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Garrett Davis

Marker # 1886, “Garrett Davis (1801-1872)”, Link Avenue, Winchester Road, Paris, KY Highway 627, Bourbon County.

Historical Marker #1886 highlights the life of Garrett Davis. Garrett Davis was born on September 10, 1801 at Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. Educated locally, he had always planned to become a lawyer. He did study law and was a deputy to the circuit until 1823 when he moved to Paris, Kentucky, to pursue the private practice of law. While living in Bourbon County he was a farmer, landowner, and enslaver. He spent the rest of his life in Paris where he died September 22, 1872 while serving as U.S. Senator.

In 1833, Davis was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives where he served for five years. In 1839 he was elected to the US House of Representatives and in 1861 he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served until his death in 1872. He also served on the Kentucky Constitutional Convention in 1849. He was not pleased with the document finally written and actively, though unsuccessfully, opposed its passing.

Always active in politics as a conservative, first as a Whig and finally as a Democrat, he was a supporter and ally of Henry Clay and Clay’s bids for office in the Senate and for the Presidency. Though he criticized slavery he also believed that ending it was in direct contradiction to the Constitution. Davis was also quick to refute the idea that he was an abolitionist and though he initially supported the Union and helped prevent Kentucky from succeeding in 1861 he eventually split with Lincoln in 1863. He felt that the Emancipation Proclamation represented a subversion of slavery as upheld by the Constitution in addition to accusing Lincoln of meddling in Kentucky’s election.  Davis favored a more gradual approach to emancipation; so gradual that he expected it to last more than 100 years. He also vehemently opposed the 13th Amendment due to his belief that loyal states like Kentucky should not have to abolish slavery and proposed a change to include in it that “no negro, or person whose mother or grandmother is or was a negro, shall be a citizen of the United States.” In 1864, Davis espoused a view likely held by many White Kentuckians when he professed that he claimed a “…proud superiority to the African race”. Davis’s views by the end of the Civil War were not popular with his fellow legislators (though they seem to have been with Kentuckians) and he was eventually regarded more as a pathetic figure than the respected statesman he was earlier in his career.

Much sought after as a representative of the people of Bourbon County, he declined to run for office several times, including the nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky in 1848 and the American Party nomination for Governor in 1866 and for the presidency in 1856. During an 1869 controversy between the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the Cincinnati Southern Railroad over the right to build a road through central Kentucky to Tennessee, Davis prevented the Southern Railway Bill from passing the Senate, asserting that it was unconstitutional.

Davis was married twice, once to Rebecca, the daughter of Robert Trimble, and second to a Mrs. Eliza J. Elliott. He fathered two sons, Robert and Garrett as well as two daughters, Carrie and Rebecca. He participated in civic and religious activities in Bourbon County.

After his death and a period of ownership by his son, Robert Trimble Davis, his home, Woodhome, came to house a school, first organized as a military academy, but soon becoming a private boys’ school frequented by Bourbon County boys.

Sources:

Kentucky Encyclopedia,” Garrett Davis”

Historic Architecture of Bourbon County, Kentucky, Walter E. Langsam and William Gus Johnson, Paris:KY, Historic Paris-Bourbon County, 1985, p. 275-6.

History of Bourbon, Harrison, Scott and Nicholas Counties, Kentucky, edited by William Henry Perrin, reprint of Southern Historical Press, Inc., Greenville, S.C., originally published 1882.

Lee, Jacob F. “UNIONISM, EMANCIPATION, AND THE ORIGINS OF KENTUCKY’S CONFEDERATE IDENTITY.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 111, no. 2 (2013): 199-233.  www.jstor.org/stable/24640996.

Waldrep, Christopher. “GARRETT DAVIS AND THE PROBLEM OF DEMOCRACY AND EMANCIPATION.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 110, no. 3/4 (2012): 363-402.  www.jstor.org/stable/23388056.

Will of Garrett Davis, Bourbon County, KY Clerk’s Office, Paris, KY.
Garrett Davis

Garrett Davis

U.S. Senator and Congressman; opposed secession and was elected as a Unionist to the U.S. Senate in 1861.

The Larches

The Larches

Garrett Davis’ home was called Woodhome. After his death the house was sold to Colonel George M. Edgar. Col Edgar established the Edgar Institute, a military academy, but it soon became a private boys’ school.

Newspaper clipping from 1865 reporting that Garrett Davis and Brutus Clay were holding onto their former slaves without paying, something that was now illegal according to federal law.

1865 clipping from the Louisville Courier-Journal

This clipping reports that Garrett Davis & Brutus Clay, both of Bourbon County, were accused of holding former enslaved individuals for labor without pay, violating the laws of the United States since the end of the Civil War.