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Davis Family papers

 Collection 0008-MDHC

This collection contains the papers of the Davis family, who owned a farm in Frederick County, Maryland, for over a hundred years. The papers consist of financial records, including farm ledgers, account books, land deeds, wills, domestic receipts and bills, business correspondence, and records of investments. It is known from these records that William Morsell Sr. enslaved a man named Abraham on their farm, William Morsell Jr. enslaved one person, and Eli Davis enslaved six people. The collection also contains blueprints and instructions for building a dairy barn, circa 1930s. The most comprehensive records document the time of ownership by R. Lee Davis and his son Aubrey G. Davis between 1895 and 1945, concerning dairy operations and milk distribution to Baltimore. Five account books (1890s) detail the transactions of the Fountain Mills general store, which was owned by Davis's brother Samuel.


  • 1784-1967
  • Majority of material found within 1890-1945

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the special collections reading room staff.


4.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Davis family papers provide a detailed account of the accumulation of land and the operations of a family farm across several generations, with the most comprehensive records documenting the time of ownership by R. Lee Davis and his son Aubrey G. Davis between 1895 and 1945. The activities surrounding the dairy operations and milk distribution to Baltimore are well documented in the farm ledgers and business correspondence. In his farm ledgers, Aubrey tracked wages paid to his farm workers by day or by task. In addition to the financial transactions made in operating the farm, the papers reveal the domestic consumer patterns of the Davis family between 1886 and 1943.

The majority of the Davis collection relates to financial activities. The papers contain farm ledgers, account books, land deeds, wills, receipts and bills, business correspondence, and records of investments. The collection also contains blueprints and instructions for building a dairy barn, circa 1930s. Of particular note are two handwritten arithmetic books from the late eighteenth century. Through the sale agreements, land deeds and wills, one can trace the role of women in property transactions from the late eighteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century. Many of the wills and indentures include wives or daughters, even requiring their approval by signature as early as 1822. It is also known from these records that William Morsell Sr. enslaved a man named Abraham on their farm, William Morsell Jr. enslaved one person, and Eli Davis enslaved six people.

The Davis family collection also contains five account books belonging to Samuel B. Davis, brother of R. Lee Davis, who ran a general store at Fountain Mills across from the family farm. These ledgers track the purchases made by individuals and families on credit over time and offer a glimpse into the daily life of this rural area of Frederick County, Maryland, in the 1890s.

These papers cover the period 1784 to 1967, with the bulk of materials from the period 1890 to 1945. The earliest papers in the collection are land deeds and survey maps from the 1780s, and the latest are charts from Cora Lee Davis Winchester's 1967 investigation of her grandfather R. Lee Davis's investments.

Family History

For over one hundred years, the Davis family owned a farm in an area of Frederick County, Maryland, called New Market. William Morsell, Sr. (1745-1813), grandfather of Rachel Morsell Davis, originally bought land in the 1780s and added to it through smaller purchases throughout his life. Morsell, a Quaker, was a surveyor and apparently a merchant as well. He had three daughters and one son, William Morsell, Jr. (1778-1846). He employed a number of servants and enslaved an individual named Abraham.

William Morsell, Jr., continued to accumulate more land adjacent to the original tract. Various portions of this land were referred to as Prather's Adventure, Partnership, Solomon's Flower, Long Range, and the Lady. William Morsell, Jr. had only one child, Rachel Morsell Davis (1809-1886), who became his sole heir. The 1830 census reports that one man was enslaved and one free person of color lived on William Morsell Jr.’s property.

George Davis (1775-1850), a Quaker farmer and merchant who was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the father of Eli Davis (1809-1887). Eli married Rachel Morsell in 1832, and the story of their elopement was "a little romantic," according to J. Thomas Scharf in his History of Western Maryland. "The young pair conceived the notion that their marriage would be opposed by parental authority, and so they, deciding to brook no obstacle to their happiness, walked away to Clarksburg one fine morning and were wedded." Eli and Rachel most likely expected disapproval because she was the daughter of a landowner and he was a laborer on the farm she was to inherit. After eloping, however, they experienced their parents' blessings. The couple raised seven sons who survived to adulthood. Eli added more land to the farm Rachel inherited until it encompassed approximately 1,100 acres. Eli Davis enslaved one boy and girl under the age of 10 and there were three people of color living on Davis’ farm in 1830 according to the census. In the 1840 census, there were 3 free people of color living on David’s property. The 1840 and 1850 census reports that 3 free people of color were living on the farm. The 1850 Slave Schedule describes that a 20 year old woman, an 18 year old man, and their 1 year old daughter were enslaved on Davis’ farm. In 1860, the census reports that a free man, woman, and girl under age of 10 were living on the Davis farm. The 1860 Slave Schedule indicates that a 35 year old woman, a 30 year old man, an 11 year old girl, and three boys ages 7, 5, and 3 were enslaved by Eli Davis. Upon his death, Eli Davis divided the farm among his many sons, including Samuel and Isaac.

Samuel B. Davis (1846-1902) owned and operated a general store at Fountain Mills across from the Davis farm; he also ran a mill and a small farm. He married Rebecca Ebert in 1877, and they raised two children, Saidee and E. Carlton (Carl). Isaac T. Davis (1841-1913) inherited the original house and about 250 acres. He married Sarah Frances Spalding (1842-1905), a Catholic, and raised five children, R. Lee (1867-1939), Charles (1871-1955), Nellie (1873-1950), Louis (1880-1918), and Rachel (1882-1948).

R. Lee played an active part in managing the farm for his father from 1895 onward, and he did much to modernize the Davis Farm operations, specializing in dairy farming. "He [was] one of the most successful young farmers in this section, intelligent and fully 'up-to-date' in his methods," according to J. C. Thomas Williams in his History of Frederick County. Lee's stationary featured the farm's new name, "The Old Homestead Stock and Dairy Farm." For the dairy operations, he bought and bred Holstein-Friesian cows, joining Holstein-Friesian associations and obtaining official certificates for some of his cows. He sold milk and cream to retailers and merchants in Baltimore via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Monrovia station. At his father Isaac's death in 1913, Lee paid his four siblings and his uncle Charles in order to have full ownership of the farm. For a brief period (circa 1919-1920), Lee owned an automobile garage with his nephew, Frank Gaither (1896-1970), the Davis Overland Garage. During the last two decades of his life, Lee invested in oil and mining stocks in the South and West. These investments did not increase the family fortune; Lee's granddaughter, Cora Lee Davis Winchester, investigated the value of the stocks and leases in 1967, discovering that the companies no longer existed. A number of tenant families lived on the Davis property during R. Lee's lifetime, including the Toodle family, who may have been descended from the family enslaved by Eli Davis. R. Lee Davis married Cora U. Layton (1868-1915) in 1888. Together they raised three sons, R. Leslie Davis (1891-1942), Bernard M. Davis (1893-1981), and Aubrey Gaffney Davis (1895-1959), and a foster daughter, Florence Fair. Davis's sister, Rachel, lived on the farm with the family until his death and when she joined her other brother, Charles, at his residence.

Although Davis continued to manage the farm until late in his life, his son Aubrey began to assist him with the farm operations as early as 1908. Aubrey married Ursula Burke Brown (1895-1967) in 1916; they lived on the farm and there raised their three daughters, Catherine Davis Warner Voiles (b. 1917), Cora Lee Davis Winchester (b. 1918), and Audrey Davis Watkins (1920-1982). When his father passed away in 1939, Aubrey bought his two brothers' shares of the farm to become sole owner. In provisions of R. Lee Davis's will, Rachel and Florence received small inheritances as well. Aubrey continued to modernize the farm, and he built a new dairy barn in 1943. His ledgers reflect that he relied upon farm labor from outside the family, often the sons of his tenant farmers. While demand for milk remained steady during World War II, there were shortages in supplies and labor. Aubrey's daughters married men who were not interested in working on the farm. In January 1945, Aubrey sold the Davis farm to the Doody family intending to retire to Frederick, Maryland. Several years later he purchased a small farm nearby, which he ran until 1955.

In 1998, Aubrey's daughter, Cora Lee Davis Winchester, recorded the memories of her childhood on the farm with detail and affection. She remembered the farmhouse where she lived: "When I was about ten the old kitchen and loft were torn down and an ell consisting of kitchen and dining room on the first floor and a bedroom, bath, and loft with a long hall was built by Mr. Will Hendrickson. This house with its long, screened front porch stands today (minus the shutters I used to hang from!). It had all the usual farm buildings: meat house, chicken house, spring house, and, of course, privy (each of the two houses had its own set of outbuildings)." Of particular note is her description of family heirlooms in the living room: "An ancient grandfather clock (built for William Morsell, Sr. by Eli Bentley of Taneytown) dominated the room, which was furnished with a piano, arm chairs, and two Hitchcock chairs. Grandmother's desk (a Larkin) was there. . . . The bow-front china cabinet was also in this room. . . . Eli and Rachel Davis' gold-framed photo portraits hung over the mantle."

Although the size of the farm varied during the period when the Davis family owned it, the main portion was located near the intersection of present-day Maryland Routes 80 and 75 (Green Valley Road), in New Market, Frederick County.


The collection has been divided into the following series:

Series 1
Farm Records
Series 2
Family Records
Series 3
Investments and Personal Insurance
Series 4
Fountain Mills Store Ledgers

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Michael Warner, great-great-grandson of R. Lee Davis, donated the papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in November 1999. He donated additional, published materials in March 2000.

Related Material

Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Western Maryland. Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1968 reprint of 1882 original. Entry for "Eli Davis," p. 606. (MD REF F181.S4 v. 1)

Williams, Thomas J. C. History of Frederick County. Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1967 reprint of 1910 original. Entries for "Robert Lee Davis," p. 839 and "Samuel Davis," p. 1461. (MD REF F187.F8W7 1967 v. 2)


Publications by C. L. Opperman
  • With Harry Lamon, The Care of the Farm Egg, Washington, D.C.: U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Animal Industry, 1913
  • With Harry Lamon, The Improvement of the Farm Egg, Washington, D.C.: U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Animal Industry, 1911
  • With Robert Henry Ruffner and S. S. Buckley, The Maryland Hog, Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, 1914 (publication #185)
  • With Roy H. Waite, Some Experiments with Poultry, Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, 1914 (publication #157)
  • Poultry House Construction and Its Influence on the Domestic Fowl, Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, 1914 (publication #146)
  • With George Edward Gage, Nodular Taeniasis, or Tape-worm disease, of Fowls, Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, 1914 (publication #139)
  • The Poultry Industry in Maryland with Suggestions for Successful Poultry Management, Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, 1914 (publication #138)

Processing Information

Michael Warner, the donor, sorted the papers topically and chronologically in 1998. When they were acquired in 1999, the dairy barn blueprints and instructions were placed in flat oversize storage. The published materials were transferred to the Marylandia and Rare Books Department and to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection of the University of Maryland Libraries in 2000. The published materials include:

Marylandia and Rare Books Department:

Baltgis's Republican Gazette (newspaper). Frederick, April 22, 1815.

American Farmers' Almanack. Hagerstown, Maryland: Gruber and May, 1825.

Baltimore Farmers and Mechanics Almanack. Baltimore: Plasket and Co., 1832.

The Methodist Protestant (newspaper). Baltimore, February 14, 1852.

The Village School Ma'am. 1909.

Our Little People. 1888.

National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection:

The Handbook on Painting by National Lead Company (booklet).

All other materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Letters with multiple pages have been grouped with padded, non-reactive fasteners. News clippings were photocopied. A Texas oil map was unfolded and placed in oversize storage with the dairy barn blueprints.

Guide to the Davis Family papers
Processed by Jill F. Reilly.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2003-11: Revised by Jennie Levine.
  • 2007-04-15: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Jennie A. Levine.
  • 2017-05-31: EAD checked and verified following ArchivesSpace migration by Nancy Harrison Gage.
  • 2018-02-16: Finding aid reviewed and minor updates made by Caitlin Rizzo.
  • 2021-05-18: Hannah Frisch made minor updates to language regarding enslavement and added information regarding the family's history as enslavers.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742