Master Carpenter, Brick Mason and Cabinetmaker
Builder of the Duncan House and Many Other Beaufort Homes
Davis and his Ancestors
Stories of Davis by Mabel Piner relates that William Davis was “of Welsh descent, whose grandfather William Davis came to Virginia in 1622 on the ship “Margaret and John.”
Other sources claim that William Davis, carpenter, came to the Core Sound area in 1736 after selling his land in Perquimans. According to Maurice Davis' History of the Hammock House, Davis had sued Robert Cox in Perquimans County after Cox had accused him of stealing an axe and hiding it in a potato patch. Maurice Davis wrote, “It is interesting to note that in March 1728 Joseph Wicker, Esq., Warden of the Anglican Church, was ordered to pay William Davis for the construction of a new [Beaufort] court house.”
In 1723, Joseph Wicker (1679-1743), born in Wales, came to Carteret County and bought a small island where he and his wife and children made their home. When Wicker died, he left the island to his daughter, Mary, who had married William Davis about 1713. They raised eight sons and a daughter in what is still known today as the Davis Island family home. Their son Joseph Wicker Davis Sr. (1722-1792) was born in Pasquotank Precinct; he married Sarah Gaskill about 1754 in Carteret County. He was a captain in Col. William Thompson’s militia of 1771.
James Davis was born on July 3, 1780 in Core Creek, Carteret County. He was the eldest son of Joseph Wicker Davis Jr. (1755-1826 born and died on Davis Island) and Susanna Stanton (1761-1827 born on the eastside of the Newport River), who were married in Carteret County in 1776. James Davis’ known siblings, all born in a Quaker colony on the east side of the Newport River: Abigail born 1777, Anna born 1778, Jacob (1784-1821) married Mary Stanton in 1808, Benjamin born 1786, Jesse (1788-1859) married Alice Mace in 1810, Joseph born 1790, Susanna born 1791, Mary (1794-1836) married Silas Small in 1818, Esther (1797-1841) married Jesse Adams in 1816, Rhoda (1799-1863) married William Mace, Sarah (1801-1837) and Enoch (1803-1869) married Hannah Fuller.
James was received by request at Core Sound Quaker Monthly Meeting on March 5, 1791. He was later disowned by Quakers for marrying outside his faith, but evidently remained in the general area.
In 1803 he married Elizabeth Adams (1783-1868), daughter of Nathan Adams and Mary Canaday, who were farmers in Core Creek. Their children are noted below.
James became a skilled builder and often referred to himself as an “ar-chi-tech.” He left his mark on lots all over town—many well-constructed homes that have weathered close to 200 years of coastal storms. James was also a brick mason at Fort Macon when it was built (1826-1834).
James Davis died August 1, 1861. He didn't live to see the streets paved or the train come to town, but he left a mark—a legacy of wonderfully constructed homes that have weathered storms for almost 200 years and still stand strong today.
Houses Built by James Davis
From his early years as a Beaufort builder, until his retirement, James Davis and his carpenters did all their work by hand. When Davis built these and other homes, up to the time of his retirement about 1850, there was still no saw mill;* the town was still very isolated with little or no amenities—there were no paved streets, no shell road, but only a wilderness of scrubby bushes under the live oak and yaupon trees. Pigs, cows and horses roamed the streets. One of Davis’ early structures was Beaufort’s first “Market House,” built in 1812.
Ginny Costlow, owner of the 1817 Davis House at 201 Ann Street, wrote of Davis' craftsmanship, “James Davis built his houses to last, using the ancient and time-honored technique of timber frame construction, more commonly known today as post and beam. This process involved framing out the structure using wooden pegs (treenails or trunnels) to secure the mortise and tenon joints, the pegs not only replacing scarce hand wrought nails but also allowing the house to breathe and move during the years of battering storms in this coastal climate.
“As further evidence of the remarkable materials and methods James Davis utilized in his construction practices, his own house at 201 Ann Street showed no evidence of damage to it's large sills when undergoing renovation this past spring (2012). In fact, over it's nearly 200 year history, the only damage evidenced came from wear was to an addition in the early 20th century which used far inferior material from the original yellow long-leaf heart pine once growing in abundance in eastern North Carolina. In addition, when original sheathing was removed, there were ghost marks of another end wall, with its peg still visible in the corner brace - visible and intact.
“There is no question that the timber frame construction of builder James Davis was meant to stand the test of time; Beaufort is fortunate to have many surviving examples of his legacy.”
Known Houses Built by Davis - with brief histories
|Pigot-Nelson circa 1805-07|
205 Front Street
After the death of James Wallace, Jane Gaskill Wallace, daughter of Valentine Gaskill, married Micajah Pigot (1772-1807) in 1803; he died four years later. Jane Pigot died in June 1810; in her will she left Thomas and Esther Cooke what was then the Pigot family home at 205 Front Street, corner of Front and Moore Streets—lot # 30 Olde Towne.
B.L. Perry House circa 1812 – 207 Front Street
Jane Pigot also gave Thomas and Esther Cooke lot #29 next door at 205 Front Street. These two houses were most likely constructed in the early 1800s by James Davis. Benjamin Leecraft Perry married Elizabeth Manney in 1835. He was involved in coastal trading and was one of the wealthiest men in Beaufort before the Civil War—buying and selling land from 1832 to 1869. Many visitors in the early days boarded with Capt. Perry. The 18th century Perry House that stood on this lot was demolished in the early 1920s to make way for a house built by Judge Jule Duncan.
J. Forlaw House circa 1817 – 206 Ann Street
In 1820, James Davis purchased lot 66 for $3 and secured title by building a square twenty-five-foot structure on Ann Street on the northeast corner of the lot. In 1828 Davis deeded the eastern half of the lot including the house to his daughter Elizabeth Davis Potter. In 1830 the Moore Street portion was sold to Benjamin Tucker Howland for $80, possibly for Howland’s daughter who had married James Davis’ son Christopher in 1828. Twenty-three years later the Moore Street half was sold to Sarah Ann Thompson. Mrs. Thompson sold the southwest portion to Jesse L. Forlaw for $225—the site of the present-day Alexander House. Gray’s 1880 map showed Mrs. Thompson’s house on the corner of Moore and Ann Streets.
Duncan House circa 1815 – 105 Front Street
In 1804, a year after James Davis and Elizabeth Adams were married, Elizabeth’s father, Nathan Adams, acquired land on the west end of Front Street—half of lot 111 Old Town and sold it to his daughter. Six years later, in 1810, Nathan Adams sold James Davis the other half of the lot. At some point between 1810 and 1817, James Davis built the east end of the house. In 1820 Davis sold the property to Benjamin Tucker Howland, father of Elicia Howland Duncan. In 1832, Howland sold the property and his part of their business to his son-in-law Thomas Duncan IV—all for only $600. Sometime after 1832, Duncan built a ship store on the western end of the property. The two structures were joined before 1882.
|James Davis circa 1817|
201 Ann Street
In 1817, thirty-seven-year-old James Davis purchased lot #76 (201 Ann) from Sheriff Thomas Marshall for $3 in unpaid taxes. Davis had already built a few structures in Beaufort, including the first “Market House” (1812) and the westernmost Front Street house, where he and his family most likely resided while he was building his circa 1817 home on Ann Street.
|Hatsell circa 1827|
117 Orange Street
Andrew Lee Hatchell, born in 1803, son of William Hatchell and Esther Green of Bogue Sound, found his way to Beaufort by 1826 and married Charity Fuller, daughter of Belcher Fuller and Zilphia Guthrie. Belcher Fuller either had this house built for his daughter Charity for a wedding present or willed it to her before his death in 1828. The home remained in the Hatsell family until 1910; at that time the house was rented by Fannie Duncan, with children David and Emily Frances Duncan.
|James Davis circa 1829|
Davis’ home on Moore Street was the third house built for his own use, most likely constructed before 1826 when he sold his 1817 home on Ann Street.
Though unique with its center chimney, five fireplaces and raised basement, where Davis had a cabinet shop, the circa 1829 Moore Street home was built as a traditional, Beaufort-style, side-gable coastal cottage. Floors were laid with twelve-inch pine but the construction was simple—built with hand-hewn pegs and hand-wrought nails. Framing members were marked with roman numerals. The original oyster-plaster walls, including those above the mantle-free fireplaces, were most likely whitewashed.
In 1830 James Davis sold the Moore Street house to his twenty-four-year-old daughter Mary. In 1849 Mary sold part of the lot to her brother Joseph James Davis. By 1850 the entire Davis family was living in Harlowe's Creek, possibly renting the Beaufort house. Recorded were 70-year-old James Davis, his wife and four adult children; James and his son Joseph James were noted as carpenters. The 1860 census recorded James as a farmer in Carteret County (post office Beaufort), with wife Elizabeth 77 and daughters Mary 50 and Sarah 45. During Federal occupation, some of the Davis family may have lived in the basement cabinetshop, using the open-hearth fireplace as their “kitchen.”
In 1870, the house, then owned by Postmaster Joseph James Davis 49, was valued at $11,000. The following were in the household: sisters Mary 64 and Sarah 62; brother and Assistant Postmaster William Davis 47; and three children—Sarah E. 15, John J. 12 and nine-year-old Mary. The house was sold in 1871. By 1880, Mary, Sarah and their sister Susan Wharton were living on Turner Street along with Susan’s daughter Elizabeth Wharton Morse.
|William Jackson Potter circa 1832|
William Jackson Potter, son of David and Mary Adams Potter, was born on October 31, 1801 in Anne Arundell County, Maryland. William came to Beaufort in 1827 to work as a brick mason during the construction of Fort Macon. It was there that he met James Davis, a Beaufort builder, who was also doing brick work at the fort. A year later, on October 8, 1828, William Jackson Potter married James and Elizabeth Adams Davis’ daughter, Elizabeth Harris Davis.
From 1828 to 1835, Potter supervised the building of the jail and Taylor Masonic Lodge, later the Odd Fellows Lodge on Turner Street; after working at Fort Macon during the day, he and other masons built the structures by torchlight. Potter not only served two terms as postmaster, 1840–1847 and 1853–1862, but was also a town commissioner in the years 1847 and 1853. In September 1855 Potter and others were involved in forming a new parish—St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Children of James and Elizabeth
Christopher A. Davis was born August 26, 1803. He married his second cousin Elizabeth Howland on October 18, 1828 in Carteret County, bondman John W. Morgan and witness G. Rumley; Elizabeth was on 15 years old. Christopher died on August 6, 1881. Elizabeth Thamer Howland was born March 14, 1813 in Georgetown, South Carolina to Benjamin Tucker Howland (1778-1862) and Elizabeth Throckmorton (1783-1854). Elizabeth T. Howland Davis died March 3, 1885.
Joel Henry Davis was born September 12, 1804. On March 4, 1829, he married Sarah Chadwick (1799-1869), daughter of James Chadwick (1761-1826) and Mary Ann Bell (1767-1838). James Chadwick was son of Thomas Martin Chadwick (1730-1802), who was son of whaler Samuel Chadwick (1695-1749). Mary Ann Bell was the daughter of William Coale Bell.
Joel Henry Sr. and Sarah had four known children: Frances J. born in 1829 married Henry Rieger, Laura (1834-1913) married William J. Carson, Joel Henry Jr. (1843-1913) married Sarah Chadwick Gibbs, and James Chadwick, noted below, married twice. Joel Henry Davis, a farmer turned merchant, died in Lennoxville, Carteret County, on August 18, 1868.
Joel Henry and Sarah’s son James Chadwick Davis (1837-1904) married Sallie Pasteur in 1861; they had three known daughters: Laura born in 1868, Carolina P. born in 1872 and Mary Ann born in 1865. Mary Ann (1865-1936) changed her name to Nannie Pasteur Davis sometime after her mother’s untimely death and before her 1885 marriage to Malachi Geffroy. From about 1900 until her death in 1936, Nannie Pasteur Geffroy used the 1817 James Davis House at 201 Ann Street as an office, infirmary and home as she dedicated herself as headmistress of St. Paul’s School. James Chadwick Davis’ second marriage in 1877 was to Laura Gertrude Duncan (1853-1937), daughter of Thomas Duncan and Elicia Howland. J.C. and Laura had two known children, Sally Gertrude (1878-1944) married Sterling Price Hancock; their daughter Mattie King Hancock married Ernest J. Davis—the Mattie King Davis Gallery was named for her. Their other daughter, Etta P. born in 1879, married Halbert Lloyd Potter about 1899.
Mary Wicker Davis was born May 23, 1806 and died January 4, 1884.
Sarah Amanda Davis was born April 5, 1808 and died April 4, 1885.
Elizabeth Harris Davis was born January 19, 1810 in Core Creek. She married William Jackson Potter on October 8, 1828. Potter (1801-1886), son of David Potter and Mary Adams of Somerset County Maryland, came to Carteret County to work on the building of Fort Macon, where Elizabeth’s father James was also worked as a brick mason during that time (1826-1834). Potter was a merchant who also served two terms as postmaster. Elizabeth and Wm. J. Potter had ten children.
Susan J. Davis was born March 5, 1816. Susan married David B. Wharton (1801-1877) in 1840. In 1852 David and Susan Davis Wharton purchased property on Ann Street from Guy Buckman for $600. What may have initially been built as a single-family home, shortly afterward became a boarding house. In The Story of the Methodists in the Port of Beaufort, Amy Muse, noted “in 1852 our preacher, Abram Weaver, stayed with ‘Miss Susan’ Wharton on Anne Street.” The house was known for years as “The Jennie Bell House,” and later as the Guy Buckman House. Susan died May 11, 1881 in Carroll, Iowa
Ann Canaday Davis was born April 3, 1817 and died October 10, 1832.
Joseph James Davis (1821–1877) was born January 29, 1821. In the 1860 census, Joseph James Davis was living in the Straits district in the home of David Wharton. Mr. Wharton was a farmer and at that time Davis is listed as a “mechanic.” As mentioned, Mrs. Wharton (Susan) was Joseph James’ sister. Joseph James married Louisa R. Arthur on February 13, 1862. The marriage was performed by Josiah F. Bell, justice of the peace; witness was James Rumley, clerk of court. Louisa was the daughter of Gilbert and Charlotte Arthur of Straits. Louisa evidently died prior to the 1870 census, where both Joseph James Davis and his brother William were noted as widowers. Joseph James Davis was appointed postmaster on June 9, 1862.
William Davis was born about 1823. William was recorded as a teacher in 1850 living with Davis family in Harlowe’s Creek. By 1870, William was 47 and recorded as a widower and “Assistant Postmaster.”
Old Quaker Cemetery
James and Elizabeth, along with eight of their children, were buried in the Davis family plot in the Old Quaker Cemetery. Children in the plot: Christopher A. (1803–1881), Joel Henry (1804–1868), Mary Wicker (1806–1884), Sarah Amanda (1808–1885), Elizabeth Harris (1810–1904), Susan J. (1816–1881), Ann Canaday (1817–1832) and Joseph James (1821–1877).
The Old Quaker Cemetery, also known as Core Sound Meeting Burial Ground, is located on NC 101 northeast of Beaufort, on the west side of the highway, behind and south of Tuttle's Grove United Methodist Church. Others familiar to Beaufort who are buried there: Henry Stanton (1688-1751), William Borden (Aug 15 1689-Feb 10 1748) and William Borden Jr. (Feb 6 1731-Nov 2 1799).
NOTE: *A sawmill was finally constructed sometime between 1843 and 1850; several men were involved from the beginning and it changed hands many times, until 1870, when Thomas Duncan became the outright owner.