Elijah Davidson was born on 23 Feb. 1783 in Rutherford County, North Carolina and he dies on the 24th April 1870, 3000 miles away in the town he founded, Monmouth, Polk County, Oregon.
In April 1779. Rutherford County was named after Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford of Rowan County, North Carolina. The early settlers of Rutherford County were primarily of Scots-Irish origin. They had traveled down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Rutherford County had rich fertile land, plenty of virgin forest pine, plenty of hardwood, and plenty of wild game for food. During the period of the Revolutionary War, the citizens of Rutherford County, were troubled by both Indian and Tory attacks. The Tories under Major Patrick Ferguson camped at Gilbertown and scouted the area for food and supplies. To escape Ferguson the people took refuge in the following forts: McGaughy; McFadden; Potts; Hampton; Mumfords; and Earle.
The famed Over-Mountain soldiers marched through Rutherford County on October 3-5, 1780 on their way to meet Major Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain. This battle took place October 7, 1780, and was the turning point of the war. The trail of march has since become known as the “Overmountain Victory Trail.” It became the second national historical trail in America when then President Jimmy Carter signed into law on October 7, 1980. This is a national historical honor for Rutherford County, as part of the trail passes through the county.
The 1782 Tax list of Rutherford Co. North Carolina lists Alexander Davidson as 38, father of 10 children, owns 225 acres, 5 slaves; 5 horses; 19 cattle. At that time, the Colonies were still under British rule, and still fighting for their independence. Even though Gen. Cornwallis had surrender at Yorktown, the British troops still occupy Savannah, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina and they still occupy New York city.
Elijah Davidson is the youngest of 10 children, Elijah’s mother was Anne Bridges Davidson, she died tragically during Elijah’s childbirth or very shortly after from complications. Elijah’s father, Alexander Davidson marries for the 2nd time to Mary Ellis, who is the daughter of William Ellis. In 1748, when Alexander was four, William Ellis was appointed guardian to the young Alexander when Alexandr's father dies. Alexander’s mother Sarah Ellis Davidson died in 1752.
Alexander Davidson was a veteran of American Revolution, fought with the NC Volunteer Militia with Capt. Vinsant’s regiment at the Battle Ramsour's Mill, battle of Cowpens and Kings Mountain, all three, are less than 25 miles from his home. Years later, Alexander would became a pioneer preacher.
For the next 14 years, Elijah grows up in Rutherford County, N.C. in the western frontier hills near the South Carolina border along the Broad River. Alexander and Mary will have ten more children. Mary Ellis Davidson, had earned a reputation as a doctress, using medical herbs, she had been known to performed many cures, and was held in high esteem in the community in which they lived.
Life, following the Revolutionary War, in Rutherford County was not in the best of conditions. Life offered little. Most activity took place on the farm: planting of grain, raising cattle and sheep, and growing food for the table. The loom furnished clothes for the family. Skins from animals were tanned; furs from wild animals were secured to provide additional clothing. The pioneer homes were built from the surrounding forest. Furniture and furnishings for the home were also made from the woods of the forest. The plantations and farms were small. Land could be bought for a nominal fee paid to the state for a grant. Each land owner tilled his soil, sometimes assisted by a slave or two. The farmer drove cattle and took surplus agricultural products over the best road leading from Morganton to Charleston, South Carolina. At Charleston at the market they could then buy staple products to take back home. Schooling was received in the home. The Bible was sometimes the only textbook available. The first census of Rutherford county in 1790, listed 1,136 heads of household.
Richard Henderson had purchased from the Native Americans all land lying between the Ohio, Kentucky, and Cumberland rivers for his Transylvania Company. The Transylvania Company, was a association formed to exploit and colonize the area now comprising much of Kentucky and Tennessee. Organized first (Aug., 1774) as the Louisa Company, it was reorganized (Jan., 1775) as the Transylvania Company. At Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River, the Cherokee deeded (Mar. 17, 1775) to Richard Henderson and other members of the association all the territory embraced by the Ohio, Kentucky, and Cumberland rivers. By this time, Henderson had already dispatched Daniel Boone to lead the way to the Kentucky River and, with additional settlers, soon followed Boone over his Wilderness Road to Boonesboro, the first settlement. Henderson hoped to make Transylvania, as the region was called, a proprietary colony similar to Pennsylvania and Maryland, but the project did not have British approval and, more importantly, was immediately denounced by both Virginia and North Carolina, within whose chartered limits Transylvania lay. A provisional, democratic government was organized in May, 1775, but the Continental Congress ignored Transylvania's plea to be recognized as the 14th colony. Virginia created Kentucky county in Dec. 1776, in its portion of Transylvania and voided in Nov., 1778, all the company's land titles there. Meanwhile, Daniel Boone blazed the trail from the Cumberland Gap (at the junction of present-day Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) to the interior. This path between the Cumberland Gap and central Kentucky became known, through the Transylvania Company's publicity, as the Wilderness Road. In 1775 the Transylvania Company established Boonesborough as its headquarters. During the Revolutionary War, the Virginia government virtually ignored the settlements in Kentucky. The resulting lack of military assistance and isolation from the eastern portion of Virginia led to troubles with native tribes and precipitated a desire among the settlers for Kentucky to achieve statehood. Between 1784 and 1790, nine conventions met at Danville demanding separation from Virginia; however, none of these attained success in gaining a division. Finally, Congress admitted the Commonwealth of Kentucky to the Union as the fifteenth state on 1 June 1792 after the first constitution was drafted on 3 April of that year. Established as a commonwealth state, Danville became its first capital. Early settlers included Revolutionary War veterans were staking claims to bounty-land grants. Scots-Irish, German, and English individuals and families from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee soon joined the frontiersmen in Kentucky..
By 1796, Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Trail through the Kentucky Cumberland Gap improves the route and opens up for wagon migrations. Alexander Davidson now 52, moves his family through the Cumberland Gap into wilderness of Kentucky and settles just south of Glasgow and establishes the Mt Tabor Baptist Church. It was the very first church in that part of south central Kentucky.
The new Davidson settlement was called South Fork, it is located 2 miles southwest of Glasgow, taking the name of the large creek, which ran through Alexander’s farm. The homestead would eventually grow to contained seven hundred acres. Alexander Davidson will organized many of the first churches in the Green River area, between 1798 to 1804, into what became known as the Green River Association. By 1804, they had increased to thirty-eight churches, covering a vast territory.
Young Elijah spends all of his time working on the family farm, with his brothers and the slaves belonging to his father, Alexander. Almost everything, including clothing comes from the farm. The hides of the cattle killed for family provisions were tanned in large troughs down by the wide, flowing spring branch of the South Fork, for shoe leather, with sap bark. The horse hair, mixed with cotton, carded, spun, and woven into blankets for the slave families. A blacksmith shop was built where Alexander Davidson did his own smithing. A story is told of one of Elijah’s older brothers John, who went to visit a neighbor, who lived some distance from his home across the South Fork. “John wished to borrow an augur. It was in the evening, when he started back for home. He had not gone very far before he realized he was being pursued by a panther which screamed at him constantly. John would turn and wave the augur to and fro at the panther and scream back at him as loud as possible, but still it followed on until the South Fork creek was reached. John crossed over on the footlog (fallen tree); he supposed in that way his life was saved for he did not have even a pocket knife with him to defend himself. Another time, John was captured by Indians and was held as a prisoner, in their travels he had to sit in a circle with the Indians around a large kettle and take mouthfuls about with the Indians, using a large iron paddle. Years later, after his escape, when he was at home, he was particular; and argued that he would never use a spoon even that his wife had used. He eventually got over it but it was a bitter dose, but better than starving.” Laura Davidson Baird
For those who still like to believe that America is still truly exceptional, one must recognize it is not them who made it that way. It became exceptional by the efforts of those who lived long before all of us, and believed they were experiencing God’s undeserved blessings of opportunities upon the birth of a new nation. Their faith was a personal doctrine of obligation, responsibility, sacrifice, and service—not of pride, privilege, and status. They recognized that through trials and tribulations, alongside tragedies and heartaches, change for the better was possible. Their beliefs were founded on a very basic spiritual and biblical principle: Freedom, to whom much is given, much is required.
So, who influenced Elijah Davidson and, in turn, how did his life influence others? The extraordinary life of Elijah Davidson demonstrated that he clearly believed that God’s blessing is always grace, and that is what makes it a blessing and not a reward. His deep convictions from the Bible had provided him with a profound standard of absolutes by which he conducted his life. By these same standards, he would judge the ills of society around him and ultimately, it moved him to become not just a man with principles, but an agent of change not only to his own generation and for many to come.
Carter Tarrant was a native of Virginia. He was for a time, pastor of Upper Banister church, in Pittsylvania county, which was, in 1774, the largest church in Virginia. He was one of the early settlers in what was then Logan county, Kentucky; and was very active and successful in gathering the earliest churches in the Green River country, and in organizing them into Green River Association with Alexander Davidson. Carter Tarrant, who has since been considerably famous amongst the early Emancipators throughout the counties in Kentucky, was one of the most active and successful ministers in raising up Separatist’s Baptist churches, and organizing them into various associations. For a few years, he was very active in promoting the emancipation scheme.
In 1799, Carter Tarrant is appointed minister at the Mt. Tabor church, he marries Margaret and Elijah. Carter Tarrant becomes a huge influence in the life of Elijah, so much so, that in the next three generations of Davidson sons will be given the name Cater Tarrant Davidson.
Elijah and Margaret Marriage Document signed by Carter Tarrant (1802)
In 1802, Elijah Davidson age 19, (son of Rev. Alexander Davidson) marries Margaret T. Murphy, age 17, daughter of Rev. John Murphy and Rachel Cooke on 4th of Feb 1802 in Barren County, Kentucky. Margaret was born on 19 August 1785 in Knox County, Tennessee and she dies in Polk County, Oregon in 1864. Her family has an illustrious history of pioneer preachers. Margaret’s grandfather and his brother were William and Joseph Murphy. Joseph and William were known as the “Greatest Baptist preachers that ever was known in Virginia of their Day”, they were called the “Murphy Boys” as they were so young and very eminent. Both William and Joseph were converted as youths, trained for the ministry under Shubal Stearns, and became active ministers of the Gospel. Working throughout Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina they help establish over 30 congregations. Many of these churches were considered outlawed by the British crown. In 1756 according to Mechel Sobel, the very first all-black church in Virginia was gathered by two white itinerant preachers, William Murphy and Philip Mulkey, on the ill-managed plantation of Col. William Byrd III in Lunenburg County, Virginia. It was considered to be the first all black church in America. The site of Bluestone meeting house was on a beautiful eminence on Big Bluestone Creek, in Mecklenburg county, about three miles from Abbyville, on Staunton river.
Children of ELIJAH DAVIDSON and MARGARET MURPHY are: I. Carter Tarrant Davidson, B. 26 Oct 1802 II. Hosea M. Davidson, B. 28 Dec 1804 III. William Murphy Davidson, B. 14 Apr 1807 IV. Hannah Davidson, B. 28 May 1809, V. John C. Davidson, B. 27 Sep 1811 VI. Mary Ann Davidson, B. 22 Apr 1814 VII. Margaret E. Davidson, B. 16 Jul 1816 VIII. ELIJAH BARTON DAVIDSON Jr., b. 03 Feb 1819, (Prewitts Knob), Barren Co., KY; d. 16 Jan 1888, Williams, Josephine Co., OR. IX. Rachel Davidson, B. 13 Mar 1821 X. Elizabeth Thornton Davidson, B. 29 May 1823, XI. Sarah H. Davidson, B. 23 May 1825, XII. Alexander Bridges Davidson, B. 27 Apr 1829
As a family young man, Elijah Davidson’s conscious demanded him that he must leave the very church his father Alexander Davidson had organized in 1798, the very first in all of Barren County KY. Elijah had embraced the cause of complete and immediate emancipation of all slaves, the Kentucky Baptist associations did not. Working with his father-in-law, John Murphy, and others, they were instrumental helping churches members find an alternative solution to organized religion that gave their tacit approval to slavery. A copy of a letter written in Warren County, Kentucky by the Reverend John Murphy [1752- 1818, in 1810 to his relatives and friends in the Louisiana Territory [which became Missouri]. "Brothers, Friends, and Acquaintances: "I have nothing uncommon to write, but wish to inform you of our present state of affairs, which is about this: As to bodily health I neither see nor hear of much complaints; as to religious matters there appears to be some division in the different places of this state. There is considerable dissension among the Baptists and some among other sects about slave holding. For my own part I prefer to stand opposed to that system, because I fully believe it to be contrary to the law of nature, contrary to sound reason, contrary to good policy, contrary to justice, contrary to republican principles, and above all, because it is in direct opposition to the Scripture directions. Neither does it accord with the principles of humanity.”
In the early nineteenth century, Kentucky became a battleground between those for and against slaveholding, resulting in hard-fought clash that divided churches and pitted old friends against one another. To stem the crisis, the Baptists made the unprecedented decision to relinquish any authority over the question of the institution slavery to the civil state, defining the issue as being outside the province of the churches and as the proper concern of the government. In abandoning their once jealously-guarded autonomy, the Baptists embraced the authority of the state, and, in so doing, they participated in reshaping the sacred and secular realms in the new republic, helping to define not only the appropriate boundaries of the religious realm but also the boundaries of the civil state in the early national era. In 1805 the Kentucky Baptist Association passed the following resolution: "This Association judges it improper for ministers, churches, and Associations to meddle with emancipation from slavery, or any other political subject, and, as such, we advise ministers and churches to have nothing to do therewith in their religious capacities."
In 1831, Elijah and Margaret moved from Kentucky to Illinois and set up a home and business in Monmouth. That year the Davidsons became charter members of the Christian Church in Cameron, the township adjacent to Monmouth. In 1839, when another church was organized in Monmouth, Elijah donated land for the building and was elected the church's first clerk. A supporter of prohibition, Davidson was a trustee on the town council in 1836 when it approved its first ordinance forbidding unlicensed tippling houses and groceries, being drunk or intoxicated, or keeping tippling houses open on Sunday.
Prohibition in Monmouth was founded in what was perceived as the alcohol-based society of America. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, every American over the age of fourteen consumed an average of six to ten gallons of alcohol annually, about three times today's consumption. Social and religious organizations that sought reform through temperance movements emerged in the 1820s, convinced that many Americans drinking and public drunkenness caused social problems such as poverty and crime and were incompatible with the conduct necessary to create a great nation.
Protestant churches and members of the expanding middle class led these new temperance groups. Temperance advocates argued that temperance was necessary to protect the new freedoms of their country and to create people who would responsibly lead it. Influenced by temperance reformers, towns, cities, counties, states, and territories began to adopt laws and ordinances to regulate alcohol consumption and sales. In 1847, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the right to ban liquor sales, and thirteen states adopted prohibition laws between 1851 and 1855.
Among the towns that chose to ban alcohol was Monmouth, Illinois, influenced by members of the Christian Church, more commonly known today as the Disciples of Christ denomination, who had settled there. The Disciples' philosophy focused on Christian unity and the restoration of a fundamental or primitive Christianity. In other words, they believed in individual responsibility -- the notion that individuals could bring about a Christian world through simple acts, such as abstaining from alcohol. Abstaining from unnecessary activities such as drinking and dancing would allow people to focus their efforts on improving culture through Christian unity and education.
Quote from The Monmouth Atlas, Illinois, printed April 5, 1850: “On Friday last, ten teams taking with them 39 persons left for Oregon. Elijah Davidson, 67 years and an early settler of this county was with them. He was a pioneer here from Kentucky and now takes family, including numerous grandchildren and is bound for the Pacific.”
Monmouth, OR. was settled in 1853 by Elijah Davidson and his family. Originally a member of the Christian Church of Cameron (Monmouth, Illinois), Davidson was a devout advocate of prohibition. This group of pioneers who allocated 640 acres to build both a city and a "college under the auspices of the Christian Church", and proceeds from the sale of these lands were used to found Monmouth University, currently known as Western Oregon University. For many towns the key to success was to capture county government. Promoters vied for such locations, for they guaranteed a flow of people recording deeds, appearing in court, securing contracts, or coping with society's needs. County government was as important as a good mill site, coal mine, or wagon road crossing in helping to anchor a community. For decades, Monmouth was a dry town that banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in supermarkets, restaurants and bars. (Monmouth's status as the last dry town in Oregon was ended by a popular vote in the November 2002 election) By 1854, more than a dozen Disciples families from Monmouth, many of them related to each other or to Davidson, had joined him. In February 1859, Davidson and other trustees efforts to prohibit the importation, exportation, sale, and consumption of alcohol in Monmouth became a reality. One of the main arguments Davidson and his fellow religious supporters used to push prohibition legislation was, "to enable them to suppress and prevent nuisances, to render the possession of life and property more secure, [and] to enable them to improve and embellish the streets of the town." Despite the efforts of certain merchants to repeal prohibition in Monmouth throughout its history, their efforts proved fruitless. What was most important to the local religious community was to keep prohibition for the betterment of the social order of Monmouth. Although opponents raised religious, moral, economic, and quality-of-life arguments similar to those preached during the nineteenth century, they also brought two new arguments to center stage: the historic nature of Monmouth's prohibition and the uniqueness that local prohibition brought to the town. Eventually support for the prohibition ordinance started to wear thin throughout the community of Monmouth. Although die-hard supporters of prohibition continued to fight the inevitable, there were signs that it was starting to become more and more detrimental to the social and economic aspects of the community. Some claim that prohibition had reduced property values, others that it restricted development of the business sector in town. Opponents of repeal brought forth many arguments for staying dry, including initiating one rumor that the land donated so long ago for the site of the University would revert to the heirs of the donors if the ordinance was repealed, resulting in a huge cost to the state to repurchase it.
Elijah (similar to his father) had become a pioneer preacher, an organizer of multiple churches of Christ. His time and labors were a voluntary contribution to the cause he loved with a sublime devotion. There were no missionary societies behind him to direct his labors or pay his salary. Men like him worked with their own hands that they might not be burdensome to any. He was a family patriarch. He was also a founding city-father of two different cities, both called Monmouth, one in Illinois and the second in Oregon. His strict prohibitionist views influence the town of Monmouth Oregon for the next 150 years. Last, but not least, he was instrumental in the founding of a Christian school that became Western Oregon University. Today, WOU, is the oldest institution in the Oregon University system. Age 87, he died Apr 24th, 1870 in Monmouth, Polk County, Oregon.
Elijah (1783–1870) and Margaret Murphy Davidson, (1785–1864) Monmouth Oregon - circa 1860