Joseph Emory Davis

Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Vol. III. Boston, MA, USA: The Biographical Society, 1904

Davis, Joseph Emory, lawyer, was born near Augusta, Ga., Dec. 10, 1784; the eldest son of Samuel and Jane (Cook) Davis. He was an elder brother of Jefferson Davis. He removed with his father to Christian county, Ky., in 1796, but did not remain on the farm, taking a position when quite young in a mercantile house. He studied law at Russellville, and upon his father's removal to Wilkinson county, Miss., in 1811, he settled there in the practice of law with an office in Pinckneyville, and afterward in Greenville. He represented Jefferson county in 1817 in the constitutional convention which organized the state government, and was prominent in the committee charged with the framing of the constitution. He removed to Natchez in 1820, and for seven years practised (sic) law in partnership with Thomas B. Reed, at that time the leader of the Mississippi bar. In 1827 he removed to his father's large estates at Hurricane Bend on the Mississippi, near Vicksburg, and engaged in planting. His place, known as "The Hurricane," was one of the most productive on the river and was celebrated for the hospitality extended by the owner, "Brierfield," the plantation of the president of the Confederate States, was a part of this tract. Beth places were made the objects of special depredation by the Federal army during the civil war, and Mr. Davis's fine horses were confiscated by the Union officers, one becoming the favorite war horse of General Grant. He regained his landed property from the Freedmen's bureau after the war, but made his residence in Vicksburg, Miss., where he died Sept. 18, 1870.

The biography below is from "The Bench and the Bar of Mississippi" - By James Daniel Lynch, ©1881 - Submitted by Janice Rice

The subject of this sketch was born near Augusta, Georgia, on the 10th of December, 1784. He was the oldest one of a family of ten children, of which his brother Jefferson Davis was the youngest. His father, Samuel Davis, was a soldier of the American Revolution, and served in the mounted troops of Georgia, his native State, from his seventeenth year to the close of the War for Independence.

"When Joseph was about twelve years of age his father emigrated to Kentucky, and settled in that portion of Christian County which was afterward erected into the county of Todd. Having received such education as the common schools of the country afforded, he was placed at an early age in a mercantile house, where he acquired those characteristic habits of business and knowledge of accounts which, no doubt, contributed largely to his future success. But he had but little taste for the life of a tradesman, and after having served a few years as a merchant's clerk he began the study of law in the office of Judge Wallace, of Russellville, Kentucky. Here he found a field commensurate with his ambition, and suitable to the development of his genius.

In 1811 he removed with his father's family to Wilkinson County, Mississippi, and continued to read law, under Joseph Johnson, Esq. In 1812 he was admitted to the bar, and commenced practice at Pinckneyville in that county. He remained there, however, but a short time before he removed to Greenville, in Jefferson County, where he remained until 1820, and rose to a high rank in his profession.

In 1817 the people of that county chose him as a delegate to the convention for the organization of the State Government ; and his services in framing the fundamental law of the State were marked by a depth of legal learning, of sound judgment, and practicality, which placed him in the ranks of its most eminent and useful men.

In 1820 he removed to Natchez, at that time the most important commercial town in Mississippi, and formed a copartnership for the practice of his profession with Thomas B. Reed, who was then the acknowledged leader of the bar of the State. It was the usage of the lawyers of that period to travel the circuit with the judge, it being one of the customs of England which still lingered in this country ; and as those of the highest rank were thus brought in constant contact, it required the highest intellectual qualities to achieve success ; consequently the bar of Mississippi at that time was not inferior, perhaps, to any that ever existed in the State ; and it was under these exacting circumstances, and in the midst of this array of talent, that Mr. Davis attained his eminence.

As a lawyer Mr. Davis was thoroughly versed in the learning of his profession. He possessed an intellectual vigor, an inquisitiveness of mind, and a practicality of disposition which led him to look beyond the mere existence of the statute to an inquiry into the origin and reason of the law. The poetry and sentimentality of his nature had been pruned and subdued by the mathematical teaching and stoical example of his father, and he viewed things in the light of reason and stern reality. His opinions were the result of deep reflection, and his views were always judicious and prospective. His perception was acute, and he was quick to detect points of weakness, and slender probabilities. As Lord Cockburn said of Lord Jeffrey, " He was a first-rate legal pilot. He saw at the outset of the voyage all the rocks and shoals on which the ship was likely to strike, and all the gales that might favor or obstruct it; all the anchors that would hold, and all the harbors of refuge into which he might run. He scented what would turn out nonsense or falsehood a great way off, and thus was one of the safest of all general advisers. It was not exactly acuteness or talent; it was a faculty which these qualities often obstruct; it was the power of taking large and calm surveys, with a view to detect strong or weak points."

To these superb qualities of judgment and perception, in which lay the secret of his facility in the formation of correct opinions, and in a wise regulation of conduct, Mr. Davis added a correct association of ideas and a memory for details which enabled him to array facts and circumstances in the most exact and imposing order, and a logical power that presented them in the most forcible manner to the minds of his hearers. And to his powers of analysis and synthesis were added superior oratorical accomplishments. He had a deep, clear, and musical voice, a brilliant imagination, a Defined taste, forcible expression, a graceful manner, and engaging personal appearance. Hence he was a pleasing and entertaining speaker and a powerful advocate.

In 1827 he decided to retire from the bar and begin the life of a planter, and steadily closed his engagements. His professional success had been great and his practice remunerative, and he now sought that repose which can only be found in the bosom of rural domesticity. But he carried with him into his new occupation the same energy and capacity which characterized his career as a lawyer, and the result was that, in 1861, he possessed one of the most valuable plantations on the Mississippi River. His numerous slaves, flocks and herds, beautiful grounds, extensive orchards, commodious dwelling, and large- hearted hospitality, caused his home to become a bright landmark in the memory of the happy days of a prosperous country.

Among the prominent features of his character were his great benevolence and humanity. Many youths of both sexes were indebted to him for a liberal education, and some who were his friends in the days of his comparative poverty found in their necessities a refuge under his roof ; and so considerate was his kindness, so sincere his generosity, and so hospitable his manners, that no one to whose wants he administered ever felt the sting of dependency, or suffered humiliation in the reception of his benefits.

He was exceedingly kind and just in the management of his slaves. It was a fixed rule upon his plantation that punishment should only be inflicted for crime of which the accused had been convicted by a jury, selected from the other negroes on the plantation ; and over these trials he alone presided as judge ; and he gave it as his experience that the tendency of his plantation juries, like those of other courts, was to find a verdict not from the evidence adduced, but from their opinion of the character of the accused, a disposition which it became necessary for him to check by the most careful charges and an un-judgelike defence of the criminal. His tender care for them ceased not with his life, but was continued by an unusual testamentary provision for those who were incapable of supporting themselves.

With a cheerful temper, attractive manners, and a heart so full of kindness, he possessed every element for popularity, and might have achieved high political distinction had he chosen the field of politics for the exercise of his great talents ; but he seems to have had no desire for the honors, emoluments, or excitements, of public life. He held no office but that of a delegate to the Convention of 1817, and sought but one other?that of delegate to the Convention of 1832. At this convention the important question of an elective judiciary was to be decided, and he entered the canvass in opposition to that measure, which he feared would drag the ermine through the mire of party strife, and prove fatal to the purity and efficiency of the bench. But, controlled by an intelligent suffrage, the election of judicial officers in Mississippi produced no such effect, but, on the contrary, proved, so far at least as the Supreme Court was concerned, an improvement upon the former system ; and it is a notable fact that the judges of the High Court were generally chosen from the political party then in the minority in the districts from which they were elected.

In politics Mr. Davis was a disciple of Jefferson. With that creed he began his career, and from that faith he never swerved. Far-seeing and conservative in his character, he doubted the expediency of secession when it occurred, but never questioned the right of a State to judge, in the last resort, of its wrongs, and the mode and measure of their redress.

During the war he was driven from his home and property on the banks of the Mississippi, and, without complaint or an expression of regret, procured a more humble residence in Hinds County; but there, too, he was soon invaded, and there this feeble octogenarian, with none to sustain him but an invalid wife, two helpless girls, and his faithful slaves, was made to feel the effects of that vengeful rapine which knew no age nor sex. When the purpose to burn down his house was announced, he told the commanding officer that his wife was unable to walk, and that she was in that house; to which the brutal reply was, that the house would be fired in so many minutes. Amidst this heart-rending scene his faithful slaves came to his rescue, and tenderly and affectionately lifted the bed upon which Mrs. Davis lay, and bore it far enough away from the house to be free from the danger of falling fire, where she remained until the enemy retired, after having plundered the premises.

After many vicissitudes and hardships Mr. Davis returned, at the close of the war, to Vicksburg. The enemy still had possession of his plantation, from which his only revenue was derived, and by falsehood, artifice, and bullying, endeavored to exclude him, and deter him from asserting his claim to it. He preferred charges of falsehood and theft against the senior officer of the Freedmen's Bureau at Vicksburg, who had proposed to surrender his property for a pecuniary consideration, which, though small compared to its income, was to him an obstacle mountain-high in the principle it involved. In keeping with the courage, integrity, and self-denial, which had always characterized him, Mr. Davis rejected the proposition with indignation and scorn, and, old and feeble as he was, defied them when they attempted to intimidate him by threats. He finally obtained possession of his property, but continued to reside in Vicksburg, in the midst of a large circle of relatives and personal friends. Here, like the Grecian sage, he had seen two generations pass away whose polity was enlightened by his genius and whose welfare was promoted by his counsel, and now the third caught the inspiration of his example. The last remnant of a past and prosperous age, he lingered far behind the contemporaries of his meridian manhood, and disappeared amid the darkness that had gathered over his country. He died in Vicksburg on the 18th of September, 1870, in the eighty-sixth year of his age. His remains were borne down the river for burial, and when they reached the landing of the Hurricane, his former home, they were met by a large concourse of his former slaves, who, with loud lamentations, and bearing torches that sent a dismal glare through the darkness, seized the bier and bore it to the grave, where he was laid away by the side of his wife. He had watched with long and jealous care the growth and happy working of that system of jurisprudence which his services were so conspicuous in planting in Mississippi; and his death deprived its people of the last of those who, when the State was a Territory, strove to develop its resources, to elevate its institutions of learning, and to give dignity and purity to its Bench and its Bar.


Reuben Davis

Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Vol. III. Boston, MA, USA: The Biographical Society, 1904

Davis, Reuben, representative, was born in Tennessee, Jan. 18, 1813. He was self educated and studied medicine and law. He removed to Aberdeen, Miss., where he was district attorney for the 6th judicial district, 1835-39; served four months of 1842 as judge of the high court of errors and appeals; and at the time of the Mexican war was colonel-commandant of the Mississippi rifles, but was obliged to resign on account of illness. He was in the lower branch of the state legislature, 1855-57; and a representative in the 35th and 36th congresses, 1857-61 In 1861 he joined the Confederate army as brigadier-general, commanding a brigade of Mississippi militia. At the close of the war he resumed the practice of law. He was shot in a quarrel with the prosecuting attorney while defending a prisoner in the courthouse at Columbus, Miss., Dec. 15. 1873, and his death was at the time reported and credited by biographical writers. He published in 1889, Recollections of Mississippi and Mississippians, dedicated to the lawyers of Mississippi by "one who is not only the oldest Mississippian now in the profession, but who is the sole survivor of the bar of fifty years ago." He died in Huntsville, Tenn.. Oct. 14, 1890.

The below biography is from the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress:
DAVIS, Reuben, (1813 - 1890)

DAVIS, Reuben, a Representative from Mississippi; born in Winchester, Tenn., January 18, 1813; moved with his parents to Alabama about 1818; attended the public schools; studied medicine, but practiced only a few years, when he abandoned the profession; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1834 and commenced practice in Aberdeen, Miss.; prosecuting attorney for the sixth judicial district 1835-1839; unsuccessful Whig candidate for the Twenty-sixth Congress in 1838; judge of the high court of appeals in 1842, but after four months' service resigned; served as colonel of the Second Regiment of Mississippi Volunteers in the war with Mexico; member of the State house of representatives 1855-1857; elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-fifth and Thirty-sixth Congresses and served from March 4, 1857, to January 12, 1861, when he withdrew; during the Civil War served in the Confederate Army as brigadier general; resumed the practice of law; unsuccessful Greenback candidate for the Forty-sixth Congress in 1878; died in Huntsville, Ala., October 14, 1890; interment in Odd Fellows Cemetery, Aberdeen, Monroe County, Miss.


Benjamin Michael Drake

Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Vol. III. Boston, MA, USA: The Biographical Society, 1904

Drake, Benjamin Michael, educator, was born in Robeson county, N.C., Sept. 11, 1800. He removed to Tennessee where he joined the Methodist Episcopal church and became a preacher in 1820. In 1821 he was transferred to the Mississippi conference. He rounded the first Methodist church, New Orleans, La., and in 1828 was elected president of the Elizabeth female academy, the first school in Mississippi under the auspices of the Methodist denomination. This position he resigned in 1832 to return to the itinerant ministry. In 1854 he was made president of Centenary college, Jackson, La., and held the office until his death. He received the degree of D.D. He died in Churchill, Miss., May 8, 1860.


Powhatan Ellis

Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Vol. III. Boston, MA, USA: The Biographical Society, 1904

Ellis, Powhatan, senator, was born in Virginia about 1794. He was graduated at William and Mary college in 1813, and settled at Winchester, Mississippi Territory, as a lawyer. In 1818 he was elected a judge of the supreme court of the new state, and in 1825 resigned, having been appointed by Governor Brandon to the seat in the U.S. senate made vacant by the resignation of Senator David Holmes, elected governor of Mississippi. He served three months, when he was succeeded by Thomas B. Reed, elected to fill the vacancy by the state legislature. At the expiration of the term, March 3, 1827, Judge Ellis was elected for a full senatorial term. He resigned his seat in the senate in 1832, having been appointed U.S. district judge for Mississippi by President Jackson. On Jan. 5, 1836, President Jackson appointed him chargé d'affaires in Mexico and he closed the American legation, Dec. 28, 1836, and returned to the United States. On Feb. 15, 1839, President Van Buren appointed him U. S. minister to Mexico. He returned in April, 1942, and died in Richmond, Va., in 1844

The below biography is from the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress:
ELLIS, Powhatan, (1790 - 1863)
Senate Years of Service: 1825-1826; 1827-1832
Party: Jacksonian; Jacksonian
ELLIS, Powhatan, a Senator from Mississippi; born at 'Red Hill,' Amherst County, Va., January 17, 1790; graduated from Washington Academy (now Washington and Lee University), Lexington, Va., in 1809; attended Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., in 1809 and 1810; studied law at William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Va., in 1813 and 1814; admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Lynchburg, Va.; moved to Natchez, Miss., in 1816 and continued the practice of law; judge of the State supreme court 1823-1825; appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of David Holmes and served from September 28, 1825, to January 28, 1826, when a successor was elected and qualified; unsuccessful candidate for election to fill the vacancy; elected to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1827, to July 16, 1832, when he resigned to accept a judicial position; judge of the United States court for the district of Mississippi 1832-1836; appointed by President Andrew Jackson Charge d'Affaires of the United States to Mexico and served from January to December 1836, when he closed the legation; appointed by President Martin Van Buren as United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Mexico 1839-1842; moved to Richmond, Va., where he died on March 18, 1863; interment in Shockoe Cemetery.

Judge Ellis was a native of Virginia, and emigrated to Mississippi during its Territorial era. I have been able to ascertain nothing in regard to his early life or his antecedents prior to his appearance in Mississippi. He was a lawyer of repute in the Territory, and in 1818 was elevated to the supreme bench of the State, being one of the first judges of that court. This seat he held until the year 1825, when he was appointed by the Governor to fill the seat in the United States Senate which had been vacated by the death of Hon. David Holmes, and at the expiration of the term in 1827 he was returned to the Senate by election, which office he held until 1832. He was then appointed judge of the Federal District Court, and afterward United States minister at the city of Mexico, whence he returned to Virginia, and died in the city of Richmond.

The eminence of Judge Ellis was not due to any distinguished ability. He was a man of ordinary talents and limited literary acquirements ; but he possessed great energy of character, a patriotic spirit, and a cordiality of manners which insinuated him into popular favor. He had an air of bluster and boldness in his bearing calculated to impress the ignorant with an idea of his superiority, and a self-complacency that won the admiration of the learned.

But notwithstanding these peculiarities of his character, Judge Ellis was a pure and upright judge, and a popular and useful member of society ; true to his friends and devoted to his official duties. He delivered more opinions than any other judge during the time he was upon the bench, and while he entered into no profound disquisitions or elaborate discussion of subtleties and technicalities, his decisions are illuminated by his integrity, and his conclusions are just and correct.

He was never married, and was therefore somewhat unorthodox in his views of the relations of husband and wife; hence it may not be surprising to find him, in the case of Bradley vs. the State, holding to the old feudal doctrine that a husband might chastise an obstreperous wife, provided he used a rod no larger than the thumb.

One of the most conspicuous acts of Judge Ellis, while in the Senate of the United States, was his vote with Mr. Benton, of Missouri, and Judge Smith, of South Carolina, against the ratification of the Treaty of 1828, establishing the boundary-line between the United States and Mexico, which intersected the Red and Arkansas rivers and brought a non-slaveholding power to the borders of Louisiana, and nearly to the boundary of Missouri ; which utterly deprived the slaveholding interest of whatever advantages it obtained by the compromise measures of 1820, and left to it no expansion but the Territories of Florida and Arkansas.

Whether Judge Ellis and his two co-voters saw the full result of this treaty - the agitation that followed, and the Mexican War - or not, yet they are entitled to all the merit which a bold opposition to a most disastrous measure can bestow. But while the senatorial career of Judge Ellis was characterized by alertness and fidelity, it was during its latter part overshadowed by that of his brilliant colleague, George Poindexter.  


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