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 Mary Smith Davis: Some Account of Our Younger Days since Our Marriage

by Mary Smith Davis (1892)

Introduction: The following was written in 1892 by Mary Smith Davis (1820 – 1910). She was the daughter of Jesse and Anna Smith from Smyrna, Guernsey County, Ohio. She married Francis Davis, son of John and Ann Sparrow Davis of Belmont County. They were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and “Meetings” referred to, were their church services; Quarterly Meetings and Yearly Meetings, their business meetings. Also Quakers didn’t use the names of months or days of the week and referred to them by their number, such as First month – January, etc. She and her husband had nine children but only three of them, John, Jane and William, reached adulthood. This is her story in her own words. -- Marie Bundy.

I have been thinking of writing a little history of our journey through life. We were married when quite young in years. My husband was not 21 years of age until the next Seventh Month after we were married on the 1st of the Fourth Month in the year 1840. I was 20 years of age in the next Ninth Month, he being nearly 15 months my senior. We stayed in the family of his step-father and his own mother and two sisters until the autumn of that year while a house was being builded for them to move into which they did, leaving us in the home where his family had been living for a number of years which was on a farm situated a short distance east of the town of Flushing, Belmont County, Ohio.

My husband was raised a farmer and still followed that as a business and in addition to that he kept a team (horses) and often made trips to Wheeling taking a load of flour from a steam mill nearby, then bring back a load of dry goods or groceries for the merchants in Flushing-- as all such things had to be hauled in wagons to the country towns in those days. One time he went with his team to Cumberland (Maryland) before the B&O R.R. was made, taking a load and bringing back another. He was gone from home about three weeks. He went on in that way for about a dozen years. When his stepfather died, then he became owner of the farm on which we had been living. He soon made several improvements in building & repairing; still running the farm and making trips occasionally as time passed on until the Land Offices were opened in Iowa and people were flocking there to enter land or make purchases of what had been entered. He went different times and dealt considerably in land speculations for several years. But after awhile that business was finished. Then he sold the farm on which we had been living at Flushing in 1856 and we lived for two years on a rented farm not far from the one we sold, meanwhile looking around for a farm to purchase where we would feel like making another home but did not succeed in finding one. We then moved into a village four miles from Flushing and lived there for two years and while there he went into partnership with a man in making Threshing Machines and while living there in 1858 we took a trip on a Steamboat from Wheeling taking several Threshing Machines along to sell in the western country.

We had a perilous voyage as there had been a great amount of rain and the rivers were very high so the water was out over the land. In some places we could see nothing but water and trees standing in it. One place we saw a field of ripe wheat just nearly covered with water and another place where sheaves of wheat were floating near the boat and we saw a garden full of water up to the top rail of pailings. A great amount of damage was done by the high water to buildings and stock. The water was nearly all over Cairo at the junction of Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Some places it was up to the signboards on the business houses. But in due time we arrived in St. Louis in safety but we had to remain there for about two days and nights while they changed Steamboats loading and I was sorry to part with the “Altamount” that had carried us so pleasantly and safely that far on our journey. When all things were ready we started just after dark in another boat on the Mississippi river, which was a large one in common times but greatly increased in size by the high water. I well remember yet how fearful I was the first night on a strange boat. Did not sleep very well but we got along all right for some days. Then we landed in Muscatine Iowa. After being on a boat for about two weeks I was glad to be permitted to again set my feet on the land. Then we went on westward, stopping a short time in Cedar County. Then on passing through several counties, stopping occasionally, until we arrived in Madison County where several of my near relations lived. We visited around there for a few weeks, my husband being busily engaged in selling and disposing of his machines. When through with all things there, we turned our faces homeward where we arrived in due time and found our dear children that we left in the care of our intimate friends all well and glad to see us and we very thankful to be once more united with our family and friends.

Before those two years expired we found a home we thought would be satisfactory, so purchased it and we moved on the farm in the spring of 1860 and my husband carried on farming again, and in addition to that he cut crossties and cordwood for the railroad. Next began cutting saw logs on his farm and when all was ready he had a sawmill come and set up to work; and we had to board the men while running the mill so we had a busy time indoors as well as out. But we were all able and willing to work and things were prosperous for a short time.

In the fall of 1861 sickness visited our family. All the children, five in number and a little colored girl who lived with us had Diphtheria, then a new disease and not very well understood by physicians and our two little boys did not recover from its severe attacks but the rest all gradually improved until good health was again restored.

We did not live long on that farm after our great affliction. We sold out and left the farm in 1864 and soon after moved to Barnesville and he went to running sawmills for the railroad men. Then after working at that for several years, sold out and went into the planning mills business in Barnesville where he was engaged for several years until the mill exploded and that put a stop to that trade. (Davis-Starbuck Planning Mill explosion 7/17/1878)

Meanwhile we moved out in the country where we still live (Tacoma) and not long after we came here, he was appointed to superintend the building of a boarding school house for the accommodation of the young people of our Society (Religious Society of Friends) in place of one we formerly had at Mt. Pleasant. This was commenced early in the year 1875, which was a very laborious undertaking. It was extremely wearing and fatiguing on both of us as we had so many men to board while the building was going on, from the first excavating unto the finishing up of everything in readiness for school to commence, which by pushing things as fast as could possibly be done, it was completed in time to open the school the first of the next year, 1876, and had a very satisfactory and healthy term of school for the first. To give some idea of the number of men we prepared meals for, I will say first we had a stationary table in dining room long enough for 30 men to sit by to eat, fifteen on each side, no one at either end leaving room for table waiters to pass around; then one small one by the wall for seven boys to eat by, another one in basement large enough for 14 men to eat at. They had to all eat at the same time so all could go to work at once. We had to have order and regularity in everything where there were so many together. We had the meals ready and rang the bell at the same time every day for all the meals and when they heard that sound, all quit work and formed in line and came in a procession; older ones in the lead to the front door. Then passed into the table taking their seats orderly until all were seated when a pause of silence was observed. Then all were helped to the food as fast as could conveniently be done. All cooking was done in the basement and we had a sliding cupboard to take all things up to the table before they commenced and while eating often had to refill the dishes several times before all were done. After things were straightened up, dishes done, etc., it was nearing the time to prepare another meal and so it went on day after day. Even on First Days (Sundays) we had to cook dinner for several men who were so far from their homes they could not go to them. I said “day after day”, I might have said week after week and month after month, for that was really the case until we both were nearly used up. I did completely break down and he would if he had not found an excellent assistant. I do not believe he could have stood the great strain that bore so heavily upon him until the building was finished if timely aid had not arrived. We kept an account of all the meals the men ate in all that time and every nickels worth of provisions that we bought during the whole time of our services there. Also everything bought for the building operations in order to make it convenient to calculate the cost of the whole affair when all was finished up nicely; and a splendid building it is. Wherein a great number of young people have received instruction and enjoyed the advantages it is calculated to convey to those members of our Society who desire to obtain a religiously guarded education.

One account I omitted in its proper place – in 1865 my husband helped organize the “First National Bank of Barnesville, Ohio”, was its president and a director for many years. Then he was engaged in erecting the “Gas Works” and had a large share of stock in the concern and assisted in the management thereof for some years.

After completing the Boarding School we rested from building operations for one year. Then we commenced (in 1877) building a house for ourselves (now 62420 Tacoma Rd.), which occupied most of 1878 in finishing up the whole arrangement. Then the next year we were employed in the building of a Yearly Meeting House. My husband had a contract for a portion of the work and we had several men to board while performing the same. They ate breakfast before going in the early morn, took their dinners and came back for supper which made a great amount of work to be done here to prepare dinner for the next day and have supper ready for so many men when they came in the evening very hungry. They had a very busy time with the building to get it in readiness for to hold Yearly Meeting in that Fall but were favored to have it accomplished and had a satisfactory Meeting held in 1878.

Then next in course came the building of the “Children’s Home”. We done considerable in assisting in the operations, he helping with the business and also boarding some of the men while at the work. Then he was one of the first Trustees thereof and acted as Superintendent for several months at a time when great labor was needed to perfect the organization of the Home. He was an ardent and untiring friend of the interests and objects of the Home from its inception to the close of his useful life. They had the building ready to receive children in the summer of 1880 when a number of little ones were brought from the “County Infirmary” and were first entered under care in the institution.

In the Spring of 1881 my husband and I went to Philadelphia and attended Yearly Meeting, visited around some and I took some treatment for my eyes, altogether had a pleasant time for a month or so. The next year I think we remained at home in our own business.

Then in the Spring of 1883 we again went to Philadelphia on account of my poor health and I took some treatment and advice from two eminent physicians in the city and besides was advised to go to the sea shore which I did and enjoyed the sea breeze for about one week. After all that my health gradually improved for some months so I was able to take a trip to Iowa the following autumn to see my very much-afflicted sister for the last time.

Then my husband went to Philadelphia in 1884 on business and I remained at home that time. Then in 1885, in the Fall, he went to North Carolina to look after timber as he owned a large tract of land on which many juniper trees were growing besides many other kinds not quite so valuable nor so easily handled nor worked up into saleable lumber. He preferred taking the best first so worked that kind altogether which grows in swampy land, set men to cutting down the trees and trimming them into saw logs. Then the next thing was to get a sawmill which was soon done and then the logs had to be hauled a considerable distance to the mill so they made a “Tramway” as it was called by laying wooden rails similar to the railroad. Then had “trucks” to run on it to haul the logs with one mule to each “truck”, they could take big loads on the smooth level track and they had eight or nine of them going all the time to keep the mill running. Their business gave employment for several men—eight or ten in the swamp cutting, one to each truck besides the mill hands. As they sawed lumber and had a shingle machine running making shingles out of the slabs, it took several men to keep all things running in good order. The engineer had an important position and a responsible situation. They made an abundance of nice lumber and run it by rail to Norfolk, then shipped it in boats to Philadelphia where there was ready sale for it all. He came home in First Month (January) and I went back with him and we boarded in the family where he had been staying for about a month, then concluded to keep house, so rented a room in the same house—got a little cook stove and some other things and stayed there until the latter part of Sixth Month when we came to our home for the summer and in the Fall went back and carried on things about the same as the previous winter outdoors and in house too; only we had Willie with us that winter. John was with us the winter before. Then we had both together, four of us in family, we didn’t board any men. We lived in a small way. I done the cooking on a very small stove, a Number 6 woodburner. We burned wood altogether in the fireplace too. The family in the house burned wood, no coal. The winter of 1886-87 was the last one we spent there engaged in the lumber business. We had a pleasant time there I thought, considering we had no Meeting to attend as we do at home; nor friends to associate with as accustomed to in our own country, but the people there were very kind and sociable, but we did not go amongst them to get acquainted with very many. We went to Piney Woods to Quarterly Meeting both Springs we were there. Edward Sharpless and Joseph Walton were there the first time and we took dinner with them at the house of some children of a man that had deceased a short time before (and his wife was not living) whose name was David White and one daughter had been to Westtown Boarding School and they were acquainted with her so went there to dine after Quarterly Meeting and Josiah Leed’s wife was there, Deborah Leeds. We went to Rufus White’s and stayed all night. The next day being First Day (Sunday), we went to Meeting again and then back to our home in the evening. They make great account of Meeting on First Day after Quarterly Meeting. A large number go that are not members and they mostly have a meeting in the woods close by and some of the speakers go out to that company in the shade as the house could not hold more than half the people who come. Benjamin T. Brown was there as it is his Quarterly Meeting held at Piney Woods and Richsquare alternately being at the former in Fifth Month. Henry Outland was there also as he is a member of that Quarterly Meeting. The Friends of that Meeting were all strangers to us the first time we were there but we knew those from the East that I mentioned. The next time we felt somewhat acquainted with several and enjoyed their company and hospitality likewise very pleasantly.

Then we left Carolina and we were here at home through the following summer. Then in the Fall, Willie went to Boarding School to finish his school days there and graduate, which he passed through honorably. Then he and his father worked together on the farm until the 20th of Eighth Month 1889, when his father was suddenly called from works to rewards. After being in the field all day he came home late in the evening and ate his supper and retired at usual, but was a corpse before midnight. What a great shock it was to us all. We had no premonition of any kind to prepare us for so great sorrow and tribulation in a moment of time. He had no time to recognize anyone, nor bid adieu.

Then Willie was left with the care of farms, stock, crops, fruit, berries, etc., which he attended to the remainder of that year and the next one. Then he made up his mind to quit farming (as it was a hard time on farmers) so made a sale and sold his horses and farming utensils, cattle, grain, hay, etc.—gave up all at home and went to business college in Pittsburg, then from it into business in the same place where he still remains.

I said in one place that his (my husband’s) stepfather built a house and moved into it in the Fall after we were married and left us in the old homestead. We lived there for 15 or 16 years, not alone much of the time. We often had scholars to board with us as it was convenient to Friends School House which was close to the Meetinghouse at Flushing, Belmont County, Ohio. Sometimes teachers boarded with us. Wilson Hobbs was one and Isaac Hall another. So time passed on.

- The 13th of First Month, 1842, our first son came to bless our home and we named him John F. for his grandfather Davis at his grandmother’s request as her husband had been dead for a number of years and she desired him for a namesake, being her first grandchild. In the 23rd year of his age he was married to Tabitha Stanton, daughter of Edmund and Sarah Stanton. They were blessed with three children. The first was a daughter named Melvina. She only lived about two years, was taken with Diphtheria in a bad form and died in a few days. The second one was a son, Francis Edgar Davis. He lived to be about 16 years old, was taken suddenly ill and died with a very short illness. The third one a son named Henry Clinton. He only lived nine months. Then they were left alone. No child to cheer their pathway through life.

- Our next was a son named Wilson. He died in infancy.

- Our third child, a daughter, we named her for my deceased sister – Jane Smith. She was married in her 18th year to William Stanton, son of Joseph and Mary Stanton. She had a large family of children. The first a daughter named Eva T.; the second a daughter named Mary D.; third a son named Joseph E., the fourth a son named Francis Wilson; fifth a son Benjamin died a babe; sixth a son John Lindley, seventh a son Elwood Dean; eighth a daughter Anna Clara; ninth twin girls, Edna M. & Ellen D.; tenth a son William Macy.

- Our next child, a son, named by his father according to his fancy, Josiah.

- Our fifth child, a son, named by his mother, Lindley.

- Our sixth one, a daughter named Anna for my mother.

- Our seventh child, a daughter named Hanna Ann for my sister and mother in law.

- Eighth one, a son named Smith for my father, also my maiden name.

- Ninth one a son, named William C. by his father for a particular friend of our family.

First of Fourth Month, 1892 – Fifty two years ago today was our wedding day. It seems hardly possible that so many years have passed away since that memorable time, but to look back through the long vista of years and think of the many changes that have taken place, time seems to stretch to a great extent. I was the first one to break the home circle of my father’s family of 11 children; five sons and six daughters, who with my parents were all in good health enjoying life as well as was common for country people to do in those days. Of course we all had to work, did not think of anything else. We were all able and willing to do our share in assisting our parents with their arduous labors, by whom we were taught industry energy and economy. We received our education in our country schools whilst in our youthful years, then finished up at Boarding School.

Note: Mary Davis died at the age of 89, March 30th, 1910. The day after she died, fire gutted the Olney Friends School, which she and her husband worked so hard to help build. The house in Tacoma that her husband built was subsequently used for the girl’s dormitory and for classes the rest of that year and graduation exercises were held on its front lawn. In a letter home, a teacher at the school at that time wrote, "The house we are to have for the girls is the one which the Stanton’s have occupied (William and Jane Davis Stanton). They are going to move east. Their grandmother died the night before the school burned; they say there is no other woman who did as much as she did for the start of this school, and it seems quite remarkable that she and it have gone together." Olney Friends School has named one of their buildings, the former girls dormitory, the "Mary Davis" in her honor.

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