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The John Davis Controversy

John Davis, father of Cornelius, died in Newbury on Nov. 12, 1675. John's ancestry differs, depending on who you talk to. In the narrative, I state that John is the son of Thomas, the immigrant, and estimate his birth at about 1623. My kin have always "known" that John was Thomas' son. This is family tradition that has been passed down for hundreds of years. But we modern genealogical researchers require evidence to substantiate such claims. Thomas' only documented children were Joanna (1629) and Joseph (1631). In The Old Families of Salisbury and Amesbury, Hoyt says that John was born about 1612, married "Elnor" (she is mentioned in his will), and had the seven children we know of. Savage, in his Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England, lists John marrying Mary in 1641, along with the listing of the children. In Torrey's New England Marriages Prior to 1700, John's wife is listed as Elinor. None of these references make any connection between John and the immigrant brothers Thomas and James. In the Davis of Acton-Turville manuscript, Edwin P. Davis concludes that John of Newbury was the John who was the the brother of Thomas baptized in Acton-Turville on April 16, 1601. But Brian Frith, the man who researched the Acton-Turville parish records, states that this is mere conjecture. There is no evidence linking this John Davis to the John Davis who died in Newbury in 1675.

So, who was John Davis, really? I choose to believe that he was the son of Thomas Davis rather than the brother. John's marriage date and children's birthdates suggest a man born closer to 1623 than 1601. Will we ever know for sure? Probably not; but longstanding family traditions cannot be dismissed out of hand. Unless it can be proved otherwise, a tradition passed down for generations has just as much merit as any other "conclusion" when the evidence is less than conclusive.

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