Davis Family Network
Multiple generations of the Davis family petitioned in multiple jurisdictions for their freedom from various masters, arguing that as descendants of a free, English woman, they should be entitled to their liberty. Whether or not they were successful depended upon if their case was decided before the 1810 decision in Queen v. Hepburn which disallowed hearsay evidence.
The matriarch of the family, Mary Davis, was a white Englishwoman. According to a 1664 act of the Maryland General Assembly, her marriage to an enslaved black man meant that she was to be in servitude for the duration of his life, and any children they may have would be enslaved for life. For more information on this family and their struggle for freedom, see A Mother's Inheritance: Women, Interracial Identity, and Emancipation in Maryland, 1664-1820.
- Mary Davis - b. in London, England; immigrated to Maryland before 1677 as an indentured servant1
+ Domingo - enslaved by Joseph Tilley of Calvert County, Md.
- Thomas Davis - b. March 14, 1677 on plantation of Charles Calvert, Third Lord Baltimore, Calvert County, Md.
- Rose Davis - b. August 11, 1684 on property of Lord Baltimore, St. Mary's County, Md. - did not win 1715 freedom petition in Anne Arundel County, Md. against Henry Darnall
- Elizabeth Bentley (a.k.a. Indian Polly ?) - enslaved by Lettice Thomson in Prince George's County, Md.; petitioned for her freedom in 1772, but died of smallpox before it concluded
- Margaret Bentley
- William Bentley
- Rosamond Bentley - freed by petition in Prince George's County, Md. against Anthony Addison in 1781;2 was a witness for the petitions of Susan, Ann, & Letitia Davis in Washington, D.C. - see Davis Siblings below
- Mary Bentley - did not win 1781 petition against William Digges filed in Prince George's County, Md.3
- Eleanor 'Nell' Bentley - did not win 1781 petition against John Hawkins filed in Prince George's County, Md.3
These sisters and their children are descendants of Mary Davis, but it is not specified in the court documents how. Rosamond Bentley, the great-granddaughter of Mary Davis, was a witness for their petitions.
- Susan Davis - freed by petition in 1809 against Caleb Swann in Washington, D.C.; was a witness for the petitions of her sisters, Ann & Letitia
- Airy Davis - freed by petition in 1809 against Caleb Swann in Washington, D.C.
- John Davis - lost freedom petition in 1816 against Hezekiah Wood in Washington, D.C.
- Teresa "Tracy" Davis - lost freedom petition in 1816 against Hezekiah Wood in Washington, D.C.
- Mary Ann Davis - lost freedom petition in 1816 against Hezekiah Wood in Washington, D.C.
- Ann Davis - outcome of 1809 petition in Washington, D.C., against Charles Minifee unknown
- David Davis - outcome of petition unknown
- Sarah Davis - outcome of petition unknown
- Frederick Davis - outcome of petition unknown
- Hanson Davis - outcome of petition unknown
- Letitia 'Letty' Davis - outcome of 1809 petition in Washington, D.C., against Rebecca Forrest unknown
George is a descendant of Mary Davis, but it is not specified in the court documents how. One of the summonses in his case was also filed in Letitia Davis' case. It is possible they are siblings.
1. Information on the children of Mary Davis and her Bentley descendants—save for Elizabeth Bentley—can be found throughout Courtney C. Hobson, "A Mother's Inheritance: Women, Interracial Identity, and Emancipation in Maryland, 1664-1820" (Master’s thesis, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2014). The heritage of Elizabeth Bentley and her children is stated in her petition for freedom in the Circuit Court for D.C. [back]
2. The ancestry of Rosamond Bentley was argued in her petition for freedom filed in Prince George's County against Anthony Addison. Her petition was successful and she recovered her freedom on August 28, 1781. Rosamond Bentley v. Anthony Addison, Prince George's County Court (Judgment Record 1777-82, 713-5), Maryland State Archives. [back]
4. Elizabeth's petition for freedom states that she is the great-great-grandaughter of Mary Davis. Hobson's research shows that Elizabeth was the daughter of Nell Bentley. Elizabeth was listed as "Polly" along with her mother in a 1760 inventory. On another inventory in 1772, Nell is listed with her daughter, Elizabeth, and two grandchildren: Susanna and William. [back]