- Collection Overview
- Collection Description & Creator Information
- Access & Use
- Collection History
- Find Related Materials
- Davis, William M. (William Morris), 1815-1891 and Davis, Elizabeth M. Jacobs
- William Morris Davis and Elizabeth M. Jacobs Davis Correspondence
- Manuscripts Division
- Permanent URL:
- 2 boxes and 0.6 linear feet
- Storage Note:
- Firestone Library (mss): Boxes B-001563; B-001564
Consists primarily of correspondence 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, primarily documenting their activities during the antebellum and Civil War periods.
Collection Description & Creator Information
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.
- Collection Creator Biography:
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.
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.
Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books in 2020 (AM 2021-27).
- Custodial History:
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.
- Archival Appraisal Information:
No materials were removed from the collection during 2021 processing beyond routine appraisal practices.
- Processing Information:
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.
Access & Use
- Access Restrictions:
Open for research.
- Conditions for Reproduction and Use:
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."
- Credit this material:
William Morris Davis and Elizabeth M. Jacobs Davis Correspondence; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library
- Permanent URL:
- Firestone LibraryOne Washington RoadPrinceton, NJ 08544, USA(609) 258-3184
- Publication Note:
Johnson, Arthur M., William Morris Davis (1815-1891): The Story of a Nineteenth Century American (Washington D.C., 1951).
- Subject Terms:
- Abolitionists -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence.
Antislavery movements -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence.
Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
Legislators -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
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
Quakers -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
United States. Congress. House -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
Women abolitionists -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence
Women abolitionists -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Correspondence