Textile mill owners of Davisville (North Kingstown).
Papers and textile mill records, 1771-1905. Bulk 1771-1870.
Size: 1.25 lin. ft.
Catalog number: MSS 629 SG 11
Processed by: Robin Flynn, May 1999
©Rhode Island Historical Society
The mill village of Davisville in North Kingstown, Rhode Island is named after the family whose papers comprise this subgroup. Nineteenth-century generations of the Davis family were related to the Potter family through marriage. The family are also ancestors of William Davis Miller, the historian through whom many of the papers came to the RIHS.
Jeffery Davis (1708-1782) was the son of Joshua Davis and Mary (Scott) Davis. Joshua was the first settler of the Davisville site, moving there from Newport in 1694. When Jeffery was twelve, he started to help run his father's grist mill, and continued doing so all his life. His wife was Abigail (ca 1710-1800). The couple had a daughter named Elizabeth (1737-1799) and a son, Joshua.
Jeffery and Abigail's son Joshua was born November 10, 1742 and died in 1829. Joshua continued the family mill and acquired the appellation of "Major" based on his service in the Revolution: in May, 1775 he was promoted to Major in the Rhode Island Colonial Militia for the 2nd Regiment of King's (Washington) County. In 1779, he was one of two deputies representing North Kingstown in the General Assembly. He was a Justice of the Peace for North Kingstown from 1774 to 1785.
Among the children of Joshua and his second wife Sybil Dean (1747-1829) were three sons: Ezra Dean (1779-1863), Jeffery (1780-1854), and James Dean (c1783?-1846?). Nothing is known of James' adult life. Before 1820, Jeffery and Ezra started one of the earliest woolen mills in Rhode Island, in which wool produced from both the Davis and local farms was carded and finished; it was woven by local cottage industry. By 1824, however, the firm, under the name E & J Davis, wove its own cloth by water-powered looms in operation at the mill. Among the firm's products was a durable and inexpensive fabric called "Negro Plain", popular among southern planters for use by slaves. This product was later remembered by a female descendant as "Kentucky Jeans."
Jeffery Davis married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Mawney (1784-1814), sister of Mary Mawney, Elisha R. Potter Sr.'s second wife. Three of Jeffery and Elizabeth's children were Abby (born 1807), George A. (1809-1885), and William Dean (1813-1903). Jeffery married second Hannah (Mawney) Tillinghast, sister of his first wife. His brother Ezra also had a daughter named Abby, born in 1802.
Jeffery's son William Dean joined E & J Davis in 1835. He entered into a short-lived wool business with James Brown Mason Potter, son of Elisha R. Potter Sr., in 1841, under the company name Davis & Potter. In 1850, William left the family business and purchased his own woolen mill in Centerdale. He went on to own the Uxbridge Woolen Mill, and was the largest stockholder in the Quidneck Manufacturing Company. He lived in North Kingstown and Centerdale until 1864, when he moved to Providence. He represented both North Kingstown and Warwick in the General Assembly. He married Mary Eleanor Congdon (?-1877); among his children were Jeffery Davis (1850-1928), who became president of the Quidneck Manufacturing Company, and Elizabeth LeMoine Davis, who married Providence mayor Augustus Miller. Among Elizabeth and Augustus Miller's children was William Davis Miller, through whom these papers came to the Rhode Island Historical Society.
Herdon, Richard (compiler). Men of Progress: Biographical Sketches (Boston, 1896).
Holmes, Frank R. (compiler). Directory of the Ancestral Heads of New England Families, 1620-1700 (New York, 1923).
International Genealogical Index (Rhode Island)
Loxton, George R. Davisville, R.I.: The History of a Mill Village (1982, East Greenwich, R.I.).
McAleer, Althea H. et al. Grave Yards of North Kingstown, Rhode Island (North Kingstown, 1992).
Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island (Chicago, 1908).
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Scope and content:
Most of the material in this subgroup derives from Major Joshua Davis, George A. Davis , and William Dean Davis and consists primarily of accounts and business-related papers. Papers of three of Jeffery and Elizabeth (Mawney) Davis's children, Abby (born 1807), George A. (1809-1885), and William Dean (1813-1903), are in this subgroup, including letters between George and William, and Abby and Elisha R. Potter, Jr. Additionally, there is correspondence from James Davis to his father Joshua and his brother Jeffery, dated between 1819 and 1822. The balance of the papers are school books, estate papers from various Davises, some correspondence, and deeds and leases.
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Some of the papers in this subgroup were probably part of a 1968 transfer from the University of Rhode Island Library to the RIHS, comprised of over 2000 documents from several Washington County families, the foremost of which are the Reynolds, Potter, Gardiner, Hagadorn, Wells, and Davis families. The papers had formerly been in the private collection of historian William Davis Miller, a descendant of the Davises, and were given through bequest to the university upon Miller's death in 1959. A smaller portion of his collection had gone to the Rhode Island Historical Society the same year, but most of that gift was the papers of Elisha Reynolds Potter and his son, Elisha Jr. (see subgroups 2 and 3). Specifically, the Davis papers that came from URI include estate documents of Jeffery, Abigail, Elizabeth, and Wate Davis; Major Joshua's loose accounts and correspondence; Abby Davis' papers; and some of the letters, agreements, and deeds of George A. and William Dean Davis, and J. Davis & Son.
Other items were transferred into this collection from the Major Joshua Davis Papers (formerly MSS 376), the William Dean Davis Papers (formerly MSS 66), and MSS 9001 (Miscellaneous Manuscripts). The provenance of items in the Major Joshua papers is unknown, but it is possible some were purchased from Nino Scotti in 1969. Formerly in the Major Joshua collection were his account books ranging from 1796 to 1807; an 1802 letter to Major Joshua from Jonathan Dean and a fragment of an outgoing letter concerning Jeffery Davis; the Jeffery Davis pocket book (1805-1806); and the James Davis "book of folly and nonsense" (1799-1801).
The provenance of some of the items transferred from the William Dean Davis Papers is also unknown. The ledger book was a gift from Frederick L. Walsh in 1981; the photocopied letters were donated in 1989 by Mrs. Austin Phillips; and the letter book was purchased in 1994 from the Duke University Library, which had just purchased it at auction from dealer Carmen Valentino. The earlier E & J Davis account book was purchased in 1988 from Wyngate Manuscripts. The loose E & J Davis papers were presumably removed from the account books. The provenance of the 1810 Jeffery Davis account book and 1829 Kingston Academy exercise book is unknown; they had been in the Society for many years before MSS 66 was processed in 1995. Any other William Dean Davis papers most likely were part of the 1968 U.R.I. gift of other Miller papers.
Provenance is not known for any of the items formerly in MSS 9001; accession numbers are not evident on any of them. For details on the tranfers between collections, see the Transfer List below.
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The Davis papers were gathered together from four different collections (see above) and arranged primarily by family member. In some cases, loose volumes were encased in acid-free folders and boxed. Provenance for all items, including those transferred, was carefully tracked when known.
Much of the information regarding William Dean Davis in the historical note above was taken from the finding aid for the defunct William Dean Davis Papers (formerly MSS 66), which were processed in 1995 by Manuscripts Curator Rick Stattler.
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Abby Davis/Abby Davis Wilbur
Folder 1. Papers, 1830-1879
Abigail (Scranton?) Davis (c1710-1800)
Folder 2. Estate papers, 1800-1804
Elizabeth Davis (c1737-1799)
Folder 3. Estate papers, ca 1800-1801
George A. Davis (1809-1885)
Folder 4. Account book (Davis & Sweet), 1834-1858
Folder 5. Correspondence, 1837-1841
Folder 6. Deeds, agreements, and insurance policy, 1837-1839, 1847
Folder 7. Excercise book, ca 1824
Folder 8. Lease agreements for farm, G.A. and W.D. Davis to George T. Greene, 1858-1862
Folder 9. Ledger (includes Davis & Sweet, E & J Davis), 1858-1871
Folder 10. Miscellaneous, 1858-1868. The folder contains
Appointment as Justice of the Peace for North Kingstown, 1858
Inventory of estate of Samuel A. Mawney, 1866
Receipt for portion of Samuel A. Mawney estate, 1868
James Dean Davis (c1783?-1846?)
Folder 11. "Book of folly and nonsense", 1799-1801
Folder 12. Excercise book, ca 1795-1802
Includes a play script "A Dialogue between Mercury and an English Duelist. A North
American Savage" p.134
Folder 13. Miscellaneous notes/scribbles, undated
Jeffery Davis (1708-1782)
Folder 14. 1774?-1786
Jeffery Davis (1780-1854)
Folder 15. Correspondence, 1822-1853
Folder 16. Pocket book; Catholic Seminary lottery, 1805-1806
Jeffery Davis (1850-1928)
Folder 17. Correspondence, 1872, 1873
Major Joshua Davis (1742-1829)
Loose volume: account book, 1774-1787
Loose volume: account book, 1786-1814
Folder 18. Account book, 1796-1800
Folder 19. Account book, 1798-1799
Folder 20. Account book, 1802-1804
Folder 21. Account book, 1804-1806
Folder 22. Account book, 1806-1807
Folder 23. Accounts, 1771-1811
Folder 24. Carriage duty certificates, 1814-1817
Folder 25. Correspondence, 1777-1820 and undated
Folder 26. Day book, probably Joshua Davis, 1796
Folder 27. Indentures, 1797, 1800, 1804
Folder 28. Estate of Henry Tanner, ca. 1802
Mary Eleanor (Congdon) Davis (died 1877)
Folder 29. Correspondence, 1837-1856 and undated
Wate Davis (dates unknown)
Folder 30. Estate papers, ca 1804
William Dean Davis (1813-1903)
Folder 31. Accounts, 1837-1881
Folder 32. Agreements, 1841-1870
Folder 33. Lists of assets, 1862-1867
Folder 34. Correspondence, ca 1829-1873 and undated
Folder 35. Correspondence and agreements (photocopies; 1989 gift), 1829-1905
Folder 36. Excercise book, Kingston Academy, 1829
Folder 37. Ledger, woolen trade, 1838-1848
Folder 38. Letter book, woolen trade, 1837-1849
Folder 39. Miscellaneous, 1849, 1869 and undated. The folder contains
Bill of lading, 1849
Internal Revenue statement of taxes, 1869
List of property belonging to Uxbridge Woolen Mfg. Co., undated
E & J Davis
Loose volume: account book, 1810-1839
Folder 1. Account book, 1839-1859
Folder 2. Miscellaneous papers, removed from account book, 1839-1859
Folder 3. Miscellaneous papers, 1804-1829 and undated (includes deeds, receipts, insurance policy, schematics for factory housing)
J. Davis & Son
Folder 4. Correspondence, 1837
Folder 5. Miscellaneous receipts and accounts: 1801-1810, 1866, 1867 and undated
Folder 6. Miscellaneous, 1888, 1889 and undated. The folder contains
Two letters to unknown recipient, 1888, 1889
List of Senate conservatives, undated
Folder 7. "Waste book"/journal/ledger, North Kingstown, 1798, 1802 (possibly belonged to one of Major Joshua's sons: Ezra, Jeffery, or James)
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Davis, George A. (1809-1885)
Davis, Joshua (Major) (1742-1829)
Davis, Mary Eleanor (Congdon) (?-1877)
Davis, William Dean (1813-1903)
Davis & Potter
Davis & Sweet
E & J Davis
J. Davis & Son
North Kingstown - Social life and customs
Potter, James Brown Mason (1818-1900) - agreement for textile business, 1841
Slavery - Conditions - Clothing
Textile industry - Rhode Island - North Kingstown
Uxbridge Woolen Mfg. Co. - undated list of property
Warwick Mfg. Co. - leases, 1846, 1848
Woolen trade and industry - Rhode Island - North Kingstown
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