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Champaign County, Illinois

Biography - Thomas J. Davis

SOURCE: "Portrait and Biographical Album of Champaign County, Illinois," Chapman Brothers, Chicago, 1887


THOMAS J. DAVIS. The progenitors of a large portion of the residents of Champaign County originated in the Keystone State. Among these was Morris DAVIS, father of the subject of this biography, who was born near Harrisburg, Dauphin Co., Pa., on the 7th of September, 1811. His parents died while he was a small child, and thus left an orphan, he was reared by Mr. Morris Howe of that same county, and passed his time until eighteen after the manner of most farmers' boys, attending school in the winter, and assisting in sowing and reaping the balance of the year. At the age mentioned he concluded to change his occupation and went to harrisburg to learn the trade of a hatter. From the latter place Mr. Davis was gone about a year through New Jersey and New York City, working journey work, and in the summer of 1830, left his native State and "footed" it to West Liberty, Ohio. He followed his trace there a few years with Mr. Andrew Wood, who afterward became his brother-in-law, as he was married to Miss Rachel WOOD a few years later. After this event he went into partnership with Mr. Wood, and they operated a hat manufactory under the firm name of Davis & Wood, several years, when our subject purchased the interest of his partner and operated alone. After accumulating a little capital Mr. Davis entered 160 acres of timber land in Stokes Township, Logan Co., Ohio. In 1850 he embarked in the grocery business at Huntsville, Ohio, and had only been established a short time when his dwelling and contents of hatter's stock were destroyed by fire. He had no insurance. Afterward he joined his brother-in-law in Miami County. In the meantime he had deeded eight acres of his land to John M. Johnson, upon the condition that the latter should clear three fields or ten acres each. Upon this he built a log cabin 16x22 feet, which he occupied and engaged in farming for a few years. After his death, the cabin was replaced by a handsome country residence. His death occurred Oct. 25, 1853, and his remains were buried in the Seceder's Cemetery, near Huntsville. The mother of our subject in her girlhood was Miss Rachel Wood, who was born Nov. 19, 1815. She became the mother of six children, and survived her husband about twelve years, remaining on the old homestead until her death which occurred April 2, 1865. Her remains were laid by the side of her husband. The children of the parental family are recorded as follows: John, the eldest, was killed at the battle of Chickamauga, Sept. 20, 1864; M. J., who also served three years in the army, has a family and is living in Harper county, Kan.; Thomas J., of our sketch, was the third child; Minerva became the wife of Rev. M. L. COMER, of Bureau County, Ill., and Florence L., who married David BESORE, in April, 1873, and departed this life on the 10th of July 1884; Robert died when four years of age. The Davis family is of Welsh ancestry. The paternal grandparents of our subject, William and Margaret (WOOD), were natives of Pennsylvania. The former removed to Ohio, and died there in February, 1840, when sixty-eight years of age. His wife died in October, 1846, when seventy-one years old. Thomas J. Davis was born July 7,1841, at West Liberty, Logan Co., Ohio. He was twelve years of age when his father died, and remained with his mother until her death, in 1865. He had become accustomed to farm labor and received a common-school education. From the time he was eighteen years old until twenty-four he had suffered greatly from ill-health, and having nothing to keep him in Ohio, determined upon a change of climate. He accordingly set out on horseback to Illinois, but after riding a few days found himself unequal to the undertaking and abandoned his horse for the railroad. After reaching Ford County, in company with his brother, M. J., he rented a tract of land near Paxton, which they operated for two years. In the fall of 1867, our subject came to Urbana, and after working on the I., B. & W. R. R. a few months, purchased eighty acres of railroad land on section 8, in Stanton Township, for which he paid $9 per acre. The following spring he began improving it. He now has a quarter section and this well tiled and under a good state of cultivation. He has arrived at the point where he is living comfortably and with something laid up for a rainy day. He has enjoyed in a large measure the confidence and esteem of his fellow-townsmen, having served as School Director for twelve years; Tax Collector three years, besides being Road commissioner and Supervisor the same length of time. Politically he is a full-fledged Greenbacker. Our subject married Miss Susan J. HARPER, Nov. 19, 1868. She has become the mother of five children, born as follows: Frances S., Sept. 5, 1869; Charlie M., Nov. 9, 1871; Nancy J., May 14, 1875; Thomas H., Jan. 3, 1878, and one infant died unnamed. The remaining four are at home with their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Davis are members of the United Brethren Church. The parents of Mrs. Davis, Francis and Jane (REED) HARPER, were natives of Ohio, the former born in Pickaway County, May 26, 1800. He was twenty-eight years of age at the time of his marriage and became an active and prosperous farmer in Fayette County. In 1864 he came to the Prairie State. In 1853 his wife died, and he was accompanied by his five motherless children. He purchased 160 acres of improved land in Vermilion County, which he occupied until 1868, when he retired from active labor, spending the last years of his life among his children. His decease occurred Oct. 4, 1875, and his remains were laid to rest in the Blue Grass Chapel burying ground in Vermilion County. The death of the mother took place in Fayette County, Ohio, and she was buried in the old Presbyterian churchyard. Their ten children included four sons and six daughters, of whom four died in infancy. Those surviving are: Nancy, the wife of W. F. HOPKINS, William, Mary Ann and Susan J. Alexander was married and died in Cissna Park, Iroquois Co., Ill., June 16, 1885. The paternal grandfather of Mrs. Davis, Alexander HARPER, was a native of Pennsylvania, who removed first to Kentucky and thence to Ohio, becoming a resident of the latter State in 1800. He married Miss Nancy TATE, of Kentucky. The following brief sketch was written by one who knew him well: "Alexander Harper departed this life at his residence in Ross County, Ohio, Feb. 18, 1843, aged seventy-five years. He was born in Path Valley, Pa., in 1767. When twelve years old he removed with his widowed mother and family to Kentucky at a time when danger from the Indians was great. The family landed at Spring Garrison, near the Falls of the Ohio; after various moves through imminent danger they reached McConnella Station, where they remained five years before they were safe in venturing to settle themselves. "The subject of this narrative, though young, was frequently with scouting parties in defending the settlement, and passed through many conflicts with the Indians, a thought of which is enough to make one shudder. At the age of twenty-two he volunteered in the militia of Kentucky, and was also with Ge. Harner in his campaign against the indians at what is now called Ft. Wayne, Ind., and fought hard during the dreadful massacre that took place there and called Harner's defeat. His brother, Francis HARPER, was killed by the Indians in the battle of the Blue Licks. Alexander removed to Ohio in 1800, settled near Pickaway Plains, remained there two years, and from thence removed to Ross County, Buckskin Township, where he resided until his death. In 1812, during the war with the British and Indians, he volunteered and went against the Indians, he volunteered and went against the Indians on the Wabash, under Maj. W. M. Trimble. In April, 1813, he went in the company commanded by Capt. Robert HARPER, his brother, and since Maj. Robert Harper, to the defense of Ft. Stephenson. A part of this tour of duty was performed after he had arrived at the age of forty-five. He could have secured his discharge, but so great a hero was he that he would not leave the field until his company was regularly discharged. In battle he was never known to flinch from his post. "He was a consistent member of the Presbyterian Church for thirty-two years. He was looked upon as one of the patriarchs of the his day, and was a devoted, praying Christian. The writer of this narrative knew him well, being a member of the same church, Pisgah, and can say he never heard Alexander Harper speak ill of anyone, nor anyone speak ill of him. He was ever willing to engage in every good work and always willing to relieve the distressed when in his power. His seat in his church was never vacant when his health and the weather would suit for his venturing out. His relations and neighbors can truly say that, though dead he yet speaketh to us. The great esteem in which he was held by his neighbors was manifested in their kindness during his late illness. All seamed to anticipate and feel the loss the church and society would sustain in his death. The writer asked him, the day before he died, respecing his hopes hereafter; his answer was 'All is well. Christ, my Savior, did not endure all the agonies of the cross for nothing; no. He died for poor, lost sinners such as I, and I know He will keep securely for me that which I have committed to His care.' "Mr. Harper married when young, in Kentucky; he had eleven children born to him, nine of whom are now living, five sons and four daughters. He lived to see them all become respected members of the Presbyterian Church. His own brothers and sisters, though several in number, are all gone to rest excepting two brothers and one sister: Maj. Robert Harper, of Ross city, Ohio; James HARPER, near Logansport, Ind., and Mrs. CLARK, of Ross County, Ohio. As a husband and father he was kind and affectionate. It is the lot of few fathers to have and to enjoy the affection of their children to the same extent that he did. As a neighbor he was kind and obliging, ever ready to assist in time of need. He commanded their esteem to such an extent, that although the day of his burial was very inclement, yet the concourse that followed him to his grave was very great."

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