The Davis Connection with Waterdown – Part I

From the American Colonies to Upper Canada

During the past eighteen months, the Society has received several pieces of valuable research material from members and friends that have been placed in the Archives. From time to time these will be used for the Heritage Paper. This is the first of three parts on the Davis family prepared by member Mr. Bob Lalonde. This family and their relatives had connections with the first settlers of the Township and then during the years of Waterdown’s industrial growth one member, Andrew Davis, was to establish an industry that existed in Waterdown for over twenty years.

Among the early settlers of the Thirteen Colonies in the 1700s, were the Davis family from Wales. Thomas and Mary Davis took up residence in the Royal Colony of Maryland, and raised a family of five sons and a daughter. One of these sons was William, born 23 December 1741, in Baltimore County, Maryland. Thomas Davis died when William was seven years old, leaving him a legacy of descent from the Welsh King of Cadwalladar.

William Davis married Hannah F. Phillips in 1771, the daughter of David Phillips of Yorktown, Virginia. They bought land, established a plantation, and raised a family of seven children in Orange County, North Carolina. William Davis, the Ghent family and some of their neighbours disagreed with the Declaration of Independence. They wanted to resolve their grievances without war, and thought that the established government of England was best. Davis welcomed General Cornwallis and his army in 1781, when the British were moving south against the rebels. Later, after the British withdrawal, the Americans (the rebels who called themselves patriots), destroyed the plantation, and the Davis family moved north to his wife’s parents’ plantation in Yorktown, Virginia. Shortly after Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington at Yorktown in 1781, John Graves Simcoe, a British officer, was a guest of the Phillips’ household.

Because of their loyalist leanings during the war, the David family was harassed by the Americans. By 1792, after the death of his wife’s parents, the William Davis family decided to come to Canada where they could be under British rule. They had heard that the former guest of the Phillips had become the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. So after the hardships of travelling north to Lake Ontario (at present-day Rochester), and then to Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) by gunboat, supplied by Simcoe for his friends, they settled at Chippewa (near Niagara Falls). William’s oldest daughter Elizabeth married to Thomas Ghent also migrated from Virginia to Chippewa at the same time. While at Chippewa, William’s homesick wife contracted malaria and died.

In 1793, William Davis petitioned Simcoe for 200 acres of land — Lots 3 and 4, Concession 2 in Barton Township. By 1794, both William Davis and Thomas Ghent had moved to the head of the lake. Among the Crown Patentees of Saltfleet Township, Lots 31 and 32 in Concession 6, Lot 32 in Concession 7, Lots 32 and 33 in Concession 8 (a total of 500 acres) were registered on 10 March 1797 to William Davis, and Lots 30 and 31 in Concession 7 (200 acres) registered 17 May 1802 to Thomas Ghent. The Davis property was above and below the Escarpment, part of which is occupied by Mount Albion and Glendale Golf and Country Club today. William set up his farm like a southern plantation, and built a large house which he called “Harmony Hall”. It still existed by that name on Mud Street until the 1970’s. Davis and Ghent introduced peach and apple trees to the area from seed they brought north with them — thus they were among the first settlers to start the future Niagara Fruit Belt. William Davis also brought with him the practice of slavery!

With Thomas Ghent, William built a sawmill and later a grist mill. A small community, which became known as Albion Mills, grew up on the site, made up of these mills, a general store, a distillery and a blacksmith shop. The original mill was sold to John Secord in 1814, and was made famous by George Washington Johnson’s song “When You and I Were Young, Maggie”, that he wrote for Margaret Clark, a pupil at the Glanford school, whom he later married. While there is some controversy as to the mill in the song, Maggie’s brother stated that it was the Albion Mill.

The Davis family had no sympathy for the Americans, and were involved with the British during the War of 1812. William was on the roll of the 2nd Flank Company of the 5th Lincoln Militia when it was first established. Many of William’s sons and sons-in-law participated in the War. The Red Hill House, a tavern built and kept by William Davis Jr., west of Stoney Creek on the road to Hamilton, near the bank of the Big Creek (now known as Red Hill Creek), boarded British Colonels Harvey and Murray during the War, and also saw use as a hospital for some of the wounded.

Among the early marriages of settlers in the 1800’s were several of William Davis’ children who were involved in the local history of the Head of the Lake. Sarah Davis married John Chisholm who settled in East Flamborough Township in what is present-day Burlington; Mary Davis married James Gage and raised a family of ten children on the farm which contained their now-famous farmhouse, Battlefield House at Stoney Creek. James Gage purchased 338½ acres in the Brant Block from Joseph Brant in 1810, but did not live there, though three of his children — Andrew, James Philip and Asahel — did settle there. William Davis died in 1834 at Saltfleet and was buried at Freeman (now part of Burlington), in the Union Burying Ground.

Of William Davis’ children, the most interesting is Asahel, born 4 May 1774, and one of the children to make the long trip north from Virginia. On 2 June 1796, he married Ann Morden. Ann, sometimes called Nancy, was born in 1776, the daughter of a Loyalist, the Widow Morden, who came to Canada with her children and settled in West Flamborough after her husband was killed in the Revolutionary War. Asahel and his wife Ann settled in Harmony Hall with his parents, but by 1806, Asahel’s growing family needed a larger house and some privacy. A land deed for 13 September 1806 records the sale of land in Brant’s Block from Joseph Brant before his death in 1807. Asahel Davis, his wife and seven children moved from Saltfleet across the lake to Brant’s Block. A family tradition says that they dug up and brought apple trees with them — trees started from seeds at Mount Albion.

The family of Asahel Davis had grown to eight children when his wife died on 1 October 1814. He remarried the widow Hannah Bates on 1 May 1815, and raised a second family of four children. With prosperity resulting primarily from his apple orchards, Asahel built a substantial brick house on his property about 1822. During the same year, on 6th March, Asahel’s eldest son, James, married his cousin Sarah Ghent, and moved to north Toronto where they established the Davis Tannery.

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, September 1984.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1984, 2020

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