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Joseph J. Davis and Family Private Papers

Identifier: SC-MS-065

Scope and Contents

This collection contains photocopies of letters and notes from Joseph Jonathan Davis to his wife Katherine Elizabeth Shaw. Many of the letters in this collection are referenced in T.H. Pearce’s, They Fought: The Story of Franklin County Men in the Years 1861-1865. Davis’s letters to his wife discuss his experience during the Civil War regarding soldiers, living conditions, weather, etc. Many of his letters include requests to his wife for supplies and also provide instructions for her regarding the management of their home.


  • Creation: 1862-1894 (photocopies)


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Copyright Statement

Copyright retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Biographical Note

For a complete biography of Joseph Davis, see entry in NCpedia authored by Bennet L. Steelman.

Joseph Jonathan Davis (1828-1892) was a U.S. Representative from the Fourth District (NC), (1875-1881); first president of the state (NC) bar association, (1885); North Carolina Supreme Court Justice (1887-1892); Confederate officer and prisoner of war; lawyer; and ranking leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis was born in Franklin County on April 13, 1828 and was the tenth child of Jonathan Davis, a planter, and Mary Pomfret Butler. Joseph studied at Louisburg Male Academy, Wake Forest College, the College of William and Mary and the University of North Carolina. He read law under W.H. Battle and graduated with an LL. B. degree in 1850. Davis was admitted to the bar in June 1850 and opened his practice in Oxford, NC.

Davis was initially opposed to secession, but at the outbreak of the Civil War enlisted in the Confederate Army. He accepted a commission as captain in Company G, 47th North Carolinian infantry. Davis served with the Army of Northern Virginia and was captured at Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863 in the Pickett-Pettigrew charge at Gettysburg. Davis was interned at Fort Delaware and was later transferred to Johnson’s Island where he established a law school among the prisoners. He was paroled at Johnson’s Island and transferred to City Point, Virginia for exchange on February 24, 1865.

After his exchange, Davis resumed his law practice in Louisburg with his partner, Charles M. Cooke. He began his career in politics as a Conservative and in 1866 he was elected as a Democrat to the House of Commons from Franklin Country. In 1870 and 1872 Davis canvassed for the Democratic Party and served as a state elector-at-large for Horace Greeley in 1872. It was later discovered that during this time, Davis was also a high-ranking leader of the Ku Klux Klan. During his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, Davis was a southern spokesman against federal interference in election procedures and defended southern claims for war damages and extension of Mexican War pension benefits to ex-Confederate soldiers.  He retired from Congress in 1881.

After his stint in politics, Davis resumed his law practice in Louisburg. In 1885 there was an attempt to organize a state bar association in North Carolina and he was elected President. Although the association was short-lived, Davis was not responsible for its demise. Governor Alfred M. Scales appointed Davis to the North Carolina Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1887. While serving in this position, Davis frequently held the tie-breaking vote between the liberal and conservative justices. Important cases decided by Justice Davis include: Cagel V. Parker, 97 (on easements); McCanless V. Flinchum, 98 (on contributory negligence); Michael v. Foil, 100 (on establishing the definitive North Carolina rule regarding privileged communication between lawyer and client); Goodman v. Sapp, 102 (on failure of a witness to take the stand as subject of comment in trial procedure); and Wilmington and Weldon Railroad v. B.I. Allsbrook, 100 North Carolina 138, the landmark decision that upheld the state’s right to tax the railroad’s property even though an exemption had been granted before the Civil War. His judicial opinions appear in volume 96-110 North Carolina Reports.

Davis served on the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina from 1874-1891. He was on the committee with William A. Graham and Kemp P. Battle that recommended a plan of organization for the University when it reopened after the Civil War. In 1883 he was chairman of the visiting committee and received an honorary LL. D. Degree in 1887.

Katherine Elizabeth Shaw (d. 1881) of Louisburg married Davis on October 21, 1852. Five Children resulted from this marriage:  Mrs. Katherine McAden Davis Crenshaw, Robert Henry, Hugh Levin, Mrs. Mary Helen Davis Allen, and Lily Davis, who died while still a child. Davis married a second time to Louisa Kittrell (d. 1899) of Oxford, NC in 1883. Davis died in Louisburg on August 7, 1892 was buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in Louisburg, NC.


Blackwelder, Fannie Farmer. “Organization and Early Years of The North Carolina Bar Association”. The North Carolina Historical Review XXXIV (January 1957): 36-57.

Cyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas of the Nineteenth Century. . . . . Madison, Wisconsin: Brant & Fuller, 1892, Vol. II, pp. 86-89.

Davis, Edward Hill. Historical Sketches of Franklin County. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Co.,1948, pp.150-155.

North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865; A Roster. Vol. 7, pp. 484-485.

Pearce, T. H. They Fought: The Story of Franklin County Men in the Years 1861-1865. [Chicago]: Adams Press, c[1969] pp. 92-102, 111-117, 143-147.

Steelman, Bennet L.  Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1986.  Vol. 2 “Davis, Joseph Jonathan”.

Note written by Lana Donaldson Taylor.


1 Container (Contains 1 document box)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged chronologically.

Acquisition Information

Method and date of acquisition unknown.

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed by Lana Donaldson Taylor. In 2015, this collection was re-house and re-foldered with current archival standard materials by Christine Hockaday.

Joseph J. Davis and Family Private Papers
Lana Donaldson Taylor
1989 April 20
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Repository Details

Part of the Randall Library Special Collections Repository