William Morris Davis and Elizabeth M. Jacobs Davis Correspondence
Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
William Morris Davis (1815-1891) was a Quaker abolitionist, Radical Republican member of the 37th U.S. Congress in the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 5th district, sugar refiner, and author.
The son of Evan Roberts Davis (1783-1824) and his wife Rachel Hill, Davis was born on August 16, 1815, in either Keene Valley, New York, or Pennsylvania. In 1831, Davis went on a whaling voyage, aboard the ship Chelsea, William E. Beetle, master. He kept a journal of the adventure which was later published as: "Nimrod of the Sea or The American Whaleman" (New York: Harper & Bros., 1874). Following this experience, Davis moved to Philadelphia and became a sugar refiner, initially as a member of the firm of Joseph S. Lovering & Co. (Joseph Lovering was likely related to Davis's relatives through his half-brother Isaac's marriage). He later joined and became a senior member of the firm of Davis, McKean & Co., sugar refiners of Philadelphia. By the 1880s, Davis became involved in the gold mining business. He had a company, Davis Chlorination Company, with 130 workers and a mine at Salisbury, North Carolina, with another mill in operation at Florence, Colorado. Davis also worked in the florist business with H.B. Davis under the name William Morris Davis & Company at 1029 Walnut Street in Philadelphia.
An opponent of slavery and advocate of immediate emancipation, Davis became involved in politics to advance these goals. Along with his brother, Edward Morris Davis (1811-1887), who was the husband of abolitionist and women's rights activist Lucretia Mott's daughter, Maria Mott (1818-1897), he was an early and influential advocate of the presidential campaign of John C. Frémont. Davis served as a delegate to the first Republican national convention, held in Philadelphia in 1856, and ran for and was elected to Congress in 1860, the first Republican member from the Fifth Congressional District, at that time comprising both the Twenty-second Ward and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He served in the 37th Congress from 1861 to 1863, during which time he was involved in efforts to end slavery in the District of Columbia and efforts to influence Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Davis married Quaker and abolitionist Elizabeth M. Jacobs (1817-1904) of Norwood Farms (near Phoenixville), Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on October 17, 1844. They had at least five children: Emily Davis (1846-?), Isaac Robert Davis (1848-1865), Helen Morris Davis (1852-1909), Henry Kirk Brown Davis (named for Davis' friend the sculptor Henry Kirke Brown), and William Morris Davis, Jr. (1867-1876). William and Elizabeth Davis made their residence on Old York Road near Milestown, Philadelphia. William died in Berdes, New York on August 5, 1891, at 76, and was buried at the Society of Friends' Fairhill Burial Ground in Philadelphia.Davis
Elizabeth M. Jacobs Davis (1817-1904) was a Quaker abolitionist and women's rights proponent who played an active role in anti-slavery efforts and organizations in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-area, including involvement in the Underground Railroad. The daughter of John and Amelia Jacobs, Elizabeth was born on August 8, 1817, at Norwood Farms (near Phoenixville), Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Davis was a member of several anti-slavery organizations, including the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and the corresponding secretary of the Providence (PA) Anti-Slavery Society. She also subscribed and contributed to the Pennsylvania Freeman (edited by John Greenleaf Whitter from March 1839 to February 1840), collected an antislavery library, distributed petitions against slavery, and attended the two meetings held by the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women and lectures by abolitionists.
Elizabeth married Quaker abolitionist and Congressman, William Morris Davis (1815-1891) at Norwood Farms on October 17, 1844. They had at least five children: Emily Davis (1846-?), Isaac Robert Davis (1848-1865), Helen Morris Davis (1852-1909), Henry Kirk Brown Davis (named for Davis' friend the sculptor Henry Kirke Brown), and William Morris Davis, Jr. (1867-1876). Elizabeth and William Davis made their residence on Old York Road near Milestown, Philadelphia.
This collection primarily consists of correspondence detailing the involvement of Quaker abolitionists and husband and wife, William Morris Davis (1815-1891), member of the 37th U.S. Congress, and Elizabeth M. Jacobs Davis (1817-1904) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the antebellum and Civil War periods. This included support of John C. Frémont's presidential campaign, William running for Congress in order to advance immediate, universal, uncompensated emancipation, Elizabeth's involvement in anti-slavery societies, and their association with the Underground Railroad, specifically with John C. Lester, station master of the Underground Railroad, Richland (Quakertown), Pennsylvania.
The correspondence includes an almost daily record of William M. Davis's life in Washington as a member of the House of Representatives, in the form of letters to his wife, detailing the legislative and policy struggles faced by the 37th Congress; accounts of meetings and interactions with President Abraham Lincoln as well as members of Lincoln's cabinet, military leaders, and other members of Congress; trips to the front lines of the war in Virginia, including the First Battle of Bull Run; Davis's time in St. Louis, Missouri in September 1861 working with John C. Frémont immediately after Frémont issued a Declaration of Martial Law and Emancipation proclamation; and events leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Correspondence to Elizabeth M. Jacobs documents the abolitionist movement in the Philadelphia area in the 1830s and 1840s, the Underground Railroad, and women's rights. There are also primarily incoming letters to William, including from his friend, U.S. sculptor Henry Kirke Brown.
The collection also includes some ephemera related to William and Elizabeth and the Davis family, including a resolution on the division of the American Anti-Slavery Society; a manumission form used to formally emancipate slaves under John C. Frémont's Declaration of Martial Law and Emancipation proclamation; and a photograph of William M. Davis.
The collection's description is primarily based on the description provided by the dealer.
The arrangement of the materials as they came to the library was maintained, including letters that had been bound.
Johnson, Arthur M., William Morris Davis (1815-1891): The Story of a Nineteenth Century American (Washington D.C., 1951).
At least some of the materials, specifically letters to and from Willaim Morris Davis, belonged to Francis W. Davis, William and Elizabeth's grandson. The genealogical items and photograph of William Davis were from Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in Thomaston, ME and purchased February 28, 2020.
Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books in 2020 (AM 2021-27).
This collection was processed by Faith Charlton in April 2021. Finding aid written by Faith Charlton in April 2021.
Letters that were bound were removed from their bindings and mended during 2021 processing.
No materials were removed from the collection during 2021 processing beyond routine appraisal practices.
- Abolitionists -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
- Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
- Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
- Antislavery movements -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
- Legislators -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
- Quakers -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
- Quaker abolitionists -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
- Quaker abolitionists -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
- Quaker women -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- Correspondence
- Quaker women -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
- Women abolitionists -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
- Women abolitionists -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
- United States. Congress. House -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
- Manuscripts Division
- Finding Aid Author
- Faith Charlton
- Finding Aid Date
- March 2021
- Access Restrictions
Open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to Special Collections Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright."
The correspondence, 63 letters, from friends and family, most of whom appear to be members of the Society of Friends, contains considerable content on the abolition movement, abolition societies, lectures, meetings, conventions, discord amongst Quaker abolitionists, including division in the American Anti-Slavery Society, the Underground Railroad, women's rights, the rights of enslaved people, among other topics. There is also much content that documents the Quaker community of Philadelphia and its suburbs, including Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester counties.
Some of the correspondence includes:
12 letters by Mary Green Lester Comly (1812-1852) and her husband Watson Davis Comly (1809-1876) of Byberry, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania documenting abolitionist activities, particularly in the Byberry area, including a Byberry anti-slavery society that hosted lectures, a school for Black residents, and division among Quaker abolitionists.
5 letters by John Jacobs Jr., (Elizabeth's brother), written from Philadelphia and Clermont (near Frankford), Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.
4 letters by Elizabeth M. Jacobs's parents: Amelia Jacobs, Norwood, Pennsylvania wrote 3 letters to her daughter Elizabeth, one letter written by Elizabeth's father John Jacobs, from Upper Providence, Pennsylvania.
There are a number of letters from other family or female friends including: Gertrude Kimber, Kimberton, Pennsylvania (4 letters); Mary Lester, Woodside (4); Maggie Orum, Whitemarsh, PA (2); Ann E. Jenkins, Kimberton, PA (2); friend Susan Wilson, Whitemarsh (2); friend "Mary," Buckingham, PA (2); plus individual letters from S. M. Walker, Woodbourne; H. Sparse, Garwood; "Getty," Kimberton, PA (may be Gertrude Kimber); Lisa Conway, Norwood, PA; Susan Holstein, Norristown, PA; Mary Ann Robinson, Woodbourne, PA; James L. Peirce, Philadelphia, PA; Thos. S. Cavender, Philadelphia, PA; there are also 2 letters written by Underground Railroad Station Master John C. Lester, from Buttonwood Hall [Quakertown, PA] and Whitpain [Township], PA; plus others.
There are also a few letters from Elizabeth, including 3 letters to her mother, Amelia Jacobs, letter to Mary G. Comly, and 1 letter to "Mary" which is not signed, but likely written by Elizabeth to Mary Comly, and is perhaps a retained copy. There is also one letter from Elizabeth's father to his wife, Amelia.
Also included is a 3-page resolution on the division of the American Anti-Slavery Society with a group breaking off and creating the American and Foreign Anti- Slavery Society, possibly written by Elizabeth, as she was the secretary for the newly formed Providence (PA) Anti-Slavery Society.Physical Description
Includes 59 previously-bound letters, most of which were written to Davis; the remaining 7 were written to Davis's mother (2) and his brother Edward M. Davis (1), and to some of William M. Davis's associates. Davis wrote two of these. One of Davis's letters to his mother recounts an interview with Philadelphia abolitionist and businessman Passmore Williamson.
15 letters were written to William by his brother Edward Morris Davis; others were written to Davis by: "Brother John Jacob" of Upper Providence Township, Pennsylvania (3); friend and sculptor Henry Kirke Brown of New York City, New York (1); and a couple were written by Lucretia Mott's husband, and brother-in-law: James Mott, Chairman Executive Committee of the Anti-Slavery Society, Philadelphia, PA (1), and Richard Mott, then staying at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C. (1), respectively.
There are also letters written by the editor and proprietor of the Norristown Herald and Free Press, Robert Iredell of Norristown, Pennsylvania (3) and Horace Royer, a one-time Pennsylvania State Legislator (3); Chester Darber of Rockland (2); Davis's relative Joseph S. Lovering of Oak Hill (2); Benjamin Jacobs of Bridesburg, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2); and Samuel Wilkerson of Candan., Columbia Co., New York (2).
There are many Philadelphia correspondents that write to Davis, including: S.M. Day; C. Jackson; Andrew McDole; Lindley Smyth; and Waldie.
There are also correspondents from other parts of the country, including: Robert Callyer of Chicago; H. Cowgill; C. Darbie of Rockland; N. Hallock, of Milton, New York; George W. Hamersly, House of Representatives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Charles Hollowell Jr.; John Hoskins; Jonathan Iredell (probably the brother of Robert Iredell); James Park Sr. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; M. Spring of Worcester; Augustus Wolle of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and others.
Also included are 2 miscellaneous ephemeral items. One is a financial debt agreement concerning William's brother Edward M. Davis, and his business partner; the other is 2 pages of verse, not signed or dated.Physical Description
Consists of 133 previously-bound letters that offer an almost daily record of life in Washington D.C. and the activities of Congress, including documentation of legislative and policy struggles faced by Congress; accounts of meetings and interactions with President Abraham Lincoln as well as members of Lincoln's cabinet, military leaders, and other members of Congress; Davis's opinion of Lincoln; trips to the front lines of the war in Virginia, including the First Battle of Bull Run; and events leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862.
16 letters also detail Davis's time in St. Louis, Missouri in September 1861 when he joined his brother, Edward, who was then working under John C. Frémont as a quartermaster after Frémont had recently issued a Declaration of Martial Law and Emancipation proclamation, which was in force for only a limited time before Lincoln rescinded it. Included in the collection is a copy of the manumission form, docketed by Davis, used to formally emancipate slaves under Fremont's proclamation. The form was designed by Davis and printed by St. Louis printer Theodore Schrader.
"One of the first of the Deeds of Manumission issued by Maj. Genl John C. Fremont – in St. Louis Mo Sept. 13, 1861. Designed by & ordered of Theodore Shrader by Wm Morris Davis. My dear Wife, save as a precious straw in the current of our nations history. A blow for the right that thee & I have, in common with millions, waited & waited, be still & see the Salvation of the Lord. St. Louis Sept. 14, 1861 Wm Morris Davis" and the printed manumission form designed by Davis to be used under General John C. Frémont's martial law policy in Missouri, printed in St. Louis, September 1861."
Other printed items include a congressional speech by Davis and Lincoln's message concerning gradual abolition.Physical Description
Also included are two letters from Davis to Henry Kirke Brown from early September 1861 while Davis was in St. Louis working with General John C. Frémont.Physical Description
Includes 15 letters from Brown who writes from Washington, D.C. (6); Newburgh, New York (5); and Columbia, South Carolina, (3). There is also one letter from Henry's wife, Lydia Brown.Physical Description
3-page resolution on the division of the American Anti-Slavery Society with a group breaking off and creating the American and Foreign Anti- Slavery Society, possibly written by Elizabeth, as she was the secretary for the newly-formed Providence (PA) Anti-Slavery Society.Physical Description
Includes a family tree of the Davis family, a typed obituary for William Morris Davis, photocopies of a letter of William M. Davis to General Cameron dated June 30, 1861, a letter of Edward M. Davis to his brother William M. Davis, dated August 25, 1861, and a pass allowing William M. Davis to travel and pass through the lines of the Army, dated July 19, 1861. Also included is an incomplete letter/note of Alexander Agassiz (1835-1910) of the Harvard Museum of Natural History concerning a microscope maker in New York State.Physical Description