|Above: Excerpt from an 1871 plat may showing
Section 27 of Rock Run Township. The green outline
shows the 160-acre parcel which was sold from the
Samuel Davis estate after his death. Most of the
property was hilly and rough and not well suited for
The map shows areas of trees and many small parcels
of wooded land that were sold to those without
abundant trees on their properties. In those days,
wood was an important source of heat and building
material. Today, certain areas of Stephenson County
are still divided into these small parcels, as they were
in the 1870s.
Click on map above to see a larger version. The
complete 1871 Rock Run Township plat map is
available here (large file - 14MB).
|Above: Excerpt from an 1876 map of
Stephenson County, Illinois. The Samuel
Davis home is shown at the corner of
Eggert Road and Farm School Road. The
Davis Mill pond does not appear on either
this map or the 1871 plat map, suggesting
that the railroad had already put the
sawmill out of business.
Our house does not yet appear on the
map, but the mill pond on Knoup Road is
still visible to the southeast. Although the
pond is long gone, the stone mill structure
still stands today, and is the last of the old
mill structures remaining in Stephenson
Click on map above to see a larger version.
The complete 1876 Stephenson County map
is available here (large file - 6MB).
he departed was unclear, especially when his two youngest children had no
mother and would have been preteens. But we know Horatio had an
entrepreneurial spirit, which may have drawn him to the California Gold Rush. In
his book The Davis Connection, local historian Gary Zimmerman explored this
question and suggested this possibility. However, no evidence has been found to
substantiate the reason Horatio Davis left Rock Run Township.
After Horatio died, his two youngest daughters lived with Hiram, who was
reported as 23 and single when the 1850 U.S. Census was compiled. Son Gates
moved in with George and Mary Brennan after his father passed. He was listed as
15 years old in the 1850 census. In that year, the Brennan's were boarding two
other unrelated young men, as well as an infant boy. Gates died in September of
that year, his tombstone listing him as 14 years old. Hiram died in September of
1851. What came of Maria and Charlotte is unclear, as there is no record of them
living with Samuel or John after Hiram's death.
The Davis Legacy
The Davis family legacy is the most substantial of all the owners of our property.
The first owners of the land on which our house was built were
Horatio Davis and his son John. Horatio and his family settled very
near our house in 1838, when he and his wife, Sarah, came to
Stephenson County from Western Pennsylvania. Horatio was born in
1796; Sarah in 1802. Before moving here, Horatio was the first
postmaster of Cambridgeboro, Pennsylvania (now Cambridge
Springs) in the 1820s. He also operated a tavern in Cambridgeboro.
After purchasing the sawmill on Rock Run Creek, he served as
Postmaster when the Rock Run post office was located there. For the
1840 U.S. Census, he served as an enumerator for several districts in
We believe Horatio and Sarah Davis were parents to at least eight
children, six of who were born in Pennsylvania. A seventh child
arrived about the time they moved to Illinois, and an eighth child
was born here after they moved. Eldest sons Samuel and John were
teens when the family moved west, and apparently they inherited
their father's business acumen. Both became land owners at fairly
young ages and operated businesses. Oldest daughter Sarah L. Davis
married local farmer James B. Wright in 1850 and would later move
with her husband and children to a farm near Moweaqua, Illinois in
1870. Sons Hiram and Gates would have been around 9 and 3 years
|Above: Horatio Davis endorsed
homeopathic remedies for health
issues, as seen here in a letter he
wrote to the editor of the
Water-Cure Journal and Herald of
Reforms in December 1848.
Water-cure was a
nineteenth-century remedy for a
variety of ailments. His
daughter-in-law, Amy Davis, also
practiced in water-cure remedies.
As an adult, Amy embraced the Universalist faith, after
growing up in a home and a community that was
"uncompromisingly orthodox", as she described in My Life
Story. When Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones of the Chicago
Universalists announced his intentions to erect the Abraham
Lincoln Centre on the city's south side, Amy decided to honor
her late husband by providing an endowment for what
became the John A. Davis Guest Room. The Lincoln Centre
was the Universalist's version, more or less, of the Hull House.
The Davis guest room was formally dedicated in a special
ceremony on May 26, 1907. The Rev. Jones and Jane Addams
were two of the featured speakers that day.
The Abraham Lincoln Centre is still in operation today, but in
a different location on Chicago's South Side. We wonder if the
John Davis legacy still lives in the Centre's new facility. The
original building was initially designed by the nephew of Rev.
|From 1871 Stephenson County plat book
|Above is a drawing of the Samuel Davis
house from the 1871 plat book. It's not
clear if this is the home shown next to the
village of Davis, or the unmarked
residence on his farm property. The
homes illustrated in the book were usually
owned by affluent individuals who
probably paid to have their homes
highlighted in the plat book. With the
amount of land Samuel Davis owned, he
would have been well-off financially.
of her death. She and Samuel had no children.
John Andrew Davis
John Davis was born in 1824 and married his country neighbor, Amy Springer (daughter ofJoshua
Springer), in 1849. He was an Illinois congressman from 1856-60. After the Civil War broke out, John
was asked to round up volunteers from Stephenson County to join the Union war effort. These
volunteers eventually became the 46th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, where John Davis
was named Captain of Company B. In 1861, he was promoted to Colonel. In April 1862, he was
wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and returned home to recover for several months, determined to
return to battle as soon as he could sit on a horse. He returned in time to participate in the Battle of
the Hatchie Bridge on October 5, 1862. He was wounded again, this time more seriously, and died
five days later. John is also buried next to his family in the Davis Cemetery.
John and his wife had four children, losing two before the age of three. In her 1920 memoir, My Life
Story, Amy wrote heartbreaking accounts of the loss of her children, one son at 20 months because
of undisclosed health reasons, and another son at two years, eight months from drowning in Rock
Run Creek. She also describes her husband’s political career leading up to the Civil War, and their
time spent in Springfield, where a man named Lincoln was making a name for himself. She attended
five of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates and wrote of several encounters with Abraham Lincoln and
his wife. Nine years after John’s death, Amy Davis married Eugene Winship of Racine, Wisconsin and
resided there many years. She enjoyed the last years of her life enrolling in college courses at various
universities, including The Ohio State University, University of Southern California, University of
Kansas, and University of Wisconsin.
A Legacy Ends - But Lives On Through Google
Several members of the Davis family are well represented in the archives of long-forgotten
newspapers and books, now resurrected through digital imaging that can be searched using key
words. The Amy Davis memoir is one of those books, and offers a look into her life that would
otherwise be known by few. She describes meeting John Davis through visits with his sisters. She was
also friends with the Addams family of Cedarville, who happened to have a woman named Jane
within their clan. Amy supported the Women's Suffrage cause and was active in attending lectures by
some of the leaders of the movement. She became moderately famous in 1921, when the national
press ran a story about her studies at the University of Wisconsin. At the time, she was a 90-year-old
|Amy Davis Winship, in her college days
("G.A.R.") who were named for the Colonel. The G.A.R. was a Civil War fraternal organization.
Freeport's Post 98, as well as Post 53 in Jesup, Iowa were both named "John A. Davis Post".
John and Amy’s son, John Jefferson Davis, also left an interesting legacy. John J. was born in 1852 and
grew up in Rock Run Township. He enrolled at the newly formed University of Illinois in 1868 and was
the youngest member of the university’s first graduating class in 1872. He was a classmate of Nathan
Ricker, the first in the United States to earn an undergraduate degree in architecture. After earning a
medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago in 1875, John J. practiced for many
years in Racine, Wisconsin, where his mother lived after marrying Eugene Winship. In 1911, he
retired from medicine to become Curator of the Wisconsin State Herbarium at the University of
Wisconsin in Madison.
John J.'s daughter, Marguerite Davis, became a research chemist at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison, where she co-authored a 1913 nutritional study which identified Vitamin A and Vitamin B
for the first time. She would later inherit the home in which her grandmother, Amy Davis Winship,
lived while in Racine. Upon her death, Marguerite willed the historic home to the Wisconsin State
Historical Society, to be used as a historical museum. Neither the Historical Society nor the County of
Racine wanted to develop the home into a museum, so they rejected the gift. The property is now a
Perhaps the most significant legacy was unintentionally left in the history of case law by Mary Estes
Davis. Before Mary died on April 8, 1889, she had been ill for some time. We don't know the extent of
her illness, but about 6 months before her death, she was an invalid being cared for in the home of
her sister, Permelia (Estes) Reed. In the weeks leading up to her death, Mary decided that Permelia
should be compensated for the care she had provided, both in her own home and in Mary's home
prior to the time they lived together. Mary had already established a will in 1887, which gave
Permelia a 200-acre farm and some other miscellaneous assets. The rest of Mary's estate was to be
divided between Permelia, and the two children of John and Amy Davis (John Jefferson Davis and
Elizabeth Davis Wooster).
However, one week before her death, Mary felt she would not live much longer. On April 1, 1889 she
wrote a letter to Stephenson County judge Edward P. Barton, asking him to direct about $2,000 of
her bank certificates of deposit to Permelia. In addition, Mary had loaned two men (one of them
being Judge Barton) a total of $4,000, of which she instructed Barton to take possession of the
promissory notes and hold them for Permelia. These assets, totaling around $6,000, would be a gift
After Mary's death, the executor of her estate discovered that Judge Barton was holding the notes
and certificates, and demanded that he turn them over to Mary's estate. Barton refused to turn over
the assets without a court order, citing the letter Mary wrote on April 1st. The executor sued in
Stephenson County court and won the court order. Permelia appealed the ruling, which was
overturned by an appellate court in December 1889. The executor then appealed to the Illinois
Supreme Court, which upheld the original ruling of the Stephenson County court. The Illinois
Supreme Court ruled that Mary's deathbed-letter was not enough to constitute a gift to Permelia,
because Mary had not legally transferred the assets. Therefore, the certificates and notes became
part of Mary’s estate.
Permelia still received a portion of the certificates and notes, as beneficiary of Mary's will, but had to
share those assets with John and Elizabeth Davis. The farm she inherited was mostly in Section 22 of
Rock Run Township, just north of our home. An 1894 Rock Run Township plat map shows this land
owned by Permelia’s husband, Charles W. Reed.
Like her sister-in-law Amy Davis Winship, Mary Davis was active in the Women's Suffrage movement.
In the book History of Woman Suffrage (Volume III, 1876-1885), a letter Mary wrote in 1877 was
printed as an example of the "toils of circulating petitions" to draft equal rights legislation. Mary
wrote of her canvassing the village of Davis and receiving the quickest "no" from a man whose
business was furnished by his wife's capital and whose house was purchased with his wife's money.
Susan B. Anthony, one of the editors of History of Woman Suffrage, added a footnote to Mary's letter,
stating that she had met Mary as a young woman at a convention in Rochester in 1853. When she
visited Durand, Illinois in 1877, Mary and Samuel attended her lecture and she remembered Mary
from years earlier in Rochester. Mary had been inspired by the convention and joined the suffrage
movement because of it.
|The 1800s media did not seem to care much for Susan
B. Anthony's cause. This article appeared in The
Belvidere Standard on April 1, 1879 and is
representative of many reports of Miss Anthony's
activities. Some even made light of her inability to
attract marriage offers. She was persistent, however.
The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution
had been introduced the year before, and 41 short
years later, the amendment was approved by Congress
in 1919. Ms. Anthony did not live to see the
amendment approved, or ratified by the States in 1920.
|Above: This excerpt of an 1859 plat map is the earliest we have found of Rock Run Township. The
Davis saw mill is shown in Section 27, with most of the mill pond filling the 160 acres Samuel and
John Davis owned in Section 22. The railroad had come just a couple years earlier, and we believe
the mill didn't last much longer.
|Above: Samuel Davis obituary
(January 6, 1883 edition of the
Below: Samuel and John Davis were
early investors in the railroad which
passed through the town of Davis.
The Rockford Register newspaper
reported their $10,000 investment in
the paper's June 21, 1856 edition.
They may have known the railroad
would spell the end of the saw mill.
also teamed up with Thomas Turner to form the village of Dakota,
six miles down the Western Union line from the Davis village.
According to his biography in the 1880 History of Stephenson
County, Samuel was the first town clerk for the village of Davis and
was also an Assessor of Revenue. In 1859 he married Mary Estes, a
farmer's daughter from Manlius, New York. In the 1855 New York
state census, she was listed as a 20-year-old teacher.
By the 1870s, the Davis land in Rock Run Township was owned
entirely by Samuel Davis. Much had changed since his family
purchased their land from the U.S. Government in the 1840s. An
1871 Rock Run Township plat map shows that Samuel owned
about 500 acres within the township. The contiguous land around
our house accounted for 360 of those acres; 40 acres were adjacent
to the village of Davis, and another 100 acres were about a mile
south of our home.
In 1880, Samuel and his wife claimed the village of Davis as their
place of residence, based on information from the U.S. Census in
that year. The 1871 Stephenson County plat map shows the Davis
farm carved out of what should have been a complete half-mile
square where the village of Davis was born. Apparently his
While several families who owned our land exhibited signs of wealth, none left such a long Google
trail - for positive reasons, anyway. The most complete record of the lives of Horatio's children comes
with Samuel and John, who were active in the community and owned land.
Samuel J. Davis
Samuel Davis was born in Crawford County, Pennsylvania on January 6, 1822. Like his father before
him, became Postmaster of the Rock Run post office in 1855. In 1858, he erected the first store in the
village of Davis, which had been formed a year earlier when he and his brother John, along with
Thomas Turner and Ludwig Stanton, donated 160 acres of land to start the village. The Western
Union Railroad (later the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific) was on its way to Rock Run
Township, so Samuel apparently took advantage of the business opportunities that lie ahead. Samuel
old, respectively, when the Davis family arrived in Rock Run Township. Daughter Maria was a year
older than Gates, and youngest daughter Charlotte was born about two years after the family's
arrival in Stephenson County. Their son Harvey was born around the time they left Pennsylvania.
Sarah Davis died on January 5, 1841 at the age of 39. She had already lost her son Harvey exactly one
year earlier, when he was just 2 years old. Eight years later, on his way to California, Horatio died of
congestive fever in Galena on April 23, 1849. On January 2nd of that same year, he had already
transferred his land holdings to Samuel and John. He had apparently decided to leave Illinois. Why
40-acre contribution had not been platted by the village at that
time. The 1880 U.S. Census reported Samuel and Mary as living in
the village of Davis with two Irish-immigrant laborers and a 13-year-
old Norwegian girl listed as a “Boarder”.
Samuel died on December 29, 1882 in Rock Run Township, just shy
of his 61st birthday. He lived the final years of his life as a farmer.
Due to an undisclosed heath issue, he did not serve in the Civil War
like many of his friends and neighbors. Samuel is buried in the
Davis Cemetery next to many of his Illinois relatives. Mary died on
April 8, 1889 after a long illness that left her an invalid at the time
|Right: The marriage
announcement of John and
Amy Davis in the May 30,
1849 edition of the Rockford
|Above: John Jefferson Davis, son of John Andrew Davis, practiced
medicine in the Racine, Wisconsin area for many years. In the
December 28, 1882 edition of the Journal-Times newspaper (Racine,
WI), John J. was reported as leaving for Davis, Illinois to attend to his
uncle, Samuel Davis. Samuel would die one day later.
Jones, a young man named Frank Lloyd
Wright, but the two could never agree
on its external appearance. The design
work was finished by another architect.
John Davis was remembered for many
years through two different posts of
the Grand Army of the Republic