Davis, NC History

Location of Davis/Davis Ridge

Some years ago, Mr. F. C. Salisbury published in the Carteret County newspaper an account of a boat trip that he took down east with Mr. Ira Willis, of Morehead City, NC. A part of it follows:

“Heading out from Smyrna, we cut across the waters of Jarretts Bay, rounding the southern point of Davis Island into Core Sound. From a Marine chart, we note that the township of Davis covers one of the largest land areas in the eastern part of the county. Its eastern boundary extends for five miles along the ocean front of Core Banks. From Davis Island to Point of Marsh, where the Neuse River joins the waters of Pamlico Sound is some twenty five miles. Its width is not over four miles at the widest section. With the exception of a few hundred acres that include the village, and a few acres known as the Ridge, separated from the mainland by marshland, the balance of the area runs through the unproductive Open Grounds and tidal marsh.”

Richard Wicker, will 1699, came to Virginia in the mid-sixteen hundreds, and settled in Princess Ann County. Among his children was a son Joseph, who married Ruth Musson, and lived for a while in Currituck County, where he was active in the political life of the county. In 1723, Joseph came to Carteret county and bought an Island from Levi Cressy, which Island was later to become known as Davis Island. Joseph Wicker and his wife Ruth, and their two daughters, Mary Wicker and Keziah Wicker made their home on the Island, and upon his death, he left the Island to his daughter, Mary Wicker. He left other property to his daughter Keziah, who married James Shackleford. Mary Wicker married William Davis, of Welsh descent, whose grandfather, William Davis came to Virginia in 1622 in the “Margaret and John.” On the same ship with him were Joseph Moore, Henry West, and Peter Ashley. The first William Davis was paid eight pounds per year by the Crown to preach the Gospel to natives.

William and Mary Wicker Davis spent their married life on Davis Island raising eight sons and one daughter. William’s will was offered for probate in 1756. By the end of the Revolutionary War, two sons had died, two others had left the county, and another son named Solomon White Davis had moved to Cedar Point at the western end of the county.

Of the three who remained at Davis, Joseph inherited the Island, Nathan lived at the Ridge, and Benjamin, the youngest son, built a home at Davis Shore. Deeds and other court records show that Davis shore was first settled by four families: George Styron and his wife Frances (Fan) Davis, a cousin of Benjamin; Seth Willis and his wife Anne Howland Willis; William Davis and his wife; and Benjamin Davis and his wife Sabra Williston, daughter of John Williston.

With the growth of the community, the institutions which form a basic part of community life came into being. In 1867, a church society of the Baptist denomination was organized with 14 charter members. A house of worship was erected on land owned by Daniel Davis. The building served the community as both Church and general assembly center for a number of years.

The first school building was erected near the south end of the village. The teachers were all native of Davis. Later, another one-room building was built nearer the center of town. When the need came for a larger building, a stock company was formed to build and operate a school in the village. It was stated in the charter that the building would be offered to the county School Board to hold public school in, whenever there was sufficient money in the county treasury to pay a teacher.

One of the several windmills along the east shore was located at the Ridge, owned by James Davis. Another mill was located at the village, at a place called Mill Landing. The first store in the community was a combination grocery store and apothecary shop owned by Poindexter Murphy.

The main occupations of Davis through the years, have been farming and fishing; in most cases, a combination of both. The area abounds with wildlife, both water and forest, with able hunting and fishing guides to make hunting a pleasure. The soil was rich in some area, but poor in others, and family gardens flourished with sweet potatoes, collards and beans. Cattle and hogs furnished the meat and there was little need to buy other than sugar, salt and coffee.

After the Civil War, the Island was lost by the Davis family and several colored families moved into Davis Ridge. There was Nathan and Simon, and Proctor Davis with his wife Elizabeth. Proctor’s children were Barney, Eli. Lucy and Bet. There was Adrian Davis, who was a captain for many years on the fish boat “Belford.” Sutton Davis and his wife had a son named David, who was lost on the fish boat “Parkin.” Sutton Davis was the son of Elijah Davis and a very outstanding person. A first-class carpenter, he built his own home on Davis Ridge, a fish factory and with the help of his brothers, he built two schooners, the “Mary Reeves” and the “Shamrock.” From their boats they caught fish, cooked them in their own factory and sold them on the market.

Sutton had an organ at home and would often go to Beaufort in one of his schooners to get a preacher by the name of Rev. Lamb, who would hold services in Sutton’s home. Mamie Willis, daughter of Abner Willis of Williston, always played the organ. I don’t know if she had lessons, but I’m told she could really play, and that the singing was “something to hear.” In 1922, or thereabouts, a Mrs. McAdam held a big tent meeting at Davis. Her tent was pitched on Mr. Monroe Willis’ land. Mr. Monroe’s only living child today is Mrs. Claude (Dessie) Willis. The colored people were called on to sing every night, and if you didn’t go early you didn’t get a seat.

Most of these people had walked two or three miles through heat and marsh and mosquitoes. Nowadays, people bemoan getting to church, even with air-conditioned cars and churches. After the hurricane of September 15th, 1933, the colored people moved away from the Ridge.

Around 1885, a Mr. Leckler from Brooklyn, NY, came to Davis to go duck and goose hunting. His guide was Mr. Isaiah Davis and they went hunting on his schooner, the “Evelina.” Mr. Leckler liked the people and the community and said that he would like to move there, so when Mr. Isaiah told him that Davis Island and Davis Ridge was for sale Mr. Leckler bought if for $500.00. The deed called for 50 acres, more or less, of cleared land, and 50 acres, more or less of marsh land. Mr. Leckler and his wife Minnie lived aboard Mr. Isaiah’s schooner while the big house was being built on the Island. Mr. Isaiah and his wife Jane Scott Davis from Marshallberg named one of their daughters for Miss Minnie. Leroy Davis, the only son of Mr. Isaiah was born in 1894 and died at Sea Level Hospital in 1972. After Mr. Leckler, the Island was owned in turn by Mr. Demmings, Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Serving. The late Robert Lee Humber of Greenville, NC, was the last owner of the Island, and was a descendant of Benjamin Davis through his son Archibald Davis.

There have been many caretakers of the Island, and my Dad, (Francis Murphy) was caretaker when Mr. Demmings was the owner in 1922. I have heard him tell of the good times they had, and of the abundance of food. Mama called it Caanan, the land where milk and honey flowed. There were cattle, hog, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, peacocks, and guineas. With a year round garden and fruit trees and the plentiful seafood, it offered real security in hard times. Mr. Demmings would have a “hog killing” every month and the meat left from the last killings would be thrown into the sand for the ducks and geese and chickens, as the sand was good for their craws.

There were two big icehouses in the Island. One joined the big house and the other was nearby. Papa only went to Beaufort once a year to get ice, but got ten tons at a time. The Island was a popular place for Church picnics, ball games and boat races. Mr. Leckler only paid his caretaker $15.00 a month, but Mr. Demmings paid Papa $75.00 a month, for it was a “sun-up to sun-down” job. The caretaker in 1973 is George Hancock of Smyrna, NC. He does not live on the Island, but goes over often to look over things.

In 1960, my husband and I, with two other couples and some of our children, went in a small power boat to the Island looking for wild onions. We didn’t find many onions, but we did find the most beautiful flowers. The azaleas, camellias, rose bushes and dogwood trees were all in bloom, and it was lovely. On the way back home, we stopped at Davis Ridge, where we had to wade ashore. We found no onions here, but we did find big, beautiful oysters. There is one big house still left on the Ridge, and in the back yard there were apple and pear trees, and a huge fig tree. We had a wonderful time that day, and I will always have precious memories of the trip. We planned to go back again, but never did. The Ridge is no longer so isolated, for in 1970, the Mosquito Fleet Co. of Carteret County built a road from Davis to the Ridge, and in dry weather cars and trucks can make the trip easily.

Source: Once Upon A Time: Stories of Davis, North Carolina by Mabel Murphy Piner, 1979; pp. 8-11.

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