Caleb Davis and his wife Leah Basnett Davis are buried at Davis Ridge Cemetery in Marion County, West Virginia. 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.
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 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 Chester County, Pennsylvania with whom our Caleb Davis is confused. This is a very simple mistake, due to the fact that Caleb Davis of Chester County, Pennsylvania owned land in what eventually became Delaware County, Pennsylvania. These people lived in a time when boundaries and place names were fluid. Caleb of Chester County is a well-documented minuteman, a committee member, and a Colonel of Chester County, Pennsylvania 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, Deleware?
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 is known to have been born in Sussex County, however page 1331 states that the prisoner Caleb Davis came from Kent County. This may lead some to conclude that the prisoner Caleb Davis was a different person altogether, however the book Harrison County Heritage, 1784-1995 affirms the fact that Caleb Davis indeed moved to present-day Marion County, West Virginia from Kent County, Delaware. Cedar Creek Hundred was divided between Sussex and Kent Counties in 1683; the Basnett and Davis families were spread throughout both sides of the border, much as they would later be found spread throughout Harrison and Marion Counties in (West) Virginia.
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.