The Davies Family’s Slaves

After undertaking a new research initiative in 2009, Davies Manor Association staffers and volunteers have pieced together a substantial amount of new information about the men, women and children enslaved before and during the Civil War by various members of the Davies family. Much of the DMA’s knowledge of the enslaved comes from surviving family papers, including birth ledgers, promissory notes, probate records, correspondence, and bills of sale. Sadly, none of the historical documents in the DMA’s archives offer perspectives from those forced to spend their lives in bondage.  What follows below is a brief overview of the most up-to date findings related to this painful realm of Davies Plantation’s history. A much more detailed look will soon be on permanent display at Davies Plantation via an exhibit entitled, The Davies Family’s Papers: Recovering Stories of Enslavement, Migration and Memory.

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In 1804, twenty-one-year William Early Davies migrated from Lunenburg County, Virginia to Middle Tennessee with his wife, children and at least three enslaved people. William most likely acquired his initial slaves from his father, Zachariah Davies, a Revolutionary War Veteran who owned a roughly 2,000-acre slave-powered tobacco plantation. After purchasing land in Maury County, William and his enslaved laborers established a farm on the Duck River that produced a diversified mixture of crops. By 1820, William owned seventeen people; ten years later, census records list him as owning twenty-three people.

In 1843, William’s family and their slaves left Maury County and relocated to Fayette County, near the community of Macon. By 1850, William owned a plantation that operated off the labor of thirty enslaved black people. A few years later, two of William’s sons – James Baxter Davies, and Logan Early Davies – purchased land in Shelby County and established Davies Plantation. By 1860, James and Logan owned a total of 792 acres and twenty-two slaves. Their younger brother Henry enslaved ten people who labored on a smaller farm nearby.

Throughout the Civil War years – and despite the Union Army’s occupation of Shelby County and most of Tennessee – Davies Plantation continued to exploit slave labor. As late as 1865, Logan Davies was earning income by renting out enslaved people to neighboring plantations. Following William Davies’s death in 1862, his slaves were bequeathed to other family members scattered across Western Tennessee and Texas. James Davies spent the war serving as a private in the 38th Tennessee Infantry. He brought to war with him an enslaved “bodyservant” named Richmond Bennett. Richmond and James returned to Davies Plantation after the Confederacy’s defeat. Upon earning his freedom, Richmond married Sarah Jane Tucker, another former Davies slave. Richmond, Sarah Jane and their children would live in eastern Shelby County well into the twentieth century. At least half a dozen other people formerly enslaved by the Davies worked as sharecroppers at Davies Plantation throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Research into the lives of these freedmen and freedwomen and their descendants remains a work in progress.