Today we are showcasing a story about an African American Family tracing their history to preserve their roots, cultures, and traditions. The Davis Family of Eutawville, SC is embarking on this beautiful journey and doing so by writing that history in a family book. With help from LaCrystal Davis and Myra Davis-Branic, we get insight into this Lowcountry family’s rich history and hope you are encouraged to explore your own family history an heritage. Be sure to share images of your family both past and present with us using the hashtag #blacksouthernbelle
Davis Family Roots in Eutawville, SC: African American Family Writes Book to Preserve Their Family History
“My favorite Proverb is, “Until the lion learns to write, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” This statement sums up my visit to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History where very few, if any volumes of information is stored about Black families. I plan to change that. I am a member of the Davis Family of Eutawville, S.C. and I’m writing a book about our history from the 1700’s to present day. There is so much history in the Low Country region, where my family is from, and I wanted to share it. The book is intended to serve as a written history for our family. It contains stories and accounts from different family members, as well as educational information that can be used in the S.C. Social Studies Academic Standards.
What makes our family story unique is that we are able to trace our Davis Family back to the 1700’s using the impeccable records kept by their owners, the Gaillard Family. The Gaillard’s arrived from France in the late 1600’s and by 1730, had the first of many plantations in the area, starting in St. James Santee Parish, (now called Santee, S.C.), St. John’s Berkeley Parish, (present day Eutawville, S.C.) and St. Stephen’s Parish, (present day Pineville). Because of their record keeping and their belief in keeping family units together, we were able to connect the dots and find members of our family, from plantation to plantation to freedom.” says Myra Davis.
“In 1981, some of my Davis cousins put together a family tree, that went as far back as my Great-Great-Great Grandparents Paul and Ellen Davis. They had 8 children, including my Great-Great Grandfather Jacob Davis, who was married to my Great-Great Grandmother Bessie Washington-Davis, in which they had 13 children. I’m unsure how Jacob and Bessie met, but Paul and Ellen grew up on the Rocks Plantation (“The Rocks”) together. In fact, our Davis cousin, Jerry Martino, was able to collect information that traces our family back to Paul’s Maternal and Paternal Grandparents, and Ellen’s Maternal and Paternal Great Grandparents. We know that throughout the years that our ancestors were owned by at least 4 generations of Gaillards on at least 5 different plantations, with most of their time spent at “The Rocks”. A few years ago our cousin, Selena Davis found Jacob’s grave at “The Rocks”. Over the past few years Selena has guided members of the Davis family to the gravesite, which is an extremely heavily wooded area. We are unsure of all the details, but post-slavery, both Paul, Ellen, Jacob, and Bessie were able to buy hundreds of acres of land, that a good number of their descendants still lives on today, in an area of Eutawville known as “Davis Hill”. From the stories that I’ve been told, Jacob owned a Blacksmith business and donated a portion of his land for the “Smith Hill School” says LaCrystal Davis.
“Smith Hill School, was built during the Jim Crow Era by family members to educate the children in the area before closing in 1953” says Myra.
“So Jacob went from being a slave, to being a Businessman, an Advocate for education, and a Champion. The beautiful thing about these qualities, is that I see at least one of these qualities in all of my Davis family across the board! Most of us are in some way are Educators (Authors, Teachers, Researchers, Social Workers, Sunday School/Bible Study Teachers), Business Owners (from selling cuisines and candles to building/selling homes and owning a horse training center), and/or Champions (Military, First Responders, Community Leaders).” says LaCrystal.
“In researching information, I found that a woman named Cheryll Ann Cody used information that she researched on South Carolina Low Country planters and their slaves in her doctoral dissertation over 20 years ago. Some of the slaves mentioned in her dissertation were direct ancestors of the Davis family. Information on her findings were also used in a book called “More than Chattel…” in chapter 3. Historian and Professor, Dr. Thavolia Glymph wrote a scholarly article about a woman, another ancestor, who led a slave rebellion from Pineville to Eutawville at the close of the Civil War. It was published in the Cambridge University Press.
There are other stories that I am writing in my book about my family that gave me a sense of pride, such as Smith Hill, and a chapter dedicated to our cousin, the late Charlie Davis, who was the exercise trainer of Champion Horse and Triple Crown Winner Secretariat, to name a few. My hope is that this book is embraced by the Davis family as well as lovers of South Carolina History.” says Myra.
IMAGE GALLERY: Davis Family Roots in Eutawville, SC: African American Family Writes Book to Preserve Their Family History
A list of our Davis ancestors, including 2 sets of our foreparents and their children.
Source: Peter Gaillard Plantation Records
Jacob Davis’ tombstone. Jacob was a slave during his earlier years, but by the time he was a teenager, slavery had ended. He died in 1916. His headstone is made of marble and stands close to 5 feet tall.
Students at Smith Hill School in 1952. The older kids was identified as siblings Theodore and Doris Washington by our Davis Cousin, Sam “Shot” James.
Picture submitted by our Davis Cousin, Gerald Martino
Johnnie Davis (LaCrystal Davis’ father), a student at Smith Hill School.
Our cousin Charlie Davis and Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. Charlie played a key role in Secretariat’s success.
Members of the Davis Family at Davis Hill
There have been a few businesses on Davis Hill over the years. Including a store, a restaurant called Davis Bar and Grill, and currently, there is a horse training center, called Apsley Lane Downs (owned by our cousin Shomari Davis).
Glymph, Thavolia. “Rose’s War and the Gendered Politics of a Slave Insurgency in the Civil War.” Journal of the Civil War Era. Vol. 3, no. 4 2013 pp. 501 – 532 JSTOR
Gaspar, Barry and Hine, Clark. “More than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas.”
Chapter 3, Cylclesof Work and of Child bearing, Seasonality in Women’s lives on Low Country Plantations, Cody, Cheyll Ann. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1996 Project Muse
Jervey, Susan Ravenel, Henagan, Mary. Rhodes Waring; Ravenel, Charlotte St. Julien (1921) Two diaries from middle St. John’s Berkeley, South Carolina, February – May, 1865 [Pinopolis, S.C.] St. John’s Hunting Club
Cody, Cheryll Ann, “Naming, Kinship and Estate Dispersal; Notes on Slave Life on a South Carolina Plantation, 1786 to 1833” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 39, no 1, 1982, pp 192 – 211 JSTOR19