Feature Story August 1, 2007
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Origins of the Davis Family of Salem, West Virginia

by Sharon Sprouse Bramhall
© 2007

      The progenitor of the Davis families of Salem, Harrison County, WestVirginia, was the ever controversial Rev. WILLIAM DAVIS OF GLAMORGANSHIRE, WALES (1663-1745), who arrived at Penn's colony in America as a passionate 21- year old Quaker convert in 1684. Inspiredby William PENN and George FOX(1) while a ministerial student at Oxford University in England, he left school before graduating(2) in order to join like-minded Quaker brothers and sisters in Philadelphia two years after Penn had founded the "city of brotherly love".

        Penn's colony "Pennsylvania" provided a safe haven for the Society of Friends, nicknamed "Quakers", who were being persecuted by the Puritans throughout New England. Quakers were branded with an "H" (heretic), their ears cut off, tongues bored, or banished to an offshore island(3). Although Puritans had come to America seeking religious freedom, having fled persecution in England, oddly enough, they had absolutely no tolerance for the religion of others.

      Within the first year, young William Davis found a wife. In his lifetime, William Davis married twice and possibly had ten children. Both wives were named "Elizabeth" (BRISLEY & PAVIOR); our family is descended from both wives.

        His first marriage to Elizabeth BRISLEY took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1685. In her book, Davis - Settlers of Salem, West Virginia, Susie Davis Nicholson, considered to be the authority of this complicated Davis family genealogy, attributes the following four children to William and Elizabeth (Brisley) Davis:

1. Martha Davis
2. William Davis (possibly) m. 1739-40 Sarah ALLEN at Westerly, R.I.
3. John Davis (1692-1754 Shrewsbury) m. 1715 Elizabeth MAXSON (1695-1751 Westerly)
4. Mary Davis

Follower of George Keith

      As a member of the Society of Friends in the new city of Philadelphia, a young, exuberant William Davis soon rose as a speaker on doctrinal issues. His subsequent views, however, were not well received as he and others became dissatisfied with the Quaker leadership. In 1691, then in his late twenties, William Davis, became a follower of George KEITH(4), who had come to Philadelphia in 1689, to serve as headmaster at a Quaker school. Keith soon felt the Quakers had strayed from orthodox Christianity and formed a "short-lived group called the Christian Quakers", of which William Davis likely was a part. However, within a couple of years, William and George also parted ways - again - because of doctrinal issues. Keith returned to England, hoping to gain support, but found his views rebuked by the Quaker leadership there as well. Before the decade's end, George Keith was an ordained Anglican priest(5) .

1. Founder of the Society of Friends (Quaker movement).
2. http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~davisfam/Index.htm
3. John C. Thorn, Early Quaker History; http://thorn.pair.com/earlyq.htm
4. Davis, Settlers of Salem, WV, Susie Davis Nicholson
5. Wikipedia. George Keith ordained as Anglican priest, March of 1704.

Banished by the Baptists

      Still seeking his denominational niche, about 1696, William Davis "accepted many principles of the Baptists after coming in contact with Rev. Thomas KILLINGSWORTH" and was baptized by him. Davis joined the Pennepek Baptist Church near Philadelphia, where he later became pastor. It may have been here that he met and took his second wife, Elizabeth PAVIOR. William's first wife, Elizabeth BRISLEY Davis, likely died in the 1690s to early 1700s. Her cause of death is unknown, but epidemics were rampant during this period.

Children attributed to William and Elizabeth (Pavior) Davis were (continuing the birth order of his children):

5. Thomas Davis (d. 1786) m. 1737 Bethia MAXSON (1716-1754) (res: PA & Middletown NJ); whose son, Joseph was captured by the British, Battle of Middletown, imprisoned 1777 NY.(6)
6. Joseph Davis m. 1st. 1749 Anna BABCOCK (1729-1750 Westerly); m. 2nd Mary BABCOCK (res. Middletown NJ); Joseph came from PA to Shrewsbury, NJ (1747), & to Westerly, RI (1752)
7. Edward Davis m. 1744 Sarah BOWEN in Gloucester, Rhode Island
8. Lydia Davis m. Hope COVEY
9. James Davis (1720-1778) m. 1740 Judith MAXSON at Westerly, RI; British burned his shipyard; he was killed by stray bullet as he rode out to watch the Battle of Monmouth.
10. Elisabeth Davis m. Joseph MAXSON of Stonington, Connecticut

      In 1698, William Davis was "banished from the Pennepek Baptist Church for expressing a heretical view of the person of Christ(7) ."   Two years later, he published his controversial book called "Jesus Christ, the Crucifyed Man - the Eternal Son of God(8) " in which he describes Christ both human and divine in nature(9) ,  a theory, by today's standards, considered centuries ahead of its time.


      "Quaker printer, William BRADFORD worked as the lone printer in Philadelphia from 1685 to 1693. Due to a piece which criticized Quaker leadership, however, he was forced to move his press to New York (Weigley 31). His son Andrew Bradford returned to Philadelphia in 1713, and opened up an independent press. He established Philadelphia's first newspaper, the American Weekly Mercury, which was first issued December 22, 1719 (Weigley 64)." - Cheryl Harvey

Printing and Publishing in Philadelphia 1685-1776, Cheryl Harvey.
Poor Will's Almanac

6. Davis, Settlers of Salem, WV. Susie Davis Nicholson; Source: New Jersey Historical Society
7. "Entering Into Covenant: The History of Seventh Day Baptists in Newport", Don A. Sanford, archivist for the SDB in Monmouth County NJ, (with whom S. Bramhall once corresponded.) Richard Brandstetter shared this quote with Sharon Bramhall, 1999.
8. It is said that the original book is housed at the Philadelphia Historical Society. - ssb
9.Langfitt and Davis, British and Colonial Ancestry, Margaret Parks Ewing

William Davis and the Seventh Day Baptists

      Rev. William Davis took his "heretical views" to Rhode Island, a new colony founded on freedom of religious tolerance. A year later, in 1699, he "returned to Pennepek and organized a Seventh Day Baptist church as a branch of the Providence (Rhode Island) Church.(10) ". Seventh Day Baptist history mentions "a third group of churches (which) came out of the Keithian split from Quakerism in the Philadelphia area about 1700"(11) .

      Seven years later, in 1706, he and his wife returned to Rhode Island and applied for membership into the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church, and three years later, he was called to be their pastor.

      Fifty years prior, in the 1660s, this church had splintered away from the First Baptist Church of Newport, when a few members "became convinced that the Ten Commandments should be obeyed literally and began to observe the Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week.(12) "

Seventh Day Meeting House NHS P1580
Now the Newport Historical Society
The denomination was formed in 1671

      This group was likely inspired by a movement occurring simultaneously in London, where the Seventh Day Baptists attribute their origin. In 1671, the small Newport group of less than a dozen people, officially withdrew from the First Baptist Church of Newport to form what later would become known as the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church.(13) " - the FIRST Seventh Day Baptist Church in America(14) . At least two of the five founders are ancestors of the Davises of Salem WV - Samuel and Tacy (COOPER) HUBBARD.

      Religious persecution is likely what brought Samuel Hubbard (1610-1689) to America in 1633. It is believed that his grandfather, Thomas Hubbard, was a religious martyr, burned at the stake in Essex, England. Samuel's father, James of Mendelsham, "was a suspect who escaped persecution." After disembarking from the James Grant, Samuel Hubbard first settled in a Massachusetts village called SALEM.

10. Davis, Settlers of Salem WV, Susie Davis Nicholson
11. Baptists Around the World, Albert W. Wardin, Jr., ed., Broadman & Hohman Pub.1995; also see Reformed Reader, SDB Thumbnail Sketch
12. Entering Into Covenant: The History of Seventh Day Baptists in Newport," by Don A. Sanford, Newport History: the Quarterly Journal of the Newport Historical Society, vol. 66, part 1, no. 226, Summer 1994.
13. Obid. Newport Historical Society website http://www.newporthistorical.org/sites_sdbmh.htm
14. Benedict Arnold, first governor of Rhode Island Colony and grandson of R.I. founder Roger Williams, was a member of the Newport Seventh Day Baptist Church. - Dorothy Davis, Sojourners Day, Clarksburg Telegram, 1989.

      Although he had served as pastor of other churches, Rev. William Davis was not ordained as a Seventh Day Baptist minister until 1710, in Westerly, Rhode Island, where the denomination flourished. Years later, Seventh Day Baptists fled to Westerly to avoid British occupation(15) . The extended Davis family was likely among them. To this day, Westerly, Rhode Island is the home of the SDBC General Conference offices.

      On March 1, 1714, following his father's death in Wales, William Davis, then in his 40s, applied for membership to a church in England, with plans to claim his portion of his father's estate. William was said to have been born in the Shire of Radnor in South Wales, and his father, William Davies of Llanstephen(16) . But as he was about to return to his homeland, family and friends changed his mind(17) .

      In the spring of 1717, William and Elizabeth returned to Pennsylvania where they remained for the next seven years, during which time a fire to caused them a "severe loss"(18) . From here, they moved between Stonington, Connecticut and Westerly, Rhode Island (by 1734) - villages only a few miles apart along the Atlantic coast, most likely abiding in homes of their children.

      Circa 1740, when a Seventh Day Baptist group organized in Monmouth County, New Jersey - William and Elizabeth Davis, now elderly, moved for the last time to settle with family between the Manasquan and Shark Rivers. Although William's son, John, was called by the SDB elders to pastor this new congregation, he declined. Instead, he (apparently) stepped aside out of respect for his father. In 1745, the Shrewsbury Seventh Day Baptist Church was formally organized with Rev. William Davis as minister. The first congregation consisted of "five men and eight women, all having come from Stonington, Connecticut"(19) . That same year, William Davis of Wales died. He was 82 years old. Fifteen years later, his wife, Elizabeth died in Middletown(20) , a community on the north coast of Monmouth County, New Jersey.

      Of William Davis of Wales, Seventh Day Baptist historian Don Sanford writes: "His loyalty to the denomination has never been questioned, although both his temperament and certain unorthodox views caused considerable controversy not only among the Pennsylvania churches, but in Rhode Island and New Jersey as well... his descendants provided the nucleus, nearly a century later, for a migration into what is now West Virginia.(21) "

      Although admonished in his own time for his rebellious nature - in today's world, William Davis would have likely received our respect, not only for his forward thinking, but for taking a courageous, non-violent stance against hierarchy in order to voice his personal convictions. At a time in world history when new religious viewpoints and denominations were just beginning to find wings(22) , in every instance, William Davis of Wales took a proactive leadership role and exhibited the qualities of an intelligent, truth-seeking, pioneering spirit. He was able to withstand peer pressure and "think outside the envelope". Throughout his lifetime, he held close to his heart the principle upon which the colony of Rhode Island was founded - a principle adopted by our Constitution - the freedom of religion.

15. "Entering Into Covenant: The History of Seventh Day Baptists in Newport," by Don A. Sanford
16, http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~davisfam/Index.htm, Glenna Maria Davis-Johnson, Huma, AZ
17. Davis, Settlers of Salem, West Virginia, Susie Davis Nicholson
18. Davis, Settlers of Salem, WV. Susie Davis Nicholson.
19. Sojourners Day, Clarksburg Telegram, Dorothy Davis, 1989
20. Youngest daughter, Elizabeth Maxson, prob. wife of John, lived in Middletown, NJ
21. Entering Into Covenant: The History of Seventh Day Baptists in Newport, Don A. Sanford
22. There once had been a death penalty attached to the translation of the Bible; the New Testament had only been available to the common Englishman since William Tyndale's publication of

From New Jersey to Salem, West Virginia

      Escaping the devastation and horrors that came with the Revolutionary War, in 1789, the extended DAVIS family (which included the MAXSON, BABCOCK, and THORPE families)  left New Jersey as part of the congregation of Shrewsbury Seventh Day Baptist Church.

      No place had suffered the ravages of war as much as Monmouth County, New Jersey. The Davis family was no exception to loss. As farmers, shipbuilders, and proprietors of salt producing businesses, their boats carried salt and farm products to New York City from their settlements near the mouths of the Manasquan and Shark Rivers near Shrewsbury(23). Some Davises were Loyalists at the beginning of the war until their businesses were burned by the British; these, then, joined the Revolutionaries.

      Another theory regarding what caused the sudden uprooting of this Shrewsbury congregation was developed by Richard Brandstetter of Shrewsbury, New Jersey(24), who felt these Sabbatarians felt restricted by the Blue Laws of the state. He discovered petitions they had submitted to the state of New Jersey in 1786-87, requesting that they be exempt from the Blue Law and be allowed to work on Sunday, which, for Sabbatarians, was the first day of their work week. Otherwise, they had to refrain from doing any work for two full days. Their petition was denied, and two years later, the entire church pulled up stakes!

      After selling their lands and a fairly new church building, four months later they embarked on their long journey, following an Indian trail westward in order to reach  "Virginey" to begin life anew. The aforementioned Jesse Davis (Absolom's father), Bottom Billy, Joshua, Greenbrier Billy and his son, Peter Davis, were among these war-weary Monmouth County families. Most were ancestors of mine. The church group left New Jersey in two waves; the first in 1789, and the second group trickled in somewhere between 1792 and 1807.

      The church record, carried from New Jersey to West Virginia, stated that the first migrant group which set out from Shrewsbury on September 6, 1789, was comprised of "Elder Jacob Davis with his famely (sic), William Davis, Senior, John Davis, Ephraim Maxson, Thomas Badcock, and Zebulon Maxson and Benjamin Thorp, with all their famelys(25)" (sic).

      The remainder of the 1789 group departed on September 13th of the same year: "Simeon Maxson, William Davis, Juner and William Maxson with all their famelys" (sic). These were likely among them:

T. William DAVIS, Sr. (s/o John & Eliz. Maxson Davis) and his wife Tacy CRANDALL Davis. All of their children migrated with the first group except Nathan Davis<26>, who came later.
William "Greenbrier Billy" Davis (27)(s/o T.Wm & Tacy) and his wife, Elizabeth JOHNSTON Davis
(and likely children, Mary, Peter, Benjamin, David)
Jacob Davis, Rev. (s/o James Sr. son of William Davis of Wales) and his wife, Mary (Davis) Davis (d/o William & Tacy).
John Davis, Rev.(28)(s/o Wm. & Tacy) and his wife, Marvel Maxson Davis, and daughters, Amy and Jane.
Ephraim MAXSON and his wife Elizabeth (Davis) Maxson (d/o William & Tacy) and possibly children Amy, Sally, Prudence, Jesse, Piety, Charity. Ephraim died in 1795.
Thomas BABCOCK(29) and his wife Martha (Davis) BABCOCK (d/o William & Tacy) (Thomas was a nephew of William & Tacy, the son of Thos. Sr. & Judith Davis Babcock.)
Zebulon MAXSON. Jr., Rev.(30) (s/o Experience Davis Maxson - T. Wm. Davis Sr.'s sister) nephew of T. William Davis; Zebulon later married Mary, d/o Nathan Davis
Benjamin THORP and his wife Elizabeth (Maxson) THORP (sister of Zebulon, above)
Simeon MAXSON and his wife Mary Babcock Maxson (step-daughter of Judith Davis Babcock who was a sister to T. William Davis, Sr.)
William "Bottom Billy" Davis (son of James Sr.) and his wife, Elizabeth (HAVENS) Davis, and possibly eight children, James, John, Jonathan, Joel, David, George Anna, and Jesse.
Rev. Jacob Davis (son of James Sr.) and his wife, Mary (Davis) Davis (d/o Wm. & Tacy)
James Davis Jr.(32) (s/o James, son of William Davis of Wales) and his wife, Rebecca (BRAND) Davis(33) It is believed that it was their son, Joseph Davis, who was received into New Salem Church in 1794.

      The Indian trail took the New Jersey pioneers to southwestern Pennsylvania, where they may have either camped for almost two years near the residence of Samuel FITZ RANDOLPH and/or just across the Virginia border in Monongalia County at White Day Creek (between Morgantown & Fairmont, WV). While in Pennsylvania, Rev. Jacob Davis helped found the Woodbridgetown Seventh Day Baptist Church.

      During the time the New Jersey settlers lived in White Day Creek, the eldest of the group died in July of 1791 - ancestor Thomas William Davis, Sr. (1719-1791), son of John and grandson of immigrant William of Wales. Soon after this, the group, unhappy with the land they had purchased, decided to move on to Harrison County, after being a deed by Samuel Fitz Randolph to settle on land he owned at the headwaters of the Monongahela.

      Arriving in the spring of 1792, the settlers built a blockhouse (fort) and community of log houses they called New Salem - now known as Salem, West Virginia. Isaac Fitz Randolph, grandson of William "Greenbrier Billy" Davis, said there "were about forty families who established the town(34)". Later, Samuel Fitz Randolph, whose family married into the Davis family, joined the settlers and helped charter the village.

      Rev. Jacob Davis, who had served as a chaplain in the Revolution(35>, was the first minister at the New Salem settlement, but upon returning to the Woodbridgetown church on a missionary trip in 1793, he met his death(36).

      Just west of Salem, in 1807, West Union was founded by one of the New Jersey Davises. Capt. Nathan Davis, later a Harrison County sheriff (1843-44), and his brothers, William and Joseph, purchased all the land upon which the town was built. The name of the town was changed from Lewisport to West Union with the establishment of Doddridge County in 1845; the first county court was held at the residence of Nathan Davis, now the site of the Doddridge County Courthouse(37).

23. Sojourners Day, Clarksburg Telegram, Dorothy Davis, 1989.
24. See "Genealogist's Answer to Fantasy Baseball" by Sharon Bramhall, HCGS 2007
25. Davis - Settlers of Salem, WV, Susie Davis Nicholson, quoting the original church record.
26. Rev. War soldier. Wife-Ann Gifford. Believed to be in WV by 1795.
27. Rev. War soldier. Due to Indian attacks, he moved his family to Greenbrier Run. A community center in Salem is named for him.
28.Rev. War soldier. Married 2nd Margaret Kelso. Buried Broad Run Baptist Cemetery, Lewis County WV.
29. Thomas Babcock, with Samuel & Jacob Davis, moved to Greene Co. Ohio in 1806.
30. Zebulon was a 7th Day Bapt. minister, basket & broom maker. His father, Zebulon Maxson, Sr., deeded the land upon which Shrewsbury 7th Day Baptist was built.
31. Died in Shelby Co., Ohio; some children went to Garwin, Iowa,br> 32. Trustee for newly chartered town of New Salem, (W) VA, 1794. Appraiser for estate of his brother Jacob Davis in New Salem (W)Va. 1793.
33. It is not certain if James and Rebecca (Brand) Davis came with the first or second group to Salem.
34. Davis, The Settlers of Salem, West Virginia, Susie Davis Nicholson
35. Obid,br>. 36. Obid 37. Obid

May 2007 - ssb

Surnames mentioned within this article:

Allen, Babcock/Badcock, Bowen, Bradford, Bramhall, Brand, Brandstetter, Brisley, Cooper, Covey, Cowen, Davis, Davises, Ewing, Fitz Randolph, Fox, Gifford, Harvey, Hubbard, Johnson, Keith, Kelso, Killingsworth, Langfitt, Maxson, Parks, Pavior, Penn, Randolph, Sprouse, Thorn, Thorp(e), Tyndale,

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