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For a century the Davises lived on a tract of land in southern Frederick County, Maryland. The farm was founded by William Morsell, whose granddaughter Rachel married Eli Davis [1809-1887]. Under them the farm reached its greatest
size--about 1100 acres. Eli divided the farm among his sons upon his death. His son Isaac [1841-1913] inherited approximately 240 acres, and passed his portion in turn to his son, R. Lee [1867-1939]. Lee Davis kept superb records of the farm's operation, especially around the turn of the 20th Century, saving papers, ledgers, receipts, and correspondence that collectively provide a remarkably clear picture of how a dairy farm was run in an age when machinery was fast replacing horsepower. The records were preserved after the 1945 sale of the farm by Lee's son, Aubrey [1895-1959], and came to light only in 1998, when they were sorted and donated to the Maryland Room of the University of Maryland Library. The Maryland Room has archived them and recently made them available to scholars. A finding guide to the Davis Papers is attached:
Michael Warner, Rockville, Maryland, July 2002"

GUIDE TO THE DAVIS FAMILY PAPERS

Archives and Manuscripts Department
University of Maryland Libraries

 

Processed by Jill F. Reilly
June 2002
4.5 lin. ft.

Family History

For over one hundred years, the Davis family owned a farm in an area of Frederick County, Maryland, called New Market. William Morsell, Sr. (1745-1813), grandfather of Rachel Morsell Davis, originally bought land in the 1780s and added to it through smaller purchases throughout his life. Morsell, a Quaker, was a surveyor and apparently a merchant as well. He had three daughters and one son, William Morsell, Jr. (1778-1846). He employed a number of servants and owned one slave, Abraham, whom he set free as a provision of his 1808 will.

William Morsell, Jr., continued to accumulate more land adjacent to the original tract. Various portions of this land were referred to as Prather’s Adventure, Partnership, Solomon’s Flower, Long Range, and the Lady. William Morsell, Jr. had only one child, Rachel Morsell Davis (1809-1886), who became his sole heir.

George Davis (1775-1850), a Quaker farmer and merchant who was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the father of Eli Davis (1809-1887). Eli married Rachel Morsell in 1832, and the story of their elopement was "a little romantic," according to J. Thomas Scharf in his History of Western Maryland. "The young pair conceived the notion that their marriage would be opposed by parental authority, and so they, deciding to brook no obstacle to their happiness, walked away to Clarksburg one fine morning and were wedded." Eli and Rachel most likely expected disapproval because she was the daughter of a landowner and he was a laborer on the farm she was to inherit. After eloping, however, they experienced their parents’ blessings. The couple raised seven sons who survived to adulthood. Eli added more land to the farm Rachel inherited until it encompassed approximately 1,100 acres. It is likely that he was a slave owner, as the 1850 and 1860 censuses record a slave family on his farm. Upon his death, Eli Davis divided the farm among his many sons, including Samuel and Isaac.

Samuel B. Davis (1846-1902) owned and operated a general store at Fountain Mills across from the Davis farm; he also ran a mill and a small farm. He married Rebecca Ebert in 1877, and they raised two children, Saidee and E. Carlton (Carl). Isaac T. Davis (1841-1913) inherited the original house and about 250 acres. He married Sarah Frances Spalding (1842-1905), a Catholic, and raised five children, R. Lee (1867-1939), Charles (1871-1955), Nellie (1873-1950), Louis (1880-1918), and Rachel (1882-1948).

R. Lee played an active part in managing the farm for his father from 1895 onward, and he did much to modernize the Davis Farm operations, specializing in dairy farming. "He [was] one of the most successful young farmers in this section, intelligent and fully ‘up-to-date’ in his methods," according to J. C. Thomas Williams in his History of Frederick County. Lee’s stationary featured the farm’s new name, "The Old Homestead Stock and Dairy Farm." For the dairy operations, he bought and bred Holstein-Friesian cows, joining Holstein-Friesian associations and obtaining official certificates for some of his cows. He sold milk and cream to retailers and merchants in Baltimore via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Monrovia station. At his father Isaac’s death in 1913, Lee paid his four siblings and his uncle Charles in order to have full ownership of the farm. For a brief period (ca. 1919-1920), Lee owned an automobile garage with his nephew, Frank Gaither (1896-1970), the Davis Overland Garage. During the last two decades of his life, Lee invested in oil and mining stocks in the South and West. These investments did not increase the family fortune; Lee’s granddaughter, Cora Lee Davis Winchester, investigated the value of the stocks and leases in 1967, discovering that the companies no longer existed. A number of tenant families lived on the Davis property during R. Lee’s lifetime, including the Toodle family, who may have been descended from the family of slaves owned by Eli Davis.

R. Lee Davis married Cora U. Layton (1868-1915) in 1888. Together they raised three sons, R. Leslie Davis (1891-1942), Bernard M. Davis (1893-1981), and Aubrey Gaffney Davis (1895-1959), and a foster daughter, Florence Fair. Davis’s sister, Rachel, lived on the farm with the family until his death and when she joined her other brother, Charles, at his residence.

Although Davis continued to manage the farm until late in his life, his son Aubrey began to assist him with the farm operations as early as 1908. Aubrey married Ursula Burke Brown (1895-1967) in 1916; they lived on the farm and there raised their three daughters, Catherine Davis Warner Voiles (b. 1917), Cora Lee Davis Winchester (b. 1918), and Audrey Davis Watkins (1920-1982). When his father passed away in 1939, Aubrey bought his two brothers' shares of the farm to become sole owner. In provisions of R. Lee Davis’s will, Rachel and Florence received small inheritances as well. Aubrey continued to modernize the farm, and he built a new dairy barn in 1943. His ledgers reflect that he relied upon farm labor from outside the family, often the sons of his tenant farmers. While demand for milk remained steady during World War II, there were shortages in supplies and labor. Aubrey’s daughters married men who were not interested in working on the farm. In January 1945, Aubrey sold the Davis farm to the Doody family intending to retire to Frederick, Maryland. Several years later he purchased a small farm nearby, which he ran until 1955.

In 1998, Aubrey’s daughter, Cora Lee Davis Winchester, recorded the memories of her childhood on the farm with detail and affection. She remembered the farmhouse where she lived: "When I was about ten the old kitchen and loft were torn down and an ell consisting of kitchen and dining room on the first floor and a bedroom, bath, and loft with a long hall was built by Mr. Will Hendrickson. This house with its long, screened front porch stands today (minus the shutters I used to hang from!). It had all the usual farm buildings: meat house, chicken house, spring house, and, of course, privy (each of the two houses had its own set of outbuildings)." Of particular note is her description of family heirlooms in the living room: "An ancient grandfather clock (built for William Morsell, Sr. by Eli Bentley of Taneytown) dominated the room, which was furnished with a piano, arm chairs, and two Hitchcock chairs. Grandmother’s desk (a Larkin) was there. . . . The bow-front china cabinet was also in this room. . . . Eli and Rachel Davis’ gold-framed photo portraits hung over the mantle."

Although the size of the farm varied during the period when the Davis family owned it, the main portion was located near the intersection of present-day Maryland Routes 80 and 75 (Green Valley Road), in New Market, Frederick County.

A Davis family tree is appended to this guide.

SCOPE AND CONTENT

The Davis family papers provide a detailed account of the accumulation of land and the operations of a family farm across several generations, with the most comprehensive records documenting the time of ownership by R. Lee Davis and his son Aubrey G. Davis between 1895 and 1945. The activities surrounding the dairy operations and milk distribution to Baltimore are well documented in the farm ledgers and business correspondence. In his farm ledgers, Aubrey tracked wages paid to his farm workers by day or by task. In addition to the financial transactions made in operating the farm, the papers reveal the domestic consumer patterns of the Davis family between 1886 and 1943.

The majority of the Davis collection relates to financial activities. The papers contain farm ledgers, account books, land deeds, wills, receipts and bills, business correspondence, and records of investments. The collection also contains blueprints and instructions for building a dairy barn, circa 1930s. Of particular note are two handwritten arithmetic books from the late eighteenth century. Through the sale agreements, land deeds and wills, one can trace the role of women in property transactions from the late eighteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century. Many of the wills and indentures include wives or daughters, even requiring their approval by signature as early as 1822.

The Davis family collection also contains five account books belonging to Samuel B. Davis, brother of R. Lee Davis, who ran a general store at Fountain Mills across from the family farm. These ledgers track the purchases made by individuals and families on credit over time and offer a glimpse into the daily life of this rural area of Frederick County, Maryland, in the 1890s.

These papers cover the period 1784 to 1967, with the bulk of materials from the period 1890 to 1945. The earliest papers in the collection are land deeds and survey maps from the 1780s, and the latest are charts from Cora Lee Davis Winchester’s 1967 investigation of her grandfather R. Lee Davis’s investments.

The collection has been divided into the following series:

Series I: Farm Records
Series II: Family Records
Series III: Investments and Personal Insurance
Series IV: Fountain Mills Store Ledgers

PROVENANCE

Michael Warner, great-great-grandson of R. Lee Davis, donated the papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in November 1999. He donated additional, published materials in March 2000.

SERIES DESCRIPTIONS

Series I: Farm Records, 1784-1945 (2.25 lin. ft.)
This series contains records related to the financial activities, insurance, farm operations, and acquisition of lands of the Davis family farm. These farm materials comprise the bulk of the Davis family collection.

Three account books belonging to William Morsell, Sr., covering the years 1796-1797, 1797, and 1799-1800, track transactions, credits and debits, and detailed household expenses. Within the listings of household expenses are records of wages paid to several servants. Farm ledgers belonging to R. Lee Davis and his son Aubrey G. Davis consist mostly of figures, credits, and debits, but the farm ledgers belonging to Aubrey alone are quite detailed. These five ledgers cover 1908 to 1944, and they record milk and cream accounts, notes recording when dairy cows are "fresh," and accounts with laborers paid by day or by task.

The collection illuminates dairy activities on the Davis farm including the purchase of cows, milk distribution records, and blueprints for a new barn. The purchase materials consist of correspondence with cow breeders, a Maryland Holstein-Friesian Breeders’ Club Membership Card (1913), and cow registry certificates. Distribution records include Baltimore and Ohio Railroad shipping records and correspondence with the B&O milk agent. Of particular note is the extensive correspondence with various Baltimore retailers, especially E. Donnelly, who complained of sour milk.

Records of farm operations include bills and receipts for purchases made for the farm, primarily supplies such as fertilizer, seed, horse harnesses, and barn repairs. There are bills for vehicle expenses, including buggy and wagon parts and, later, automobile repairs. Of special note are hand-drawn sketches of crop acreage use in the late 1930s and a draft copy of the 1935 U. S. Census of Agriculture Farm and Ranch schedule filled out in detail by R. Lee Davis.

Estate records contain land deeds, land surveys and maps, indentures, mortgages, sale agreements, and tenant contracts. William Morsell, Sr., William Morsell, Jr., and Eli Davis made the majority of land purchases. Later land records concern inheritance of the farm lands. Of particular interest is William Morsell, Sr.’s 1808 will and testament in which he expresses his intention to set his "negro Abraham" free. Three deeds of sale from 1822 indicate women’s indirect rights to property. Aubrey G. Davis’s 1945 farm ledger records the sale of the Davis farm.

Newspaper clippings and promotional advertisements from the 1890s relate to agriculture, especially dairy management, fertilizers, and machinery.

Arrangement is alphabetical by topic and then chronological.

Series II: Family Records, 1788-1945 (0.75 lin. ft.)
Series II contains documents related to domestic life on the Davis family farm. Correspondence concerning bills or receipts of payment for domestic purchases from 1886 to 1941 comprise the bulk of this series. There are records of Davis family accounts at several stores, which detail the family’s consumer patterns over time. Purchases of note include portraits from a Washington, D.C., artist’s studio, a gold watch with fob, a piano, a new Singer sewing machine (1903), and a Frigidaire refrigerator (1941). Two telephone service agreements document the family’s first telephone service in 1906 with Potomac Telephone Company and the addition of a second line in 1928 with Potomac Edison Company.

Advertisements and pamphlets dating from the 1890s relate to medical remedies, especially ladies’ remedies, and to religion. The latter includes Catholic pamphlets and Apostleship of Prayer League leaflets belonging to Ursula Davis and Florence Fair. Of particular interest is a calendar page for April 1915, which marks the illness and death of Cora U. Davis in her husband R. Lee Davis’s handwriting.

There are two manuscript arithmetic books from the late eighteenth century, one belonging to William Morsell and another to George Davis. A teacher’s account book, most likely dating from the 1880s, lists Saidee and Carl Davis as students who purchased textbooks.

The latest materials in this series are the World War II ration books belonging to Aubrey G. Davis, his wife Ursula, and his daughter Audrey.

Arrangement is alphabetical by topic and then chronological.

Series III: Investments and Personal Insurance, 1886-1967 (0.75 lin. ft.)
This series documents R. Lee Davis’s personal insurance and investments, detailing his attempts to assure his family’s financial security. During the 1920s and 1930s, Davis invested in numerous oil and mining companies in southern and western states, especially Texas. Promotional literature abounds, including a Texas oil map. There are stock certificates and leases for fractions of interest on potential oil or gas found upon particular plots of land. Notes, charts, and correspondence from 1967 document Cora Lee Davis Winchester’s investigation on behalf of the heirs into the value and legitimacy of these stocks. By then most of the companies were defunct, and one Texas county clerk informed her that the trusts had been "purely promotional schemes."

The materials in this series also include correspondence and contracts with several insurance companies, as well as information pamphlets, bills, receipts, and extensions of payment. Of particular interest is the correspondence during the Depression of the 1930s, when R. Lee’s letters indicate his anxiety over the financial security of the Postal Mutual Benefit Corporation. Correspondence also outlines Lee’s illness, hospitalization, and death at the Maryland University Hospital in May 1939.

Arrangement is alphabetical by topic and then chronological.

Series IV: Fountain Mills Store Ledgers, 1884-1898 (0.75 lin. ft.)
Five ledgers from Samuel B. Davis’s Fountain Mills store comprise this series. Three ledgers record in detail the purchases made on credit by individuals and families. Two account books record payments by customers on their individual accounts.

Arrangement is chronological.

PROCESSING

Michael Warner, the donor, sorted the papers topically and chronologically in 1998. When they were acquired in 1999, the dairy barn blueprints and instructions were placed in flat oversize storage. The published materials were transferred to the Marylandia and Rare Books Department and to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection of the University of Maryland Libraries in 2000. The published materials include:

Marylandia and Rare Books Department:
Baltgis’s Republican Gazette (newspaper). Frederick, April 22, 1815.
American Farmers’ Almanack. Hagerstown, Maryland: Gruber and May, 1825.
Baltimore Farmers and Mechanics Almanack. Baltimore: Plasket and Co., 1832.
The Methodist Protestant (newspaper). Baltimore, February 14, 1852.
The Village School Ma’am. 1909.
Our Little People. 1888.
National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection:
The Handbook on Painting by National Lead Company (booklet).

All other materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Letters with multiple pages have been grouped with padded, non-reactive fasteners. News clippings were photocopied. A Texas oil map was unfolded and placed in oversize storage with the dairy barn blueprints.

RELATED MATERIALS

Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Western Maryland. Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1968 reprint of 1882 original. Entry for "Eli Davis," p. 606. (MD REF F181.S4 v. 1)
Williams, Thomas J. C. History of Frederick County. Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1967 reprint of 1910 original. Entries for "Robert Lee Davis," p. 839 and "Samuel Davis," p. 1461. (MD REF F187.F8W7 1967 v. 2)

BOX INVENTORY

Series I: Farm Records

Box 1

Accounts

William Morsell, Sr. Account Books, 1796-1800 (3 vols.)
Banking and Credit, 1869-1959 (4 f)
Legal and Business Records, [1886-1920s]

Box 2

Accounts (cont'd)

R. Lee Davis and Aubrey Davis Farm Ledgers

1893-1915 (4 vols.)
1919-1949 (6 vols.)

Aubrey Davis Farm Ledgers, 1908 -1937 (3 vols.)

Box 3

Accounts (cont'd)

Aubrey Davis Farm Ledgers (cont’d), 1940-1944 (2 vols.)
Advertisements – Agriculture, [1890s]

Dairy Operations

Milk Distribution, 1895-1941 (2 f)
Holstein-Friesian Cows, 1896-1952
Blueprints and Instructions for Constructing a Dairy Barn, [1930s] (oversize)

Farm Operations

Vehicle Expenses, [1870s-1940s]

Box 4

Farm Operations (cont'd)

1876-1943 (4 f)

Series I (cont'd)

Box 5

Insurance, 1886-1948
Morsell and Davis Estates
Land Records (William Morsell, Sr., and William Morsell, Jr.), 1784-1841
Land Records (Eli Davis), 1836-1887
Land and Tenant Records, 1904-1946
Agreements of Sale and Deeds, 1905-1945
Settlement of R. Lee Davis Estate, 1939-1940
Sale of Davis Farm Ledger, 1945

 

Series II: Family Records

Box 1

Advertisements and Pamphlets
Religious, [1890s]
Medical, [1890s]
Birthday Cards and Personally Annotated Items, [1890-1915]

Books

Arithmetic (belonging to William Morsell), [1788]
Reduction (belonging to George Davis), [1795]

Box 2

Books (cont'd)

Teacher’s Account Book (ownership unknown), [1880s]
Domestic Purchases, 1886-1941 (3 f)
Ration Books, World War II, [1941-1945]
Taxes, 1889-1940

 

Series III: Investments and Personal Insurance

Box 1

Investments

Investments, 1921-1936

Trusts, [1920s-1930s]

Stocks, Oil and Mining, [1930s]
Oil and Gas Leases in Louisiana and Mississippi, [1930s]
Oil and Gas Leases in Texas, [1930s]

Investments, 1937-1941 (2 f)

Box 2

Life Insurance

Insurance Records, 1886-1946 (3 f)

 

Series IV: Fountain Mills Store Ledgers

Box 1

Samuel B. Davis, Fountain Mills Store Ledgers, 1883-1885 (2 vols.)

Box 2

Samuel B. Davis, Fountain Mills Store Ledgers (cont'd), 1888-1898 (3 vols.)

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