Sunday, August 7, 2016

Henry Davis - Petersburg Slave Trader


Many of Petersburg's historic buildings on Bollingbrook Street no longer stand. There are a handful of historically significant structures, such as Farmer's Bank and the Nathaniel Friend House, but many open spaces (parking lots) now appear where buildings that housed businesses and families once stood. 

One inconspicuous three-story building on the west end of Bollingbrook Street,which now is an African American barber shop (pictured above), once had a much more disconcerting existence. I have been informed that this building was for a time the slave trading office and jail of Petersburg dealer Henry Davis. 


Finding information to learn more about Davis was not that easy. I was only able to locate a scrap or two here and there. However, Davis does appear in the 1850 census. He is listed as being forty-two years old, and native of England. His occupation is simply noted as "N. Trader." He owned $14,000 in real estate and lived with his thirty-five year old wife, who was also from England, and their four children, two of whom appear to have been twins. Also in the household was another thirty-five year old female from England, perhaps Mrs. Davis's sister, and her six year old boy.

Another source I located via the Virginia Historical Society was an 1845 inventory of property purchased from the Oakland Plantation estate of William Ransom Johnson, a wealthy racehorse man from Chesterfield County. The listing shows that Henry Davis purchased ten slaves in the sale. The first, George Flournoy cost the trader $551.00. For $931.00 Davis bought a family consisting of Henry, Martha, and their child Rhoda. A blacksmith named Abram, his wife Sally and their two daughters, Susan and Rebecca cost Davis $1435.00. Finally, on the second page, Davis also purchased Sam for $420. 


I also located the above advertisement in the January 4, 1855 issue of the Petersburg Daily Express. It was posted by owner John G. Turpin seeking to reclaim two women who had absconded from him. It mentions that one of the women, Milly, was purchased from "Henry Davis of Petersburg" the year before.

Davis apparently did not limit his slave dealing to the local area, but rather participated in the larger network of the domestic slave trade. To prove such claim, I also found the transcription of an advertisement in the November 1837 printing of the Anti-Slavery Record, vol. 3, no.11. The publication sought to indict slavery based on sources produced by those participating in the institution. The advertisement was noted as being located in a Petersburg newspaper and read: "The subscriber being desirous of making another shipment by the Brig Adelaide, to New Orleans, on the first of March, will give a good market price for fifty negroes, from ten to thirty years old. - Henry Davis."


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