Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis
Between his birth in Lewes in 1766 and his death in Wilmington in 1854, Samuel Boyer
Davis sired two families.
The parents of Col. Samuel Boyer Davis were John and Elizabeth (Bover) Davis. He was
born March 25, 1766, at Lewes, Del., and was the only one of two sons who attained to
mature years. John Davis was a soldier in the Continental army; he was taken prisoner
during the Revolution, and suffered so severely from the exposure and hardships of
captivity, that he died soon after being released. About 1783, Mrs. Davis removed to
Philadelphia, where her son Samuel was for a short time employed in a counting-house.
French Naval Service
He then indulged his preference for a sea-faring life, and made a number of voyages, several
of which were to France. In helping to rescue the family of Baron Pierre de Boisfontaine
from the island of Santo Domingo during the 1792 slave insurrection, he met and married
the baron's daughter Rose Elizabeth, and for some time after his marriage served in the
French navy, holding the rank of captain.
Then came revolutionary days, which was to shake France and all its institutions to their
very foundation. To escape the agitation and the painful uncertainty of the times, Captain
Davis, about 1796, threw up his commission and returned to his native land. Settling at
New Orleans, he served under the Spanish government, then still in possession of
Louisiana, as Gapitano del Porto; and when, in 1800, the territory was ceded to the French,
his talents were called into requisition by the new government as Juge de paix of the parish
of St. Bernard. From the emoluments of these offices and the profits obtained from his
plantation of sugar-cane, Captain Davis accumulated a considerable fortune; enough to
make him rank, in those times, among wealthy men; he accordingly retired from active life.
War of 1812
But not for many years; the difficulties between our country and Great Britain, which led
to the war of 1812. appealed irresistibly to one of his enterprising nature and patriotic
sentiment. He made a tender of his services to the United States government, which was
accepted; and it was not long before he enjoyed an opportunity to render signal aid to the
American cause. Receiving a commission in the U.S. Army at the outbreak of the War of
1812, Davis was made lieutenant-colonel of the 32nd U.S. Infantry and assigned to head the
forces defending the entrance to Delaware Bay. The colonel returned to his birthplace.
During his second residency in Lewes, the Davis family resided in a stately house still
standing on Pilotown Road and known as Fisher's Paradise.
A British fleet, under Admiral Beresford, had been sent late in 1812 to enforce the blockade
of the ports and harbors in the Delaware Bay. In March, 1813, Admiral Beresford demanded
supplies of the people of that vicinity, and to his amazement, found his levy sternly and
persistently opposed. For several weeks he continued to hesitate and to threaten Lewistown
with bombardment; meanwhile, Governor Haslet took measures for defence; he summoned
the militia, and the citizens rallied at the call with the greatest alacrity. On renewal of Sir
John Beresford's demand, he firmly repeated the refusal already made. On the sixth of April,
Commodore Beresford sent Captain Byron, in command of several vessels, the Belvidere
being the principal one, to make an attack. After firing a few heavy rounds, with the view
of persuading the citizens to submit, Captain Byron sent a note, under a flag of truce,
renewing the requisition, and protesting against the "cruelty" to the helpless inhabitants of
the town of refusing to comply with it. Col. Davis, now in command of the defenses,
having been commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Thirty-second Infantry March 17, 1813,
maintained the positive refusal of the citizens, and to the suggestion^of the British officer
that the women and children should be immediately removed from the town, returned the
reply that they had already been cared for.
The town was then subjected to a spirited bombardment of about twenty-two hours, but
no lives were lost. An attempt to land, made by Captain Byron on the following day, with
the intention of seizing the required provisions, was promptly frustrated. Thus foiled at
every point, the commander of the blockading fleet lingered for nearly a month, under
vigilant watch on the part of Colonel Davis, and at the end of that time dropped down the
bay to Newbold's ponds, where he hoped to obtain fresh water; but being once more
driven back within his "wooden walls," he withdrew his fleet to the Bermudas.
Commodore Beresford did not fail to appreciate the gallantry and military skill of Col.
Davis, and requested the favor of his acquaintance. An interview was accordingly
arranged, which proved mutually agreeable. At its close, the two commanders, who were
both amateur artists of some skill, exchanged watercolor sketches. The one given to
Colonel Davis by Commodore Beresford is still in the possession of the family. During the
bombardment of Lewistown, Col. Davis was wounded in the face by a fragment of a shell
and had his ankle shattered by a splinter; no lameness resulted from the latter casualty.
On May 6, 1813, Lieut. Col. Davis was transferred to the Forty-fourth Infantry, and was
afterwards promoted to the colonelcy of the same regiment, and placed in command of the
fortifications at Sandy Hook, defending the entrance of New York harbor. In 1814, he sat as
one of the judges in the oourt-martial in the celebrated trial of Gen. Hull for his
unfortunate surrender of Detroit, in 1812. This service rendered, he was at once ordered to
rejoin his regiment and to set out immediately for New Orleans. The route, as far as
Wheeling, Va., was traversed on foot, the regiment halting for a night at Wilmington, and
encamping about a mile west of the city, on the property of William Warner. From
Wheeling, the force was transported in boats, by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, to
the place of their destination, but did not arrive until after the battle of New Orleans had
been fought, January 8, 1815. Col. Davis was then placed in command of Fort Philips,
below New Orleans, whither he repaired with his regiment.
Postwar in Delaware, Pennsylvania,
Soon after the close of the war, Col. Davis purchased Delamore Place, the late residence of
Hon. Thomas F. Bayard. This property had been the camping-ground of the regiment,
before it was ordered to the south, and the beauty of the site had inspired the colonel with
the desire to possess it as a home. A dwelling had been erected upon the land during his
stay in the south. Col. Davis called his new acquisition Delamore Place, and here he
continued to reside during the summers until the year 1830, spending his winters on his
About 1830, he took up his abode in Philadelphia, where he soon became active and
prominent in public affairs. He represented the city in the Pennsylvania legislature, sessions
of 1831-'32, '32-'33; was a candidate for the national legislature in 1834, but was defeated. In
the state of Delaware, to which he returned shortly after the death of his first wife, Col.
Davis never held any public office, but was nevertheless warmly interested and influential
in all current questions and matters of importance to the commonwealth.
His valuable services to the state and to the country were always held in grateful
remembrance. He told of being "right there" when the Marquis de Lafayette visited
Wilmington in 1824. And of his address of welcome to President James Polk in 1847 when
the president arrived in Wilmington aboard a special railroad car. Rather belatedly, the
Delaware Legislature had presented a gold sword to the 1813 defender of Lewes as
recognition for his distinguished service; and Lewistown never failed to testify to her
appreciation of his valor in her defence by greeting him, on his visits to the town, with a
salute of cannon. His political opinions were those of General Jackson, and, like that heroic
and intrepid leader, he was characterized by an unswerving devotion to the Union. Of
commanding height, of graceful military bearing, possessing a manner at once dignified
and engaging, the personality of Col. Davis was most attractive. His varied experiences
combined with his rare intellectual powers and fine memory, enhanced the charms of his
conversation: and those who shared the generous hospitalities of Delamore Place, among
whom were many persons of distinction from other counties, found themselves the richer
by many pleasant recollections.
The children of Col. Samuel Boyer Davis, by his marriage with Rose de Boisfontaine,
I. Horatio Davis, captain in the Thirty-second U. S. Infantry, afterwards brigadier-general
of Louisiana troops during the Mexican war, married Naomi du Bourg, niece of the Right
Reverend du Bourg, Roman Catholic bishop of Louisiana, died in New Orleans in
II. Oscar Davis, lieutenant U. S. Navy, died in 1840;
III. Alonzo Bertrand Davis, born in 1810, died in Wilmington, in September, 1854, was a
lieutenant in the U. S. Navy, was married in 1843 to Lydia, daughter of Rev. Andrew
Prestman, a clergyman of the Episcopal church.
In 1837 Samuel Davis had reached the age of 71 years as a widower in comfortable
circumstances, but his life was far from over. It was then that he married Sally Jones who
was more than 50 years his junior. They had five children before he died in 1854. The three
sons were named Delaware, Kent and Sussex. Actually, Delaware's name was New Castle,
but it seemed cumbersome, so his middle name was used. The second wife of Col. Davis, to
whom he was married in Wilmington, in 1837, was Sarah, daughter of Edward P. and
Jeannette (Moore) Jones; her father was a Master in the U. S. Navy. Their children are as
I. New Castle Delaware Davis born near Wilmington, October 17, 1837, inherited
Delamore Place from his father.
II. Sussex Delaware Davis
III. Lieutenant Kent Delaware Davis born January 17, 1840, graduate of Princeton
University in 1861, Second Lieutenant iT. S. Marine Corps, June, 1864, married October
27, 1864, to Elise, daughter of Col. and (Mayhew) Woodruff.
IV. Elizabeth Victoria, born August 5,1844, married September , 1865.
V. Harriet Harper, born November, 1848, married January 21, 1871, to William Bishop
McKean, captain U. S.
Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis died September 6, 1854, after a short illness, and was buried in
Lt. Samuel Boyer Davis, Secret Service, CSA
Lt. Samuel Boyer Davis, son of Alonzo Davis and grandson of his namesake, who
defended Lewes during the British attack in 1813, an aide to General Isaac Trimble, was
wounded (shot through a lung) and captured at Gettysburg. Lt. Davis, a distant relation
of President Jefferson Davis, escaped from the USA General Hospital, Chester, PA and made
his way back south through his native state of Delaware.
In 1864, returning from a mission delivering messages to other Confederate Secret Service
agents in Canada, Lt. Davis was captured by two Union soldiers who recognized him (they
had previously been POWs at Andersonville where Lt. Davis had been 2nd in command)
while on a passenger train in Newark, OH. He was given the death sentence and
imprisoned at Fort Delaware on 26 February 1865. Just before he was to be hanged at
Johnson's Island, his death sentence was commuted by President Lincoln. Lt. Davis spent
the remainder of the war as a POW at Fort Warren near Boston, released on December 20,
Lt. Davis died in Washington,DC on September 24, 1914 and was buried in Ivy Hill
Cemetery, Alexandria, VA.
Bicentennial Highlights: Confederate spy caught in Newark
There were two Confederate spies named Samuel Davis.One, from Tennessee, was caught
and hung in Tennessee in November 1863. The other, Lt. Samuel Boyer Davis, from
Delaware, was wounded, captured, escaped and finally employed as a prison guard at
Just after Christmas, 1864, this second Sam Davis met Harry Brogden, who was set to go
on an espionage mission to Canada. Davis wanted a change, so he arranged to take the
mission himself. He dyed his hair, acquired a British passport, put on civilian clothes and
He carried papers to other agents in Canada, who were hatching all sorts of plots there. On
his return trip, he went through Columbus by train. Near Newark, two other riders
recognized him: Frank Beverstock of the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry and Archibald Parker of
the 16th Illinois Infantry, Company M. They had been prisoners at Andersonville and had
been exchanged recently.
They had the conductor send a telegraph ahead to the provost marshal in Newark and
posted themselves at the two doors of the car to prevent his escape. When the train
stopped, the marshal met Davis and escorted him to the Newark jail. Beverstock and Parker
took great pleasure in this turn of events.
The marshal, however, was not skilled in searching Confederate spies and failed to find the
hidden information behind the silk linings of his coat. Davis was put into a large cell
containing other prisoners and a wood stove.
When the guards left, he ripped out the linings and papers and threw them into the fire.
Regardless, his January 1865 trial in Cincinnati found him guilty of being a spy, and he
was sent to Johnson's Island in Lake Erie, sentenced to hang on Feb. 17, 1865.
Davis watched the gallows being built on Feb. 15. He slept on the night of the 16th and
watched the crowd grow the next morning. Then, as usually only happens in a movie, a
commanding officer entered and told Davis his sentence had been commuted by none other
than President Lincoln.
Members of Davis' family had pleaded with the president for his release, and the kind-
hearted Lincoln agreed. Even so, Davis was removed to Fort Delaware in irons. He was
beaten to the point of needing hospitalization.
He then spent months in prison at Fort Warren, Boston, after the end of the war. Finally,
former Union prisoners from Andersonville protested Davis' treatment enough that he was
released on Dec. 4, 1865.
This story appears in "Spies of the Confederacy" by John Bakeless and a chapter by Lewis
H. Bond called "A Confederate Spy" in "Sketches of War History, 1861-1865, Vol. II," 1888.
Dan Fleming writes for the Licking County Bicentennial Commission and is a reference
librarian at the Licking County Library.
By DAN FLEMING • October 19, 2008
|Delaware Military History
Lieutenant Samuel Boyer Davis,
grandson and Confederate Spy