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HON. GEORGE DAVIS.
BORN IN NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA,
MARCH 1ST, 1820.
DIED IN WILMINGTON, N. C, FEBRUARY 23RD, 1896.
THE ETHEL CARR PEACOCK
Matris amori monumentum
TRINITY COLLEGE LIBRARY
DURHAM, N. C.
Gift ToTandl^Dred Peacock
Hon. George Davis,
Born in New Hanover County, North Carolina,
March 1st, 1820.
Senator from the State of Korth Carolina, in the
Congress of the Confederate States
Attorney General of the Confederate States of
DIED IN WILMINGTON, N. C, FEBRUARY 23RD, 1896.
Prepared and published hy direction of the Wilmington ~'^'
Chamber of Commerce.
AUG 2 9 1934
Wilmington, N. C. March 5th, 1896.
At a special meeting of the Wilmington Chamber
of Commerce called to receive the report of Messrs.
James Sprunt, William Calder and William R.
Kenan, a committee appointed at the last meeting
of the Chamber "to prepare a suitable memorial and
record " of the Honorable George Davis ; the Presi-
dent, Mr. James H. Chadbourn, Jr., being in the
chair, Mr. William Calder, on behalf of the said
committee, presented and read the following :
Ol^OUR committee, appointed to prepare a " suitable memorial
^and record" of our late distinguished and venerated
citizen, the Honorable George Davis, approached the task
assigned them with a profound sense of their own inadequacy to
offer anything worthy of that noble life, but with an earnest de-
sire to add to all the true and beautiful things that have been
said of him some memorial that would more fully set forth the
labors and achievements of the foremost citizen of our Cape Fear
To do this we have thought nothing could be more appropriate
than a free use of his own writmgs and the testimony of his con-
temporaries at the various periods of his life — what he said, what
he wrote and what he did, obtaining thus a clearer conception
and reminder of his high morality, his great ability and his rare
We are also moved to this course by the hope that it may in-
spire the rising generation with a desire to study his career, and
in a grateful people the resolve to rescue from oblivion his scat-
Nearly fifty years ago, a gifted young orator, who had from
boyhood held the admiration and confidence of his fellow-
citizens of Wilmington, appeared before a large assembly in the
old Presbyterian church on Front street, and said :
" He who has watched the sun in its bright course through
the firmament and seen it gradually decline until it went down
in darkness beneath the horizon, may turn from the contempla-
tion with no feelings of sorrow or regret, for he knows that the
period of its absence is mercifully ordained as a season of neces-
sary repose to him and to all, and that the morrow will restore
its beams to revive and reanimate all nature. But if the last
declining ray which struck upon his eyelids had brought to him
the conviction that he had gazed for the last time upon the sun
in the heaven — that henceforward there was to be no more rising
nor setting, no morning nor evening, nor light, nor heat — no
effulgent day, with all its glorious beauties and excellencies ; but
night and darkness, unrelieved save by the twinkling stars, were
to be the law of earth forever — with what sensations would the
poor wanderer view that last setting of the sun !
" With feelings somewhat akin to those I have imagined we
behold the death of the great and good whom we love and
reverence. But now, they were here, with all the generous
impulses and excelling virtues that dignify and adorn humanity
clustering thickly around them. We rejoiced in their presence,
we were better under their benignant influence, we were happy
in their smiles — we felt that it was day, and looked not into the
future. They are gone. The places of earth shall know them no
more forever. The mysterious law which loosens the silver cord
and breaks the pitcher at the fountain, penetrates the heart. The
darkness and the thick night of desolation are upon us. But
we have more than the pale rays of the twinkling stars still left
to guide and cheer. By the light of their lofty deeds and kindly
virtues memory gazes back into the past, and is content. By the
light of Revelation hope looks beyond the grave into the bright
day of immortality, and is happy. So, with the consolation of
memory and hope, let us take the lesson of the great calamity
which has befallen our country."
The eloquent speaker was George Davis, and the occasion was
an outpouring of our people to honor the memory of the illus-
trious Henry Clay.
Mr. Davis was born March ist, 1820, on his father's planta-
tion at Porter's Neck, then in New Hanover, now Pender, county.
His father was Thomas F. Davis, and his mother Sarah Isabella
Eagles, daughter of Joseph Eagles.
He left home at eight years of age, and attended the school of
Mr. W. H. Hardin, at Pittsboro, after which he returned to
Wilmington, where, upon the invitation of Governor Dudley, he
was prepared for college by Mr. M. A. Curtis (afterwards the
Rev. Dr. Curtis, of Hillsboro), who then acted as tutor in the
Governor's family at his residence on the corner of Front and
Nun streets. He matriculated at Chapel Hill in the fourteenth
year of his age, the youngest member of his class, and graduated
when eighteen, with the highest honors of the University. We
have before us the time-stained pages of his valedictory address,
the lofty sentiments of which indicate an embryotic type of true
manhood, which steadily developed with his years. After a
polished and scholarly address to the audience and the President
and Faculty, in which his love for his Alma Mater was manifest,
he concluded as follows :
" And for us there is one consolatory thought that relieves in
some slight degree the stinging pain and bitterness of this
parting moment : It is the hope that we will leave behind us a
not unremembered name — that we will still retain, though absent,
a place in the memory of those whom we have loved with a
brother's heart — whom we have clasped to our bosoms with
more than fraternal affection. It is the hope that after we shall
be no longer with you, when you tread those walks which we
have loved, when you behold those fair scenes which used to
gladden our eyes, some kind voice may whisper among you :
" I wish they were here." This is our hope, this our prayer ; for
to be thus remembered is to be blessed indeed."
Upon Mr. Davis' return to Wilmington, immediately after his
graduation, he began the study of law, probably in the office of
his distinguished brother, Thomas Frederick Davis, who prac-
ticed for a time here, but who was afterwards led to advocate
higher and more important interests than those of a worldly
character, and who became Bishop of South Carolina in 1853.
Before Mr. Davis became of age, in the year 1840, he was
licensed to practice in all the courts of law, and soon became
a leader in his profession. Endowed with extraordinary talents,
which he assiduously developed by close study and painstaking
preparation, he never entered a cause without a thorough
knowledge of its bearings. He was well versed in all depart-
merits of the law, thoroughly equipped in general literature, and
was a logical and forcible debater. He was held in the highest
esteem by his fellow-members of the bar, who recognized him
among the ablest jurists of his time. His honesty of purpose
and fidelity to his profession distinguished him through life.
Although a leader in this section of the Whig party, his
ambition never led him to seek office, and throughout the forty
years of his active professional and official life he won the calm
respect and good opinion of all parties by his extensive legal
acquirements, his quickness of perception, his soundness of
understanding, and by his dignified and chivalric politeness.
On November 17th, 1842, he married Mary A. Polk, daughter
of Thomas G. Polk, and great grand daughter of Thomas Polk,
one of the signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Inde-
pendence. Mrs. Davis died 27th September, 1863.
One of the most attractive features of his well-rounded
character was his cultivated and refined literary taste. His essays
are among the choicest expressions of his times, and those upon
the history and traditions of the Cape Fear region will be oi
priceless value to coming generations. We have already given
the introduction of his celebrated eulogy on the life and public
service of Henry Clay, and we shall recall by brief extracts some
other literary gems which we trust may be gathered and publishd
in full by his grateful and devoted people.
On the 8th of June, 1885, he delivered an address before the
two literary societies of Chapel Hill on " The early men and
times of the Lower Cape Fear," some of which we will quote,
illustrative of his delightful style of narrative, and also as giving
some indications of the qualities of the ancestry from v/hich he
A lineal descendant of the founders of the Cape Fear settle-
ments, he had an intense love for his native section, and it is an
irreparable misfortune that he never undertook the writing of the
history of Eastern Carolina. That he desired to do so we are
assured, but the exigencies of life never permitted what would
have been to him truly a labor of love.
In an address before the Historical and Scientific Society of
Wilmington, on the 26th of November, 1879, entitled "A Study-
in Colonial History," he said :
"I have been persuaded that the civil commotion which is
known in our historj'- as Carey's Rebellion has never been fairly
treated; that the historians, deriving all their information from
the Government party, and treading solely in each others foot-
steps, have told only the story of that party, and have greatly
misrepresented the motives, the characters and the actions of the
men who were opposed to it. And I have desired, when time
and opportunity should serve me, to undertake a careful exami-
nation of the subject in the hope, if possible, to undo some of
the wrotig of the historians. The present address is intended
only as an introduction to that more serious work, and its object
is to start a new train of thought and prepare the way for it.
" The historian of the United States has complained of the
carelessness with which the history of North Carolina has been
written. The reproach is but too just. As Colony and State
not yet two centuries old, the story of her infancy and early
progress is a sealed book to the many, and to the curious few is
more imperfectly known than that of nations which flourished
and decayed thousands of years ago. And if this is true of the
State at large, it is eminently so of that section of it in which I
live. The Cape Fear country has never had a historian. Its
public records were always meagre and barren. Its private
records, once rich and fruitful sources of history, have become
much mutilated and impaired in the lapse of time by accident,
and by the division and emigration of families. Its traditions
are perishing, and are buried daily with our dead, as the old are
passing away. And the little which has been preserved by the
pen of the historian is scattered through volumes, most of which
are rare, and some of them entirely out of print. I have thought,
therefore, that, instead of sermonizing upon themes which were
long ago threadbare, I could not better employ my allotted hour
than in giving you a sketch, imperfect as it may,be, of the early
Times and Men of the Lower Cape Fear. I shall not aspire to
the dignity of history. My time and opportunities for research
have been too hmited, and the subject is too full for the compass
of an ordinary address. I assume the humbler, but still pious,
duty of connecting recorded facts, of perpetuating traditions and
of plucking away the mosses which have gathered on the tombs
of some of our illustrious dead. In so doing I may be accused
of sectional pride. But I can afford to brave such a charge, for
I feel that the motive is higher and purer ; that it springs from a
loyal devotion to the honor of my whole State, and a sincere
admiration for the character of her whole people, and especially
of her good and great that arc now no more. My single desire
is to awaken a new interest in her history by assuring you that
you will find there her amplest vindication from the taunts and
aspersions which are so freely flung against her. And I would
fain hope that I need offer no apology for my subject, since I
come to speak to North Carolinians of things that touch nearly
the fame of the good old Stato, and the memory of her noble
In an address before the Literary Societies of Chapel Hill, on
the early Times and Men of the Lower Cape Fear, he said :
" I begin, now, my sketch with some passages from English
history, extracting first from Hume's account of the Irish
Rebellion of 1641 : 'There was a gentleman called Roger
More, who, though of narrow fortune, was descended from an
ancient Irish family, and was much celebrated among his coun-
trymen for valor and capacity. This man first formed the project
of expelling the English, and asserting the independency of his
native country. He secretly went from chieftain to chieftain and
roused up every latent principle of discontent. He maintained
a close correspondence with Lord Maguire and Sir Phelim
O'Neale, the most powerful of the old Irish. By conversation,
by letters, by his emissaries, he represented to his countrymen
the motives of a revolt,' etc. " By these considerations More
engaged all the heads of the native Irish in the conspiracy.
" It is not my purpose to pursue the history of this rebellion.
It was disastrous to the Irish, and deservedly so, for they
disgraced themselves by barbarities which shock humanity.
With these, however, it is certain that More and Maguire had
nothing to do. For Maguire was taken in the outset of the
revolt at the unsuccessful attack upon the Castle at Dublin, and
was condemned and executed. And of More, Hume himself
says : ' The generous nature of More was shocked at the recital
of such enormous cruelties. He flew to O'Neale's camp, but
found that his authority, which was sufficient to excite the Irish
to insurrection, was too feeble to restrain their inhumanity.
Soon after he abandoned a cause polluted by so many crimes,
and he retired into Flanders.'
" He must have been a man of no ordinary character, and justly
entitled to the admiration of all lovers of freedom, who, though
driven into exile and branded as a rebel and a traitor, could yet
draw forth language like the foregoing from the apologist and
defender of the Stuarts ! Fortunately, the world will not now
take its definition of treason from those who bow to the Divine
right of kings.
" Two years later another event occurred, of minor importance
in English history, but worthy of notice here. In 1643 the city
of Bristol was captured by the forces of the Parliament. At that
time Robert Yeoman or Yeamans was sheriff, or, as some say,
an alderman of the city, and active and zealous in the service of
the King, and after its surrender he was condemned and exe-
cuted for his loyalty."
It will appear hereafrer how these two events (the rebellion
and exile of More and the execution of Yeamans, so entirely
disconnected in history) have a very important bearing upon the
subject of this sketch.
" Soon after the proposals of the Proprietors were first
published some gentlemen of Barbadoes, dissatisfied with their
condition, and tempted by the liberal offers which those propo-
sals held out, in September, 1663, dispatched a vessel under
command of Captain Hilton to reconnoitre the country along
the Cape Fear river. They explored both branches of the river
for many miles, and it is remarkable that two noted places.
named by them Stag Park and Rocky Point, are so called and
known at this day. Returning to Barbadoes in February, 1664,
they published an agreeable account of their voyage and of the
country which they had been sent to examine. Among the
planters who had litted out this expedition was John Yeamans,
eldest son of Robert Yeamans, the sheriff of Bristol, who had
been hanged at the taking of that city in 1643 He had emi-
grated to Barbadoes with the view of mending his fortunes, and
being pleased with the report of the expedition, he determined
to remove to Carolina, lie went to England to negotiate with
the Proprietors, and received from them a grant of large tracts
of land, and at the same time he was knighted by the King in
reward for the loyalty and misfortunes of his family. Returning
from England, in the autumn of 1665, he led a band of colonists
from Barbadoes to the Cape Fear, and, induced by the traces of
civilization which were left by the New England colony, he
pitched upon the spot they had inhabited, and purchasing from
the Indians a tract of land thirty-two miles square, he laid the
foundations of a town which he called Charlestown, in honor of
the reigning monarch. Martin and Bancroft declare that the
site of the town is still a matter of uncertainty; but the doubt is
only with the historians. Tradition has fixed the spot beyond
dispute. It is on the north side of Old Town Creek, at its
junction with the river, nine miles below Wilmington.
" In the last decade of the seventeenth century a name
appeared in the history of South Carolina, destined soon to be
distinguished there, and near a century later to become still more
illustrious in tlie annals of the Cape F'ear. The head of this
family was James More, the descendant, and it is believed the
grandson, of Roger More, who led the Irish Rebellion in 1641.
In the wreck of his family and fortunes he, too, like so many
others, had looked towards the setting sun, and fixed his eyes
upon the ' summer land ' of Carolina. He had inherited all the
rebellious blood of his grandsire — his love of freedom, his
generous ambition, and his bold and turbulent spirit. He soon
acquired great influence in the Province, and upon the death of
Governor Blake, in 1700, he was elected Governor by the
deputies of the Proprietors.
" This Governor, James Moore, married the daughter of Sir
John Yeamans ; and thus, by a singular fortune, these families,
which had suffered from such opposite causes in the old world,
became united in the new ; and the blood of Robert Yeamans
and of Roger More mingled in North Carolina to breed some of
the noblest champions of her freedom, and the pioneers of
permanent civilization upon the Cape Fear."
From this union of the Yeamans and the Mores, offspring on
the one side of the martyred adherent of the rights of kings,
and on the other of the ardent rebel exiled from a country he
could not free, Mr. Davis was a lineal descendant, and we may
well believe that in him were united all the worthiest attributes
of each line of his sturdy ancestry —love of liberty tempered by
respect for law and prestige, sound conservatism subservient to
a lofty patriotism, and all directed and inspired by the rare genius
of his own God-given soul.
Another address which has been widely quoted was prepared
for a charitable object and delivered before a large audience in
Thalian Hall. It was printed afterwards in the Soul//. Atldjiilc
Matjaziiw. of this place, January, 1879, ^"*^ ''s entitled "An
Episode in Cape Fear History."
In it occurs this notable passage, which we may call the
apotheosis of the slaveholder :
" Yeamans returned to Barbadoes, and in the autumn of that
year, as we have seen, led his colony to the Cape Fear. He
governed there for five years with gentleness, humanity and
prudence, and then returned to Barbadoes. In 167 1 he was
appointed a Landgrave of Carolina, with a grant of 12,000 acres
of land, to be located at his pleasure And in the same year he
went to settle a plantation on the Ashley river, in South Carolina,
where a colony under Governor Sayle had landed the year
before. This seems to be a simple announcement of a very com-
monplace fact ; but it was the littb cloud no bigger than a man's
hand. It was the most portentous event of all our early history.
For he carried with him from Barbadoes his negro slaves ; and
that was the first introduction of African slavery in Carolina.
(Bancroft, 2,170; Rivers, 169)
" If as he sat by the camp fire in that lonely Southern wilder-
ness, he could have gazed with prophetic vision down the vista
of two hundred years, and seen the stormy and tragic end of
that of which he was then so quietly organizing the beginning,
must he not have exclaimed with Ophelia, as she beheld the
wreck of her heart's young love —
" ' O, woe is me ! To have seen what I have seen, see what
I see ! '
" Slavery is in the grave, and nothing can disturb its eternal
rest. I would not, if I could, raise it from the dead. The slave
is free. God speed him in his freedom, and make him worthy
of it. The slaveholder has passed into history at the cannon's
mouth. His future life must be there, and there he will live
forever. He did the State some service. Was great in council
and in action, clear in honor and in truth, and always a man
wherever true manhood was wanted. He knew how to compel
the love of friends and the respect of enemies, and how to build
his proudest monument in his country's greatness. But there
are those who never loved him, and whose fashion still it is to
make him the embodiment of evil, the moral scarecrow of the
times True, he ended well. True, that as he stood and died
by his hearthstone, fighting, as he believed, for God and country,
he was something for men and gods to behold. But what is that
to them? They desire to see nothing but his humiliation, and
to their distorted vision Belisarius, blind and begging at the
Roman gates, was not half so poor a sight. They cannot forgive
him for having been great, and they delight to howl the death-
song of his greatness. They trample on its grave. They cover
it with curses, and Pelion upon Ossa they pile their offal upon it.
And they think that they have buried it out of their sight
forever. And do they think that the spirit which brought this
Republic out of chaos, and directed it for the fifty years of its
truest greatness and purity, can be annihilated by a proclama-
tion ? And do they believe that Washington and Jefferson, and
Jackson and Clay, and Stonewall and Lee, and all the long roll
of our heroes and patriots and statesmen, are but dead names,
pale ghosts that can but squeak and gibber at their fallen great-
ness ? That they have left no livmg memories in their children's
hearts, no sacred seed that can once more bourgeon and bloom
for our country's honor ? Oh, no ! That spirit is not dead. It
will rise again. Not in the old likeness, for old things have
passed away. But transformed and quickened into a new life.
Once more it will make itself a name for the nation to sound.
Once again it will step to the front and pass first in fight as it
was wont to do whenever great opinions arc clashing, or a
great cause imperilled. Once again to the front, whenever and
wherever freedom's battle is to be fought. Once again to the
front, no more to contend with brethren in arms, but only in the
generous strife for the glory and honor of a common country."
And again, this description of Cape Fear :
" Looking, then, to the Cape for the idea and reason of its
name, we find that it is the southermost point of Smith's Island,
a naked, bleak elbow of sand, jutting far out into the ocean.
Immediately in its front are the Frying Pan Shoals, pushing out
still further twenty miles to sea. Together they stand for
warning and for woe, and together they catch the long, majestic
roll of the Atlantic as it sweeps through a thousand miles of
grandeur and power from the Arctic towards the Gulf. It is
the play-ground of billows and tempests, the kingdom of silence
and awe, disturbed by no sound save the sea-gull's shriek and
the breaker's roar. Its whole aspect is suggestive, not of repose
and beauty, but of desolation and terror. Imagination cannot
adorn it. Romance cannot hallow it. Local pride cannot
soften it. There it stands today, bleak, and threatening, and
pitiless, as it stood three hundred years ago, when Greenville
and White came nigh unto death upon its sands. And there it
will stand, bleak, and threatening, and pitiless, until the earth and
the sea shall give up their dead. And as its nature, so its name
is now, always has been, and always will be, the Cape of Fear."
In May, 1856, Mr. Davis was invited by the Board of Trus-
tees of Grecnsborough Fern ile College to address the Literary
Societies of that celebrated Institution, and his speech on this
occasion, the publication of which was not anticipated by its
author, has been regarded by many as one of the best efforts of
In that address occurs the following passage :
" A rich and well stored mind is the only true philosopher's
stone, extracting pure gold from all the base material around.
It can create its own beauty, wealth, power, happiness. It has
no dreary solitudes. The past ages are its possession, and the
long line of the illustrious dead are all its friends. Whatever
the world has seen of brave and noble, beautiful and good, it can
command. It mingles in all the grand and solemn scenes of
history, and is an actor in every great and stirring event. It is
by the side of Bayard as he stands alone upon the bridge and
saves the army ; it weeps over the true heart of chivalry, the
gallant Sidney, as with dying hand he puts away the cup from
his parched and fevered lips. It leaps into the yawning gulf
with Curtius ; follows the white plume of Navarre at Ivry ; rides
to Chalgrove field with Hampden ; mounts the scaffold with
Russell, and catches the dying prayer of the noble Sir Harry
Vane. It fights for glory at the Granicus, for fame at Agincourt,
for empire at Waterloo, for power on the Ganges, for religion in
Palestine, for country at Thermopylae, and for freedom at
Bunker Hill. It marches with Alexander, reigns with Augustus,
sings with Homer, teaches with Phito, pleads with Demosthenes,
loves with Petrarch, is imprisoned with Paul, suffers with
Stephen, and dies with Christ. It feels no tyranny and knows
no subjection. Misfortunes cannot subdue it, power caimot
crush it, unjust laws cannot oppress it. Ever steady, faithful
and true, shining by night as by day, it abides with you always
In 1 86 1 the shadow of a great national calamity appeared —
the whole country was convulsed with conflicting emotions.
The political leaders of North Carolina were divided upon the
issue. Mr. Davis loved the Union, and steadfastly counseled
moderation. His appointment by Governor Ellis as a member
of the Peace Commission, to which further reference is made,
created a feeling of absolute confidence in the minds of the
The desire of the people of North Carolina was to see peace
maintained whether the Union was preserved or not, and for this
purpose the Legislature on January 26, 1861, appointed Commis-
sioners to conventions to be held at Montgomery, Richmond and
Washington City. These Commissioners were Hon. Judge
Ruffin, Hon. D. M. Barringer, Hon. David S. Reid, Hon. John M.
Morehead, Hon. D. L. Swain, J. R. Bridgers, M. W. Ransom
and George Davis, Esqrs. Mr. Davis went to Washington City
as a member of the Peace Congress which assembled on
February 4, 1H61. The moral weight of the position, and the
character of the gentlemen then and there assembled, gave to the
significance of the occasion portentous aspects. The Congress
sat with closed doors, ex-President Tyler was elected President,
and on taking the chair made one of the most eloquent and
patriotic speeches ever heard. This Conference was in session
until February 27th, i86r, when Mr. Davis telegraphed: "The
Convention has just adjourned sine die, after passing seven
articles of the Report of the Committee, much weakened. The
territorial articles passed by a majority of one vote. North
Carolina and Virginia voted against every article but one."
It is difficult for those of us who remember only the intense
unanimity of the Southern people after the war was fairly
inaugurated, to realize how in those previous troublous days the
minds of men were perplexed by doubts. Up to this time the
Union sentiment in North Carolina had been in the ascendant.
The people waited upon the result of this Congress, and in this
section especially was the decision of many reserved until Mr.
Davis should declare his final convictions. His announcement
of them marked an epoch in his life, and in that of countless
others, for weal or woe.
Immediately upon his return home, the following correspond-
ence took place :
Wilmington, 2d March, j86i.
Dear Sir : — Your friends and fellow citizens are exceedingly
anxious to hear from you with reference to the proceedings of
the ** Peace Congress," and to have your opinion as to their
probable effect in settling the distracting questions of the day.
Will you be kind enough to give them a public address at
such time as may suit your convenience ?
James H. Dickson,
Robert H. Cowan,
D. A. Lamont,
Robert G. Rankin,
James H. Chadbourn,
A. H. VanBokkelen,
O. G. Parsley,
To George Davis. Esq.
Wilmington, 2d March, 1861.
Gentlemen : — Being under the necessity of leaving home
to-morrow, I will comply with the request of my fellow-citizens,
as intimated in your note, by addressing theni at such hour and
place this evening as you may appoint.
To Dr. Jas. H. Dickson, and others.
The newspaper reports of the public meeting, and of Mr.
Davis' powerful speech which followed, do not convey to our
minds the overwhelming sensations of those who listened to this
masterpiece of oratory. Mr, Davis was obliged to close before
he had finished his address. The people were profoundly
moved, the hearts of all were deeply stirred. Many left the hall
while he was speaking, for they could not restrain their emotion.
The Dally Journal of March 4, 1861, says: "In accord-
ance with the general desire, George Davis, Esq., addressed his
fellow- citizens on last Saturday, March 2d, at the Thalian Hall
in reference to the proceedings of the late Peace Congress, of
which he was a member, giving his opinion as to the probable
effect of such proceedings in settling the distracting questions of
the day. Although the notice was very brief, having only
appeared at mid-day in the town papers, the Hall was densely
crowded by an eager and attentive audience, among whom were
many ladies." The report of the speech is very full, and deals
with all the vital questions which were discussed at the Peace
Congress. Mr. Davis said that " he shrunk from no criticism
upon his course, but, indeed, invited and sought for it the most
rigid examination. He had endeavored to discharge the duties
of the trust reposed in him faithfully, manfully and conscien-
tiously, and whatever might be thought of his policy, he felt
that he had a right to demand the highest respect for the motives
which actuated him in pursuing that policy." Referring to his
own previous position, what he believed to be the position of the
State, the course of the Legislature in appointing Commissioners,
and the objections to the action of the " Peace Congress," Mr.
Davis said he had gone to the " Peace Congress " to exhaust
every honorable means to obtain a fair, an honorable and a final
settlement of existing difficulties. He had done so to the best
of his abilities, and had been unsuccessful, for he could never
accept the plan adopted by the " Peace Congress " as consistent
with the right, the interests or the dignity of North Carolina.
Mr. Davis concluded by "emphatically declaring that the
South could never — never obtain any better or more satisfactory-
terms while she remained in the Union, and for his part he could
never assent to the terms contained in this report of the " Peace
Congress " as in accordance with the honor or the interests of
When Mr. Davis had concluded Hon. S, J. Person moved
that the thanks of the meeting be tendered to Mr. Davis for the
able, manly and patriotic manner in which he had discharged the
duties of his position as a Commissioner from North CaroHna.
The motion was enthusiastically carried.
On June i8, 1861, Mr. Davis and Mr. W. W. Avery were
elected Senators for the State of North Corolina to the Confed-
erate Congress. In alluding to his election the Journal, the
organ in this section of the Democratic party, says :
" Mr. Davis in old party times was an ardent and consistent
member of the opposition, and was opposed to a severance from
the North, until he felt satisfied by the result of the Peace
Conference that all peaceful means had been exhausted."
In 1862 he, with W. T. Dortch, was again elected Senator by
In January, 1864, he was appointed by President Davis
Attorney General in his Cabinet. The commission bears date
4th January, 1864.
The high esteem in which Mr. George Davis was held by his
devoted chief is attested in the following letters addressed by
the Confederate President to his faithful Attorney General after
the evacuation of Richmond :
Charlotte, N. C, 25th April, 1865.
Hon, Geo. Davis, C. S. Attorney General :
3fy Dear Sir : — I have no hesitation in expressing to you my
opinion that there is no obligation of honor which requires you,
under existing circumstances, to retain your present office. It
is gratifying to me to be assured that you are willing, at any
personal sacrifice, to share my fortunes when they are least
promising, and that you only desire to know whether you can
aid me in this perilous hour to overcome surrounding difficulties
It is due to such generous friendship that I should candidly say
to you that it is not probable that for some time to come your
services will be needful.
It is with sincere regret that I look forward to being separated
from you. Your advice has been to me both useful and cheer-
ing. The Christian spirit which has ever pervaded your sugges-
tions, not less than the patriotism which has marked your
conduct, will be remembered by me when in future trials I may
have need for both.
Should you decide (my condition having become rather that
of a soldier than a civil magistrate) to retire from my Cabinet,
my sincere wishes for your welfare and happiness will follow
you ; and I trust a merciful Providence may have better days in
store for the Confederacy, and that we may licreafter meet, when,
our country's independence being secured, it will be sweet to
remember how we have suffered together in the time of her
Very respectfully and truly, your friend,
Charlotte, N. C, April 26, 1865.
Hon. Georce Davis, Attorney General :
My Dear Sir : — Your letter dated yesterday, tendering your
resignation has been received. While I regret the causes which
compel you to this course, I am well assured that your conduct
now, as heretofore, is governed by the highest and most honor-
able motives. In accepting your resignation, as I feel constrained
to do, allow me to thank you for the important assistance you
have rendered in the administration of the Government, and for
the patriotic zeal and acknowledged ability with which you have
discharged your trust.
Accept my thanks, also, for your expressions of personal
regard and esteem, and the assurance that those feelings are
warmly reciprocated by me.
With the hope that the blessings of Heaven may attend you
I am, most cordially, your friend,
This affectionate regard for the beloved leader of the Cape
Fear has been the subject of repeated conversations in late years
between a member of your committee and the distinguished lady
who still bears the honored name of Jefferson Davis, and who was
ever faithful and true to him and to the people whom he loved.
Upon the receipt of the sad intelligence of his death, she
writes from a sick bed the following tender and sympathetic
" I am able to sit up a little, and regret that I am not strong
enough to say as much about dear Mr. George Davis as my
" He was one of the most exquisitely proportioned of men.
His mind dominated his body, but his heart drew him near to
all that was honorable and tender, as well as patriotic and faithful,
in mankind. He was never dismayed by defeat, but never
protested. When the enemy was at the gates of Richmond he
was fully sensible of our peril, but calm in the hope of repelling
them, and if this failed, certain of his power and will to endure
whatever ills had been reserved for him.
" His literary tastes were diverse and catholic, and his anxious
mind found relaxation in studying the literary confidences of
others in a greater degree than I have ever known any other
public man except Mr. Benjamin. Upon being asked one day
how he was, he answered : ' I am very much comforted and
rested by Professor Holcombe's Literature in Letters,' which was
one of the few new books which came out during the Confed-
eracy. One of the few hard things I ever heard him say was
when some one asked him if he had read Swinburne's Laus
Veneris, and added, ' You know it is printed on wrapping
paper and bound in wall paper.' Mr. Davis answered : * I
have never thought wall paper wholesome, and am sorry to
know there was enough wrapping paper on which to print it.'
" He was fond of tracing the construction of languages, and the
varients from one root were a favorite subject of conversation
" When he fell in love and married a charming woman, the
whole of Richmond rejoiced with him, and expressed no doubts
of the happiness of either. Mr. Davis' public life was as
irreproachable as his private course. Once when my husband
came home wearied with the divergence of opinions in his
Cabinet, he said : ' Davis does not always agree with me, but I
generally find he was right at last.'
" I cannot, of course, tell you about his political opinions,
except that he was one of the strictest construers of the Consti-
tution, and firmly believed in its final triumph over all obstacles
" My husband felt for him the most sincere friendship, as well
as confidence and esteem, and I think there was never the
slightest shadow intervened between them.
" I mourn with you over our loss, which none who knew him
can doubt was his gain."
Following his arrest at the close of the war, the late Attorney
General was imprisoned for some months in Fort Hamilton,
sharing to that extent the vicarious sufferings of his chief, and
was finally released upon parole not to leave the State of North
During this period Mr. Davis' second marriage was celebrated
in Weldon, on the 9th of May, 1866, to Monimia Fairfax,
daughter of Dr. Orlando Fairfax, of Richmond, Va. (Mrs.
Davis died 27th July, 1889.)
At this time earnest solicitations were made, and flattering
inducements offered to Mr. Davis to remove to a Northern State,
and practice his profession in a more extended field. Doubtless
such a step would have inured greatly to his worldly advantage,
but he resisted all the allurements, and declared his intention to
live among his own people, and share the fate of those whom
he loved and who had shown him indubitable proof of their
affection for him.
On the evening of the 3d of November, 1876, during the
Tilden- Vance campaign, Mr. Davis delivered in the opera house,
which was filled to its capacity, a speech of great eloquence and
power, upon the political issues of the day, which was reported
for the Morning Star newspaper, in its issue of the 4th of
November, and editorially referred to as follows :
" The speech to which we listened is a very memorable one.
It will long abide with us as one of those felicitous, rounded,
finished efforts of a highly endowed and noble intellect that will
be *a memory and a joy forever.' We have pigeon-holed that
great speech in the escritoire of our own mind, where we have
stored but few of the productions of the men of our generation.
" As a composition the effort of Mr. Davis was very admirable.
There was humor, there was sarcasm, there was an exquisite
irony, there were flashes of wit, there was an outburst of corro-
sive scorn and indignation that were wonderfully artistic and
effective. At times a felicity of illustration would arrest your
attention, and a grand outburst of high and ennobling eloquence
would thrill you with the most pleasurable emotion. The taste
was exceedingly fine, and from beginning to end the workings
of a highly cultured, refined, graceful and elegant mind was
" There were passages delivered with high dramatic art that
would have electrified any audience on earth. If that speech
had been delivered before an Athenian audience in the days of
Pericles, or in Rome when Cicero thundered forth his burning
and sonorous eloquence, or in Westminster Hall, with Burke,
and Fox and Sheridan among his auditors, he would have
received their loudest acclaims, and his fame would have gone
down the ages as one of those rarely gifted men who knew well
how to use his native speech, and to play with the touch of a
master on that grand instrument, the human heart. We feel
confident that no man of taste, culture and intelligence who
heard Mr. Davis will charge us with undue enthusiasm or exces-
sive laudation. It was unquestionably the matured production
of an exceedingly gifted mind, and produced the happiest effect
upon a large and highly interested audience.
" And now, with this general statement of our impressions,
how shall we attempt to reproduce even a meagre abstract of so
able and imposing an effort ? We could refer at length, if oppor-
tunity allowed, to the scheme of his argument, to his magnificent
peroration, in which passion and imagination swept the audience
and led them captive at the will of the magician ; to the exqui-
sitely apposite illustrations, now quaint and humorous, and then
delicate and pathetic, drawn with admirable art from history and
poetry and the sacred Truth — to these and other points we might
refer, but it would be in vain. How can words, empty words,
reproduce the glowing eloquence and entrancing power of the
human voice, when that voice is one while soft as Apollo's lute,
or resonant as the blast of a bugle under the influence of deep
passion ? How can the pen convey to others the sweet melody
of harp or viol, or how can human language bring back a for-
gotten strain, or convey an exact impression that is made by the
tongue of fire when burdened with a majestic eloquence."
On the 31st of March, 1880, Mr. Davis and Judge Thomas
Ruffin were selected by the Commissioners named in the Act of
the General Assembly authorizing the sale of the Western North
Carolina Rail Road to W. J. Best and associates, to act as
counsel for the State, and to prepare the deed and contract.
For their distinguished services in this matter, which are well
known, he and Judge Ruffin lefused to accept any compensation.
In January, 1878, Governor Vance offered Mr. Davis the Chief
Justiceship of the Supreme Court, made vacant by the death of
Chief Justice Pearson, which was declined for reasons shown in
the Bnlcigh Observer newspaper of December 22d, 1877, as
HON. GEORGE DAVIS.
" As was natural, when the time came to look around for men
to put upon the highest judicial tribunal in the State, and people
everywhere began to seek out the ablest and the best, the people
of North Carolina instinctively, and, we may say, almost with
one consent, cast their eyes upon Mr. George Davis, of
Wilmington. As pure as he is able, and as able as he is true
and devoted to the land that gave him birth. North Carolina
never had a more worthy, a more brilliant or more devoted son
than he, nor one better fitted in all the qualities of head and
heart for the high position to which people everywhere had
expected him soon to be called. It is with unfeigned regret,
therefore, that we publish the following letter to a gentleman in
this city announcing Mr. Davis' purpose not to allow his name
to be used in connection with the nomination for the Supreme
Court bench, and giving his reasons therefor :
Wilmington, N. C, December 20, 1877.
My Dear Sir: — You will remember that in a personal inter-
view some time ago you desired to be informed whether I would
accept a nomination for the Supreme Court bench, and were
kind enough to intimate that you believed the Democratic party
would tender me the nomination if I desired it. I replied that
it was not a thing to be determined lightly or hastily ; that I
would give it a deliberate and serious consideration, and at the
proper time would communicate to you my decision.
In my judgment that time has now arrived. The subject has
of late been urged upon me so frequently, and from so many
different quarters, that silence is no longer proper, if even
No man can hold in higher estimation than I do the dignity
of such a position. To fill it worthily would be the highest
reach of my ambition. And even to be esteemed worthy of it
by any considerable portion of the bar and people of North
Carolina is an honor which touches me profoundly.
But in this thing, as in so many others, I am obedient to
necessity. I cannot live upon the salary. And barely to live is
not all my need. One of my first duties in life now is to
endeavor to make some provision for the little children that have
come to me in my age. At the bar such an expectation may
not be unreasonable when better times shall come. But upon
the bench I should be compelled to abandon such a hope
I must therefore decline to permit my name to go before the
Convention of the Democratic party in connection with such a
You are at liberty to make such use of this letter as you may
Very truly, your friend,
We also present a few of the letters written to Mr. Davis with
special reference to this subject :
Raleigh, N. C, 14th January, 1878.
3Iy Dear Sir : — Want of time only has prevented me from
writing to congratulate you, not upon the tender of the Chief
Justiceship, but upon the universal manifestation of the opinion
that you were the first man in the State to whom it ought to be
tendered, and that your acceptance of the place would satisfy
every demand, and silence every claim in regard to the appoint-
ment. I do not think your friends, especially personal friends,
I mean, here, can take any credit to themselves for Governor
Vance's action — certainly I cannot. He approached me, and not
I him, having come to my office for the purpose. He said that
from the time the death of Chief Justice Pearson was announced
to him, he being then at Charlotte, until the time of speaking,
and all along the road whenever the matter was referred to, the
universal expression was that you were the person to whom the
people were looking to be made Chief Justice. The Governor
said, aside from his desire to meet the expectation of the people,
and to make a good appointment, there were considerations
personal to himself which caused him to desire your acceptance
of the position ; and it would relieve him from embarrassment
in choosing from other gentlemen who might desire the place.
Your appointment, he was satisfied, would not give offence to
any aspirant not appointed. -^ -st * * * -x-
I doubt if a Chief Justiceship was ever before tendered to
any one so exclusively for the reason that personal fitness and
popular demand concurred in dictating it. Nor were the per-
sonal considerations that influenced the Governor less compli-
mentary to yourself; as, but for the other considerations moving
him to the appointment, you would not have been available to
relieve him from embarrassment. For to relieve that embarrass-
ment it was needed the new Chief Justice should hefadU princeps.
^- * ->t ■/: * * * ^r * ^t
I have availed myself of the first opportunity to write to you
and say what you were entitled to know, though I was not at
liberty to use my information in a public way.
And so, with the best wishes for you and yours, now and
ever, I am,
W. L. Saunders.
Hon. Geo. Davis, Wilmington, N. C.
North Carolina, Executive Department,
Raleigh, N. C, January 24th, 1878.
Hon. Geo. Davis, Wilmington, N. C. :
Dear Sir : — I am in receipt of your letter in regard to the
Chief Justiceship, and although it doe? not call specially for a
reply, I cannot forbear making a brief response.
I desire to avail myself of this opportunity to say to you, in
person, what I have often said and always thought in your
absence, that you are one of the men who have steadily pursued
principle for its own sake, spurning alike the temptations of
office and the lures of ambition when they came not strictly
within the utmost requirements of dignity and manly honor.
As such there has come to me, as the result of my position, no
greater happiness than the ability to testify my appreciation of
your character and worth, and of the great service your example
has been in shaping and toning the political ethics of our society.
In attempting to honor you by the bestowment of that great
office I have also attempted to show what is my own sense of
State honor, as well as to give expression to the general voice of
our people. In this respect I was happy in the belief that I
could not err as between you and the distinguished gentleman
who was finally chosen.
Earnestly hoping that you may not be disappointed in the
attainment of those ends for the sake of which you declined the
Chief Justiceship, and with my best wishes for your prosperity
and happiness, I am, dear sir, as ever since first I saw your face
in your own home in December, 1854, I have been.
Your friend and obedient servant,
Z. B. Vance.
One of Mr. Davis' most beautiful compositions was dictated
to an amenuensis a few weeks before his death, and while he was
disabled by paralysis. It was a memorial of the life and work
of the late W. T. Walters, of Baltimore, President of the Atlantic
Coast Line. The occasion was Mr. Davis' last appearance in
public, at the annual meeting of the Wilmington and Weldon
Rail Road Company, during which resolutions of respect and
honor to the memory of the original projector of the Atlantic
Coast Line system were adopted.
Mr. Davis was counsel for the Wilmington, Columbia and
Augusta Rail Road Company, formerly the Wilmington and
Manchester Rail Road Company, from the date of its existence
up to his death.
Upon the death of Mr. William A. Wright, he succeeded him
as counsel for the Wilmington and Weldon Rail Road Company.
During a recent interview the Executive of both railroads.
President Warren G. Elliott, said to one of your Committee, and
with evident great feeling :
" My admiration of Mr. George Davis was unbounded. Your
request that I should add to the memorial of his life which you
are preparing on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce a few
lines on the character of this good man, is one that I cannot well
resist, while any effort on my part to do justice to the occasion
will necessarily fall far short of the mark.
" FTaving known Mr. Davis personally for only a few years (for
I first met him after his face was turned to the setting sun, and
his feet were on the decline of the road), I must leave to others
the pleasant ta.sk of recording their personal recollections of his
earlier career, and confine myself to the impressions made upon
me by a close personal acquaintance during the declining years
of his beautiful and exemplary life.
" It was my good fortune, in the discharge of my official duties,
to have the benefit of his advice and counsel, and if ever a
difficult or doubtful question arose it was always solved by him
on the side of truth and justice.
" Mr. Davis gave to us a splendid illustration of every manly
and noble virtue. He was a good man, a just man, a strong
man ; a patriotic citizen, full of love and affection for his native
State ; a lovable, companionable friond ; affectionate and tender
in his domestic relations ; a brave and fearless man, with a love
for the right and a scorn for the wrong ; chivalrous and honor-
able, a true and genuine type of the Olden School— the type that
never had its superior, and that never will.
" It is almost a useless task that we should undertake to place
on record any memorial of Mr. Davis as a lawyer. His name
and his fame will be handed down from generation to generation.
The recognized head of his noble profession in this State, no
future historian can ever truthfully record the great deeds of the
best and ablest sons of this noble old Commonwealth without
paying tribute to George Davis of New Hanover as an honor to
his profession, and as a lawyer of the highest eminence and
purest type. He was indeed a skillful lawyer, a wise counsellor,
able, strong and vigorous. Appreciated by all as a leader in his
profession, he has bequeathed to the younger members of the
Bar an example that they should love to follow and to reverence ;
a legacy to all of them of inestimable value, for his life was a
lofty ideal, a standard to be lived up to, and worthy to be
" He has laid down his armor when the tide was at its ebb,
after having enjoyed during a long and eventful life the greatest
riches that this world can bestow— the genuine love, reverence,
respect and admiration of his fellow-men — with his integrity
unstained, and without a whisper of detraction against his
motives, his character or his purposes ; and the Christian grace
and dignity with which he met the final summons was but the
crowning glory of an honorable and exemplary career on this
The last appearance of Mr. Davis before a general audience
was at the mass-meeting in the Opera House, in 1889, to do
honor to the memory of ex-President Davis. He was already
in feeble health, and unequal to an oration, but the tenderness
and sweetness of his personal reminiscences, as he presented the
side of his friend's character that was least known to the world,
will abide in the memory of those who heard him, like the
lingering fragrance of flowers that have faded and passed away.
In the concluding passage, in which he spoke of the President's
religious faith, he unconsciously reflected his own simple and
abiding trust in God ; and we can find no words which more
fittingly describe the Christian life of our Mr. Davis, than those
that he uttered of his dead chieftain :
" He was a high-souled, true-hearted Christian gentleman.
And if our poor humanity has any higher form than that, I know
not what it is. His great and active intellect never exercised
itself with questioning the being of God, or the truth of His
revelations to man. He never thought it wise or smart to
scoff at mysteries which he could not understand. He never was
daring enough to measure infinite power and goodness by the
poor, narrow gauge of a limited, crippled human intellect.
Where he understood, he admired, worshipped, adored. Where
he could not understand, he rested unquestioningly upon a faith
that was as the faith of a little child — a faith that never wavered,
and that made him look always undoubtingly, fearlessly, through
life, through death, to life again."
In that address also occurs the following passage, which is
worthy of all preservation as the declaration of one of com-
manding intellect and wide experience, after he had reached the
limit of three-score years and ten, as to what attribute he con-
sidered of the highest value in human character:
" My public life was long since over ; my ambition went down
with the banner of the South, and, like it, never rose again. I
have had abundant time in all these quiet years, and it has been
my favorite occupation, to review the occurrences of that time,
and recall over the history of that tremendous struggle ; to
remember with love and admiration the great men who bore their
parts in its events.
" I have often thought what was it that the Southern people
had to be most proud of in all the proud things of their record ?
Not the achievements of our arms ! No man is more proud of
them than I; no man rejoices more in Manassas, Chancellors -
ville and in Richmond ; but all nations have had their victories.
There is something, I think, better than that, and it was this,
that through all the bitterness of that time, and throughout all
the heat of that fierce contest, Jefferson Davis and Robert E.
Lee never spoke a word, never wrote a line that the whole neutral
world did not accept as the very indisputable truth. Aye, truth
was the guiding star of both of them, and that is a grand thing
to remember; upon that my memory rests more proudly than
upon anything else. It is a monument better thin marble, more
durable than brass. Teach it to your children, that they may be
proud to remember Jefferson Davis."
As we contemplate the lofty qualities of the noble man who
has been taken from our community and Commonwealth, we
cannot repress the sigh of regret that such greatness is no more.
The soaring thought, the brilliant imagination, the balanced
judgment, the profound learning, we do not expect to see every
day, nor in every generation. The stainless honor, the broad
patriotism, the noble disinterestedness of his public service, are
unhappily too little seen in our public men. But it is surely not
too much to hope that the example of his blameless life will not
be lost upon the people among whom he lived so long, and so
How well he exemplified in his own career the beautiful
message, which he brought in his early years to those just
entering upon the duties of life :
" Rather be yours the generous ambition to shine only in the
pure excellence of virtue and refinement. '• * * Go forth,
then, into the world, and meet its trials and dangers, its duties
and pleasures, with a firm integrity of heart and mind, looking
ever onward and upward, and walking erect before the gaze of
men, fearless, because without reproach. When the glad sun-
shine is upon you, rejoice and be happy. When the dark hours
come, hght them with a gentle patience and a Christian faith.
* '■' ■" This above all : ' To thine own self be true, and it
must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false
to any man.' "
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