According to page one of the September 7, 1882 Harrisburg Telegraph, James Province was a coward and a murderer. However the paper only got the story half-correct that day. Although Province did indeed stalk and ambush Blackburn Davis in Marion County, West Virginia with a high-caliber long gun a week earlier on the night of August 30, Blackburn Davis was not murdered yet. He lived nearly two weeks with his ribs, kidneys, liver, and spine shot through, dying on September 12, 1882 at the age of thirty-nine.
The Province-Davis Feud remains a little-known chapter in the storied history of Appalachian feuding. It consisted of two reported altercations, with three known participants. On one side, a young man identified by local and regional newspapers as James Province, of the same community as the victim, who abruptly fled the country following the murder. On the other side, Blackburn Davis (1842-1882), and his son Charles Morgan “Charley” Davis (1864-1941).
The culprit can be none other than James Perry Province (1863-1958), the only young man named James Province from Marion County who moved away from there in the early 1880’s.
Just as the Hatfields and McCoys slaughtered each other on the other side of West Virginia that very month in a feud dating back to the Civil War, the story as received by the descendants of Blackburn Davis goes simply that he was shot “because he was a Confederate.” Although no other immediate cause of hostilities is known, it is likely that something other than Civil War-era politics precipitated the bloodshed in August 1882.
Evidence of interaction between the families can be found in the 1880 Marion County census, in which a boy named Agrippa Province is recorded as the servant of Blackburn’s father Asa S. Davis (1802-1890), and Asa’s third wife Emily Nuzum (1817-1904).
The servant Agrippa Province (1867-1934) was a son of Agrippa “Dutch” Province (1828-1892), who was a son of David Province (1788-1889), who was a son of Joseph Yard Province (1764-1843). The murderer James Perry Province was a son of John William Province (1823-1911), who was a son of Jesse Province (1802-1873), who was another son of the aforementioned Joseph Yard Province. Agrippa the younger and James Perry Province were indeed cousins, but without a discovery of additional records it is impossible to know whether or not Agrippa Province played a role in the feud.
Whatever the cause of immediate hostilities between Province and Davis in August 1882 may have been, the military service records of the two families do in fact reveal a deep divide between their wartime allegiances.
The Davis family were Virginians. They moved in the 1790’s to the expansive Monongalia County, and dispersed throughout Harrison County; both from which Marion County would later be carved. The Province family established itself just across the border in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Various branches of the Province family migrated across the Virginia border in the decades leading up to the war. The father of James Perry Province, John William Province, was born in Pennsylvania and married a Virginian, Lucretia Arnett (1823-1890), the mother of James Perry Province, in Monongalia County in 1845. The extended Arnett and Davis families flourished amongst each other for decades.
No less than two Arnetts served in Company A of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment, with Blackburn Davis, his twin brother Jesse Davis (1842-1926), and Morgan Jolliffe (1828-1864), whose sister Sarah Ann Jolliffe (1833-1915) married Blackburn in 1863. Blackburn and Sarah Ann named Charley Morgan Davis after his uncle, shortly before Morgan Jolliffe died from wounds sustained in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.
In the 1850’s, John William and Lucretia Province moved to Ohio, where his parents and siblings had relocated prior to 1850. Many of John William and Lucretia’s children were born in Ohio, including James Perry Province. Although John William Province waited out the war before enlisting to serve in the 189th Ohio Volunteer Infantry — a regiment which only existed for one month prior to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia — his brothers James, Amida, and Uriah Province enlisted on June 10, 1861, at the ages of 18, 19, and 23, respectively. They served in Company C of the 25th OVI.
John William’s brothers Nathan and Jesse Province enlisted on December 2, 1861 at the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-four. David Province enlisted December 13, 1861 aged thirty, and Joseph Province enlisted on December 9, 1861 aged thirty-six. Nathan, Jesse, David, and Joseph served together in Company I of the 77th OVI.
Nathan finished the war as a sergeant in Company C of the 77th. Private David received a medical discharge on December 19, 1862. Joseph received a medical discharge as a sergeant on September 14, 1862, and Jesse mustered out as a second lieutenant upon the expiration of his enlistment on December 27, 1864.
Although the 77th OVI served in the Western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, the 25th OVI fought in the East. Uriah mustered out with company C of the 25th on June 18, 1866. Amida received a medical discharge on October 25, 1862 for wounds sustained in the Battle of Cross Keys. James died on June 6, 1863 from wounds sustained in the Battle of Chancellorsville.
It is entirely possible that a strong animosity developed between the Province and Davis families during the Reconstruction Era, or at least between the three specific individuals who went into battle the night of August 30, 1882. The easiest assumption — that the Confederate Blackburn Davis must have resented the Yankee Province family for migrating into Marion County — is eclipsed by the fact that the 25th Ohio clashed frequently with the 31st Virginia, and the 25th Ohio lost nearly every time. After a loss at Cheat Mountain, the Confederates won every major engagement in which the 31st Virginia and the 25th Ohio both participated, all the way to Gettysburg; a battle in which the 31st Virginia played a relatively minor role. The 31st Virginia fought at Cross Keys, where Amida Province fell in 1862. The 31st Virginia fought at Chancellorsville, where James Province fell mortally wounded just months after the birth of his nephew James Perry Province in 1863. The 25th Ohio transferred to duty in the Carolinas shortly afterward, far away from the 31st Virginia.
John William and Lucretia Province moved back to the area now called West Virginia in the late 1860’s. According to the 1880 census, they lived with their children, including son James Perry Province, in the Lincoln magisterial district of Marion County. Blackburn Davis lived with his family in the neighboring Mannington district.
It is not known for certain if James Perry Province sought to avenge his uncles when the shooting broke out in late August 1882. What is known for certain about the shooting is recorded in various newspaper articles, such as the one entitled “A Bloody Affray” published in Fairmont on September 1.
Blackburn Davis, a citizen of this county, living on Plum Run, in Mannington District, and a young man named Provance, of the same community, had a controversy some time ago which made them enemies. On last Wednesday Provance, actinated by a revengeful feeling, took a position, gun in hand, so that he could see Davis as he and his son passed along the road, and when Davis came in range Provance fired at him, the ball taking effect in his victim’s bowels. He immediately fell forward in an almost dying condition. It is reported that Davis was also carrying a gun which the boy, as soon as he saw his father fall, grabbed and fired at the assailant, but it is not known whether it took effect or not. Our information is that the wounded man cannot recover, and that Provance has not yet been arrested. We learn, in addition to the above that on Tuesday, the day before the shooting, Davis shot twice at Provance but without effect.
It is believed that James Perry Province came around the Davis property on the day before the ambush, when Blackburn Davis fired the first shots. The two altercations may have occurred within hours; Province deliberately provoking Davis before falling back to set the ambush. Unless Blackburn Davis carried two revolvers and a long gun everywhere he traveled, he clearly perceived himself to be going into battle that night, and James Perry Province clearly expected that Blackburn Davis would be approaching.
Charley Morgan Davis returned fire, and James Perry Province retreated all the way to the West Coast. Blackburn Davis identified the shooter on his deathbed, and explained that the shooting resulted from “an old feud.” Although the Davis family sustained a casualty rate of fifty percent in the Battle of Plum Run, they held the field to win a strategic victory in the Province-Davis Feud. Nearly a hundred and thirty-five years would pass before distant descendants of Charley Morgan Davis compared their notes to conclusively identify and discover the ultimate fate of the murderer; whose father, step-mother, and various siblings also moved away from Marion County, West Virginia in the years following the murder. James Perry Province eluded justice in his own lifetime, his descendants apparently unaware of the reason why their family ever left Appalachia.