George W. Davis American Revolution

George Washington Davis Memoirs, Part One

I believe that George Davis wrote this document soon after he found his way to Gonzales. His wife, Rebecca, Sidna, John, Eugene and his new born son George Jr. were still at Old Scotts (near New Bielieu Tx.). In a land wild and untamed we now call Texas, Davis finds himself alone and without the skills needed to survive in this wilderness. I believe he left this story for his children and their children and all those who would follow. The original document has survived at least one fire and is a story of survival of its own. It is a my pleasure to share it with you.

Hugh Shelton

Great-Great-Great Grandson of George Washington Davis

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 sprit 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 commenced.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 fathers 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 mothers 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.

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