[1837-1858, 1869]. Contemporary 3/4 leather and marbled boards. 26 cm. Approximately 180 pp., nearly 120 letters, and some 30,000 words written in a clear, legible hand. About half of the letters are dated between Jan. 1837 and Dec. 1839, the other half (more sporadically) from Dec. 1844 to June 1858. There is also one very brief letter from November 1869, one original letter laid in, dated Oct. 11, 1837, and a newspaper clipping from 1846 advertising a tract of land and dwelling house Davis was selling in Allegany Co., Maryland.
In 1837, Charles Davis was in partnership with his brother Richard in the merchant firm of Davis & Brothers which sold goods and extended credit to customers in Baltimore, Hagerstown and Cumberland, Maryland where they had many relatives and friends. Many of the letters in this letter copybook pertain to granting notes and collecting payments from John Piper, Wm. J. Ross, Wm. Gwynn, Joseph Russell, D.G. Yost, and other locals. Other firms mentioned in the early letters include Johnston & Simms; Hutchinson & Weast; Marriot & Hardesty; D. & J. Middlekauff; Reynolds & Mosher, etc. Davis also looked after the interests of his father John Davis, a resident of Hagerstown, reporting on his dividend interests in the Peoples Line Tolls, his shares of stock in the Baltimore & Frederick Turnpike Road Co., etc. Construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal to Cumberland was underway, work on the Paw Paw Tunnel commenced in 1836, and a dam and a lock in the area was begun in 1837. Allen Bowie Davis (a relative?) was in charge of the construction of the last 50 miles. At one point, Charles Davis mentions sending 12 quarter casks of gunpowder to his father, in a letter dated Jan. 20, 1837. Perhaps this was used to further the work on the canal.
Davis & Brothers business interests extending to other parts of the country. A series of notes and one original letter to M.W. Hoffman of New Orleans, discuss a Captain Hugg who had left New Orleans for Baltimore, leaving behind a trail of unpaid notes. Davis was asked to track him down and have him arrested. Although Davis mainly did business in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, there are other letters addressed to Ohio, Missouri, California, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas.
In the first several years of their business, and in the midst of the Panic of 1837, Charles Davis often expressed concern over the tight supply of money in the economy and the heavy payments he was under obligation to meet. He struggled to collect on notes outstanding, and in a currency he could use. At one point he asks his father to cash a check for him but to be very particular about the funds he gets from the bank, "or else they will give thee money that I cannot use here- Thee can take Philadelphia, District, Baltimore, or Frederick money but I cannot use any other money here. Hagerstown Bank notes will do, if thee can get them….” In another letter to D.G. Yost in 1838, Davis requests that Yost get such money as is at par in Baltimore, but cautions him "don't send any shin plasters" [a reference to paper money rather than hard currency]. During most of this period legal tender was issued on a state level, with banks and occasionally corporations issuing notes. As a result of falling cotton prices and the failed wheat crop of 1836, banks required bills to be paid in gold or silver, instead of by bartering or exchanging cotton and wheat. The consequent shortage of coin caused banks along the east coast to suspend specie payments in varying degrees of severity (cf. History of the Hagerstown Bank). Davis' letters illustrate the impact of these suspensions starkly, describing significant numbers of credit transactions, and the frequent sending of checks to other areas to obtain cash.
Between 1840 and Dec. 1844, there are only two letters copied. By that time, it appears Davis & Brothers was no longer operating. In the Dec. 27, 1844 letter from Charles Davis to D.G. Yost of Hagerstown, he mentions that the "debts due our old business that can be collected are paid, and still we have some large debts that we owe...." Clearly the Panic of 1837 had impacted their firm. By the end of the following year, Charles' father John had turned his estate over to him to sell and settle up. Several of the letters over the next few years involve selling farms and property in Allegany County belonging to his father. His father's property included 350 acres in Flintstone, on which was a large brick tavern house, stable, granary, wagon maker shop, etc., plus a brick dwelling and store occupied by John Piper [Charles' brother-in-law?]. He also owned property on the Potomac River, 911 acres, a farm formerly owned by Thomas Greenwell, and including about 55 acres occupied by the [C & O] canal. Charles also continued to attempt to collect various debts outstanding related to Davis & Brothers.
Things must have stabilized by 1850, when E.L. Fant & Co. transferred all title and interest in their shipments headed for San Francisco, California to Charles W. Davis. There commences a correspondence (some nine or ten letters) between Davis and the firm of Daniel Markell and William Hammond of San Francisco involving articles shipped to the growing city, in the middle of the gold rush. Mentioned are wagons, dried fruit, and material for houses which could be quickly constructed and rented out. In 1853, the letter copybook records that Charles and his wife Martha, of the city of Baltimore, emancipated three slaves, all then living in Washington, DC [at least one of them with Martha's sister]. By 1858, Charles Davis had extended his business interests to Texas. His letter of June 23, 1858 addresses a man named Fenton, at Post Oak, Bexar Co., Texas, asking him to ascertain the quality, location and value of the land Davis had purchased an interest in. In all, a fascinating collection of letters showing the business culture, its contraction and expansion in mid-19th century America. Item #64958
Charles Davis was the son of John Davis (1770-1864), of Baltimore and Hagerstown, Maryland. John Davis emigrated from England in 1793. His original intention was to settle in Philadelphia but due to the yellow fever epidemic there, he went to Baltimore first. By 1795, he had moved to Philadelphia where his knowledge of engineering and architecture resulted in a job working with Benjamin Latrobe on the new public waterworks being constructed for the city. While there he met and married his second wife, a Quaker woman named Mary Whitelock. They had several children, including Charles, Richard, and John Jr. John Davis Sr. went on to work in Baltimore on their public waterworks, and to construct a water supply system for Fort McHenry. He consulted on the Lake Erie and Hudson Canal, and the extension of the Cumberland Turnpike Road. In his brief autobiography, written in 1849, and later published in the Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. XXX (1935), he mentions that one of his sons, John Jr. lived on a farm in Hagerstown, two were in the "Mercantile line" in Baltimore, and one was in the medical profession. By 1852, he was living with his son Charles in Baltimore.
The obituary for Charles W. Davis in the Baltimore Sun on Oct. 15, 1907, states that Charles was a retired merchant who lived in Baltimore his entire life. After his own firm failed in the early 1840s, the newspaper account states "he was connected with the firm of Loney & Co., dry goods merchants, until 1879, when he retired." It also states he was a member of the Society of Friends and attended the Eutaw Street Friends Church. He is listed in the census records over the years as a bookkeeper, a "Com. Mer." [commercial merchant?], and, in 1900, a "Capitalist."