1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Davis Family Papers

 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

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            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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Processing note:

            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

Box 1.

Folder 1. Papers, 1830-1879

Abigail (Scranton?) Davis (c1710-1800)

Box 1.

Folder 2. Estate papers, 1800-1804

Elizabeth Davis (c1737-1799)

Box 1.

Folder 3. Estate papers, ca 1800-1801

George A. Davis (1809-1885)

Box 1.

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?)

Box 1.

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)

Box 1.

Folder 14. 1774?-1786

Jeffery Davis (1780-1854)

Box 1.

Folder 15. Correspondence, 1822-1853

Folder 16. Pocket book; Catholic Seminary lottery, 1805-1806

Jeffery Davis (1850-1928)

Box 1.

Folder 17. Correspondence, 1872, 1873

Major Joshua Davis (1742-1829)

Loose volume: account book, 1774-1787

Loose volume: account book, 1786-1814

Box 1.

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)

Box 1.

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

Box 2.

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

Box 2.

Folder 4. Correspondence, 1837


Box 2.

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

            Essay, 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 Family

Davis & Potter

Davis & Sweet

E & J Davis

J. Davis & Son

Kingston Academy

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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