to calculate or how to expect live in this wilderness. I alone, unknown and unfriended--unaccustomed and unfit for hard labor---knew nothing about it--- had neither skill not strength for it---was no hunter, incapable from nearsightedness of ever becoming one. Thrown here where these were the prime requisites, the only available qualifications. I could to be sure make shoes and boots but what use for a bootmaker among people who had no leather where leather could not be had and who were well content to wear moccasins.

1997-2003, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved