Whenever I do some research on James Davis, I picture this stern looking Puritan looking down on me disdainfully for all of my modern day transgressions! He was my 12th great-grandfather and the great-grandfather of Mary Smith who I wrote about here. He was a prominent man involved in community affairs, obviously brave (or foolhardy?) as he settled in Indian territory, and accused someone of witchcraft.
James was born 1583-1588 in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, according to old Bible records. His father may have been John Davis. He married Cicely (Thayer?) 11 June 1618 in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England. They had seven children: James, John, Samuel, Sarah (who died young), Judith, Ephraim, and Sarah. I descend from John who married Jane Peasley and moved to Oyster River (current Durham NH).
He sailed to Massachusetts Colony with his wife and three oldest children. His brothers Samuel, Thomas, John, and Ephraim also came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
James was made a freeman at Newbury on March 4, 1634/5. He received a grant of land at Hampton in 1639. In May 1644 he had moved to the Indian village of Pentucked (now Haverhill) where he was listed as one of the first settlers. James Davis was one of 12 original settlers in the "wild woods" of Pentucket who were from Ipswich and Newbury.
|Map Showing Haverhill's location|
Four years later on 17 August 1648 he sold his land at Hampton. I have read some speculation that the James Davis in Hampton was another man of the same name, but other family was there as well so it is likely this James.
In 1650 his land was worth 200 pounds, the highest amount in Haverhill.
James Davis, Sen., and his son Ephraim Davis along with others, signed a paper presented to the Ipswich Court in February 1658-9, against John Godfrey, accusing him of witchcraft. They said they had suffered losses in their estates or afflictions to their bodies that weren’t from natural causes but rather from an ill-disposed person. This was prior to the Salem witchcraft trials and only five cases on the charge of witchcraft are known to have occurred in Massachusetts before the Salem cases. Such trials were held periodically, but the outcomes generally favored the accused.
The case against John Godfrey of Andover, a notorious character consistently involved in litigation, was dismissed. Godfrey was again accused by someone else in 1662.
James was active in town government, serving as selectman (amongst the first named in 1648), on the grand jury, was representative to the General Court, Justice of the Peace. He was discharged from militia training in 1650 because of his age.
He lived near Rocks village, East Haverhill. In 1661, he and his wife “Cisley” sold two acres of his Haverhill house lot to George Brown.
|Old photo of Rock's Village from the Eagle Tribune Newspaper|
Cicely died 28 May 1673 in Haverhill. James made out his will on 17 May 1675/6 during the time of King Philip's War. He wrote a codicil 22 July 1678 and was proved 1680. He died at Haverhill, Massachusetts on 29 January 1678/9, age 96.
David Hoyt wrote that James Davis of Haverhill is not James who married Cicely Thayer at Gloucestershire, so there is some doubt.
Sybil Noyes, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire, 1928
David Webster Hoyt, Old Families of Salisbury and Amesbury Massachusetts vol 1, 1897
George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts, From Its Settlement in 1640 to the Year 1860, 1861
Everett S. Stackpole and Winthrop S. Meserve, History of the Town of Durham New Hampshire (Oyster River Plantation), volume 1 history, volume 2 genealogical, 1913
Linnda R. Caporael, Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem?, Science Magazine, 2 April 1976