Henry Gassaway Davis

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Henry Davis
United States Senator
from West Virginia
In office
March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1883
Preceded by Waitman T. Willey
Succeeded by John E. Kenna
Personal details
Born (1823-11-16)November 16, 1823
Woodstock, Maryland, U.S.
Died March 11, 1916(1916-03-11) (aged 92)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic

Henry Gassaway Davis (November 16, 1823 – March 11, 1916) was a self-made millionaire and Senator from West Virginia. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1904.

Born on a farm in Howard County, Maryland, he became a railroad executive before branching out into coal mining and banking as founder of the Potomac and Piedmont Coal and Railway Company. Davis won election to both houses of the West Virginia Legislature before serving as U.S. Senator from 1871 to 1883. His younger brother, Thomas Beall Davis, also served in Congress. After his tenure in the Senate ended, Davis continued to grow his business interests. In partnership with son-in-law, Stephen Benton Elkins, Davis created the Davis Coal and Coke Company and led it to become one of the largest coal companies in the world.

The 1904 Democratic National Convention nominated a ticket of Alton B. Parker for president and Davis for vice president. Davis was chosen primarily for his ability to provide funding to the campaign. At 80 years old, he remains the oldest person to ever serve on a major party's national ticket. The Republican ticket of Theodore Roosevelt and Charles W. Fairbanks prevailed by a wide margin. After the election, Davis helped establish Davis & Elkins College, and he died in 1916.


Early life

Henry G. Davis

Henry Gassaway Davis was born near Woodstock, Howard County, Maryland, the son of Louisa Warfield (née Brown; March 10, 1799 – July 23, 1868) and Caleb Dorsey Davis (March 3, 1792 – September 4, 1850). He was the great-great-great-grandson of Maryland pioneer Thomas Davis, and the great-great-great-great-grandson of Maryland politician and justice Colonel Nicholas Gassaway, both of whom were of Welsh ancestry and emigrated to Maryland in the mid 17th century.[1]

Davis worked on a farm until 1843, when he went to work for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as a brakeman and conductor. Later he was put in charge of the Piedmont, West Virginia terminal of the railroad, and soon went into coal mining and banking in Piedmont. On February 22, 1853, in Frederick County, Maryland. Davis married Katherine Ann Salome Bantz.[2] Henry and Katherine had eight children, three of whom died in infancy.[3]

Political and commercial life

In 1865 Davis was elected a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. The following year, he founded the Potomac and Piedmont Coal and Railway Company with the intent of furnishing transportation to his coal mining and timbering interests. The company was given the right to construct railroad grades in Mineral, Grant, Tucker and Randolph counties. He became a state senator in 1869. In 1870, he was elected to the United States Senate, serving two terms, with his service ending in 1883.

Parker/Davis campaign poster

Following his service in the Senate, Davis retired to Elkins, West Virginia, where he resumed banking and coal mining. Davis’ company now controlled 135,000 acres (550 km2), employed 1,600 men of sixteen nationalities, operated two power plants, and worked over 1,000 coke ovens and 9 mines within one mile (1.6 km) of the central office at Coketon in Tucker County. By 1892, the Davis Coal and Coke Company, a partnership between Davis and his son-in-law, Senator Stephen Benton Elkins, was among the largest coal companies in the world.

Davis represented the U.S. at the Pan-American Conferences of 1889 and 1901.

Candidate for Vice President

In 1904, Davis became the Democratic nominee for vice president on a ticket with Alton B. Parker. Parker and Davis lost to the Republican ticket of Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Fairbanks by a wide margin. At the age of 80, Davis was and remains the oldest person to be nominated for president or vice president on a major party ticket. He was chosen primarily because of his ability to provide much needed funds to the campaign.

Bessie A. Davis and the Wreck of the RMS Republic

On January 23, 1909, Bessie A. Davis (née Elizabeth Irwin Armstead),[4] the wife of Henry's son John Thomas Davis, was aboard the White Star liner RMS Republic when it collided with the Italian liner SS Florida and sank off Nantucket on the following day. Bessie had her two living children (Hallie Elkins Davis and Henry Gassaway Davis III) with her on the voyage, as well as her mother,[5] but no harm came to any of them and they were evacuated (along with almost all the other passengers) onto other ships which had answered the distress calls of the RMS Republic. Bessie's son Henry Gassaway Davis III later became the first husband of Grace Vanderbilt,[6] daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt III[7] and Grace Graham (Wilson) Vanderbilt.[8]

Davis in 1911

Later years

Davis in his last years acted as chairman of the permanent Pan American Railway Committee (1901–1916) and also donated land to build Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. He died in Washington, D.C. on March 11, 1916 at the age of 92. He was interred in the Maplewood Cemetery in Elkins. A bronze equestrian statue of Davis was erected in 1927, at Sycamore Street and Randolph Avenue in Elkins, with an identical twin in Davis Park in downtown Charleston, West Virginia.[9][10]


He is the namesake for Davis WV


  1. ^ Pepper, Charles Melville. The life and times of Henry Gassaway Davis, 1823-1916. The Century Company, New York, New York, 1920, p.7
  2. ^ Katherine Ann Salome "Kate" Bantz (December 22, 1829 – December 10, 1902) was a daughter of Gideon Bantz, Sr. (February 9, 1792 – October 13, 1854) and Anna Maria Sowers (January 4, 1796 – October 11, 1873). Gideon Bantz, Sr., a leading merchant of Frederick, Maryland, was often referred to as "Judge Bantz" because between 1843 and 1847 he had been one of the three judges serving on the bench of the Frederick County Orphans' Court. Gideon Bantz, Sr., also served in other public offices in Frederick County, as follows: (1) Boards of Common Council (1831) (2) Board of Aldermen (1832–1838, 1844–1850) (3) Frederick County House of Delegates (1847–1848). It is sometimes mistakenly stated that Katherine Bantz (1829–1902) was a daughter of Gideon Davis Bantz (September 19, 1854 – August 7, 1898), who also is frequently referred to as "Judge Bantz." Gideon Davis Bantz was a lawyer in St. Louis, Missouri who moved to Silver City, New Mexico in 1886 and took up the practice of law there. He became presiding Territorial Judge of the 3rd Judicial District of New Mexico, and in February 1895 was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Territory of New Mexico.
  3. ^ Of the eight children of Henry and Katherine, seven have so far been identified, as follows:
    • (1) - Mary Louise "Hallie" Davis (December 9, 1854 – March 1, 1933) (Her married name was Hallie Davis Elkins) - She married industrialist and politician Stephen Benton Elkins (September 26, 1841 – January 4, 1911) on April 14, 1875 in Baltimore, Maryland. Hallie Davis was Stephen's second wife, his first wife having been Sarah Simms "Sallie" Jacobs (1845 – October 1872). Stephen married Sarah Jacobs on June 10, 1866, and had two children by her. His marriage with Hallie Davis produced five children. Throughout the course of his life Stephen B. Elkins, who was a Republican in politics, held several public offices, including: Delegate of the New Mexico Territory to the U. S. Congress (March 4, 1873 – March 3, 1877), Secretary of War (December 17, 1891 – March 5, 1893) in the Benjamin Harrison administration, and U. S. Senator (Class 2) from West Virginia (March 4, 1895 – January 4, 1911). Hallie died in Washington, D. C. Her husband Stephen predeceased her by about 22 years, and is interred in Maplewood Cemetery (Elkins, West Virginia).
    • (2) - Kate Bantz Davis (December 1, 1856 – January 21, 1903)
    • (3) - Anderson Cord Davis (born January 14, 1865) (twin) (died in infancy)
    • (4) - Ada Kate Davis (born January 14, 1865) (twin) (died in infancy)
    • (5) - Grace Thomas Davis (October 19, 1869 – 1931) (a.k.a. Gracie Davis)
    • (6) - Henry Gassaway Davis, Jr. (May 1871 – April 24, 1896) (a.k.a. Harry Davis)
    • (7) - John Thomas Davis (March 31, 1874 – June 27, 1935)
  4. ^ Elizabeth Irwin "Bessie" Armstead (born in September 1875) and John Thomas Davis (1874–1935) were married on November 10, 1897 at Bessie's parents' house (455 Greene Avenue, Brooklyn, New York). The names of Bessie's three known children are: Hallie Elkins Davis (July 27, 1898 – February 1982), Mary Armstead Davis (October 5, 1900 – July 28, 1901), and Henry Gassaway Davis III (January 6, 1902 – May 22, 1984). Hallie Elkins Davis' 1st husband was George Almy Percy (May 12, 1895 – January 1970), who was a lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps at the time of their marriage in Washington, D. C. on June 22, 1918. Percy saw active duty in WW II and eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the U. S. Marine Corps. Hallie and George got divorced in Reno, Nevada in 1941, and Hallie subsequently married Morton Clement Hutchinson, Jr. (April 11, 1898 – 1959).
  5. ^ Alice Mary (McPherson) Armstead (born September 1851) - She married Henry Howell Armstead (1845–1908) on August 24, 1871 in Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota.
  6. ^ Grace Vanderbilt (September 25, 1899 – January 28, 1964)
  7. ^ Cornelius Vanderbilt III (September 5, 1873 – March 1, 1942)
  8. ^ Grace Graham (Wilson) Vanderbilt (September 3, 1870 – January 7, 1953)
  9. ^ David L. Taylor (October 2005). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Wees Historic District" (PDF). State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-09-10.
  10. ^ Ross, Thomas Richard. "Henry Gassaway Davis". West Virginia Encyclopedia. West Virginia Humanities Council. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
  11. ^ Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 260.
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Waitman T. Willey
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from West Virginia
Served alongside: Arthur I. Boreman, Allen T. Caperton, Samuel Price, Frank Hereford, Johnson N. Camden
Succeeded by
John E. Kenna
Preceded by
William Windom
Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
William B. Allison
Party political offices
Preceded by
Adlai Stevenson (I)
Democratic nominee Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by
John W. Kern
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