Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Davidson (1754-1807)
MSA SC 3520-320

Biography:

John Davidson was a high-ranking government official and prominent member of Annapolis society. Davidson began his long public service as the second lieutenant of John Allen Thomas' Fifth Independent Company in January of 1776. One of seven independent companies formed to guard the Chesapeake Bay coast from potential excursions from the Royal Navy, Davidson and the rest of his company soon found themselves marching up to New York in the summer of 1776 to aid General George Washington and the Continental Army in defending the city from the British. [1]

On August 27, 1776, the first full-scale engagement between American and British forces began at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes referred to as the Battle of Long Island). The experience of the British regular troops and the inexperience of the Continental Army showed in this engagement, as the British outflanked the American line and forced a general rout. At the request of Colonel William Smallwood, George Washington sent the as-yet untested Fifth Independent Company and some New Englanders to cover the retreat. Here Davidson and his compatriots aided the rest of the American forces swim or wade across Gowanus Creek, as the bridge had been destroyed the day before. [2]

The British were not the Americans’ only enemy, as sickness plagued the camps of the Continental Army. Immediately following the Battle of Brooklyn, Davidson’s captain, John Allen Thomas, wrote a letter to Maryland’s Council of Safety, describing the conditions the Fifth Independent Company was in. Captain Thomas wrote:

I have had from fifteen to twenty of my men extremely ill and have not yet been able to procure them the least assistance. The Province have[sic] but two surgeons here, one of them very ill, and none can be procured here.

Out of all of the Maryland troops, not just the men of his own company, “we have at this time near two hundred men unfit for duty and most of them without any assistance.” Despite Captain Thomas’s plea, no help came from home. [3]

Davidson continued his service with the Continental Army through the rest of 1776, including the battles of Harlem HeightsWhite PlainsFort WashingtonTrenton; and Princeton, and remained with the Continental Army for the rest of the war. In December 1776, Davidson was promoted to captain in the newly formed Second Maryland Regiment under Colonel Thomas Price. In January 1781 he was promoted to major and was transferred to the Fifth Maryland Regiment. Davidson remained in that position for two years and was discharged from the army in January 1783 as the Revolution was winding down and soldiers were being sent home. [4]

Davidson became a brigadier general in the Maryland militia in 1794, more a political office than a military one during this time, but he served the public in a number of different offices. He served the people of Annapolis as a councilman in 1797 and 1798, then as an alderman in 1799. Davidson became the Mayor of Annapolis in 1800, and then returned to being an alderman from 1801 until September of 1805. [5]

Davidson was elected by the Maryland Legislature to the Governor’s Council, first in 1786, and then every year between 1789 and 1800. He was also nominated for the Governor’s Council in 1801, 1802, and 1803, but because his Federalist party no longer held a majority in the General Assembly, he lost all three times. The Federalist Party would not regain control of the General Assembly until 1808, after his death. [6]

In addition to his public offices, Davidson partook in land speculation, buying and selling land in Maryland, especially in Baltimore and Allegany counties. He was also briefly the owner of the Adams-Kilty House on Charles Street in Annapolis, holding it as a trustee of William Adams’ Estate before the house was sold to William Kilty (the Adams-Kilty house still stands today). [7]

The militia brigadier general was an active member of Annapolis society. He was friends with Annapolis silversmith William Faris, who kept an excellent diary, recording events like Davidson’s marriage and Davidson’s fiftieth birthday, as well as other social events where Davidson “Plaid the fiddle” for others to dance to. [8]

Davidson was also an active member of St. Anne’s Church in Annapolis, serving as a churchwarden in 1797, and as a vestryman from 1798-1801. [9]

On October 2, 1796, John Davidson married Anna Marie Luthall Grason, and they had three children, sons John Thomas and Pinkney, and daughter Ann Janette. Both sons followed in the military footsteps of their father. John Thomas became a lieutenant in the U.S. artillery and Pinkney attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. Both died in 1821, John Thomas in St. Augustine, East Florida, and Pinkney at West Point.

Davidson himself died on February 2, 1807, in Baltimore County, Maryland at the age of fifty two. He was buried in the Annapolis National Cemetery with military honors. His Wife Anna Marie died eight years later on June 20, 1815 of "the prevailing epidemic." [10]

Nicholas Couto, 2016

Notes:

1. Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 18, p. 25Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; Mark Andrew Tacyn, “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 154-155. For more on the experience of the Marylanders at the Battle of Brooklyn, see "In Their Own Words," on the Maryland State Archives research blog, Finding the Maryland 400.

2. Steuart, 154-155.

3. John Allen Thomas to Maryland Council of Safety, 4 September 1776, Maryland State Papers, Red Books XII: 89, MdHR 4573 [MSA S989-17, 1/6/4/5].

4. Steuart, 71.

5. Edward C. Papenfuse, et al. Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789, vol 1. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 257.

6. The Maryland Gazette, 7 December 1786; The Maryland Gazette, 19 November 1789; The Maryland Gazette, 17 November 1791; The Maryland Gazette, 15 November 1792; The Maryland Gazette, 21 November 1793; The Maryland Gazette, 20 November 1794; The Maryland Gazette, 12 November. 1795; The Maryland Gazette, 17 November 1796; The Maryland Gazette, 16 November 1797; The Maryland Gazette, 15 November 1798; The Maryland Gazette, 13 November 1800; Additional election information from A New Nation Votes.

7. "The Adams-Kilty House In Annapolis" Maryland Historical Magazine 60, no.3 (September 1965), 314-324; Papenfuse, et al, 257.

8. Mark B. Letzer and Jean B. Russo, The Diary of William Farris: The Daily Life of an Annapolis Silversmith, (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society Press, 2003), 241

9. St. Anne’s Vestry Minutes and Accounts, Annapolis 1767-1818, p168-169, 172, 179, 181, 195 [MSA SC 15, SCM 1157-1].

10. Anne Arundel County Register Of Wills, Wills, Original, John Davidson, 1807, Box D Folder 14 MdHR 4869-4- 14 [MSA C 155-6, 1/4/13/11]; Anne Arundel County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1777-1813 p. 63 MdHR 4752 [MSA C 113-1, 1/1/11/27]; Letzer and Russo, 247, 424; The Maryland Gazette, 5 February 1807; The Maryland Gazette, 13 December 1821; The Maryland Gazette, 1 February 1821; John Davidson on Find a Grave.com; Papenfuse, et al, 257; The Maryland Gazette, 22 June 1815; Anne Arundel County Register Of Wills, Estate Docket, Anna Marie Davidson, 1815, 104, MdHR 4862 [MSA C 33-1, 1/4/7/23].


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