James Dick Davis
February 5, 2013
James D. Davis wrote and published a book in 1873 that has gone down in the annals of Memphis history as one of the classics.
Written and published in 1873, “The History of the City of Memphis” and the accompanying series of articles entitled “Old Time Papers” offers one of the earliest looks at the Memphis years before 1850.
At the time the book was written Mr. Davis had been a resident of the city for over forty-five years. He had watched the city grow from a dirty, rough little river town into a metropolis that seemed destined to become one of the great cities of the United States.
Mr. Davis was born September 2, 1810 in Pennsylvania and came to Memphis in 1827 by way of Tuscumbia, Alabama. At the time of his arrival the city was less than ten years old. The young man heard the stories told by the earliest settlers and late in his life tapped into his memory of these stories to write of the early settlers and events Memphis’s younger years.
On December 15, 1834 James Davis married Mary Jane Smythe. Together they had at least seven children. Along with being an author and poet, he served as a municipal harbormaster, and a professional painter.
In 1857 a group of citizens interested in preserving the history of early Memphis formed a group called ‘The Old Folks of Shelby County’. They printed a monthly journal which Mr. Davis edited and used latter in his writing of Memphis’s early history. This organization has evolved over the years into what we now know of as the West Tennessee Historical Society.
Politically Mr. Davis was a staunch Republican and Unionist. In the vote on secession, which followed the attack on Ft. Sumter, it is said that Mr. Davis was one of only five citizens in Memphis who voted against secession. This political stance made him quite unpopular in Memphis for many years.
James D. Davis died on October 3, 1880 and was buried on October 5th in the Turley Section of Elmwood Cemetery. Five years latter his wife Mary was buried next to his side. It took 95 years for his grave to be marked.