Sam Davis Home will forever exemplify a special family to the hearts of Tennesseans.
In the 1960s, my grandfather Glendon Johns built a replica cabin on the property during the winter months he was not working his farm in Old Jefferson. He attended private parties in the home to visit friends and dated my grandmother Emily in the parlor before the historic property was a museum.
The house and grounds were purchased by the State of Tennessee in 1927 and opened for tours in 1930 by the Sam Davis Memorial Association.
The original Davis home in Stuartsboro (now Smyrna) was filled with normalcy and laughter and much love before the murmur of an approaching war between North and South.
The home, built in 1820 by Moses Ridley, was Greek Revival architecture purchased by the Davis family in 1845 and renovated in 1850.
The matriarch of the estate, Jane Simmons Davis, was the mother of our Smyrna luminary and legend Sam Davis. She taught a son the quintessence of ethics by example and later sacrificed this same son to an uncivil war.
Her story unfolds to reveal an especially fascinating and courageous woman. Family Bible records convey she was born in 1823 in Petersburg, Va., and died in 1874 at age 51. Jane was the only child of Edmund and Elizabeth Simmons (1806-1890) of Mecklenburg, Va. Elizabeth’s parents were Miles Collier and Nancy Gee of Virginia. Elizabeth’s ancestry is traced to direct lineage of Thomas Gee, born 1640 in Newton Ferrors, Devon, England.
Jane’s father died a young man in 1824 with no will. Elizabeth, in financial need, then moved to Rutherford County bringing Jane, her only child, a 1-year old in 1823.
At the age of 18, Jane was engaged to Charles Lewis Davis from Virginia, and they were married on May 19, 1841. Charles was 20 years senior to Jane and a 38-year old groom.
Having been previously wed to Margaret (died 1840), Charles was a widower with four children. Charles’ grandfather and Sam Davis’ great-grandfather was Lt. Col. William Davis (1747-1818 ) , who served in the 5th Virginia Regiment of the Revolutionary War and was present at Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. In 1807, Col. Davis received a military grant of 900 acres in Georgia.
In spring 1841, Charles and Jane moved into a log home originally on Almaville Road near present-day Interstate 24 where firstborn Samuel was born Oct. 6, 1842. By 1846, Charles moved his large family to Smyrna in the present-day home.
Sam was Jane’s firstborn child in 1842 followed by Margaret, Oscar Muse, Andromedia, Everard, Lizzie, Fannie, Charles and Hickman. At one time, there were a combined 13 children in the house, as well as the grandmother Elizabeth Collier Simmons. All children survived adulthood, except Everard, who died before age 1. The family supported the call to duty in our state; yet, Jane’s son Oscar joined the Confederate Army at age 14, stayed one night, and returned home never again to enlist in the military.
Few know that Sam Davis was a soldier in Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign and the Battle of Shiloh before his endeavors with the Coleman Scouts. After being wounded in Perryville, Sam was in recovery before pursuing his journey as spymaster. Jane viewed this undertaking with a hesitant demeanor, while Sam pursued his role in the war with ambition.
Before the perils of war, Jane moved within an upper-class circle in Smyrna and was beloved by all. The Davis family resided peacefully in an impressive home on a 19th century, thriving plantation beside present-day Stewarts Creek. Charles and Jane promoted education to their children and sent Sam to the elite Western Military Institute in Nashville (now Montgomery Bell Academy) for five months from 1860-1861. Their family core was based on learning, integrity, faith and humanity toward their fellow man.
Jane was a person of many talents still heralded today. The Jane Davis Academy for young girls convenes in June to replicate her fine arts of early American womanhood. She had great skills with sewing, dance, cooking, as well as the virtue of etiquette. She was also a hard laborer milking cows, churning butter, spinning yarn and baking with no electricity.
When Sam joined the Coleman Scouts, Jane dyed his blue Yankee overcoat to a butternut gray, and Charles repaired his walking boots. He was captured in Pulaski in this same woolen apparel.
When Sam secretly stopped by his mother’s home on Nov. 1, 1863, the family had a wondrous reunion. Before his departure, Jane filled his saddle with pockets of delectable food to sustain his journey to Alabama.
Little did she know this was the last time she would see her son. Sam was apprehended by Federal troops on Nov. 27, 1863, and accused of concealing information from the desk of Union Gen. Grenville Dodge. After a court-martial, he was hanged in Pulaski.
When Jane was informed of Sam’s death, she sent her friend John Kennedy to identify his remains. With her voice breaking, she courageously described Sam’s boots and gave him a piece of plaid linsey cloth she had sewn into the lining of his wool jacket. On Sam’s last visit home, Jane cooked Sam’s supper and gave him this very garment to sustain warmth in the wintry winds of November.
Sam’s farewell letter specifically addressed his mother stating: “I do not fear to die. Do not grieve for me.”
How proud she must have been for his valor. His last words were “If I had a thousand lives to live, I would give them all rather than betray a friend or the confidence of my informer.” These words were reminiscent of Nathan Hale, a Patriot (1776), who stated “I only regret I have but one life to give for my country.” He was hanged by the British 87 years prior to Sam’s demise.
Upon return to Smyrna by Christmas Day, Jane Davis fainted at the sight of her son’s coffin, while Charles Davis bent forward in shock and horror. Their lives would forever be shattered. Little did they know that his legacy of integrity would be ingrained for generations to come.
Jane and Charles are buried today with Sam on the Davis’ property in Smyrna, having died just one year apart in 1873 and 1874.
Jane was a mother revered for giving life to the most exceptional Smyrna soldier ever and accepting his fate with dignity.
Her whole existence was raising children, cooking, sewing and working very hard to make life happy and tranquil for her family.
She remembered Sam every day of her life until her last breath. Like every Confederate and Union mother, she questioned why a conflicting war could take the life forevermore of a 21-year-old son. A mother, wife, daughter and Southern lady, Jane shared her son’s everlasting influence and bravery with our Smyrna of today. She is within our pantheon of heroines.
Contact Susan Harber at susanharber@ hotmail. com