The Province-Davis Feud


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).

Blackburn Davis, 1863 and Charley Morgan Davis, 1916
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.

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James Perry Province, Murderer
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).

1880 Marion County, WV Census
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.

The Wheeling Intelligencer, Page 1, September 1, 1882
The Wheeling Intelligencer, Page 1, September 15, 1882
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.

The Oregonian, Page 11, January 14, 1958

His Name is Blackburn Davis


A nineteen year old, six-foot and one-inch tall farmer named Blackburn Davis enlisted for one year in the Marion County militia at Fairmont on May 17, 1861.  Virginia seceded from the United States on May 23.  The Marion Guard soon mustered into Confederate service as Company A of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment.


One branch of his descendants which produced a set of twins several generations after his death learned long ago from an older, distant relative that the last set of twins born into the Davis family had been Confederate cavalrymen. Blackburn had many brothers and sisters, but Jesse is the one who enlisted in the Marion Guard alongside Blackburn.  They may not in fact have truly been twins — the records vary as to their years of birth — although Jesse’s gravestone says 1842, which would support the claim if Blackburn’s enlistment records are correct.

The legend is at least partially true; Jesse, Blackburn, and various other relatives in Company A of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment served in the most important battles and campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia, including the most studied maneuver warfare campaign in American history: General Thomas J. Jackson’s 1862 defense of the Shenandoah Valley. Privates Jesse and Blackburn Davis did not ride horses, they were Stonewall’s Foot Cavalry.

The campaign conducted by Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862 is considered one of the most brilliant in United States, if not world, military history. Vastly outnumbered” . . . “Jackson’s men covered 350 miles, defeated three Union commands in five battles, caused 5,000 casualties at a loss of only 2,000 men, and captured much needed supplies. More importantly Jackson had accomplished his main objective of keeping nearly 60,000 Federal soldiers occupied in the Valley rather than advancing on Richmond in conjunction with McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. The 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign made “Stonewall” Jackson the most celebrated soldier in the Confederacy (until he was eclipsed by General Robert E. Lee) and greatly lifted the morale of the Southern homefront.

Blackburn Davis did not finish the campaign, however. Federal troops captured him on June 2, 1862 following the skirmish at Strasburg.

Lincoln intended to crush Jackson before he was able to withdraw down the Valley Pike from Harpers Ferry. To that end, he ordered Frémont to move to Harrisonburg. When bad roads, blocked mountain passes, and the starved state of Frémont’s army made that plan impractical, Lincoln authorized Frémont to march through the Allegheny toward Strasburg. At the same time, he directed McDowell to move against Strasburg from Front Royal. Lincoln hoped to catch Jackson in a vise, but he also considered either column capable of defeating him independently of the other. It was all “a question of legs,” Lincoln told McDowell.

On June 1 Frémont skirmished inconclusively with a blocking force under Ewell. McDowell failed to move at all, and the Confederates slipped through Strasburg and up the Shenandoah Valley.

The divided US armies intended to envelope and destroy the Confederate Army of the Valley at Strasburg. The blocking force ensured that the main body remained covered, as Jackson’s army slipped through the trap, before securing the Valley, then continuing on to yet another round of victories around Richmond in the Seven Days Battles; which in turn collapsed the US Army’s Peninsula Campaign, thus saving the capital and the Confederacy.

Following his parole by the Provost Marshal of Shields’ Division at Luray on June 12, Blackburn Davis quickly returned home to Marion County.

On June 21, in a journal he kept throughout the war, Corporal Henry Solomon White from Company N of the (Unionist) Sixth Virginia Infantry Regiment, then encamped at Fairmont, recorded that his company commander “arrested a man near Worthington. He was in the secession army something like 10 months.” A few days later, Corporal White elaborated:

At 7 o’clock this evening a report came to town that there was a secession spy near Benton Ferry. Sergeant Hoge started in search of him with a squad of 10 men and arrested a man named Price near Worthington who is convicted of treason or as being one of the party that burnt those bridges near Mannington. The man that Captain Kenney took near Worthington on the 21st is also convicted of the same act. His name is Blackburn Davis. There is evidence against them in circuit court of the county. I think they are played out at present.

Blackburn Davis was not played out. In 1863 he married Sarah Ann Jolliffe, whose brother Morgan Jolliffe served with Jesse and Blackburn Davis in Company A of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment. Elizabeth Morgan, the mother of Sarah Ann and Morgan Jolliffe, descended from the Morgans and the Pricketts.

It remains unknown how Blackburn Davis escaped the typical fate of a parole violator, especially one who is captured as an irregular.  One possible explanation for his survival is that the unit which captured him partly recruited in Marion County, where Blackburn’s family lived since his great-grandfather moved to the area in the 1790’s. Blackburn Davis likely knew a number of his captors.

It is likewise unclear precisely which bridges Blackburn Davis destroyed near Mannington during his brief guerilla saboteur campaign in June of 1862. However, he may have left one clue.

Blackburn’s father, Asa Davis (1802-1890), was the son of Robert Davis (1776-1860) and Mary Coon.  Mary was a daughter of Anthony Coon, a Revolutionary War veteran of the 13th Virginia Regiment.  The extended Kuhn/Koon/Coon family leant their names to various places in Virginia, such as Koon Town. The residents of this settlement elected to change its name to Mannington, in honor of a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad official named Manning, when the B&O laid track through the town in the 1850’s.

The B&O Railroad played a vital role in the Federal war effort, linking Washington DC, through Confederate Virginia, to the US. The B&O’s importance can scarcely be overestimated; US President Abraham Lincoln declared the B&O’s President John Garrett to be “the right arm of the Federal Government…”

Blackburn Davis, whose extended family flourished throughout the countryside surrounding Mannington, spent the end of his one-year enlistment serving in the legendary Foot Cavalry of General Stonewall Jackson, whose own audacious raid on the B&O Railroad at the beginning of the war remains a source of controversy to this day.  Although Corporal White, who wrote in his journal about the capture of Blackburn Davis, served in a company which formed “for the purpose of guarding bridges on the B&O RR,” he did not specify whether Price and Davis destroyed bridges on the B&O line.

However in the autumn of 1863, following the secession of West Virginia from the Confederacy, Federal officials moved into Marion County to catalogue the inhabitants suitable for conscription. In spite of the fact that Blackburn Davis, his father, his brothers, and his sons appear in nearly every other record as farmers or farm laborers — and in spite of the fact that neither the Federal authorities nor the B&O officials would have likely allowed a known, twice-captured, Confederate saboteur anywhere near the B&O — when the Federal conscription officials asked his profession, Blackburn Davis answered “rail roader.”

Jesse Davis finished the Valley Campaign in 1862, and continued fighting until his capture in the fall of Petersburg, when the invader shipped him off for a brief stay in the prison at Hart’s Island, NY.  Morgan Jolliffe died from wounds sustained in the fighting at Spotsylvania. In 1864 Sarah Ann and Blackburn Davis named their first son Charles Morgan Davis (1864-1941). Sarah Ann would bear three more children for Blackburn Davis, as he slipped back into the quiet life of a yeoman farmer.

The Wheeling Intelligencer, Page 1, September 1, 1882
Charley walked alongside his father on the night of August 30, 1882, when the Ohio-born James Perry Province, a teenaged son and nephew of various Union Army veterans, stalked and ambushed Blackburn Davis with a large-caliber rifle.  Charley quickly retrieved one of the firearms his father carried, and returned fire at the coward Province, who immediately fled West Virginia, retreating all the way to the Pacific Northwest; soon followed by his father and various other relatives. He eluded justice, and died in Portland, Oregon in 1958.

The Harrisburg Telegraph, Page 1, September 7, 1882
The Davises sustained a casualty rate of fifty percent in the Battle of Plum Run, yet held the field to win a strategic victory in the Province-Davis Feud.

The Wheeling Intelligencer, Page 1, September 15, 1882
Blackburn Davis lived nearly two weeks with his ribs, kidneys, liver, and spine shot through. He died on September 12, 1882, surrounded by his family. His descendants are numerous, and they have served in the US military in every war from the South Pacific to Iraq. Although the Wheeling Intelligencer stated that Blackburn Davis died at the age of forty-five, the Marion County Court Clerk recorded that he died aged thirty-nine, of “Violence.”

Caleb Davis, Cedar Creek Hundred, DE 1746-1821 Monongalia County, VA (Marion County, WV)

Caleb Davis and his wife Leah Basnett are buried at Davis Ridge Cemetery in Marion County, WV.  They arrived to what was then Monongalia County, Virginia sometime in the 1790’s, having migrated from Cedar Creek Hundred, Delaware.  Although their descendants are numerous and well-documented, the origins of Caleb Davis remain shrouded in mystery.

One would not know of any mystery regarding the origin of Caleb Davis if one were to merely check various public family trees at Ancestry dot com.  Many free online sources, such as this family history offered by Hackers Creek Pioneer Descendants, Inc affirm that which many descendants of Caleb Davis believe they know to be true: Caleb is the son of Thomas William Davis (1712-1786), son of the Quaker clergyman William Davis II (1663-1745) of Llansteffan, Wales who arrived at Philadelphia in the 1680’s.

However the William Davis DNA Project has dispelled this myth.  Apparently the haplogroup of descendants of William II is I2a, whereas all descendants of Caleb Davis test into the R1b1b2 group.

Caleb’s parents are likely Robert Davis (1720-1794) and Susannah Hart, Robert belonging to an old Maryland family which arrived in the early 1600’s and then settled an area which eventually became Delaware. At present however, this has yet to be proven to a certainty.

Moving on to yet another great mystery of Caleb Davis is his Revolutionary War service.  According to both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, the grave of Caleb Davis in Davis Ridge Cemetery, Marion County, WV is the registered grave of a Revolutionary War Patriot.

This is problematic.  Neither organization lists the unit or state served. Indeed, no Caleb Davis fought for Revolutionary Delaware or Maryland (or Virginia).  The graves of the four Caleb Davises who did serve in the Revolution, from Pennsylvania, Boston, New York, and New Jersey, are all accounted for.

It is most often the Caleb Davis of Pennsylvania — Chester County, to be exact — with whom our Caleb Davis is confused. This could very well be an innocent mistake, due to the fact that Caleb of Chester County, PA owned land in what eventually became Delaware County, PA.  These people all lived in a time when boundaries were fluid.  Caleb of Chester County is a well-documented minuteman, a committee member, and a Colonel of Chester County, PA militia. His wife is Lydia Boon, he died in 1813, and he is buried in Kingsessing.

The only other information which ever seems to be offered in support of the Revolutionary War service of our Caleb Davis are Monongalia County militia rolls from 1802 and 1804, and a pension awarded to a Caleb Davis for a wound in the right thigh. The militia rolls do list the names of Robert, Clement, Henry, and Caleb Davis, and Caleb did have sons named Robert, Clement, and Henry; however Caleb also named a son after himself, and so the Caleb Davis enrolled in the Monongalia County militia is likely Caleb II, serving alongside his brothers, in lieu of their elderly father.  Not to mention the fact that 1804 is two decades after the Revolutionary War concluded.

Moreover the pension belonged to a War of 1812 veteran from Delaware who happened to be named Caleb Davis, and its initial reward is dated 1881 – six decades after our Caleb I died.

So what sources do we actually have on the Revolutionary War service of Caleb Davis I, 1746-1821, from Cedar Creek Hundred, DE?

According to page 1331 of Volume III, Delaware Archives Revolutionary War in Three Volumes, the Revolutionary Delaware militia took Caleb Davis prisoner.

Caleb Davis is immediately preceded on that list by one Samuel Basnet; Caleb’s wife Leah Basnett had a brother named Samuel.  Their names appear only in this instance, but some of the other individuals listed on page 1331 are mentioned elsewhere – and specifically charged with treason against Revolutionary Delaware.

Caleb Davis and his brother-in-law Samuel Basnet apparently participated, to some extent or another, in the colonial British loyalist effort to counter the Revolution. Most participants in the local 1780 Black Camp Rebellion came from Cedar Creek Hundred, all from Sussex and Kent counties. It is therefore the theory of this historian that the Black Camp Rebellion is the very context in which the Delaware militia imprisoned Caleb Davis and Samuel Basnet.  In fact this likely explains the 1790’s migration to the extreme edge of civilization, in northwestern Virginia.

Some background information on the Black Camp Rebellion, from page 44 of Michael Morgan’s Pirates and Patriots, Tales of the Delaware Coast:

Although many coastal residents supported the American cause and called for independence, it was not unusual to remain loyal to the King; a significant number of county residents believed it was only right. At the same time, the years of strife had driven some people of Sussex County to seek an end to government of any kind.

The Black Camp Rebellion threatened to erupt into a major uprising in 1780 when some 400 men from Cedar Creek and Slaughter Neck gathered in the swampy area near the center of Sussex County. The men who joined the ranks of the Black Camp Rebellion were motivated by a variety of issues. A contemporary reported that, “Some of these ignorant people were for opposing all law;” others were in favor of re-establishing British royal law. Some were tax rebels who opposed all government taxes. All seemed to believe that most of the people south of Virginia had already submitted to the British army, and the rebels believed “that they should very easily make Sussex County do the same.”

When news of the Black Camp Rebellion reached the patriot authorities, the militia from Kent County was dispatched to disperse the rebels. The leaders were captured, convicted of treason, and sentenced to be drawn and quartered. Fortunately for the eight condemned men, the American Revolution was also a rebellion against “cruel and unusual punishments.” In those days, the trend was away from torture. On November 4, 1780, the Delaware General Assembly pardoned all of the leaders of the Black Camp Rebellion, and the eight men were saved from literally being torn “limb from limb.”

The general pardon did not end the turmoil, however. According to page 68 of Stephen P. Halbrook’s A Right to Bear Arms: State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees:

After the war, Whigs refused to recognize rights to suffrage by the loyalists or “Black Camp men.” Interference in elections by armed bodies continued unabated in Delaware for another decade. Disturbances reaches a peak in October 1787, just as the states began to consider the proposed federal Constitution. In Delaware, the Constitution raised little controversy, both Tories and Whigs favoring the new system. While the other states debated the proposal, Delaware debated the Sussex election.”

Charles Polk and Rhoads Shankland were among the Tories elected in a tumultuous situation at the Sussex polls. Protests were lodged with the legislature that militia companies entered Lewes and, “furnished with pistols, clubs, cutlasses, etc to the great terror of the peaceable inhabitants,” beat and prevented people from voting.” . . .

Electoral disturbances continued in Sussex County for years. In early 1790, the General Assembly repealed an act which disenfranchised loyalists. However, events at the Delaware constitutional convention the following year would reveal that arms and suffrage were still being debated by the same Whigs and Tories.

Whether or not the Caleb Davis and Samuel Basnet held captive by Delaware militia circa 1780 are in fact the husband and brother of Leah Basnett Davis who is buried in Davis Ridge Cemetery, this chaotic post-Revolutionary scene is precisely what Caleb and Leah left behind at Cedar Creek Hundred when they moved to Virginia in the 1790’s.

We can be certain that our Caleb Davis was no Revolutionary patriot.  And we can reasonably conclude that he — like a majority of British colonists in many areas throughout the nascent US during the Revolutionary War — was a loyalist. Or perhaps he was merely a “tax rebel who opposed all government taxes.” If the latter, then he certainly would not be the last of his line to espouse such a principled philosophy.