The Life and Times of Samuel H. Davis: An Anti Slavery Activist

By Richardson, William J. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 2009 | Go to article overview

The Life and Times of Samuel H. Davis: An Anti Slavery Activist


Richardson, William J., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


In an article titled, "The Antebellum Reform Movement of Black Buffalonians," published in The Courier Express Magazine, (Buffalo, NY, Courier Express, 26 October, 1975), 26, historian Monroe Fordham states,

  In 1843, Buffalo (New York) hosted The National Convention of Free
  People of Color, also known as The National Convention of Colored
  Citizens. That was the convention in which Rev. Henry Highland Garnet
  issued the famous address in which he called on the slaves to resist
  their oppression even unto death.

  However, it was not Garnet but Samuel H. Davis--a black Buffalonian,
  who presented the keynote address at the convention. Davis called on
  his northern brethern to become involved in the struggle to secure our
  enfranchisement--the benefits of education to our children and all our
  rights in common with other citizens of this republic. (2)

Who was this Samuel H. Davis? Where did he come from, what did he accomplish in Buffalo, and where did he go after leaving Buffalo? No other historian has written about the life and times of Samuel H. Davis. This is new research.

Samuel H. Davis was born 13 Aug. 1810 in Temple Mills (now Town of Temple), Maine, the oldest of six children. (3) Samuel H. has stated in his manuscript,

  What little knowledge I have of my fore-fathers, 1 learned mostly of
  my mother when I was between fourteen and fifteen years of age; the
  night I left her to go away to live in another town. That night she
  told me what she knew of her own history and that of my father ...
  When my mother told me I had African blood in my veins and that my
  father was born a slave! It is impossible to describe my feelings. In
  my heart I cursed the day I was born. And wished I was dead! Poor
  little wicked wretch that I was. I was so miserable that we never
  spoke on the subject again after that night.

His mother went on to tell him that his father [Samuel, Sr.] was born in the year 1782 in the state of New York at a place near the Hudson River called Lunenburg, which later became known as Athens, in Greene County, NY. (4) His father's father, was a Dutchman surnamed McCarty--a descendant of the Netherlands Dutch, who first settled in that part of the state. His father's mother was a "mulatto" woman, a slave. (5) A "mulatto" was a person having one white and one Black parent or a person of white and black ancestry. (6)

His grandfather, who lived with her as "his wife" and raised a family, owned Samuel Davis' grandmother. They had at least two children, Samuel, Sr., (born 1782) and William, born two years earlier. (7) Samuel, Sr. and William, as sons of a slave woman and a white man, were considered to be "slaves" by law and owned by the master, in this case the Dutchman, named McCarty. The civil law that determined who is a slave, considered the condition of the mother, "partus ventrum" which means that If the mother is a slave, the child shall be a slave, even if his father be a white man. (8) This law was written, 1715 in Maryland, and other slave states followed suit. Prior to 1715, the doctrine of "partus sequitor patrem" existed. If the father was a slave, his child was a slave. (9) Slavery was legal in New York State and was not legally abolished until 1827. (10) So, both boys would have been considered slaves.

According to Davis, "while his grandfather McCarty, lived," the family, was safe and happy. But should he die, family members would be exposed to be sold by his grandfather's heirs, and doomed to hopeless bondage and taken to the "far south." When these boys were old enough to understand and realize this fearful prospect before them, they decided to leave their home, and try to find a place where they would not be exposed to such a fate. (11) They had reason to be afraid. Austin Steward, in his book Twenty-two Years a Slave and Forty Years a Freeman states, "Many were enslaved to considerate masters, but changing situations, especially the event of death, often led to sale to a harder taskmaster. …

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