A mere 95 miles long, and no deeper than three feet in some spots and 13 in others, this little old river has still cut it's share of hills through the Carolina landscape and influenced the lives of many families in Cabarrus, Stanly, Anson and Union Counties , where many of my ancestors lived.
Beside the Rocky River, not far from it's mouth, is where my Davis family had its start in these old hills.
All of us that venture into genealogical curiosity have that One family that captures our imagination. As we go further back into the endless generations, more and more surnames join the collective, yet a few will stand out. There will be that one line we identify with the most.
For me, that family name is the one of Davis. Perhaps because the first one to arrive on this crusty patch of red dirt and quartz was one Job Davis, born April 10, of 1773, in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, at the age of 19. He was the first, of my oldest ancestors, that I knew of. Although he died over 100 years before I was born, I knew who he was. Perhaps because the earliest of my memories began in the home of my Grandparents, the Davis's, with whom my mother and I lived between her two marriages. Perhaps it was because my Grandfather had a passion for family history. As he was my first and greatest hero, he instilled that interest in me.
The surname of Davis has an interesting history. They began as Sephardic Jews who had migrated to the UK by around 1250. Davis is the Welch version of the Jewish surname, David's son. We descend from the line of King David. There are quite a few of us here in the US of A. Not as many as there are Smiths or Jones, or Johnsons, or Changs, or Rodriquezes or Mehta's, but still a good number. There were quite a few Davis's in America before we became the United States of America. One line of them settled in Jamestown, Virginia and Job Davis brought those genes down to Stanly County, NC in about 1794. While my insistence in knowing who came before Job was the driving force of my genealogy addiction, I gained another deep interest in the life of his oldest son, Henry.
Now, Henry is my direct line from Job He's my third great- grandfather. Henry Davis is one of those ancestors that I've seen in my minds eye, who visits me in my dreams and imaginings. He seems to have a story he wants to tell, and I certainly possess the desire to listen.
Henry was born in what is now Stanly County in 1806, from completely Southside Virginian stock, and into a devout Methodist Episcopal existence. He grew up on a Rocky River plantation of average size, in a family who shopped and summered in the trade town of Fayetteville on the Cape Fear River. He was college educated, but exactly where, I do not know. He came of age in the hey day of the Pee Dee River plantation society and married well both times he married. His first wife, Sarah, was the daughter of Reuben Kendall, another Rocky River plantation owner with a sizable property. Sadly, she died at the age of 20, after giving Henry his second son, John Edward. Their first, Benjamin Franklin Davis, was only two. His second wife, Martha Palmer, was the daughter of James Palmer and wife, Patsy Atkins Palmer, fellow Virginians from up the Pee Dee into the county a bit, but from the same socioeconomic class.
Described as half-preacher, half statesman, Henry helped to start churches in other counties and other parts of the county. He was a wise businessman, and critical in helping divide Montgomery into two counties, due to the dangers citizens of the western half had crossing the Pee Dee to get to court. Then somewhere near middle age, Henry succombed to the dangers of alchohol addiction and everything that followed. He went from a social position of respectibility and good standing, to getting into fights, drowning in debt and not paying his bills.
I am fully aware of Henry's downward spiral, although I often wondered if there was a catalyst that caused his self-destructive behavior or if it was a falling from grace and the addictive qualities of the evil drink. His problem became so bad that in his will, Job noted that ,"Neddy take two parts to pay what he was out with Henry", meaning Henry's father Job was compensating Edward Winfield "Neddy" Davis for what Henry owed him that was never paid back.
Henry had to be declared incompetent, or an "Idiot", in order for his family, and most specifically, his younger brother, Neddy, to take over his affairs, to ensure that his wife Martha, and the children, were cared for. Reuben Kendall, the grandfather of his older two sons, had made certain that his two grandsons, Benjamin and John, were well suited and left property to them. John Edward Davis settled in Anson County, and was the executor of his father's estate, which by the time Henry died in 1862, there was not much left of, as it had been eaten up with debts and court fines.
In Henry's lifetime, he had went from a devoutly pious, highly respected young man , to an embarrassment to his family. Neddy and James, his brothers, had made sure his older daugthers married well, but his younger daughters, who came of age later, did not fair so well, or did not marry at all.
Henry's highly respected mother, Sarah Elizabeth Winfield Howell Davis, daughter of Peter Winfield and Charlotte Freeman Winfield, and member of Hay Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, as well as the family hosting a Methodist Meeting House on their own property, was awarded a genuine and venerated obituary in the Southern Christian Advocate, after she passed away in 1856. His widow, Martha, who survived him by only a year, and passed away in 1863, also was a awarded a brief obituary in the widespread biblical reporter. But not Henry. No mention of the blacksheep of the family except for a sideways mention in the obituary of his mother, that all of her 8 children (Four by her first marriage to Richard Howell and the 4 sons of Job Davis), were good Christians, save one. Henry was the one.
Still, it surprised me when I discovered in the history of the Palmer family, as well as in an old Cemetery Book of Anson County, that Henry was buried, not in the family plot in Stanly County. It was located on his fathers plantation near the Meeting House that Job had set up in his Will. Neither was he buried in the family plot of his oldest son, B. F. Davis, just a mile or so southwest, but that one may not have been established yet. Instead, he was buried in the family cemetery of John Lee in Anson County.
Now, John Lee was no stranger to the Davis family. He was a friend and close associate, no doubt. Job's second son, James M. Davis, had married John Lee's daughter, Rowena He had even established a mill on Lee's old property on Richardson Creek. John Lee, actually lived just right across the river from the Davis place, on Rocky River, and Richardson's Creek near its confluence with the Rocky. They were neighbors, albeit in different counties. Just a hollering distance across the rocky old stream.
Twice before I had tried to find it. The first time on my own, I was not even close. The second time, about two years ago, when some out of state cousins and Davis descendants, came up to explore their roots. We found the George Turner cemetery, also just off Richardson Creek. Buried there were Elizabeth Turner Davis and her little girl, Rebeth, the daughter of George Turner and first wife of Job Davis's youngest son, Marriott Freeman Davis. But we did not find the John Lee Cemetery.
We met an awesome family, Turner descendants, who called someone they knew. Thisgentleman had knowledge of the cemetery location. I went back, instructions in hand, but did not find it. Little did I know, I had been within feet of it. Due to my reluctance to tresspass, I did not venture into the woods, through which I would have ran right into it. You can see the road from the cemetery, but you can't see the cemetery from the road.
Fast forward to the present. I recently encountered someone in a genealogy group, who knew exactly where the cemetery was. She owned the property wherein it's located. She's not a Davis or a Lee, but is an Anson County citizen. She invitied me to come down, I gladly accepted and one day recently, she so kindly took the time to show me around. There are many old tombstones and not many still legible. Yet, it is known, and many years ago, it could still be read, that Henry Davis is buried there. Many tombstones probably lie just under the leaves, but this plot has not been used in over a century. Still, I found Henry and it is with such gratitude to the property owners that I did.
I'm yet left to wonder at what horrible deed Henry did to be denied burial with his parents or children. Why did his brother James either chose, or offer to locate, Henry on his father-in-laws property? I don't believe Martha, his widow, was buried there.
There are many questions still unanswered. What triggered Henry to fall from grace? What did he die from? I've heard rumours that it was self-inflicted. And why was he buried in the Lee family cemetery instead of the Davis? Those questions may remain unanswered, but then again, somewhere and some way, there may be someone who knows. Someone to whom the answers had been passed down to, or either, some one in possession of old documents or newspapers that will give us an answer.