Last spring, after completing an errand, I spotted a very small cemetery hidden from a very busy main road in nearby Dublin, Ohio. It wasn’t but a few days later that I returned, early on a frosty late-April morning (my walking shoes left my toes icicles, necessitating the digging of my hiking boots from the trunk) to capture the old cemetery in its best light.
In the photograph above, you’ll see the largest monument in the graveyard—with the arch and urn over two pillars. There were quite a few lovely markers in the cemetery, and really, I found this one to be rather plain compared to its gracefully carved companions. But walking past the marker, two words caught my eye: “Washington” and “Revolution”.
The 161 year-old inscription is quite definite and easy to read:
Ann Davis was messenger and carried orders from General Washington to the other commanders in the Revolutionary war in 1779 and 1780.
Wow. Well, if anything in a graveyard is going to get my attention, it’s an inscription like that. Not only does this monument stand above the grave of a Revolutionary War veteran, that veteran was a woman! After finally releasing the images, I did a little research into the life of someone who was surely a remarkable woman to see what I could learn about her. Born Ann Simpson December 29, 1764 in Pennsylvania, by 16 Ann was already a superb horsewoman, something certain to attract the eye of General Washington, said to be the best rider of his generation. Of course, he almost certainly liked even better the fact that seeing Ann riding around town was not at all unusual, and unlikely to attract the attention of townspeople—many of whom were Loyalists—or even the British commanders. He selected her to be one of his messengers; at times, Ann even dressed as an old woman to get through British lines in Philadelphia. Occasionally she’d transport important messages hidden in her clothing or even bullets and foodstuffs.
Though never caught during her year of service to the republic then being birthed, Ann did at least once have to swallow the messages during a search. I have to say I can’t imagine what I’d do in such a situation, but could only hope I’d display such presence of mind. Much of this she must have gotten from her father, William, who was also a Revolutionary War veteran. Known to his Tory neighbors as a “rebel”, at one point British soldiers were sent to his home to arrest or at least beat him up (not sure which is worse, even considering the conditions in Brit prison ships). Tipped off in the nick of time, William hid in the cellar until the intruders gave up their search, thus escaping unscathed…much to the irritation of his neighbors.
John, Ann’s future husband, was also no stranger to patriotism and the battle for freedom. According to John W. Jordan’s Colonial And Revolutionary Families Of Pennsylvania, he was only 16 himself when war broke out in 1776, and young Davis joined a New Jersey battalion in his father’s place. Thus John crossed the Delaware with General Washington that murderously cold, bitter Christmas midnight in 1776, a story he would in later years repeat to his fascinated progeny.
Though discharged after the famous crossing, John re-enlisted with the Third Pennsylvania Regiment the following March; he also found himself in Pennsylvania’s Second, Third, Eighth, and Ninth (we Continentals had a bit of a struggle with our troops, as many of you may know!). John also served in the light infantry organized for General Lafayette! Jordan explains,
He served all through the war, enlisted as a private, and there is no evidence of promotion, being one of that great host which win all battles, bear the heat and burden of the day alway, and rarely have justice done them. He was at the battle of Brandywine, where he was so fortunate as to be near General Lafayette when wounded, and assisted to carry him to a place of safety. He was at the “Massacre of Paoli,” but escaped unhurt. He fought at Germantown and passed the dreadful winter at Valley Forge. He was with Washington at Monmouth, and followed the colors all through 1778, and wintered with the army at Morristown. (Note from Jen: Morristown was an even deadlier, more hellish winter than that at Valley Forge.)
He was with Wayne at Stony Point…in the attack…at “Bergen Point,” New Jersey, July 21, 1780 was severely wounded in the foot and for a time disabled. He was on duty again in October, and was one of the guard around the gallows, when Major André was hanged. He was with the Pennsylvania line in 1781…participated in the siege of Yorktown, and witnessed the surrender of Cornwallis.
Though John served longer than Ann did (understandably, as she was but a young woman), I’m sure they often reminisced about their years of service, the harrowing days and nights, the great men they worked with. Can you imagine? Washington, Lafayette, Wayne? Ann slipping through British lines, often in disguise, sometimes being searched by suspicious redcoats; John’s long years of service—just imagine those bedtime stories!
Family legend—straight from the Davis family Bible—even has it that John is the man portrayed holding the Stars and Stripes in Leutze’s famed painting of the General crossing the Delaware. Again. Imagine the bedtime stories. Those kids were probably up ’til 2AM gabbering in hushed tones about Mom and Dad and the crazy things they did During The War. I would have been!
Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself just a bit here. The red-headed Ann (I LOVE that she was a redhead, LOVE it, don’t you?) and John had been friends since childhood; in 1783, he chose her to be his bride, and they celebrated their marriage at her parents’ home. For a little bit more than a decade, the couple remained in Pennsylvania, where Ann gave birth to their first five children: Sarah, William, John, Nancy, and Samuel. (No George? No Anthony?)
Several more children—Joshua, Samuel, Joseph, and Elizabeth—were born in Maryland after the pair moved to the state in 1794; in 1816, the couple, five of their children as well as other family and friends all travelled to Ohio to claim the lands they’d earned for their wartime service to the nation. They were farmers, and all reports indicate that Ann, John, and their children were diligent workers who
were considered fine members of the frontier community. Indeed, most of the couple’s descendants—with nine kids, I can’t imagine how many there are!—remain scattered between central Ohio and western Pennsylvania. There is something reassuring in that.
There is a chapter of the Daughters of the American Republic named for Ann—high honour, that—and on their page dedicated to Ann, we read this about John & Ann:
John and Ann were a loving couple and often dreamed of building a grand brick house where all of the family could be together. Unfortunately, that dream was not realized until five years before John’s death on January 25, 1832. Ann Simpson died June 6, 1851, 19 years after John’s death. The brick house was finished in 1842 and stood on Riverside Drive (on the east bank of the Scioto River, one-mile south of Dublin, just south of Martin Road), until 1877, when it was demolished by Planned Communities, Inc.
What a shame, what a horrible thing, that the home was demolished. *sigh* No sense of history! (Note: Another source suggests the home stood until 1977; I’m not sure which is correct, but if it’s the latter, I’m even angrier—the year after our Bicentennial? Really, Planned Communities, Inc.?)
I do wish we had more to read about Ann, but we are left with little on paper other than a bit regarding her remarkable year as one of General Washington’s hand-picked messengers. Still, we have the legacy, however briefly notated, of her loving marriage, her many children whom she surely adored and clearly raised to be decent and hardworking. That’s hardly a small accomplishment in any age. Still…wouldn’t it be grand to know more about her, personally? About her years as one of Washington’s many spies and couriers, about her marriage and her family’s journey to Ohio? I suppose many will say the reason we haven’t this information is that no one cared what women thought back then, but if you ask me, that’s poppycock. Instead, I suspect Ann was simply too busy with her family and farm to write things down or to bother with self-searching in that regard; indeed, she probably (as so many of our warriors and veterans do even today) just said, “it was my duty to serve my country!” and kept about her business. They’re a grand sort, these men and women who’ve served and still serve our nation.
Still, I can tell you that Ann does have another remarkable connection to American history and a terrible war fought on our soil; her cousin, Hannah, is the mother of General Ulysses S. Grant, who spent part of his youth near Cincinnati. In fact, we were regular guests at the bed & breakfast that was once the home of Doc Bailey, who got Grant into West Point! Ann & John’s grandson, Francis Marion Davis, recalled a nattily-dressed Grant visiting the Davis family farm in 1843; since Ann was still alive at this time, she may thus have met not only our nation’s first great General and President, but another general and our 18th President.
Ann passed away at the age of 88 in June of 1851, nineteen years after the death of her husband, at the home of her son Samuel. As you already know, she was buried beside her husband in this small, shaded graveyard right on Riverside Drive in Dublin. By the way, during my nosing about for information, I found what is apparently a silhouette of Ann Simpson Davis.
Lest you think Ann is forgotten, she is not. She has been honoured not only with the chapter of the DAR being named for her (it was formed in 1926) but two local schools; in nearly every source I was able to find information about her, she is described as a heroine.
Though the Davis Burial Ground is indeed a bit hidden, it is clearly being mown at least once in a while, and someone has leaned broken headstones against the stone wall; it looks abandoned, or semi-abandoned, but perhaps it is not. It is my hope that this cemetery, the resting place of this husband and wife team who are also both Revolutionary War veterans, is at least irregularly maintained (I’m not in Dublin quite often enough to know how much goes on) and those buried there shown the appropriate honour as the years pass.
Next time I visit, I’ll have to bring a few small American flags with me to plant at their graves—they’ve earned it. Thank you, Ann and John.
In addition to the sources cited, my sincere and slightly overexcited thanks to:
Also of possible interest to my readers:
Davis Historical Cemetery at FindAGrave.com