Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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Davis, Reuben - Physician,
lawyer, and historian Reuben Davis was born on January 18, 1813, near
Winchester, Tennessee. The youngest of 12 children, he was son of the Rev. John
Davis, a Baptist minister, and Mary Easton, both of whom were Virginia natives
before moving to Tennessee around 1810 and then to Franklin County, near
Russellville in northern Alabama, which he later described in his autobiography
Recollections of Mississippi and Mississippians:
The land had been recently purchased from the Indians, and many of them yet
roamed the dense forests of that section. I well remember how I hunted with
these wild companions, and was taught by them to use the bow and arrow. Even now
I can recall something of the emotion excited in my youthful breast by the wild
yells of a party of drunken savages passing near my father’s house.
Reuben’s mother died in 1825 when Reuben was only 12 years old and his father
died 6 years later in 1831. As a fifteen year old teenager Reuben moved to
Monroe County, Mississippi, to study medicine—rather than the law, which he felt
was his true calling—at the urging of his father, who believed that “lawyers
were wholly given up to the Devil even in this world, and that it was impossible
for any one of them ever to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Reuben Davis studied medicine under Dr. George Higgason, who was married to
Reuben’s sister, Lucy. After completing his medical training, Reuben Davis
returned to Alabama to practice his new profession. He still felt that his true
calling was the law and after several years as a physician he began his study of
the law under Judge Lipacomb. He received his law license and returned in 1832,
when he was 19 years old, to Athens, Mississippi, in Monroe County. He thus
began his long and successful career as a criminal lawyer. He later moved to
Aberdeen, Mississippi, where he spent the remainder of his life.
In addition to being an extremely successful lawyer, Davis also served as
prosecuting attorney for the sixth judicial district in Mississippi from 1835 to
1839, an associate justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1840, and judge
of the high court of appeals in Mississippi in 1842. During the Mexican War
(1846-1848), he served as colonel of the Second Regiment of Mississippi
Volunteers; he again served briefly in the military during the Civil War as a
major general in the Confederate Army. Davis was also active in politics,
serving as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1855 to
1857, a Democrat in the United States House of Representatives from 1857 to
1861, and as a member of the Confederate Congress in 1861 until he resigned in
1864. He ran unsuccessfully for the governorship of Mississippi in 1863. After
the Civil War he returned to the practice of law.
In 1831, Davis married Mary Halbert, a poet and a writer of some note. They had
no children, and Mary died in 1865. Davis’s second wife was Sally Virginia
Garbor, the niece of writer Joseph G. Baldwin, a lawyer and author of The Flush
Times of Alabama and Mississippi. From this marriage three children were born:
Elizabeth, Reuben, Jr., and Stanley. After Sally’s death in 1916, at her request
her body lay in state on the grand piano in their home, Sunset Hill, in
Davis published his autobiography, Recollections of Mississippi and
Mississippians, in 1889; the book has been an invaluable reference source for
historians ever since. The book is a testimony to Davis’s skills as a writer and
as a man of superb intellect and keen insights. He was acquainted with the
leading political and social men of the state and he provides intriguing
sketches of their lives and paints charming and informative scenes about
Mississippi in the years before the Civil War. In the book, Davis describes a
time when the state was newly settled with a vibrant and growing population,
whose citizens were young and prosperous and mostly immigrants from older states
and who were distinguished by their vigor and unbounded imaginations.
“From the year 1828 to 1855,” Davis wrote, “life in Mississippi was
full and rich, and varied with much incident and many strong passions. In a new
country, teeming with wealth and full of adventurous spirits, there is no
tameness, no satiety. O friends of that day, what glorious times we had
together! What fierce combats we fought, and with what gay carouses we
celebrated the victory! The very recollection makes me grow young again”
(Recollections of Mississippi and Mississippians 103).
While on a trip promoting the book, Reuben Davis died suddenly of apoplexy in
Huntsville, Alabama, on October 14, 1890. He was buried in the Odd Fellows
Cemetery in Aberdeen, Mississippi.
Davis’s words near the end of his book are a fitting tribute to his own final
prospective of the era in which he lived: “All this belongs to the past now.
The old homestead has fallen into other hands, the old people sleep in their
quiet graves, and their descendants are scattered. The brave old days are like a
dream of the night, scarcely to be remembered in the realities of to-day” (Recollections
of Mississippi and Mississippians 274).
DAVIS, Reuben, lawyer, born in Tennessee, 18 January 1813; died in Columbus, Miss., 15 December 1873. He studied medicine, and after a few years' practice abandoned that profession for the study of law. He removed to Aberdeen, Miss., and was prosecuting attorney for the 6th judicial district from 1835 till 1839. He was appointed judge of the high court of appeals in 1842, but resigned after four months' service. He served, in the war with Mexico, as colonel of the 2d regiment of Mississippi volunteers, he was a member of the state House of Representatives from 1855 till 1857, and was elected to congress from Mississippi, serving from 1857 till 1861, when he retired and entered the Confederate army as brigadier general, commanding a brigade of Mississippi militia in Kentucky. He resumed his law practice, and, while defending a prisoner in the Courthouse of Columbus, was shot by the prosecuting attorney after a verbal altercation.
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