Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John W. Davis (1823-1888)
MSA SC 3520-1544


John W. Davis was born on Light Street in the City of Baltimore in February 1823, the son of Capt. Henry Davis of the Hooper Line of packets, which ran between Baltimore and Richmond. His mother was Caroline Mathilda (Scott) Davis.

Davis began his career in business as a small boy selling newspapers. He claimed to be the first newsboy in Baltimore. He was a wharfinger in 1850, assistant paymaster of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company in 1852, and general agent of the North Central Railroad Company by 1877. This was a time of strikes and riots and John W. Davis was given credit for averting disturbances on his line. By 1881 he was assistant to the vice president of the B & O Railroad and later to the president, a position he filled until his death.

Davis' political career began in 1852 when he was elected to the House of Delegates from Baltimore City. He later served as clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of Baltimore City. In 1857 President Buchanan appointed him Naval Officer of the Port of Baltimore. He was one of the first police commissioners of Baltimore City appointed in 1860, and this office led to his arrest during the Civil War. He was imprisoned in Fort McHenry in 1861, then transferred to Fort Lafayette in New York and later to Fort Warren, Boston. He remained in prison for more than a year.

In 1867 Davis was elected sheriff of Baltimore City. He was again appointed police commissioner for Baltimore in 1870 and 1884. From 1872 to 1874 he served as Treasurer of the State of Maryland.

John W. Davis died at 1918 Madison Avenue, Baltimore City, on November 8, 1888. His will gives the name of his wife as Isabella Charity, however, an 1846 marriage license states that John W. Davis married Anna Eliza Walter. Perhaps he married twice. His children were Samuel Spofford (ca. 1845-?), Anna Isabella (ca. 1847-?), Robert (ca. 1850-by 1888), Laura Virginia, Florence Elmer, Helen, and Mary Cornelia

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