James D. Davidson papers, 1805-1910

Davidson, James D. (James Dorman), 1808-1882


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  • Papers of Davidson, a lawyer of Lexington, Virginia, including correspondence, personal financial records, legal accounts, travel diaries, and memoranda concerning his court cases. Also included are correspondence and records of members of his immediate family, especially two of his sons who practiced with their father until Greenlee was killed at Chancellorsville in 1863 and Charles A. died in 1879; and ledgers of Dorman and Davidson, kept by Davidson and his cousin, Charles P. Dorman, while they were partners, 1832-1841.
  • As a busy county-seat lawyer, Davidson dealt with a wide variety of matters, giving assistance to local businessmen and ironmasters; representing clients in civil suits, collection of debts, rental of slaves, and sale of lands; administering amnesty oaths and purchasing supplies for the Home Guard during the Civil War; and assisting soldiers in securing paroles and claiming pensions. Correspondence is concerned in large part with his legal work in the settlement of estates, including those of many families whose names were well known in the area.
  • To a much lesser extent the correspondence, receipts, and memoranda reflect his interest in public works, land speculation, and education. References are found to the James River and Kanawha Company; the North River Navigation Company; the Howardsville and Rockfish Turnpike Company; lands in Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri; and Washington College and its successor, Washington and Lee University, of which he was a trustee. In addition, letters often contain observations on social affairs and politics.
  • As an old-line Whig, Davidson's interest and influence in politics account for many letters relating to slavery, the approaching clouds of war, Virginia's secession convention of 1861, the conduct of war, and reactions to the Confederate government. For example, he corresponded with political leaders Samuel McDowell Moore, Charles P. Dorman, John Letcher, and Alexander H.H. Stuart and with old Whig friends such as Daniel D. Waite.
  • Davidson's personal life is revealed in communications from relatives, his account of a trip to Europe in 1851 and son Greenlee's diary of a journey to Chicago and the Northwest in 1857, his political essays written under the pseudonym Robert of Rockbridge, and financial records. Descriptions of army life appear in letters from his sons. In contrast to letters from his brother in Virginia, Henry G. Davidson, those from his other brothers in Indiana, Alexander H. and Charles B. Davidson, reveal reactions of Virginians in the North as war affected the nation. The correspondence also contains the original General Order No. 43 respecting paroles for the Army of Northern Virginia agreed upon by Grant and Lee at Appomattox, April 11, 1865.
  • Filed as Series 2AH are papers, 1856-1880, of his son, Charles A. Davidson, primarily concerning legal work as a Lexington attorney. Correspondence, case books, legal accounts, and other items are included.


  • Forms part of the McCormick Collection. Also described in Guide to the McCormick Collection, Margaret R. Hafstad, ed., Madison: 1973.
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